Take out the Kleenex or the aspirin for Wednesday's gun showdown on Capitol Hill—it will pull at your heartstrings or make you angry, depending on which side you’re on and who’s doing the talking.
With her husband tearing up close by, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords spoke slowly as she delivered a brief but powerful opening statement at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control:
“Thank you for inviting me here today. This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans. Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying, too many children. We must do something. It will be hard but the time is now. You must act.”
“Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you—thank you,” she haltingly urged the Senate in conclusion, impeded in speech by neurological damage but valiantly strong in spirit and resolve.
Shot in the head in January 2011 and permanently impaired, Giffords has made a heroic recovery. But others were not so fortunate. Six people were killed in the shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., including 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Thirteen others were injured.
Sadly, that was just one of our nation’s many recent mass shootings, with the savagery of the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., catapulting this gun debate. On Dec. 14 last year, 20 first-grade students and six educators were brutally ripped to shreds by a crazed gunman wielding a high-capacity killing machine called the Bushmaster, along with other weapons. This senseless slaughtering of 6- and 7-year-old children finally galvanized the nation into what looked like some semblance of action.
Giffords’ husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, also spoke, saying he would gladly give up his right to own guns if he could bring back young Christina-Taylor Green. He said he and his wife were gun owners and that stepping on the Second Amendment was not part of their agenda, but he added that "rights demand responsibility." Kelly, who wants tougher background checks as a part of a reform of gun laws, said that if killer Jared Loughner were given a thorough background check, his wife and others would not have been shot.
"Gabby is a gun owner and I'm a gun owner," Kelly told the Senate panel. "We have our firearms for the same reason that millions of Americans just like us have guns: to defend ourselves, to defend our families, for hunting, and for target shooting."
Kelly added, "When dangerous people get guns, we're all vulnerable. When dangerous people get dangerous guns, we are all the more vulnerable. Dangerous people with weapons specifically designed to inflict maximum lethality upon others have turned every single corner of our society into places of carnage and gross human loss."
However, not everyone on the Hill saw things the same way as Giffords, Kelly, the Sandy Hook parents and other gun control advocates. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he had two little daughters, ages 2 and 4, and understood the pain of parents who have lost their children to gun violence. He said he was “utterly horrified by the depravity” of it all. But he went on to say that experience had shown him that emotion leads to bad legislation.
I always say that a “but” cancels out whatever went before it—and the senator many have bolstered that theory. While “we should be relentless and vigilant” in protecting our communities against violent criminals, we should also be equally “vigilant in protecting the Constitution.” Well, we know where Cruz is going with this; we have heard it all before.
Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, must have smiled from ear to ear when Cruz added that the assault weapons ban hadn’t stopped gun violence, bringing out charts and graphs in a dramatic show of evidence. He called the ban a “singularly ineffective piece of legislation.” Cruz said that the legislation proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was “falsely” portraying this issue to the American people—who they say have no idea what an assault weapon is. All the new measure would do if passed, Cruz argued, is reduce ordinary hunting rifles to banned status if a clip is added to it.
LaPierre staunchly defended his position, saying that law-abiding gun owners should not take the blame for violent criminals. When Kelly challenged him directly on what the NRA was willing to compromise, he sidestepped the question, sticking to his usual talking points of background checks not working.
I think you know what’s coming next. After all the passionate pleas for sound, commonsense solutions to our gun-violence problem, the Senate Judiciary chair rejected Feinstein's assault weapons ban. Surprise, surprise. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said all we needed to do was enforce the laws currently on the books.
Maybe he forgot that the NRA, with the help of Congress, has effectively muzzled the people charged with overseeing and implementing our gun laws? The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms does not even have a permanent head. [Read more on this here.]
The powerful NRA is intricately woven into Washington on both sides of the aisle, spending millions on lawmakers’ political campaigns. Several Democrats also are balking at tougher gun regulations, and one can safely say gun lobbyists are good at what they do. But then again, what big special interest groups or big business lobbyists in Washington aren’t?
It’s sort of “big pimping, politicking and tricking,” where everyone knows their roles.