Post-Vegas Speech for a Member of Congress with Guts
I rise today to discuss the worst mass shooting in United States history, which occurred in Las Vegas on October the 1st, and the failure of members in both the House and Senate to speak to the issue of gun violence in its wake.
The number of American families that have been destroyed by gun violence is staggering. Since 1968, approximately 1.6 million Americans have been taken from us — needlessly — through gun homicides, suicides, and so-called “accidents.” For every American who is killed by gunfire, two more are shot and injured. Sometimes their injuries are debilitating, sometimes catastrophic. The sheer level of suffering we have seen in this country from gun violence is unprecedented among modern democracies, and a constant. Every day, 90 Americans are killed by gunfire and we can’t even be bothered to talk about it.
We have allowed a cancer to grow in our body politic that tells us that horrors like the Las Vegas shooting are “the price of freedom,” as disgraced FOX host Bill O’Reilly recently put it. “Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are,” he stated. “The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.”
Underlying O’Reilly’s opinion is a belief that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to shoot and kill elected officials, police officers, military service members, and other agents of government when he/she personally believes government is behaving in a “tyrannical” manner. Taking on government in 2017 requires military-style armaments — semiautomatic battlefield rifles like the AR-15 and AK-47, high-capacity ammunition magazines that can hold up to 100 rounds, accessories that simulate automatic fire or otherwise make firearms more lethal, ammunition stockpiles, etc. In other words, the exact arsenal possessed by the worst mass shooter in American history.
White men created the Insurrectionist Idea to protect the power and privilege they enjoy in our society. The gun has become a powerful totem to these men. An insurrectionist view of the Second Amendment was promoted by the John Birch Society in the 1960s. The National Rifle Association — which today resembles a violent, white supremacist organization — has done the same since the “Cincinnati Revolt” in 1977. The Insurrectionist Idea has motivated many homegrown terrorists in this country, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Today, these disaffected men see our country changing rapidly — with women, homosexuals, and people of color making an active claim for full and equal rights — and it terrifies them. Their threat to kill us if we deprive them of their power and privilege is essentially their last resort against democracy. The willingness of these same men to embrace the most fascist presidential administration in U.S. history only underscores that point.
To my colleagues I want to be clear. There is absolutely no support for an insurrectionist reading of the Second Amendment in our Constitution or the writings of our Founders.
The Second Amendment states that a “well regulated Militia” — not some ragtag collection of “violent loons” roaming free — is “necessary for the security of a free State.” The Militia was absolutely essential to the enforcement of the rule of law when the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791, as organized police departments did not exist at that time. Our Founders’ goal was law and order, not anarchy.
Additionally, Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution makes it clear that the purpose of the Militia is to “suppress Insurrections,” not to foment them. The President, as Commander in Chief, has power to call state Militia outside their borders to put down rebellions wherever they might occur. Remember, it was the hero of our Revolutionary War, General George Washington, who rode out at the head of 13,000 state militia troops to disband a group of farmers who thought their guns trumped the rule of law. Thomas Jefferson might have flirted with insurrectionism from the safe confines of Paris, but he felt quite differently once he returned to the United States and became president. Just ask would-be conqueror Aaron Burr.
The Insurrectionist Idea is used by the entire Republican establishment in Congress (and some Democrats) to justify weak gun laws in the face of one unprecedented mass shooting after another. And yet, as radical and baseless as their argument is, no member in the House and Senate has been able, or willing, to offer a compelling counter-argument. We have yielded the floor entirely to those who advocate treason against the United States government. It is our duty to provide for the public’s safety, and instead we have tied the hands of law enforcement and made our communities more dangerous through unrestrained firearms proliferation.
To my colleagues who promote insurrectionism, I ask you: Do you honestly believe our Founders wanted Americans to shoot one another in order to resolve disputes over public policy and court rulings? If you do not, is there any amount of power, any degree of fame, any excess of wealth that is worth the death and suffering we have seen from loose gun laws in this country? Can you live with yourself without even trying to do something to stop the daily stream of gun homicides and suicides we see in our communities? Aren’t any of these people worth saving to you? Don’t you know some of them? Don’t you love some of them?
And to my colleagues who tell me they would like to help, but are worried about the political consequences of doing so, I would reply that history will judge you no more warmly than it will the insurrectionists. Cowardice and lack of faith are not an excuse for inaction. This “long game” you think you are playing — in which you repeatedly signal weakness on the gun issue and hope that one day reform will magically happen when “good” people control Congress — is going to prevent us from breaking the gun lobby’s political stranglehold and hasten the end of our democracy.
Some of us have been beaten up so badly by the NRA, harassed and threatened by their supporters with such regularity, that we are now making their arguments for them. Like scared, brainwashed lemmings, we refrain from using the term “gun control,” profess that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns unconnected to militia service, and embrace the argument that one can’t legislate on gun policy unless he/she is a professional gunsmith. [Ask yourselves a question: When is the last time white men in this Congress needed such personal expertise to legislate on the reproductive health of women?]
Our imagination has been stunted. We could mobilize Americans to come to the polls for gun reform through bold, fearless leadership (and demoralize pro-gun activists at the same time) — but we obediently stand down per the instructions of the NRA. Shame on us.
Here’s the bottom line: If you are too petrified to call for a vote to renew the Assault Weapons Ban after a madman inflicts nearly 600 casualties on Americans in just ten minutes with 23 semiautomatic rifles; high-capacity ammunition magazines holding between 60 and 100 rounds; accessories including holographic scopes, bump stocks, and forward pistol grips; and an enormous cache of ammunition, then it’s time for you to find new employment. A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 72% Americans support banning assault weapons days after the Las Vegas shooting.
What happened to the newfound determination we saw during last year’s filibuster and sit-in? Did we think we could fix decades of public policy malpractice in just a few days? Isn’t the vision we have for America — a diverse people, united as one, living in safe communities — worth fighting for?
The time we have to fix this problem is not without limit. In Charlottesville and Las Vegas we saw what a society looks like when the ability of people to congregate and speak in the public square is denied by violent, armed citizens. We have allowed these individuals to directly attack our government and attempt assassinations on our elected officials. How long do we think our democracy can withstand this?
Before you move on and wait for the next unprecedented mass shooting to happen, I would ask you to do one thing. Force yourselves to look at the photographs of dead and dying Americans laying on the ground at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas as bullets rain down on them. We owe the victims and survivors that much. If you can look at those photos, and tell yourself that doing nothing — or continuing to make our gun laws even weaker — is a moral and proper course of action, then there is no longer hope for your redemption.
To the rest of you, it’s time to throw our fears to the wind and fulfill our sacred duty as public servants. If we do this, we can and will protect America’s families and restore our democracy.