NO ONE CAME TO the National Rifle Association yesterday.
People went to the White House and they gathered outside the hospitals, but no one came to Washington's monument to the gun.
From the doorway of the building you could hear the wail of the city and the panic of the people and you could see the cars with the red lights flashing as they drove by. The president had been shot and his press secretary was shot and a cop and a Secret Service man and so the cars with the flashing lights zigzagged their way around the city, rushing on errands of mercy and justice and investigation and journalism.
It is always like this. It was this way with Gerald Ford who had a pistol drawn on him twice and with George Wallace who is paralyzed to this day and, of course, John and Robert Kennedy. Harry Truman was shot at and so was Franklin Roosevelt and before that Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley and James Garfield too.
Downtown there is Ford's Theatre where Lincoln was shot and somewhere is the place where Andrew Jackson was shot at, but the assailant missed. Washington is full of spots where someone tried to kill a president -- a veritable Dodge City of politics. Thirteen times now presidents or presidential candidates have been assassinated or assaulted and six of these attacks occurred in Washington or its suburbs. The spots should be put on tourist maps so people could see that the way presidents go down is only sometimes by the ballot. Too often it is by the bullet.
But here, where I stand before the National Rifle Association, it is quiet. Here no one comes and here the sirens are far off and here no one stands and points a finger. In the little garden, yellow tulips bow politely to the breeze and the grass is coming in a nice green and downtown they are operating on the president of the United States.
There should be people here, shouldn't there? Shouldn't they come and point a finger and say, enough! Stop! Shouldn't they be here like I am here, sick in the heart and tired of being permanently assigned to the assassination beat. Shouldn't they come here and demand to know when it will stop and when the gun will be taken away and when this country will say once and for all the guns are for the police and no one else.
George Wallace left a pool of blood. I saw it when I got to Laurel. Bobby Kennedy died on the floor. John Kennedy had his head blown away and Gerald Ford had the life scared out of him twice. Lee Harvey Oswald died before our eyes and every day just ordinary people die in an ordinary way: They get shot.
Oh, I know that the NRA did not shoot any of these people. And I know the NRA stands for hunting and fishing and wildlife management. I know about target shooting and rifle teams and pistol shoots and all of that. But I know, too, that in a nation that needs symbols, the NRA is the symbol of the gun. It did not shoot the president and it would condemn the shooting and it would say, with some justification, that it was not a gun that did it -- a man did it. But it would insist on the right to bear arms. You have cars, you will have auto accidents. You have guns, you will have killings. No one ever killed or assaulted a president with a knife.
So I am interested to see if the people will come. But they do not. I am interested to see if they will blame the gun. They do not. I am interested to see where the crowd will go, where the vigil will be maintained, if anyone will conclude that it is the gun that shoots presidents -- that given enough crazy people and enough guns you will always have presidents being shot. The only answer is either not to allow presidents out of the White House, or get rid of the guns.
There is a fine drizzle coming down. Around the corner on Scott Circle. the side entrance to the NRA building is locked. A sign says that the museum is closed. On the wall are the words from the Constitution: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Back on 16th Street, there is still no one and so I walk in the front door.
On the fifth floor, a lady in a print dress says there have been no calls. She checks by phone with the legislative office and they, too, say there have been no calls. I thank her, take the elevator down, sign out and come out on the street. The drizzle has turned to rain. From downtown comes the sound of sirens. I make one last check but nothing has changed. No one came to the NRA building yesterday.
Maybe they'll come next time.