I found National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre's December 21 response to the Newtown murders chilling. It reminded me of another equally chilling moment in my life.
There are moments in life when experience, personal history and events collide to provide insight and perspective. In short, the long view. As we begin the serious walk toward curbing gun violence, I think we need to look back and see how far we have come as a country on another complicated issue. In some ways, the horrific events of resent months remind me of horrific events of 1963.
To be honest, I no longer remember if I actually saw the broadcast or if I just saw the newscast. I know I was sitting with my parents when I heard "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" coming out of the mouth of a white man that my mother explained to me was the governor of Alabama. I remember the sea of white faces cheering, wildly. Though I was sitting on the couch safe between my parents in California far away from Alabama, it was terrifying.
That speech was made 50 years ago this month. I was in fifth grade in a predominately white elementary school in Cupertino, CA. My sister and I had had run ins with some of the white boys on the bus. Though the incidents had stopped by the time of the speech, the bus ride was still tense.
A lot of scary things happened after Wallace's speech throughout the country, including the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the assassination of Medgar Evers. The national focus was on the South. I remember watching TV and seeing Black people being chased and bitten by police dogs, watered down with fire hoses, and hearing about people disappearing and later found dead. While Wallace was not the inventor of racial violence in the South, his words seemed to unleash barely pent-up emotions determined to maintain "a way of life."
In retrospect, I am sure that Governor George Wallace was aware that January 1, 1963 was the Centennial Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation - all the more reason for him to lay down the proverbial gauntlet and encourage numerous stumbling blocks to change. This past January 1 marked the 150 Anniversary, and how things have changed over the past 50 years - even as some things have not.
We are hardly post-racial; however, official segregation has died and we are much more integrated. A strong majority of Americans from a huge variety of backgrounds re-elected Barak Obama as our President. Yet, citizens from 30 states have filed petitions to have their states succeed from the United States.
In his later years, Wallace mellowed. In the late 1980's, he met with Congressman John Lewis and apologized; asked for forgiveness. He understood that he had hurt people. Sometime after that, he traveled throughout Alabama meeting with Black constituents to apologize and asked forgiveness. He won his last election as Governor with 90% of the Black vote.
I don't know if Wallace ever grew to understand he was on the wrong side of history. However, he and the segregationists were. Time has proven that.
I firmly believe that time will prove that the NRA is also on the wrong side of history. The NRA believes that the only way to uphold the Second Amendment to the US Constitution is unfettered gun ownership. LaPierre might as well be saying "unregulated gun ownership today, unregulated gun ownership tomorrow, unregulated gun ownership forever! (Oh, and by the way, you will never be allowed to do any kind of research to counter my opinion!!)"
I really do not understand how LaPierre can propose armed guards at all schools as a serious solution to protecting our children, their staff and teachers! Even the most casual watcher of espionage, war or crime television and movies knows that you plan for there to be armed guards intending to prevent you from doing whatever dastardly or noble thing you want to do. Therefore, the first thing you do is plan how to "neutralize" them!! (BTW, the NRA's new ad promoting this idea dares to ask "Are the President's kids more important than yours?" Well - yes!)
In 1963, my child self didn't know about all of the White Southerners who stuck their necks out and said segregation had to end - but they were there. On Monday, NPR's David Folkenflik did a wonderful salute to one such hero who recently died, Eugene Patterson.
In 2013, we have responsible gun owners saying, we need to discuss curbing gun violence. Among them are Virginia Senator Mark Warner; Richard Feldman, President, Independent Firearm Owners Association; and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, Captain Mark Kelly.
I now understand than curbing gun violence is more than gun control. We need cultural shifts on mental health, violence against women, and violence in our society as a whole. Most importantly, we need a sustained, massive mobilization of people to make changes in laws and permit research to determine the multiple factors that appear to celebrate violence, including celebrating responding to violence with more violence.
Yes, LaPierre and those who agree with him are much better prepared than those of us who want a thoughtful, sustained shift in our culture. According to messages to NRA members, LaPierre is ready to stage "the fight of the century". In every interview he has given since December 21, he has asserted that no changes in legislation will pass through Congress. The NRA believes they have already bought their votes and that there is nothing that any of us who want something different can do in 113th Congress.
I am not willing to cede that to him. We ought to be able to get universal registration, thoughtful changes in mental health laws, and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. However, I am willing to go into the push for those items with the recognition that defeat on each of these is likely. That is why I will also:
- Give what I can when I can to the Giffords/Marks PAC Americans for Responsible Solutions to enable them to "encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership by communicating directly with the constituents that elect them."
- Dialogue with my gun-owning colleagues and friends - many of whom disagree with the NRA. I will encourage them to switch their membership to IFOA or to join a membership group for the first time. And,
- Encourage my gun control friends to add reducing gun violence to the list of items on which they are active. I want them to call, email, fax and tweet their members of Congress, sign every end gun violence petition that comes their way - no matter how repetitive. Additionally, I will ask them to give to organizations and PACs lobbying to curb gun violence.
(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2013