About Us| Issues & Campaigns| Media| Get Involved| New to the Issue?| Donate

March 30, 2009

Lest We Forget

My dear friends Jim and Sarah Brady have issued a call for Americans across the country to join them on Monday, March 30, at noon for a National Day of Prayer to End Gun Violence. They are asking for prayers “for a peaceable society where all children have the opportunity to grow and prosper, and where everyone can live without fear of being cut down by firearm violence.” 280 people are shot every day in the United States.

This day is of special significance as it is the day that Jim was wounded in the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan and it leads us into a month of anniversaries of gun violence that are all too familiar: April 4—Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated; April 16—Virginia Tech tragedy; and April 20—shooting at Columbine High School. Because every day in America brings new tragedies, we must now, sadly, add another to this list: March 29—Massacre at nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina.

President Reagan’s experience with gun violence, while horrifying, was far from unique. In the brief history of our nation, we have had 44 Presidents. Four of them were assassinated with guns while in office; six others were the victims of attempted assassinations:

Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed on April 14, 1865.

James A. Garfield was shot and killed on July 2, 1881.

William McKinley was shot and killed on Sept. 6, 1901.

John F. Kennedy was shot and killed on Nov 22, 1963.

Ronald Reagan was shot and severely wounded on March 31, 1981.

Andrew Jackson was shot at in the Capitol building on January 30, 1835, but avoided injury.

Theodore Roosevelt was shot in 1912 while campaigning for president.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was shot at on February 15, 1933, in Miami, Florida, just three weeks before his inauguration.

Assassins attempted to shoot and kill Harry Truman on November 1, 1950 but were stopped in a gunfight outside the Blair House.

Not one, but two, disturbed individuals attempted to shoot and kill Gerald Ford during his brief time as president.

As Sarah Brady has said in issuing the call for a Day of Prayer: “In this new day of hope and optimism, let us acknowledge our individual and collective power to create change through prayer.” Let us all do our part at noon today, as we envision a better future for America, “a future where criminals and dangerous individuals attempt to obtain guns and find it difficult or impossible to do so.”

March 23, 2009

Hobson's Choice a Faustian Bargain

Way back in June of 1783, nearly 400 soldiers of the Continental Army marched on the U.S. Congress in Philadelphia demanding back pay for their duty during the Revolution. The Congress called upon the Executive Council of Pennsylvania to stop the mutiny.

Pennsylvania's subsequent failure to protect the institutions of the national government, however, was a primary reason why the framers of the Constitution decided to create a federal district distinct from the states, where Congress could provide for its own security. The delegates therefore agreed in Article One, Section 8, of the United States Constitution to give the Congress the power "to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States."

In 1790, Congress created the District of Columbia to serve as the new federal capital. The small seat of government foreseen by the Congress has now grown into a major international city with more than half a million residents.

Unfortunately, the District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction in the United States where Americans fulfill all the responsibilities of citizenship but are denied equal rights. Americans living in Washington, D.C., have no voting representation in either chamber of Congress. They truly suffer from “Taxation Without Representation.”

Recently, Congress took up the “D.C. House Voting Rights Act” (H.R.157/S.160), bipartisan legislation that would grant one voting Representative to District residents for the first time ever.

This act of democratic sanity somehow struck a chord of fear and opportunism in the National Rifle Association (NRA) leadership in Virginia. The NRA quickly convinced lawmakers to attach an amendment to the Voting Rights Act which would remove the city's firearm registration requirements, repeal the District's ban on assault weapons, and prohibit the D.C. Council from regulating firearms in the future. The Senate then passed the bill with the NRA amendment, prompting this response from D.C. Council Member Phil Mendelson: "The irony here is that on one hand they vote to give us voting representation, but on the other hand they strip any local representation in regards to our gun laws."

The bill is currently pending in the House of Representatives, where the Democratic Leadership is unwilling at this time to press for a vote, fearing that the NRA amendment will pass as well. Millions of D.C. residents are now facing a Hobson’s Choice: get one vote in the House of Representatives and sacrifice public safety in your city, or remain totally unrepresented in the People’s House. As an American citizen who has resided in the District of Columbia for the past 50 years, I deeply resent the attempt of a partisan right-wing political lobby to force such a choice on me and my fellow D.C. residents.

One thing is certain: the NRA’s “Ensign Amendment” is a clear and grave threat to public safety in the District of Columbia. Now is the time to fight back against the gun lobby’s cynical and cold-blooded ploy and stand together for the principle that is at the foundation of the “D.C. House Voting Rights Act”: self-determination.

March 16, 2009

March Madness

I can't help being struck by the irony of American college students being warned by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to stay out of Mexico during Spring Break because of the danger of gun violence created by the assault weapons that are being trafficked south of the border from our own country. Authorities have confirmed that U.S. guns stores and gun shows are the source of more than 90% of Mexico’s crime guns. The American weapons of choice for Mexico’s drug cartels? 9mm pistols, .38 Super pistols, 5.7mm pistols, .45-caliber pistols, AR-15 type rifles, and AK-47 type rifles.

