Yesterday I had the great honor and pleasure to attend the United To Stop Gun Violence event at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I joined hundreds of others for a program of remarks, tributes, musical moments and videos, all focusing on the issue of gun violence and what needs to be done to stop it now. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to sit within the lofty and majestic naves of the Cathedral and not feel inspired by what you see and hear. But I can tell you in this case that we could have been sitting around a campfire in Rock Creek Park and the feelings of strength, dedication and sense of purpose would have been the same.
The program was the handiwork of the Cathedral’s Gun Violence Prevention Group who were described as a “band of determined advocates” in the program that we all received. Let me tell you something right off the bat. This bunch isn‘t just determined; they are determined to succeed. The first thing that impressed me more than anything else about the evening was the shared commitment to solving this problem no matter how long it takes.
The second thing that impressed me was the diversity of the crowd, both on the stage and in the audience watching the event. Every major religion was represented, there were no racial ‘minorities’ because, if anything, people of color seemed to be everywhere I looked, as well as speaking and performing on the stage. And as opposed to NRA get-togethers or gun shows where the guys far and away outnumber the gals, at last night’s event clearly the women had the upper hand.
Finally, what impressed me most of all was the number of organizations and groups who displayed literature, sign-up sheets, fresh fruit and (thank goodness) Snickers to slake the hunger and thirst of itinerant travelers like me. The whole point of the evening was to create a venue in which as many organizations as possible could introduce themselves to a wider audience, engage folks to get more involved, and build an even greater sense of purpose in the gun violence prevention community as a whole. I spent time chatting with a number of the organizational staff and I figured out that these groups probably represented at least 100,000 activists, if not more.
Now 100,000 may sound like a paltry number when compared to the millions which the NRA claims to represent, but the issue isn’t numbers, it’s energy and commitment, which is what will ultimately prove out. The fact that the NRA claims to have 4 million members basically means that 3-4% of the nation’s gun owners give the NRA thirty bucks a year to get a monthly magazine (which happens to be a very good publication) and a decal for their car. They can also buy some low-cost gun insurance, get discounts at some motels, the standard fare offered by any membership organization, whether it’s the NRA or the AARP.
I’m not questioning the fact that some NRA supporters are always willing to stand up, shout out, do whatever they can do to ‘protect’ their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ But while the NRA makes its members feel they share a common bond, namely, the ownership of guns, I don’t suspect they draw many people into the pro-gun fold unless they own guns. And here is where the GVP community, if it continues to forge ahead, has a potential for strength that the NRA simply can’t match. Because when all is said and done, more and more Americans just don’t believe in guns.
I was convinced that the push to strengthen gun laws would run for about a year after the massacre at Sandy Hook. The gun-control clamor didn’t even last that long after Gabby was shot. But I didn’t get the feeling that the people who were present at the Cathedral last night are going to fade away. If anything, I suspect that GVP as a defining issue in the public dialog is here to stay.