gwen_hess.jpgLike many Americans, I was horrified to learn that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has chosen to press its case for armed guards in the nation’s schools with a commercial referencing President Obama’s daughters. Haven’t enough of our children been victimized by our inability to address gun violence?

Instead of lashing out and attacking anything and anyone who suggests there is a need for gun control legislation, the National Rifle Association should consider the model the Johnson & Johnson company provided during the 1982 Tylenol tampering scandal.

When seven people died in Chicago after taking Tylenol Extra-Strength capsules laced with cyanide, Johnson & Johnson pulled 31 million bottles of Tylenol off the shelves and proactively made the public aware of the crisis. Recalling the popular painkiller and offering tablet replacements free of charge to the public clearly was not a profitable decision.

However, Johnson & Johnson used the crisis to do the right thing and helped create a new culture of tamper-proof medicine bottles. Now, three decades later, we’ve all come to expect that every off-the-shelf medicine will be presented in tamper-proof containers.

The difference between the NRA and Johnson & Johnson is that the makers of Tylenol did not attempt to blame others.

The company took action that reaffirmed its commitment to “doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use (its) products and services…” 

The NRA has not placed the American people first nor has it sought to create a meaningful dialogue as to what can happen when guns are misused. Instead of making the most of a teachable moment — an opportunity to collaborate and consider solutions with mental health providers, Hollywood producers, video game creators, recording companies and environmentalists who promote a habitat for large swaths of land for hunters, skeet and trap shooters — the NRA sidestepped the issue by taking aim at the President’s daughters and recommending that we arm more Americans. 

As president of The Black Women’s Agenda Inc., I lead an organization that is dedicated to advancing, securing and protecting the rights and well-being of black women. Along with our 19 National Collaborating Organizations – sororities, civic, service, and faith-based — we represent millions of women across the U.S. and worldwide.

The safety of our families has always been our priority and I believe the NRA’s behavior has been reprehensible and reckless.

The National Rifle Association has yet to make a credible argument as to why civilians need to have assault weapons or why there shouldn’t be background checks that would help keep criminals and those wrestling with mental illness and other demons from shooting, maiming and killing our loved ones in schools, movie theaters, shopping malls or in front of our homes.

This is the time for action, not attack ads. On Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day – The Black Women’s Agenda will kick off the “For the Love of Families” initiative encouraging our membership and like-minded individuals to call or email the NRA and request that the organization make a genuine effort to forge partnerships with Congress, the Obama administration and key players in the campaign for gun safety.

In addition, we will contact our Congressional representatives to press them to pass a ban on the sale and production of assault weapons and gun magazines with more than 10 rounds, as well as legislation calling for background checks for individuals seeking to purchase guns.

I invite you to join us in this effort. Email the NRA at, or call 1-800-672-3888. Tell the organization there is still time to step up and play a constructive role in promoting gun safety. Also, contact your representatives in Congress (the number for the U.S. Capitol switchboard is 1-202) 224-3121) and tell them you are counting on them to protect your family by voting responsibly on this issue. There are lives at stake.

Gwainevere Catchings Hess is president of The Black Agenda Inc., a national non-profit organization that generates awareness of and support for issues affecting black women and their families worldwide.