April 4, 2013 -- On this day 45 years ago, a crazed gunman shot down one of the most prominent peacemakers this nation ever produced. Just over a century earlier, another mad triggerman took fatal aim at a president for his insistence on the universal right to freedom.
Before and since these tragedies, Americans have shown that they will bow to no power higher than the gun -- and its mighty lobbying force of today.
And the shooting goes on: prosecutors in Texas, movie-goers in Colorado, college students, worshippers, a group including one member of Congress in Arizona, and little children in Connecticut. Nothing seems to trump the almighty right to hold on to firepower, with minimal restrictions.
"Shame on us," President Obama said recently in an emotional plea for Congress to pass gun-control legislation, if we have forgotten the 26 people killed at Newtown, Conn.'s Sandy Hook Elementary School less than 100 days.
He was right. On too many issues we seem to be interested in finding a solution only until the news cameras have moved on to the next issue. This time should be different. "I haven't forgotten those kids," President Obama said, "Shame on us if we've forgotten."
Last night in Denver, the president emphasized that in the 100 days, since those shootings "shocked this country... and galvanized parents" everywhere, more than 2,000 more Americans have fallen victim to gun violence. "Every day that we wait to do something about it, even more of our fellow citizens are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun," he said in an address to the Denver Police Academy.
The issue at hand is more of the same from our own Congress. Our legislative process takes too long to heal the pain of the American people in these senseless killings. The families of those lost in the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, will be a long time hurting, but the Congress's failure to act surely deepens their agony.
It is up to Congress to take the next step, Obama said in Denver. "As soon as next week, every senator will get to vote on whether or not we should require background checks for anyone who wants to purchase a gun." He praised Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and other state officials for enacting model gun controls that are echoed in his own proposed laws, including "tougher background checks that won't infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners, but will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."
I ask, what is wrong with background checks for someone who wants to legitimately own a gun? The obvious answer is absolutely nothing. But fear of decisive bold law-making keeps us all at the mercy of the next nut who needs a bullet to speak for him. My grandmother would say all fools aren't dead; it only takes one fool to cause havoc. She is so very right. Background checks would certainly prevent a lot of "fools" from owning a firearm.
Media reports said the Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster .223 rifle which is very similar to an AR-15 rifle. One of the measures the president proposed to Congress in his gun control package was renewing the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The AR-15 would fall into this category. Even this measure is struggling in the Senate, where majority leader Harry Reid said he is not finding enough support from his colleagues.
Republican members in the Senate are already planning a filibuster on any gun control legislation that they see threatens Second Amendment rights. Those members include Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Mike Lee of Utah. Little media attention has spotlighted their efforts to block the measure.
For Americans who want to put a damper on gun violence, now is the time to act. Sitting on the side lines or playing onlookers will lose the game every time. The opposition is busy. The National Rifle Association (NRA) members and reps are walking the halls of Congress, letting members know where they stand. They are actively working to prevent the president's gun proposal from passing, even though 90 percent of Americans support it, according to the White House.
As a gun owner, I think those of us in that group have a special duty. We who are serious about reducing gun violence while protecting safe use and ownership of firearms must get involved in the political process to show that this is not an either-or choice. We can have a weapons ban on assault rifles, limit lethal ammunition hoards and impose background checks without loss of ownership. It just takes some spine on Capitol Hill.
It is tough for members of Congress, as the president said, because the opposition to any form of legislation affecting guns is "very well-organized and they're very well-financed." Passage of the measure will not be easy, but can happen if the public voices support. It "must be done", if it stops just one mass murderer, the president said.
Our job is to urge elected leaders to act -- and to let President Obama know, as he would say, that we've got his back.