04/18/2013 01:07 pm ET Updated Jun 18, 2013

What Do We Tell Our Children?


Almost every single day, someone walks into one of National Action Network's (NAN) offices around the country consumed with the most unbelievable pain you can ever imagine. They seek our assistance, our guidance and a sense of hope after their lives have been shattered by gun violence. Crying mothers, fathers, grandparents, teenagers and children all have entered our doors -- their eyes swelling from the endless flow of tears and their hearts heavy with pain. They come to us because they can't understand how an innocent person's life can be cut short by such violence, and how so many guns are readily available everywhere we look. As we teach our youth to put the weapons down and better their lives, what are we to tell them when so many in Washington have failed us so cowardly? If the Senate cannot even pass a compromised agreement on background checks for gun sales, then what are we to tell our children? What are we to tell young folks who grow up in some of the toughest environments possible, but have vowed to live a life of nonviolence? Guess we will start with the simple fact that many of our elected officials don't even possess half the bravery that they do.

Growing up in Brooklyn, NY isn't for the weak. From an early age, we're exposed to more than the average person might be in his or her entire life. I came up in the hood. But I also managed to ensure that I didn't succumb to many of the negative forces that are often thriving in the environment. So today, when I speak at rallies, preach at churches and stand on the street corners of America telling young people there is a better way, I want to show them that it is truly possible. But how can I look them in the eyes and say that the nation is behind them when so many caved into pressure and lies from groups like the NRA? The Senate's failure to pass common sense reforms yesterday is quite possibly the biggest disservice we could have ever done to these kids and all the children of this great nation. When they see that those in power care more about their own stature, an upcoming election or just good old-fashioned money instead of the safety and security of our communities, the veil of hypocrisy will be lifted.

"Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders -- not just to honor the memory of their children, but to protect the lives of all our children," stated President Obama yesterday. "I've heard some say that blocking this step would be a victory. And my question is, a victory for who? A victory for what? All that happened today was the preservation of the loophole that lets dangerous criminals buy guns without a background check. That didn't make our kids safer."

In a powerful op-ed for the NY Times, former Rep. Gabby Giffords -- who nearly lost her own life in the Tucson mass shooting -- passionately penned:

The Senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job. They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each Party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby -- and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing.

I couldn't agree with the president and Giffords more.

When 90 percent of the country, yes, 90 percent, want background checks, how can the politicians who caved into pressure even begin to pretend that they represent our interests?

According to the latest stats, even 80 percent of Republicans are in favor of these common sense measures. Yesterday was a travesty and a miscarriage of justice for all the innocent babies, children, women and men whose lives have been cut short needlessly. And it's an insult to their families that must carry on, as well as the rest of us who clearly and overwhelmingly are in favor of reform.

I began preaching when I was just a kid in Brooklyn. Today, whether I'm marching in front of the Supreme Court or speaking to young people on our streets, I will hold on to the mantra that I have always lived by: justice shall prevail. I will continue to tell our children that they must put an end to violence, and they must stop glorifying thug life. I will tell them that even though we need an ID to buy alcohol but not to buy a gun, we must be the ones to rid weapons from our neighborhoods. I will tell them that even though there are laws that regulate car drivers, but not owners of automatic weapons, we must regulate the madness. I will tell them that even though many of our senators fear the NRA and gun lobbyists more than they respect 90 percent of the public, we must show them how to be true leaders. And I will tell them that it's up to each and every one of us to show more courage than the 46 political cowards in the U.S. Senate.