In her 2009 commencement address at her alma mater Scripps College, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said,
“There will be many, many times in the course of your professional and personal lives where you will be encouraged — in shockingly plain ways — to take the easy way, to go along with the group in contradiction to your own principles.
“You will one day be standing in the shoes of Faust, most likely somewhere on one of the jobs that you take.
“But the safety of the world, in some sense, depends on your saying “no” to inhumane ideas.
“Standing up for one’s own integrity makes you no friends. It is costly. Yet defiance of the mob, in the service of that which is right, is one of the highest expressions of courage I know.
“A supreme value of education is the understanding that the group consensus is not always right, in fact, that it can be totally wrong and must be subject to thoughtful challenge and questioning.”
Gabby Giffords now fights for her life in a Tucson hospital room, and six devastated families are preparing funerals because some deeply inhumane ideas, perpetrated by the mob, triggered a madman’s rampage.
The mob’s fixation with guns is one of the most inhumane ideas perpetrated in our supposedly modern civilization. The men who wrote the Second Amendment to the Constitution in the late 18th Century were grappling with the lingering forces of insurrection — the American Revolution — and a vast unknown frontier of danger. “The right of the people to bear arms” is a subordinate phrase in the text that opens with the declaration that “a well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free state…” Interpretations of the Constitution that parse the phrases independently of each other are utterly perverse, and have helped to create the present state of violence and insecurity in our society.
Assertions that we all must be able to buy and carry guns freely in order to protect ourselves from madmen reveal a view of a society in constant conflict and fear. The people who claim we need guns to protect ourselves from madmen seem also to miss the point that madmen, too, can buy guns easily, as the terrible case of Jared Lee Loughner illustrates most recently.
Flying to Atlanta last week, I got called out of the security line and was subjected to additional intrusive search as well as a stern lecture because there was half a tube of toothpaste lingering in some forgotten zip pocket of my carry-on bag. I am treated as a terrorist suspect for carrying toothpaste, but in Arizona and an increasing number of states, I can carry an assault rifle in plain view into a public meeting.
Thirteen people have been killed in 12 days in Prince Georges County, my home turf, most of them shot to death. But the owners of Congress — the National Rifle Association — want even more guns to flow even more openly in our communities.
Let’s stop spending time indulging the likes of Sarah Palin and the other politicians and pundits who are using the Tucson tragedy to get facetime on Facebook and other media outlets. Blaming Palin for the Tucson horror gives entirely too much power and attention to the political fringe. The political fringe is not responsible for the acts of madmen like Loughner.
It’s the political mainstream, not the fringe, that has no backbone when it comes to guns. It’s members of Congress who mouth pious words but then vote with their campaign kitties. If the mainstream found a spine on the issue of guns, the ranters on the fringe could keep ranting all they want, exercising that precious freedom of speech that gives everyone the right to rant.
Six people were killed and many others grievously wounded, including Congresswoman Giffords, because a madman was able to walk openly into a sports store and buy a gun quite legally. The law failed all of these victims, and our sense of security as a nation, because the law has been corrupted by the special interests of the gun lobby.
This morning I heard on the radio that some member of Congress has talked about installing a bullet-proof shield between the House Gallery where members of the public sit, and the House floor where elected officials do “the people’s work.” Preposterous! Better that Congress find a way to unsheath their collective conscience from the bulletproof screen of obtuse obeisance to the NRA.
See: Kristof, Regulate Guns Like Toys, New York Times