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OPINION | RENEE GRAHAM

Don’t mourn, organize: Citizens must keep agitating for gun control

This photo provided by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, showed Democrat members of Congress during a sit-in for gun control measures on Wednesday.
This photo provided by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, showed Democrat members of Congress during a sit-in for gun control measures on Wednesday.Rep. Chellie Pingree via AP/Associated Press

Instead of Gettysburg, it’s Orlando. Instead of Antietam, it’s Aurora. Instead of Lexington and Concord, it’s Newtown and San Bernardino.

These are our new hallowed grounds.

Unlike soldiers who died in battles waged on American soil, those who’ve perished in these ordinary places while doing ordinary things could not know they would be casualties in an entrenched war against common sense when it comes to guns. Movie theatres, churches, schools, nightclubs, and more have become battlefields.

That a divided Senate this week went 0 for 4 on broadening background checks and making it more difficult for those on terror watch lists to buy guns surprised no one. In an attempt to push for action in the House, Democratic members of Congress, led by civil rights veteran Representative John Lewis of Georgia, staged a sit-in Wednesday on the chamber floor to force a House vote on gun control.

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“Now is the time for us to find a way to dramatize it, to make it real,” Lewis said. “We have to occupy the floor of the House until there is action.”

Even after dozens of Senate Democrats staged a 15-hour filibuster just to get the GOP to listen to these proposals, everyone knew there was absolutely no chance of passage. Certainly not when the GOP and its NRA puppet masters keep insisting that it’s not guns, but political correctness, that kills people.

Still as delusional as when he believed anyone wanted him to be president, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called the filibuster “a political show” and declared the massacre of 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub was not “a gun control issue” but “a terrorism issue.” Not only is that nonsense, it’s a disgrace to grieving families and friends still burying those murdered in Orlando, and in dozens of cities, like Chicago, where gun murders have drenched streets in tears and blood.

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“What am I going to tell 49 grieving families?” asked Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, after the failed gun control votes. “I am going to tell them the N.R.A. won again.”

When the NRA wins, lives are lost.

Perhaps all of these craven elected officials are too addicted to the NRA’s filthy lucre to notice that their unwillingness, as public servants, to serve the public comes with a mounting body count. Their rote “thoughts and prayers,” as meaningless as a mumbled “sorry” after a stranger steps on your foot, has replaced real policy and action. Republicans would rather dedicate plaques to the dead than dedicate their legislative powers to passing laws that could save lives.

And we allow them to get away with it.

Poll after poll has shown that the majority of Americans, including gun owners, want tougher background checks and they want guns kept from suspected terrorists. Yet after every mass shooting, we pin ribbons to our lapels, slap poignant trunk magnets on our cars, and wait for politicians to act, knowing they’ll do nothing. Massacre, mourn, repeat.

Fifty-two years ago this week, three civil rights workers – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner – were abducted and murdered while helping African-Americans register to vote during the “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi. Their deaths spurred passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but it was also their fierce activism — and that of countless others — that made clear to politicians that the fight for justice and equality would not be stilled.

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So it must also be with gun control. Hashtag compassion is as impotent as congressional moments of silence. Legislators who refuse to vote in favor of gun control should be voted out of office. If politicians want to prop up the NRA’s lunatic agenda, they should become lobbyists and leave policy work to those actually committed to a nation without weapons of war in the hands of civilians.

Each gun massacre is an unholy emblem of the GOP’s lethal intransigence. After the Pulse nightclub shooting, many outside of Florida chanted, in solidarity, “We are Orlando.” Unless Republican lawmakers are forced to value lives as much as they do NRA money, the next hallowed ground could be in our own communities, and that distant “we” may someday be us.


Renée Graham writes regularly for the Globe. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.