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Commentary: Gabby Giffords, on guns, speaks loudly and clearly

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 7, 2013 - On Jan. 30, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — known to her friends as Gabby — and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Several members of the upper chamber on Capitol Hill have apparently become concerned that there might be some sort of gun violence problem in our nation and decided to hold hearings to see whether Congress should try to do something about it. Well, you can’t fool these guys for too long…

Gabby was escorted to the mic by her husband, who appeared to physically support her while she spoke. Her eyes were wide and bright behind thick glasses, her hair was perfectly coiffed — she looked like a studious little girl who’d donned her Sunday best and taken the stage to recite her lessons before faculty elders.

The sing-song quality of her intonation heightened the schoolgirl effect and sounded almost whimsical, but it was obvious that she was trying very hard to make the words come out right.

“Speaking is difficult,” she said, “but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem … Too many children are dying, too many children … We must do something … It will be hard, but the time is now … You must act … Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you … Thank you.”

The power of her simple message, of course, came from the history of the messenger. Until two years ago, this woman possessed a superior intellect, a quick wit and a politician’s gift for loquacious social intercourse. She was a graduate of Scripps College and Cornell University, a third-term representative from Arizona in the U.S. House. She was popular with colleagues from both sides of the aisle.

Then, something happened that any observer of the American saga will recognize only too readily: an idiot with a gun destroyed something precious. The idiot could never have ascended to the level of his victim, but he had a gun so he could try to drag her down to his.

This particular idiot had a Glock 19 semi-automatic 9mm pistol with a high-capacity magazine. He used it to kill six people, including a federal judge, and wound 13 others, including Gabby who took a round to the brain. When the idiot tried to reload his weapon, he dropped the replacement magazine and was overwhelmed by onlookers, who held him until the police arrived.

Then a bunch of smart people — the surgical staff at a local hospital — went to work to limit the idiot’s damage. First they saved Gabby’s life, after which they initiated an arduous two-year rehabilitation protocol.

Now, suspended in the twilight of some sort of cognitive purgatory, she valiantly tries to persuade us that something must be done. Watching her struggle to convey her simple truth, I want to weep.

The former congresswoman wasn’t the only witness to make the news cycle that date. The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre — who is to sophistry what the late Col. Saunders was to secret herbs and spices — also appeared. In sharp contrast to Gabby’s painful sincerity, he came across as glib and self-assured. In fact, he struck me as a man who was having trouble concealing his contempt for the proceedings. Perhaps knowing that his lobbyists had already purchased most of the philistines who sought to interrogate him made it difficult to play along convincingly.

At any rate, LaPierre testified that universal background checks for prospective gun buyers pose an undue burden on lawful owners because only the law-abiding would undergo them.

Had I been on the panel, several questions would have leapt to mind. I’d have asked LaPierre why, for instance, if he thought background checks were a needless infringement on Second Amendment rights, he testified in favor of them during a 1999 appearance before Congress.

I’d have also asked whether the problem of criminals not obeying the law wasn’t common to most areas of criminal justice. Murder has been illegal in this country since colonial times but we still routinely record 16,000 + homicides each year. Should we repeal the murder statutes because they only restrain the law-abiding? Isn’t it unfair that a law-abiding citizen can’t kill whomever he wants while a criminal is free to do so?

In fact, maybe we should abandon attempts at sensible legislation altogether and revert to the reign of the gun. Unfortunately, abandoning the rule of law will spell the end of the Second Amendment because as part of the Constitution, it is, after all, just a law. Come to think of it, that may not be a bad idea because we might then be able to craft a reasonable strategy to control gun violence.

Ther NRA has about 4.5 million members in America.  Given an estimated legal population of approximately 312.8 million, that works out to 1.4 percent of the total. Polls indicate that about 93 percent of the public favor mandatory background checks for all firearms purchases.  Interestingly, the same polls show that 85 percent of NRA members agree.

Take away 85 percent of LaPierre’s 4.5 million members and it turns out that he represents about 675,000 people in opposing the obvious first step of universal background checks. His brigade comprises just over .215 percent (two-tenths of 1 percent) of the country. Perhaps some one should remind our elected representatives that over time, elections tend to be won by majorities.

M.W. Guzy is a regular contributor to the Beacon.