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Marc H. Morial

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Message to Congress: Show Some Robinson/Rickey/Wheeler Courage on Gun Safety Vote

Posted: 04/17/2013 2:26 pm

"Sometimes I close my eyes and all I can remember is that awful day... But other times, I feel Ben's presence filling me with courage for what I have to do..." Francine Wheeler, mother of six-year-old Ben Wheeler, one of the 26 victims of the December 14 Sandy Hook tragedy.

As a nation, we find ourselves too frequently experiencing the kinds of "awful days" that Francine Wheeler so passionately -- and purposefully -- described this past weekend as she delivered President Obama's weekly address. I watched the tearful plea of a mother who lost her child on December 14th at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and I again thought about the meaningful change that needs to be enacted for us to avoid the next unfathomable tragedy. But this time, I pondered the issue not just as a legislator, mayor or CEO, but more importantly, as a father and as a husband.

Whether in the cases of Sandy Hook or Hadiya Pendleton or the too many other innocent victims of gun violence in the United States each day, the epidemic of senseless killings in communities across America must end. Something must be done now to make our country safer. The answer simply isn't that we "can't reach agreement" or that specific proposals "won't help."

Monday's heinous events at the Boston Marathon underscore that there is no one policy or legislation that will keep all of our children and all of our citizens safe from violence 100 percent of the time. But we turn our backs on families of past and future victims -- and the victims themselves -- if we deem the problem too complicated or too large. It is the responsibility of our legislators (and of every citizen to push them) to create the change necessary for the maximum safety of our nation.

I recently took my children to see last weekend's box office home run, 42, the story of Jackie Robinson's courageous struggle to become the first African-American Major League Baseball player in the modern era. The movie also highlights the courage it took for Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to sign Robinson to a major league contract in 1947, marking the end of more than 50 years of all-white teams.

In his first year with the Dodgers, Robinson was subjected to racial taunts and threats from white fans and opposing teams, as well as hostility from some of his own teammates, who objected to sharing the field and locker room with a Black ballplayer. But Robinson exhibited a rare brand of courage, refusing to lash out as he piled up hits and blazed the base paths on his way to becoming Major League Baseball's first Rookie of the Year.

Robinson went on to have a Hall of Fame career, and until his death in 1972, he was also an all-star champion of civil rights and change. Martin Luther King once described Robinson as, "... a pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom."

The life of Jackie Robinson is a profile in courage. Just four months after the loss of her son Ben, Francine Wheeler's address to the nation is a profile in courage. Visibly shaken, she used the opportunity to passionately implore the Congress to "come together and pass commonsense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer and prevent more tragedies like the one we thought would never happen to us."

It is time for Congress to display similar courage by quickly taking a vote on the bipartisan measure reached last week to expand background checks for online gun purchasers and gun show sales.

While this legislation is hardly a final answer, it is at least a first step and would demonstrate that our leaders have the backbone to stand up for the American people in the face of opposition and threats from a well-funded and obstinate gun lobby.

As the movie 42 makes clear, change occurs when people choose to show courage in the face of adversity. The film demonstrates that it takes the courage of more than one to effect change and that courage means doing what's right, regardless of the odds. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball years before Thurgood Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education and Rosa Parks took her seat on the bus. There was no blueprint for him to follow. But Congress has a blueprint to guide them as they are challenged to enact meaningful legislation to make America safer.

It's time to put the politics aside -- and pick up some courage.

 

Follow Marc H. Morial on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@NatUrbanLeague

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