“I’ll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold dead hands.”
— Citizens Committee for the Right to Bear Arms, Bellevue, Wash.
Those chilling words speak volumes about Americans who steadfastly defend their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment.
It is a perspective that inevitably means that assault weapons end up in the hands of people like 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who ambushed a Newton, Conn., school on Friday.
Eight boys and 12 girls — first graders aged six to seven — were found dead, shot by Lanza at close range up to 11 times. Seven adults were also dead — as well as Lanza, who committed suicide.
And on Saturday, the killings didn’t stop. A man was shot dead by police after opening fire at an Alabama hospital, wounding an officer and two employees.
A few hours later, police killed a man carrying an AK-47 assault rifle after he gunned down three people in a trailer park east of Birmingham.
When will this lunacy stop?
When Americans finally put reasonable limits on the ownership of weapons.
And action must be taken now.
Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, in reaction to the school slaughter, said: “Our hearts go out to the victims . . . and their families. Today is a time for mourning and not politics.”
In fact, now, more than ever, it’s time for politics.
President Barack Obama, in a tear-filled speech on Friday, said the U.S. has “endured too much of these tragedies.” He said American’s will have to take action “regardless of the politics.”
If sincere, he faces a tough battle from those who cradle their guns under the Second Amendment protection. The gun lobby groups are extremely powerful and persuasive in the U.S.
But their cause is indefensible in the face of this and other tragedies.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading voice in gun control has all but demanding Obama confront the gun issue. “This should be his No. 1 agenda (to protect his own people),” said Bloomberg. “He’s the president of the United States. And if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns.”
Filmmaker Michael Moore, famous for the documentary Bowling For Columbine, asked: “Too soon to speak about a gun-crazy nation? No, too late. At least 31 school shootings since Columbine.”
Too often politicians use the “mourning period” after such tragedies to subdue controversy. Once the tears have dried, tempers cool and thoughts of tougher gun laws dissipate. Even after the worst gun massacre in the U.S., at Virginia Tech University in 2007 that claimed 32 lives, the argument was more about carrying weapons on campus as a protective measure, and about the need for more thorough psychological checks.
Americans this year have endured horrific shootings. In July, a gunman opened fire in a theatre in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 people and injuring several. In August, six people were gunned down at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. And recently, a gunman opened fire at an Oregon shopping mall, killing two people.
The powerful gun lobbyists press on despite the repeated tragedies.
Shortly after the April 20, 1999, massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which 15 were killed and 21 injured, the National Rifle Association, American’s foremost defender of the Second Amendment, held its national assembly in Denver.
Despite requests to change the location out of respect for the shooting victims, then-NRA president Charlton Heston was defiant.
“We cannot — we must not — let tragedy lay waste to the most rare and hard-won right (freedom to bear arms) in history. A nation cannot gain safety by giving up freedom,” said Heston. He always concluded his NRA rants by saying “From my cold dead hands,” while waving around a flint-lock rifle.
How many times do Americans have to pry guns from the cold, dead hands of killers before they finally get the message?
The lives lost are far more precious that the freedom to bear arms. The world is full of democratic societies that are able to ensure freedom and entrench civil liberties without allowing their citizens to bear assault weapons. Is America’s social fabric so weak that it can’t similarly ensure freedoms without the threat of violence?
Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.