As we come to the first anniversary of the massacre of twenty small children and seven of their devoted school staff, our nation once again has its heart broken by searing memories of one of America's most horrific tragedies. The image of tiny children being pulverized at very close range exceeds, for many, even the terror of 9/11. It is critical now for us to think hard about the staggering horror of December 14th , the events that have since transpired, and what can be learned from this past year to guide us forward as a nation regarding the insanity of unbounded gun accessibility.
On the day itself, few among us cannot remember where we were as the first news reports began to emerge within minutes of Adam Lanza's rampage.
"Another school massacre? What? This time 6 and 7 year-olds? Twenty? And seven teachers? How can that possibly be true."
As we garnered details of the barbaric slaughter, time seemed to stop. Surreal. Unimaginable. Immobilizing. A nation transfixed by television screens populated by professional newscasters struggling not to melt down on camera. President Obama himself, unable to maintain his own composure, breaking off his initial address to the nation before he completely lost it, later referring to it as "the worst day of his presidency." Images of terrified parents enduring each excruciating second, desperate to see if their child would emerge from the building alive. Photos of the unbearably young victims who would not.
And what has happened since? A national outcry could immediately be heard. These were innocent 6 and 7 year-old victims! The curse of gun violence must be stopped.
"Somehow this time must be different!"
The NRA leadership, true to form, slinked into the shadows for a week or so, waiting for the outrage and grief to dissipate, as it always had. Then Wayne LaPierre sallied out, spewing his predictable slogans about good guy guns vs. bad guy guns.
Led by a fully committed president and vice president, from the outset, this time was indeed different. The commitment to change, far from dissipating, gathered steadily increasing momentum from every quarter. Gabby Gifford, the Brady Campaign, Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Senator Diane Feinstein.
"This time really could be different!"
The parents of the victims somehow found the grace and grit to unite in The Sandy Hook Promise, dedicated to common sense gun regulation. Newtown, meanwhile, was flooded with appalling NRA robo-calls for "support for the Second Amendment" blaring directly into the homes of victims' families before they could be silenced. Despite badgering by vulturous media far more concerned with deadlines than with dead children; despite incessant taunting and jeering by the gun crazies who hectored them from Newtown to Washington; despite having been unconscionably vilified by NRA-owned congressmen, including Senator Rand Paul, who described the families as political "props"; despite all of this, added to their own anguish, the grieving families tirelessly campaigned in DC for common sense gun control.
Especially encouraging were the identical polling results from a myriad of respected sources: Fully 90% of all Americans favored some form of tighter gun control. Surprisingly, this number included 74% of NRA members and 84% of all gun owners. These numbers not only demonstrated the overwhelming support for tighter legislation, but fully exposed that the NRA leadership followed--not the opinions of its membership--but the limitless funding provided by gun manufacturers and retailers for whom they are nothing more than a front.
For those who might question these admittedly surprising results (is there anything else 90% of Americans agree on?), here are the specific poll results for support of universal background checks at its peak leading up to the senate vote:
--Morning Joe/Marist: 87%
--Fox News: 91%
--USA Today: 92%
--ABC/Washington Post: 91%
"Overwhelming evidence. Unambiguous proof. Yes! This time is clearly different!"
The momentum continued to gather force going into the all-important senate vote in April. Warning signs began to surface when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated that he would not bring a bill to the floor, for fear of defeat, that included anything substantially beyond tighter background checks--no ban on assault weapons, no limitation on the size of gun magazines. When Senator Diane Feinstein--who has worked tirelessly for decades on common sense gun control--proceeded to explode, we had concrete evidence something was going terribly wrong, despite the irrefutable evidence that 90% of the populace favored some form of tighter gun legislation. Twenty-seven children and teachers had been killed at close range, each by multiple bullets that don't merely penetrate flesh--they explode it. What more could it possibly take?
"How could this time not be different?"
But like a rising helium balloon brought to earth in a hail of semi-automatic rifle fire, the gun control movement was abruptly gunned down by the dumbfounding vote of 54--46. Despite the strong majority support, 60 votes were needed for passage. By voting for a position held by a mere 10% of the America public, countless among the 46 senators were voting neither their conscience nor the wishes of their electorate. To be sure, many of the no-votes were cast by senators operating in good faith with the conviction that gun sales should not be tightened. But given the 90% support, numerous senators voted, not for their constituents, but for--and only for-- the approval and limitless funding of the NRA leadership and to elude NRA punishment that can stop a political career dead in its tracks.
The math couldn't be clearer: 90% support, 46 no-votes. But in the end this time was not different. This time was not different.
Where do we go from here? Three elements, in my view, stand out.
First, the American public must remember, not only the horror of the massacre, but the no-votes from corrupt senators who flagrantly betrayed their constituents. Senator Reid successfully engineered an up or down vote such that each senators vote is public. In the election cycles to come, we must not forget those who betrayed the public trust. Give the crooked and corrupt the vote they have earned. Recognize that the NRA since April has bullied and gloated its way around the country, handwriting and passing virtually every piece of legislation they seek, unseating oppositional state and local officials by carpet-bombing their districts with massive recall funding.
Second, it may well be that President Obama needs to re-examine his methods. No one could question his all-in commitment to gun control, behind which he threw the full force of the executive office. No one could question his white-hot outrage and shock once the senate fix was in. But why was he so shocked?
There are those who argue that he suffers from an idealistic, but unrealistic, conviction that by working hard and exposing the issue to the American public for what it is, the truth will out--a conviction he cannot possibly still hold after the recent government shutdown. We were alarmed by evidence of this in the first Romney debate, in which he seemed unwilling to bare his knuckles and fight. The obvious truth should speak for itself? No need to dignify the opposition by stooping to engage? Again, in the senate vote, 90% public support, 46 no-votes. The truth, for which he campaigned tirelessly, fell far short of speaking for itself.
Is it possible that given the foul play he was up against, he needed to evoke the LBJ within? Johnson used whatever power and financial leverage he had to twist arms, knock heads, and get big things done. As in, "You need funding for that highway in your state, right?"
Third, we have to steel ourselves for the long haul. As I heard earlier this week in an interview with one remarkable Sandy Hook father, we must realize that the fight for gun control may need to persevere well beyond the political careers of our current elected senators and congressmen. Like cigarette legislation, civil rights, women's right, LGBT rights, labor laws, environmental protection, and the like, we must accept that the time will be whatever it needs to be; we must recognize this as a source, not of naive demoralization, but flinty determination and perseverance.
Our hearts break and our sympathies go to the families of Sandy Hook. What I have referred to as the macabre Jack-in-box of traumatic memory again springs open to wreak anguish and devastation. But broken hearts and sympathy do not always lead to action. Do something! However small, it matters. The NRA continues apace.Call, contribute, join, remember, speak out, watch, persevere, and--most important--VOTE!