On Sunday evening, shortly after I learned of yet another massacre of innocent Americans by a madman with a gun, I attended the Connecticut premiere of “Newtown,” a documentary chronicling the emotional aftermath for several parents whose children were obliterated by Adam Lanza and his AR-15 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. After the film, I talked with Mark Barden, the father of Daniel Barden, who was murdered at age 7.
I marveled at the strength Mark showed in the face of inconceivable loss, and again in recounting his tortured journey to the filmmakers.
Then I thought about how Congress would respond to the latest atrocity. There would be, for the umpteenth time, a moment of silence. To “honor” the victims. We did it five times just last year: Stop talking about sports and dinner and Donald Trump for about 10 seconds, put on our most serious faces, wonder if we’d turned off our phones. For 10 seconds.
Done. Over. On to the next thing.
Not me. Not anymore.
If the House of Representatives had a solitary moral fiber, even a wisp of human empathy, we would spend moments not in silence, but screaming at painful volume the names of the 49 whose bodies were ripped apart in Orlando, and the previous victims and the ones before them. We’d invite parents and partners and siblings up from Orlando, and ask them to speak, openly, rawly, honestly about their pain. We’d listen. And maybe, just maybe, we’d hear.
In town squares, houses of worship and stadiums, moments of silence are fine emblems of our concern. But Congress houses the 535 people who could come together to pass measures that would reduce the bloody mayhem now so prominently featured in daily American life.
Instead of staying in the House chamber Tuesday night, I walked out of the moment of silence, joined by some of my colleagues. Other Democrats who remained in the chamber tried to get Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to act on gun control legislation. To no avail.
Congress exists to reflect the will of the people. The vast majority of Americans support measures such as universal background checks, keeping people on the no-fly list from purchasing weapons and limits on how ferocious a weapon a civilian can own. But Congress offers only silence.
I understand that mass killings are complicated. They may involve bigotry, homophobia, mental health problems or terrorism. We should, and we do, work hard to address those things and deal with root causes. But the common element here — the bullet leaving a barrel and turning someone’s son or daughter into a bloody corpse — is one that we address only with silence.
I support Second Amendment rights. I enjoy recreational shooting. I even have a tattered musket in the garage. But like so many Americans, I recognize that there is no such thing as an absolute right, that your right to buy a military weapon without hindrance, delay or training cannot trump Daniel Barden’s right to see his eighth birthday.
Like so many people in the United States and even more around the world, I can’t fathom why we make it harder to legally drive a car than to legally purchase a weapon. I don’t fully understand why a fairly reasonable set of measures unleashes a torrent of hate, threats and anger worthy of Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell toward elected officials who speak out for reform.
All I know is that the regular moments of silence on the House floor do not honor the victims of violence. They are an affront. In the chamber where change is made, they are a tepid, self-satisfying emblem of impotence and willful negligence. It is action that will stop next week’s mass shooting.
I will not be silent.