Baltimore priest organizes vigil for gun victims, new laws

"New Year, New Gun Laws" theme of event on National Mall

  • A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre delivers a statement.
A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as National Rifle… (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty…)
December 22, 2012|Dan Rodricks

The National Rifle Association's response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School — that is, placing blame for it on everyone and everything except the NRA and its all-guns-all-the-time credo — was utterly predictable. But this time it won't matter.

With that speech on Friday, the NRA's outspoken vice president, Wayne LaPierre, officially declared the organization's new status: irrelevant.

There isn't much an organization like this, hunkered down in the failed policies of the past, can do to stop what's coming — a sustained, populist, bipartisan demand that Congress start taking action to stop mass killings. The NRA is no match for millions of parents and grandparents who now understand, if they didn't before, their duties as adults.

"We bear a responsibility for every child," President Barack Obama said. "This is our first task, caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right."

Let me offer something for America's grown-ups who, hearing the president's admonition, seek a way to channel their outrage over Sandy Hook and the nation's lack of regulation of assault weapons:

A New Year's Eve candlelight vigil and walk on the National Mall.

The Rev. M. Cristina Paglinauan, associate rector at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in North Baltimore, organized the event. The National Park Service issued the priest a permit a few days ago.

The walk starts at the Washington Monument and ends at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. At midnight, there will be an interfaith prayer service "to honor all victims of gun violence, including the most recent Newtown tragedy, and to pray for substantial, lasting change in 2013 in our country's gun laws, mental health policies and culture of violence."

Paglinauan, who has two children, serves as chaplain of the Redeemer day school. She got busy on this within a day of the Sandy Hook tragedy and contacted me.

At first, I thought New Year's Eve might be not be the best time for such a vigil — too many parties, Congress away, news media lightly staffed over the holiday.

But Paglinauan thinks that New Year's Eve-into-Day is symbolically powerful — "New Year, New Guns Laws" — and that a lot of people, moved by Sandy Hook and the need for gun regulation, will want to start 2013 by lighting a candle in the nation's capital.

Of course, we won't see Wayne LaPierre there, nor, I suspect, the civilian employee at Fort George B. Meade who wrote me the following email on Monday. (I'm not publishing the fellow's name because I did not get his permission; there was no reply when I expressed desire to share his inspiring message with other readers of The Sun.)

"Every time an idiot politician cries gun control, I go out and buy as exotic an assault weapon as I can find, just to spite them. I have an AK-47 from an old Soviet state and an AR-15 Bushmaster with several high-capacity magazines, and a few others."

What's the point of having such infamous guns unless you can brag about them, right?

The Bushmaster is the same weapon that Connecticut police say Adam Lanza used to kill six adults and 20 schoolchildren in a matter of minutes. They say Lanza used "numerous" 30-round magazines with the rifle. This Bushmaster has been advertised in a popular men's magazine as a way to get "your man card reissued."

But, for the fellow at Fort Meade — assuming we believe what he says — buying such deadly weapons is about protest, not about getting his "man card" back.

"I would never have bought any of them had it not been for people like you and knee-jerk politicians," he wrote. "After work today, I'm going into Glen Burnie and spend another thousand dollars on a nice FN Herstal 223. I might hold off a few days until I can afford a bullpup [shorter, lighter] version. Those kind really piss you off. You're costing me money and you are consequently supporting gun manufacturers and vendors."

Here's what we do about the mad rush to purchase guns in the wake of Sandy Hook and President Obama's call for action: Congress bans assault-style weapons again and this time there's no grandfather clause. All such firearms should be banned, no matter when they were purchased. It becomes a felony to own one. Citizens can recoup some of their money by selling banned weapons to the government. The government destroys them. The nation becomes a safer place.

Of course, that's all easier said than done.

You can see from the letter out of Fort Meade — and from the National Rifle Association's obnoxious response to one of the worst tragedies in the nation's modern history — that the opposition to such regulation will be fierce and prolonged. But that can't stop citizens who've had enough of this insanity. Americans who want a better country need to take action and take to the streets. We can start on New Year's Eve.

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