Dear members of Congress,
Like millions of Americans, I was overwhelmed and heartsick last [month] as I witnessed yet another school shooting.
As a retired teacher, I was appalled by the number of children killed, but heartened to witness the bravery of the victims in their final ordeal. Having seen teachers in action, I was not surprised that many shielded their students as best they could. One even held her beloved children in her arms in death. Many children showed courage, too, even braving gunfire to help each other.
One wishes more politicians had such guts when facing the concentrated fire of the gun lobby. Like all adults, I was once in elementary school myself. I remember my second-grade teacher crying when she told us that President [John F.] Kennedy had been assassinated. In sixth grade, my family was on vacation in Washington when President Kennedy’s brother Robert was shot. I stood in the capitol’s streets the day of the funeral and saw the grey casket of Sen. Kennedy pass before my eyes.
Last year, I served on a jury in a murder trial where a man armed with an AK-47 killed another man in cold blood. In the jury room, we held the weapon and fingered the evil-looking “banana clip.” It struck me as an incongruous name for something so deadly. It held numerous bullets, and was similar to the clip used in [last month’s] shooting.
A sensible person must ask: why do we allow such horror in our country? Must we be perpetual hostages to violence? How much senseless killing can we endure? Of what possible use to civilians is an assault rifle? When will we have the moral courage to ban these odious devices in all their semantic variations? It is time to hold our children in our arms and say: we are your protector! We owe the murdered children, and our living children, a society that lives in hope, not fear.
Ghandi said how we treat our weakest members defines our society. If this is true, we are failing. When we honor the “right” of adults to own a killing machine over the right of innocent children to live and mature, then we have indeed lost our bearings. When some citizens feel they need a gun to protect them from their own government, it speaks volumes about our connection, or lack thereof, to fellow citizens and to the commonweal. When we say we have to debate all “sides of the issue” so we can appease those who would bully us into moral blindness, we are already blind.
What does a murdered child know, or care, about “sides of an issue.” Shame on us.As citizens, there are things we can do. Like many Americans, I have contributed to the Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence. I called the offices of congressional members and reminded them that the sainted Second Amendment speaks of a “well-regulated militia.” I also suggested a new amendment to protect children.
I hope these things help, but in the wake of this unprecedented violence, it seems so little. One citizen can contribute, but you can do great things. As elected officials of the greatest legislative body in history, you can use your power to propose and enact laws that will better protect our schools and children. It requires courage. This is a time you must act not as politicians but as men and women. Do the right thing.
[Former President] Lyndon Johnson supported civil rights legislation in the 1960s and risked his presidency in the process. U.S. Sen. [Richard] Russell [Jr.] told him that he could win the fight over civil rights, but it would cost him the support of the South. Johnson risked it anyway. “What is the presidency for,” he once asked, “if not to lay it on the line?” Ronald Reagan, when faced with a difficult decision during an especially contentious period in his presidency, said “if not us, who? If not now, when?”
Your august body has witnessed many acts of political courage. Joseph Welch once riveted the nation by confronting Joseph McCarthy in a Senate hearing. The senator from Wisconsin was a menace who held congressmen, the public, and even the president in fear. Welch unmasked McCarthy when he asked him, “At long last sir, have you no decency? Until this moment I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” McCarthy was revealed as the bully he was. His power evaporated, and he was destroyed as a political force.
The gun lobby is like McCarthy — posing as a protector of American values and waving the flag, but beneath the mask it is a bullying brute that preaches not reason but force, and peddles not hope but fear. We all might ask ourselves the same question: Indeed, at last, do we have no decency? Are there no lengths we will not go to perpetuate our recklessness? We can live by fear and perish together. But if we dare to hope -- and we are a people of hope -- we still have a chance. We await your leadership.
William P. EuDaly
William P. EuDaly is a retired Gwinnett County high school teacher and a Sandy Springs resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.