Here is what you do.
Here is what you do if, like me, the recent horrific slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School has left you with feelings of shock, horror, grief — and shame.
Shame, for me, because I have through my indifference allowed the legalized possession of assault weapons capable of inflicting massive destruction to become “normal.” Shame because I have taken as an unchangeable fact of life the enormous influence on our political processes of the National Rifle Association. Shame because I recognize that inaction is a form of action and silence is a form of tacit acceptance.
What you do — what I now do — is resolve to act according to a single, simple principle: I will give no money to any candidate for local, state, or national political office who does not openly and actively support a ban on the legal possession of military-style assault weapons.
Not a partisan issue
This should not be a Democratic or a Republican issue. One can be for or against smaller government, for or against higher tax rates for the wealthy, for or against single-payer health care, for or against the legalization of same-sex marriage. One can believe or not in the reality of human-generated climate change.
None of this should prevent our coming together to declare that there is no conceivable reason for the mother of Adam Lanza to be in legal possession of the .223 caliber, semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle that was used in the Newtown, Conn., massacre — a military weapon designed for quick reloading and to inflict enormous and rapid devastation. And so it did.
I understand that banning such weapons is not the sole answer to the profound questions raised by the Sandy Hook killings. We need to be shaken out of our national apathy on the question of how best to treat those with severe mental health problems, and we need to examine closely our distinctive national culture of violence.
But we also need to begin somewhere, and I will allow no preposterous arguments about slippery slopes or government plots to steal our liberties to prevent my beginning here. I will listen quietly to no more arguments about “people killing people” rather than “guns killing people,” because the reality is that certain kinds of guns allow people to kill people much more easily and rapidly and that in societies in which such guns are banned — meaning pretty much everywhere but the United States — fewer people, fewer children, are murdered.
A language they’ll understand
Of course withholding money seems in many respects like a hopelessly inadequate response to the murder of children and teachers. But the sad reality is that many of our elected officials are motivated chiefly by the desire for re-election and that, rightly or wrongly, money is perceived as essential to fulfilling that desire. To withhold money is to speak in a language they will understand.
So from this day forward my first question to anyone calling or emailing or knocking on my door to solicit support will be the same: Does your candidate openly and actively support a ban on the legal possession of military-style assault weapons? “He has no view” will not be a good enough answer, nor will “she believes that we need to have a serious national discussion about this issue.” I will be looking for a simple yes or no.
And if the answer is not yes? Well, here will be my answer to those who come looking for a check:
From my cold, dead hands.
Brian Rosenberg is the president of Macalester College.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
Write your reaction to this piece in Comments below. Or consider submitting your own Community Voices commentary; for information, email Susan Albright.