How many children have to die, how many innocents have to be lost in a mall or a theater or on a neighborhood street, how many presidents or political leaders or prophets like Dr. King have to be shot down in a fusillade that wounds history itself, before America protects the first of our founding inalienable rights—to “life”—which surely comes before the “liberty” of carrying a cache of weapons. And that demands gun control—and I’m not using a politically convenient phrase like “gun safety legislation.” Some guns are outright unsafe—assault weapons—and all guns are unsafe in the hands of some people.
We as a society are hostage to the thugs of the NRA—which actually stands for the National Rampage Association.
Republicans who claim to defend the “right to life” profit politically by defending the moral wrong of a wholesale arsenal of death inflicted on the already living. The religious right that has allied itself with the gun lobby defies Christ’s warning that those who harm the children would be better off thrown into the sea with a millstone around their necks. Shouldn’t the protection of life begin not with a fertilized egg, but with human beings who are truly and fully alive?
And on the other side, politicians who know better, including most Democrats, cower before the threat of electoral retaliation—and invoke the rationalization that it is too hard to pass anything in Congress, even a ban on assault weapons or closing the gun-show loophole that lets criminals and the deranged shop for firearms without any background check. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today is “not the time” to talk about policies that at least in theory President Obama supports. Oh yes it is. If not now, when? If not the president, who? As he spoke in stricken terms, he seemed to comprehend that—and that he holds the office Franklin Roosevelt described as “pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.”
No measure short of banning all firearms could prevent all shootings. But we can take practical measures that would save many lives. Who among us, who among our children, could be the next to be killed in an unexpected moment of unspeakable horror? So now we will shed a tear again. And in the phrase of Robert Kennedy, who himself would soon be a casualty instead of a president, we should “say a prayer for ourselves and for our country.” And we should have the courage to do something for our country, too. We should look into the anguished faces of parents outside that Connecticut elementary school—faces now tragically incised on our national consciousness. We should recall events from that darkness at noon in Dallas nearly 60 years ago to the carnage at Columbine and Aurora. Those faces and events matter more than the scorecard of the National Rampage Association.
Let us resolve that half a century and more of this country as a killing field is more than enough. Let us refuse to let this day of dying fade into memory and the malaise of resignation to things as they are. Let us stand against the odds so that countless others who otherwise would never even know the cause of their slaying or the name of their executioner may instead live, laugh, and find love and not hate.
Today Barack Obama spoke his heart and the nation’s—and called on us to take “meaningful action regardless of the politics.” Maybe at last, this is the time; it must be the time. The massacre has come too many times.