Thursday, May 23, 2013

from What the Gun Debate Reveals about the Republican Party and Political Leadership

by John Shelby Spong

A message to my readers: After the deadline for the publication of this column the terrorist bombing at the end of the Boston marathon occurred, leaving many of us enraged, saddened and despairing about the levels of violence that apparently engulf the world. It also put the content of this column into a new perspective. Our prayers go out to the victims and our thanks go to the first responders, but our hopes to build a better world remain in tact. When all the facts become clear we will look again at what this new terror episode means to our churning understanding of what it means to be human.
~John Shelby Spong

Something seems to be missing from the equation or perhaps I am just not smart enough to understand the dynamics. The fact is I don’t get it! Perhaps there is something subliminal going on that will in time be revealed. For the life of me, however, I find it difficult to understand why the intelligent people, elected to the Congress, are having such a hard time deciding whether or not to vote for universal background checks as a prerequisite for buying a gun. I do not understand why there is a debate on whether to limit a magazine clip to ten bullets on a gun sold to a civilian. I do not understand why any private citizen needs to own an assault weapon?

While I was trying to make sense out of these questions and the behavior of our elected officials, I watched as a group of Republican senators sought to block the Senate from even being able to debate, much less pass any gun reform legislation. Led first by four of the regular right-wing grandstanders in the Senate, who were enhancing their image with the Tea Party types, they were soon joined by 11 others including the Senate Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. It then became the position of the majority of the Republican senators, when 31 of the 45 of them voted in an attempt to prevent this bill from even being considered by the legislative wing of our government. Are there that many senators who are that out of touch with the people of this country? Is this now the official position of the Republican Party? With every poll of our citizens showing majorities ranging from 91% to 56% in support of the various provisions of this gun reform law, I am driven to the conclusion that something irrational has become the point of view of one of the major political parties in this nation, which means that something dreadful is going on in my country!

I try to listen to these people’s arguments, seeking to discover some semblance of rationality, but it eludes me. In this legislation I see no attempt to revoke the second amendment’s guarantee of a citizen’s right to bear arms. I see only an effort to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of mentally sick and clearly distorted members of our society by requiring universal background checks before a gun can be purchased. People getting drivers’ licenses at least have their criminal records checked.

I understand why people who live in non-urban areas, separated by distances from police protection or even from their nearest neighbors, might need to arm themselves against possible intruders, but action-activated spot lights, alarm systems and well placed cameras can provide far more effective security and at a much cheaper price and if that security system were supported by a shotgun, a rifle or even a six shooter, sufficient protection to alleviate all fear would be accomplished. More than that seems to me to reflect rampant paranoia.

I listen to gun lobbyists suggest that only a society armed to the teeth will ever be a safe society and I find no facts that bear out this claim. America has more guns per person in our population than any other developed nation in the world. If guns make us safer then why does this nation also have the highest murder rate of any developed nation? What kind of nation is it that does nothing when school children are regularly lost to gun-carrying killers? No place appears to be safe from violence. University students at Virginia Tech, a campus with its own security forces, who are in fact well-armed, were murdered in their classrooms by a mentally-disturbed former student, who had access to a high magazine attack weapon.

A member of congress, Representative Gabby Gifford, addressing her constituents in her home state of Arizona, was shot as were others meeting with her, including children, who came to “meet the congresswoman,” were killed. Members of a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin were murdered by an armed psychopath while gathering for worship. Children at school in Columbine, Colorado, were slaughtered by armed disgruntled students, and children, six and seven years old, in Newtown, Connecticut, were senselessly murdered by a young man with an attack weapon, who had just killed his mother. Innocent, unnamed, urban teenagers are regularly caught in the crossfire and killed in some of our crime-ridden, drug infested cities.

How many must die before our elected leaders develop an effective response? Political and transformative figures have also been victims of our violent society. One thinks of such leaders as John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, George Wallace, Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and Ronald Reagan who have been hunted down and shot by a wide variety of potential killers. How is it possible that some of our political officials think that limiting access to killing weapons compromises civil liberties more than protecting the potential victims of gun violence? Are not murdered people rendered devoid of every civil liberty?

Are our elected leaders so afraid that if they had to cast a vote on this bill they would either lose their seat in the Senate or close off from themselves forever the lucrative support of the gun lobby? Is that fear more compelling than protecting the innocent from gun violence? Is there no issue worth risking one’s Senate seat? Then why did these people seek election in the first place? Since all but two of those who threatened to block any vote on these issues were Republicans, we must ask whether there is anyone in the Republican Party willing to speak out against this vote-dodging behavior of their leaders in congress?

Has Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, by embracing that attempt to prohibit even a vote on these issues, not sacrificed any leadership potential that he ever possessed? This is the same national leader who stated some four years ago that his top priority was not to help lead the country through the worst economic crisis since the depression or to help bring an end to two wars that were instrumental in bringing the economy to the edge of bankruptcy, but it was rather to limit his political opponent to being a “one-term president.” Does that statement not border on irresponsibility, if not treason? What does leadership mean?

That is not the only bizarre act that now plagues this party. During the last presidential election in states where the Republicans controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislatures, which included states from Pennsylvania to Florida and from Ohio to South Carolina, efforts were made by a variety of barely legal means, to suppress minority voting. Is that the way democracy works? Are they willing to subvert this democracy in order to gain political power? Why were they not worried about the civil liberties of minority voters? Is this the party of Abraham Lincoln who, for his efforts to end slavery lost his life, and as a result once had the fierce loyalty of the great majority of America’s black voters? Is this the party of Theodore Roosevelt? Is it even the party of Ronald Reagan?

This is, however, the same Republican Party that wants to limit the health care options available to women in the workplace, to mandate invasive ultra-sound procedures for women seeking a legal abortion, whose representatives denied that a woman could get pregnant from “legitimate” rape, all in order to force women to conform to the narrow religious agenda of these spokespersons. Was it not the presidential candidate of this party who wanted to “self deport” illegal immigrants by seeing to it that they received no support, no jobs, no education and no health care? Do they really believe that in the last presidential election they lost by huge majorities, the votes of women, young people, African-Americans and Latinos only because they did not communicate their policies well? Or do they think no one was listening?

I suggest they communicated quite well and that these voters did not like their message! I wonder whether or not this party has, out of its fear of losing power, become suicidal, or does it simply suffer from a death wish? Is this party destined to go the way of the “Whigs?” Does it not recognize that a two-party system vying for the support of the majority is what makes this country work?

The gun vote in congress is a matter of life and death to many people. It is a vote both about public safety and about what kind of a nation we are becoming and what kind of nation we want to be. When leaders get so far out of touch with the people they were elected to serve and when the people begin to feel that they cannot make these leaders hear their voices the seeds of revolution are at that moment being sown.

If Senator McConnell, along with Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, just to name the most vocal of those who tried stop even a vote on the gun bill, are in fact the face of the modern-day Republican Party in the United States, then this party has no future. I urge other Republicans in the Senate, in the House and Republican governors around the country to separate themselves from their current congressional leadership and to call their party back to their constitutional role of responsible opposition. That is the only way Republicans will have a chance to share in tomorrow’s leadership in America.


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