Our Better Angels

Assemblymember Charles Lavine
By Charles D. Lavine

We’ll never know if the founders intended to create a nation with the long-term capacity to self-correct. We’ll never know precisely what the Federalists and anti-Federalists had in mind when they designed the Second Amendment.

But every American of good faith, that is every real American, is certain that the men who “mutually pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor” would never have stood idly by as their children were ritually slaughtered.

We are disgusted by the abject butchery in Dayton, El Paso, Gilroy, Virginia Beach, Aurora, Thousand Oaks, Pittsburgh, Annapolis, Santa Fe, Parkland and on and on and on and on and on.

As a young public defender in New York City in 1972, my very first case involved a charge of possession of a zip gun. My client was sentenced to jail.

Most Americans today have never heard of a zip gun, a device made of wood, metal springs and the automobile antennas of years gone by. These homemade weapons could kill, but as often as not succeeded in injuring the shooters themselves.

But by the mid- to late-1970s the world had, as it always does, undergone dramatic change. “Saturday night specials,” cheap handguns were readily available.

Not long afterward, the National Rifle Association was transformed from an organization of hunters and firearms safety instructors into a fully owned subsidiary of the arms manufacturing industry.

The rest is history. Tragic history. America became a culture obsessed with firearms.
As if that is not sufficiently dangerous, when such a spirit synthesizes with primitive ultra-nationalism, the product becomes exponentially more lethal.

No one in my family has yet been sacrificed to the nation’s preoccupation with weapons.

Nevertheless, I spent hours on the phone with Mark Barden, whose precious little son Daniel was buried after Sandy Hook, when I worked on the first “red flag” legislation. That was a difficult conversation for me. It was, however, infinitely and intensely more painful for Mark Barden.

Years later, I would meet Linda Beigel Schulman, who has become a dear friend. She and her family lost her amazing son Scott at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
But it isn’t only the Bardens and the Schulmans that have lost their children. These beautiful angels and so many others have been lost to our collective American family.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, whom I will always hold in deepest reverence, spoke of “our better angels.” He told us that America is the earth’s “last best hope.”

But it will not be the aspirational nation we want for our children unless we are prepared to fight for its integrity, its fortune and its sacred honor.

And that, my friends, has become our challenge.

New York and other great states have enacted laws to curb the national culture of gun violence. I am proud to have fought for laws making it more difficult to possess and sell weapons in New York State.

But your and my children will be victimized by other states that don’t struggle to counter wanton gun violence. To the contrary, reacting to New York’s enactment of the SAFE Act, too many of our sister states passed laws facilitating the sale of weapons, instruments of death that eventually find their way into New York.

The NRA fully owns too many of my colleagues in the national and state legislatures. They obsess with and fetishize gun culture. I have been criticized for writing that too many politicians are so deep in the NRA’s pocket that they can only be found by brushing aside ancient lint and copper pennies.

It is my faith to believe in Lincoln’s “better angels.” But today our people are stalked and hunted by too many “angels of death.”

So, the question for us Americans is this: With which of these angels shall we stand?

Churchill used to say that you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after all else has failed. His birthright, being half American, permitted that observation.

Count the names of our dead and it is all too true that all else has failed.

Now is the time for the President and the Senate to fulfill their solemn responsibility of leadership to protect us from the proliferation of guns in our nation. Now is the time for the President to put an end to his propaganda of prejudice.

The founders would have had it no other way.

After all, isn’t that what America’s life, fortune and sacred honor are all about?

Charles D. Lavine represents the 13th Assembly District.

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