Just four days before the ATF travel alert, 22 Democrats joined Republicans in the U.S. Senate to approve a National Rifle Association-drafted amendment to the D.C. voting rights bill that would force the 600,000 residents of Washington, D.C. to legalize assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in the city. The bill, which is supposed to stand for the principle of self-determination, has since been stalled in the House of Representatives because Democratic leaders cannot figure out a way to overcome their own party’s supplication to the gun lobby.

Then, last Tuesday—in what can no longer be called a coincidence in our gun-obsessed and violence-ridden nation—a man who had failed in his dreams to become a U.S. Marine and police officer went on an assault weapons shooting spree in the Alabama countryside. Discharging more than 200 rounds from two assault rifles with high-capacity magazines that were taped together, Michael McClendon killed 10 people and then himself.

The term "March Madness" is taking on new meaning this year.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

March 9, 2009

The Duty of Every Individual

The U.S. Senate has always embraced tradition and precedent, and one of the chamber’s great traditions is to read George Washington’s Farewell Address every year on the birthday of our extraordinary first president. This year, the honor of reciting this wonderful speech went to newly-elected Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

Washington’s Address is a remarkable commentary on the virtues of our Constitutional Government which seems as relevant today as it was 212 years ago. In the speech, Washington makes clear our duties and responsibilities as American citizens:

“This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.”

Indeed, Washington advised American citizens that “your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.”

Listening to the Address again, I couldn’t help but think of the current debate over gun control in America. One of the ideas that has gained great currency among right-wing commentators in our country is that the Second Amendment grants individuals the right to stockpile firearms against our Government and take violent action should it become “tyrannical.” This disturbing argument was advanced by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in its amicus brief in D.C. v. Heller (“The Framers sought to effectuate their purpose of guarding against federal overreaching by guaranteeing the right of the people to keep and bear arms … Arms dispersed among the people would prove far more difficult to confiscate”) and even gained currency with Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion in the case (“When the able-bodied men of a nation are trained in arms and organized, they are better able to resist tyranny”).

I wonder if Justice Scalia has ever surfed the Internet. If he had, he might have seen comments like this one left on my blog by a pro-gun activist last week:

“The 2nd Amendment was written so that ‘the People’ will NOT be ‘outgunned’ by ANY military/police force, foreign or domestic … Military and police have access to weapons civilians are ‘forbidden’ to own i.e. machine guns etc. How is a civilian with a bolt action rifle or revolver or semi-auto handgun with a magazine restriction supposed to combat against someone else with better weapons and a larger magazine capacity?????”

What would Washington have thought of this insurrectionist chest-beating? Well, his reaction to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 provides us with clear answers to that question. The rebellion involved a series of violent attacks on excise agents that were launched by farmers in the western counties of Pennsylvania. The rebels were angered by a new federal tax that had been imposed on whiskey in 1791.

In a proclamation, President Washington described the rebels as “insurgents” and condemned their “overt acts of levying war against the United States.” Nearly 13,000 state militiamen were called up by the president, and they marched into Pennsylvania and quickly quelled the rebellion. The incident, however, was still on President Washington’s mind two years later in his Farewell Address:

“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government ... All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests. However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Washington’s warning still rings in our ears today as the gun lobby continues to encourage Americans to arm themselves against our Government. Let us hope that our Members of Congress, who pay tribute to our great Founding Father annually, take his words to heart and explore the publicly-stated rationale for opposition to sensible gun laws in this country.

March 2, 2009

The Shimmering Mirage

As I sit here and watch the snow that threatens to blanket much of the entire east coast of the country, my thoughts run to the words of the noted philosopher Howard Thurman from his book of meditations, Deep is the Hunger:

“All travelers somewhere along the way, find it necessary to check their course, to see how they are doing. We wait until we are sick, or shocked into stillness, before we do the commonplace thing of getting our bearings.”

This Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran an article by Bathsheba Monk titled “My New Gun.” Ms. Monk, a writer and resident of Allentown, Pennsylvania, described how—due to “the worsening financial news”—she has purchased a gun for “protection.” “You might as well get used to a .38 [caliber handgun]” a friend and gun enthusiast told her. “You want it to make a nice big hole.”

Ms. Monk wrote that a clerk at the gun store where she made her purchase told her that many handguns were out of stock. Background check records indicate that arms sales around the country have been increasing “in inverse proportion to the collapsing economy and in response to the unsubstantiated buzz that the new administration is going to tighten gun control.”

This chilling story brought to mind a poem by Australian poet/theologian, Bruce D. Prewer entitled “Thoughts in the Desert”:

“Those who dare to test their wits
In dry inhospitable territory,
Where no one is waiting
To receive them,
Return with
a word;

The dire danger to the adventurer
is not demoralizing gibber plains
nor ridge after ridge of sand,
but the distracting lure
of the shimmering mirage.

To distinguish reality from the illusion
And to keep one’s bearings and course
In spite of the mink’s treachery—
This is the ultimate test for the pilgrims
and prophets.

City prophets have a variation on this word:
Deserts take victims swiftly, savagely,
But urban mirages work slowly,
Day by day diverting prey
And destroying souls
still smiling.”