Monday night, Leah Gunn Barrett, Executive Director at New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, appeared on MSNBC’s “All In” with Chris Hayes. Barrett, whose brother was murdered in Oklahoma in 1997, had something interesting to say about the reluctance in Congress to do something meaningful in terms of reforming our gun laws:
If congressmen actually had to live in the gun-plagued areas of Washington, D.C., then they might change their tune. They don’t. They live in a bubble. You have to go through a metal detector to go into Congress. You can’t bring assault rifles into Congress. If they want assault rifles on the streets of America, then why can’t we have them in the halls of Congress?
When I first heard that, I thought it was a bit hyperbolic. Of course we can’t have assault rifles in congressional buildings. How crazy is that?
Then I tried to trace the logic that leads one to conclude that assault rifles or any other weapons have no place in Congress, especially assault rifles or other weapons carried by members of the public. The obvious trail of common sense leads to the idea that our legislators, performing public service out in public, shouldn’t be subject to worrying about folks, some of whom might not like some of the public service being performed, packing guns.
But then that logic led me to conclude that as public servants, legislators need to be exposed to the public in lots of public places, not just in the halls of Congress. Thus, once again common sense says that public servants shouldn’t have to worry about people packing guns anywhere in public. But of course in many parts of this country, they do have to worry about it. People can carry guns in all sorts of places, including in supermarket parking lots in Tucson, where Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 others were shot and six were killed, including a nine-year-old girl who was there to see Giffords.
After considering all of that, I then tried to apply the logic of the gun fanatics—like those who run the NRA or unequivocally support it in Congress—to the case of packing guns in the halls or galleries of the United States Capitol. By their logic, there is absolutely no reason why folks shouldn’t be able to carry into congressional buildings any sort of legal weapon, including military-style assault weapons.
The logic of the fanatics goes like this: gun owners are overwhelmingly law-abiding folks and the rights of law-abiding folks ought not to be infringed, even if they want to observe their congressional representatives at work while keeping company with a Bushmaster AR-15, the same assault weapon Adam Lanza used to shoot into the terrified faces of six-year-old kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
And why should legislators, those who support the NRA’s fanatical logic, object to such a thing? Why shouldn’t they argue that we should open up the doors and let every gun-toter in the country walk into congressional buildings armed and ready?
Because although the gun manufacturer-protecting legislators may be NRA toadies, they are not nuts. They know that allowing folks with guns into their place of work would not have a happy ending. And thus we are back to the logic of Leah Gunn Barrett, who asked,
If they want assault rifles on the streets of America, then why can’t we have them in the halls of Congress?
We can’t have them in the halls of Congress because those in charge have a better grasp of reality relative to their small society of legislators than they have for our larger society of citizens. And as President Obama said in that amazing speech in Connecticut on Monday night,
…we’ve got to expect more from Congress. We’ve got to believe that every once in a while, we set politics aside and we just do what’s right. We’ve got to believe that.
Yes, we have to believe that, even though it seems impossible to believe it at the moment.
Attending President Obama’s speech in Hartford was Nicole Hockley and her husband Ian. Their autistic son, six-year-old Dylan—“always laughing and smiling” Nicole said—was killed at Sandy Hook. Dylan was cremated and his urn sits “next to his picture in a cupboard in our bedroom on our dresser,” Nicole said. “Every morning I kiss him good morning and say hi, and he’s the last thing I kiss before I go to bed at night.”
The President referenced Dylan’s mom in his Connecticut speech, a speech that really was a call to citizen action:
I’ve heard Nicole talk about what her life has been like since Dylan was taken from her in December. And one thing she said struck me. She said, “Every night, I beg for him to come to me in my dreams so that I can see him again. And during the day, I just focus on what I need to do to honor him and make change.”
Now, if Nicole can summon the courage to do that, how can the rest of us do any less? How can we do any less?
You tell me.