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Speech at the "Stand Up for Gun Sanity" rally, sponsored by the Bergen County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, Sunday, April 21, 2013, Christ Episcopal Church, Ridgewood, NJ

We thought Newtown would be different. Why? Because the specter of 6- and 7-year-old-bodies, each riddled by as many as 10 or 12 bullet holes from a semi-automatic rifle, was too horrible to imagine. Surely that image would be the tipping point, the impetus to get Congress to act.

But here we are, 128 days after Newtown, denied by Senate procedure of even getting a substantive vote on the mildest of the reforms that have been proposed—background checks for gun purchasers. Knowing that the bill would probably not have been brought to the floor in the House, we still clung to the hope that the Senate would act, swayed, perhaps, by Newtown parents knocking on their doors, holding pictures of children almost angelic in their smiling innocence.

We even acquiesced in the removal of the term "universal" from those background checks, willing to accept a watered-down version of a law, simply to get something . . . something.

Those of us who follow politics were not surprised by the result.

In January, I wrote, for an article in The Record, "I don't think the president will succeed on the assault weapon ban, given the reality of a House so gerrymandered that the only concern of Republican representatives is to avoid being 'primaried' by a candidate to the right of them."

In March, for another Record article, after hopes were raised for enhanced background checks, I wrote, "Frankly, it isn't certain that any gun-control legislation will make it through Congress, which, as we have so often seen, marches to a different drummer. Meaningful gun control legislation making it through this 113th Congress is about as likely as N.R.A. Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre becoming the next American Idol."

Gun safety should be non-partisan, and we are often reminded by the media that some Democrats also failed to support the measures that went down to defeat last week. But let's not kid ourselves. Four red-state Democrats voted against enhanced background checks to protect their "A" ratings with the NRA, while 42 Republicans turned their backs on the Newtown families.

I'm an Independent, and in my political writings, I have been an equal opportunity basher of Democratic as well as Republican hypocrisy and political cowardice. So, let's be honest here this evening. Opposition to reasonable gun control measures is firmly rooted in the right wing of the Republican Party, which is fast becoming the only wing of the Republican Party. My father's Republican Party no longer exists. Truth be told, Ronald Reagan's Republican Party no longer exists.

Who's to blame? The NRA? Gun Owners of America? a group even more extreme than the NRA. It's true that the gun lobby strikes fear in the hearts of too many elected officials. But no, the gun lobby is not to blame, not in my opinion.

I look to that wise political philosopher of the 1940's and -50's. Some of you old-timers will know to whom I refer. Pogo, the comic-strip character who stood in the prow of his leaky rowboat, wooden sword held aloft, and, in a parody of naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry, another name you don't know, proclaimed that, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

We, the American public, have short attention spans. In a recent poll taken after Newtown, Americans were asked about their most pressing political issues. Only four percent listed gun violence.

Groups like the Bergen County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence are working to change that, but it is not change that will come easily, especially if gun-control advocates continue to under-estimate the opposition and continue to harbor unreasonable expectations.

The Newtowns and Columbines and Auroras and Virginia Techs are not going to stop until comprehensive reforms are enacted, dealing not just with assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and background checks and gun-trafficking, but also with difficult mental health issues that turn troubled young men with access to these weapons into mass murderers of children, and with the culture of violence that permeates our society.

It's been estimated that there are up to 300 million guns in the US today; two million of them are the AR-15 Bushmasters used at Newtown and Aurora. We must not ignore this reality. If we got an assault weapon ban tomorrow that outlawed any rifle more power-ful than a Red Ryder BB gun, it wouldn't end the presence of these weapons in our society, nor stop these mass shootings. If you cling to that hope, you are not being realistic about this problem.

Forget about confiscation. That is not going to happen in this country. Not ever.

Remember Charlton Heston's rallying cry at an NRA convention? Holding a rifle aloft, and in a voice that Moses might have used to chill the blood of Pharaoh, he shouted to the cheering crowd, "FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS." There is a sizeable segment of our population that believes just that. Any gun control measure is taking away their liberty. They need high-capacity magazines, armor-piercing ammunition, and .50 caliber weapons for self-defense.

Clearly, the problem is more complicated than gun control, and it will take legislators at the state and national level with the wisdom and guts to address it. I'm not sure we are going to get there any time soon. That doesn't mean we should stop trying, but I am afraid the road will be long and hard, with more casualties along the way.

On "60 Minutes" two weeks ago, we saw very courageous parents of the children killed at Newtown. They should make that segment required viewing for every US senator and representative. Maybe some of that courage would rub off, but that's doubtful. If John Kennedy were around today to write a sequel to his Pulitzer-prize winning book, he wouldn't find enough "profiles in courage" in this Congress to fill a chapter, let alone a book.

Copyright © 2013 by Richard Muti. All rights reserved for all content published on this website.
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