At least 20 schoolchildren and six adults are dead in Connecticut at the hands of still another monster with still another assault weapon.
If I may speak as a father who dropped off his children at an elementary school today, this story did not happen 1,000 miles away. It is as local as local gets, and it is as personal as personal gets.
I am not rational about this today, nor do I care to be, because what happened today cries out for raw emotion and rage. I am as sad and angry about what happened in Connecticut as I have ever been about any news story ever, and that includes the September 11 tragedy, which prompted me to write a ranting tirade for The Riverfront Times.
Let this be the September 11 moment for gun control in the United States of America.
This is not the time for calm and patience and understanding and introspection. This is a time for action about the scourge of assault weaponry in this country.
We of course should pray and cry for the victims, and for the families whose lives have been permanently shattered, and we do. But something tells me that all those prayers and tears are not really going to do much for those poor souls today. Nothing will.
But we need to do something now. We need to do more than grieve for the victims and their families.
We need to legislate for them.
With no apology, I write these words without full possession of the details. I’m happy to indict assault weaponry on the purely speculative assumption that the monster in Newtown, Conn. didn’t perpetrate his evil with a hunting rifle alone. And if it turns out that the weaponry that could discharge so many rounds so quickly doesn’t fit the technical definition of assault weaponry, then that definition needs to be expanded, and the weapons outlawed.
In expressing President Obama’s sympathy and prayers for the victims, Press Secretary Jay Carney made the obligatory statement that “today is not the day” to discuss renewing the federal assault weapons ban, which Obama has said he supports. I understand that position, and it is the appropriate message to for the President to put forth out of respect for the victims and the horror that has occurred.
But today is the day that has a lot of us raging, and today is as good a day as any to demand that the nation turn its anger on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and anyone else responsible for perpetrating the spread and easy availability of assault weaponry.
The NRA can go to hell.
If NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre was a real man, he’d make his way to Connecticut to explain to those grieving parents that the guns didn’t kill their children, the shooter did. Or maybe he could tell them that the tragedy could have been avoided if only the teachers had been armed, or perhaps the children were themselves. Or maybe he could tell them about how precious the Second Amendment is.
Then he could go on to attack people like me in the liberal media for exploiting this tragedy for an anti-gun agenda. He could make it clear on Fox News that the real victim here, in the end, is the Second Amendment and those who so heroically defend it.
I’m honored to plead guilty as charged. I’m all for the rights of hunters to have their hunting weapons, and all for the rights of Americans to own basic weapons for their self-defense, but none of that has anything to do with assault weaponry. Not even a little bit.
Congress should act immediately—maybe today—to reinstate the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994, the one that was allowed to expire in 2004. Were it not for the NRA, and the politicians who have prostituted themselves for its favor—or out of fear of its political wrath—that simple piece of legislation would be the law today.
If there is a one-in-a-million chance that today’s tragedy might have been avoided had that ban still been on the books, it would have been worth it. Make that one-in-a-billion.
And I think there are plenty of other gun-control measures that the U.S. should enact to make the acquisition of guns more difficult than, say, getting registered to vote. We should have longer waiting periods for gun purchases. We should prevent gun shows from circumventing reasonable gun laws. We should register guns, just like cars.
Yes, gun ownership should be legal, but it’s not a civil liberty that must be uniquely protected from any form of regulation. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can threaten to kill people. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean you can perform ritual sacrifices. Freedom of assembly doesn’t mean you never need a parade permit. America can regulate the Second Amendment without destroying it. It can enact sane gun-control policies designed to made the country safer for its citizens without compromising their liberty.
That’s my anti-gun agenda, and I’m proud of it.
The burden of proof isn’t on the likes of me to prove positive that today’s tragedy would not have happened if assault weapons had been banned. The burden is on the NRA to prove why we need to be content to shake our heads in sadness about some isolated madman’s madness, and then go back to making sure that his weapons might be there for the next madman.
If that makes me crazy, so be it. If you’re a loyal NRA member, and I have offended you today—and I know it offends you even that I’m writing this today—then let me offend you a little more with this bit of craziness:
Those poor little children in Connecticut were a lot more precious than your Second Amendment rights could ever be.
Commentary by Ray Hartmann