Removing the Confederate flag is a big deal, or maybe not such a big deal

The tragic shootings in Charleston, S.C., have created momentum for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol there.

It is pretty amazing how rapidly the ground has shifted on this issue. No one imagined that such a change could occur so quickly. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley made clear she believed the time had come to make this change, important politicians joined the chorus, and both the South Carolina Senate and House have voted to take up the issue.

Such a symbol of racial hatred has no place flying over state capitols in this country. The need for the removal of this symbol is long overdue, and it will indeed be a big deal when every state acts to remove the Confederate flag.

Yet, it is interesting to note that intentionally or not, this issue has created a distraction that has essentially silenced any talk of finding ways to avoid future tragedies of lives lost through gun violence. While President Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton have both spoken forcefully about the need to address these issues, no one is seriously considering the possibility of legislative action.

Don’t misunderstand. The coming together within the Charleston community has been inspiring. The horror and outrage felt by this city and throughout the country, among both blacks and whites, offers hope that something positive could actually come from this unspeakable event. That this show of unity and harmony could produce the removal of a hateful symbol is something to be lauded.

The rhetoric has even gone beyond the discussion of the Confederate flag. Suggestions to remove the names and statues of Confederate officers seems to me go too far. The Civil War is a part of our history, and families have a right to honor their ancestors. I don’t believe reenactments at Gettysburg and other battlefields are inherently racist. They represent a sad and tragic historic reality that should be remembered by all of us.

Yet I suspect that those opposed to any kind of common sense gun laws are pleased that we are discussing the Confederate flag and other Civil War remembrances rather than guns. Obama said, “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. … And it is in our power to do something about it.”

I echo that sentiment. The question is when will we begin to come to grips with this reality, and what will it take for change to begin to occur? The issue remains one that we need to confront, hopefully, sooner rather than later.

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