By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
KEYSTONE —Afghanistan combat veteran, gun owner and bestselling author Wes Moore said it’s a travesty that it’s easier to get a gun than health care in the U.S.
Accused Aurora movie theater killer James Holmes now faces 142 criminal charges including a sentence-enhancing count for unlawful use of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
Moore told an audience of health experts at the 2012 Colorado Health Symposium here last week that we must mourn those who lost their lives in Aurora, but it’s also crucial for policymakers to discuss tighter gun regulations.
“If not now, then when? At what point do we have a conversation about this? I’m not talking about banning guns. I’m not talking about taking guns from people.
“But, we do need to be more cautious and careful about who can get their hands on weapons and what kinds of … questions need to be asked when in a matter of two days (a person) has the chance to order shotguns, AR-15s and 160 rounds of ammunition and not a single red flag goes up.”
Moore is the author of the New York Times bestseller “The Other Wes Moore, One Name Two Fates” in which he chronicles two lives that diverged. The Wes Moore who spoke in Colorado overcame the loss of his dad to an illness when he was only 3. When Moore was doing poorly in school, his single mom sacrificed to send him to a military school outside Philadelphia. Moore went on become a decorated Army veteran, a Rhodes Scholar and a White House Fellow.
- VIDEO: Wes Moore’s keynote address at the Colorado Health Symposium in Keystone
At the same time, the other boy with the same name grew up blocks from Moore in Baltimore, Md., and is now behind bars for killing an off-duty police officer and father of five during the armed robbery of a jewelry store in 2000. Moore started writing to the other Wes Moore after his conviction and his book ponders how each of their lives could have been different.
Wes Moore now serves as a youth advocate and businessman who is dedicated to improving schools and halting violence in America’s toughest cities. He served as an aide to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. In Keystone, he spoke about his book, health disparities among minorities, and gun violence as a public health epidemic that now kills 50 people a day in the U.S.
“I’m a believer in the Second Amendment. I believe people have the right to bear arms as dictated by the Constitution,” Moore said during a keynote address at the Health Symposium. “However the fact that it’s easier for a child to get their hands on a gun in this country than health care is a fundamental problem.”
Moore said he has been dismayed following the Aurora killings that some people want to dismiss the tragedy as Colorado’s problem.
“This is not a Colorado issue. When people say, ‘Oh, between Columbine and Aurora, Colorado has issues.’ Forget Colorado’s issues. We’ve got a national problem,” Moore said. “This country has to better address gun laws.
“Why people need to have arsenals that include weapons such as AR-15s inside their homes is confusing to me.”
Moore said people on all sides should be able to find common ground to make American communities safer.
“Both sides have retreated to these political, ideological corners,” Moore said. “And while we’re not able to have a rational conversation about this, children die every single day from gun violence.”
Along with gun deaths, Moore decried health disparities as another preventable public health epidemic in the U.S.
Rates of obesity, diabetes and tobacco use are all higher in communities of color, Moore said.
He called for health literacy to be central in U.S. schools.
“I would make health conversations, health education as core a part of curriculum as math and science,” Moore said.
The U.S., which lags behind several industrialized countries as just 17th in the world in science, must strive to do better on academics, he said.
“We can have kids that can do better on standardized exams and that’s fantastic. But if that child is 14-years-old with diabetes, how are we really helping them?”
Moore said all communities must have easier access to grocery stores stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. Health racism is unacceptable.
“We have a fundamental problem in this country where we feel like there are certain neighborhoods where it’s fine if the main source of food inside that neighborhood is a McDonald’s,” Moore said. “We cannot have these massive disparities and not even think twice about them because they have long-term consequences to us all.”
Reducing health disparities in the U.S. will be essential to sparking an economic recovery. Moore said the costs to both individuals and society of diabetes, cigarette smoking and alcohol will kill economic progress.
“You cannot have an honest conversation about debts and deficits and spending unless we’re willing to address this,” Moore said. “You can’t talk about where the country is in terms of employment…unless you can have a conversation about health issues.”