Robert F. Kennedy’s speech on gun violence is still relevant today

Growing up, I loved listening to famous political speeches. One of the speeches that captured, and held, my attention was New York Senator Robert Kennedy’s address to the Cleveland Economic Club on April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated.

In a calm, somber voice, Kennedy said, “I have spared this one opportunity to speak briefly to you about the senseless threat of violence in America that returns to stain our land and each of our lives… They (the victims of violence) are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one, no matter where they live or what they do, can be sure who will be next to suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet, it goes on and on and on in this country of ours… Why?

June 1968 was to be a pivotal month for Kennedy’s campaign, with an all-out effort to win support and delegates aided by the momentum of victory in California.

But the horrific events of June 5, 1968, changed all that, as did the recent horrific mass shootings across the United States that same weekend in 2022—and in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, in May. killed dozens of people. innocent Americans.

The bullets that took Senator Kennedy’s life not only robbed Americans of the chance to elect a president in 1968 and changed the trajectory of American politics, they also robbed a family of a husband and a father. In 2017, Chris Kennedy, one of RFK’s sons, spoke for the first time about the painful ripple effect the violence had inflicted on his family.

Kennedy expanded on the theme to say that the “domino effect” in each community is devastating.

But there was another passage from RFK’s speech in Cleveland that is relevant today.

“Because there is another kind of violence,” Kennedy said, “slower but just as deadly destructive as the gunshot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions: indifference, inaction and decadence”.

The political institutions of the United States – state legislatures, Congress, presidents, the courts – have too often been indifferent to the assault weapons violence that is a cancer in this country. And this issue need not be partisan.

In 1994, three former presidents, two Republicans (Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford) and one Democrat (Jimmy Carter), wrote a letter to Congress urging members to ban military-style assault weapons. “This is a matter of vital importance to public safety,” they wrote. No one could accuse Reagan and Ford of being against gun rights and the Second Amendment.

The epidemic of gun violence in the United States makes this nation stand out around the world. Every nation suffers from mental health problems, but only one suffers from more than 100 mass shootings each year.

We know solutions to gun violence are complex, but they do involve action: action to enact better background checks, red flag laws, restrictions on high-capacity magazines and military-style assault rifles, investments in mental health , improved school safety and prosecution of firearms crimes.

Too often, our police officers are outgunned by criminals wielding AR-15 rifles that threaten the ability of law enforcement to carry out their duties. The House’s recent passage of the Protecting Our Children Act reflects the action.

Will the Senate’s bipartisan effort generate action in the coming days?

Robert Kennedy once said that “the purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.” Perhaps Congress and President Joe Biden can honor the children killed, and the life of Senator Kennedy, by taking action in 2022 to keep our children safer in schools and Americans safer in grocery stores, churches, theaters and any other place where they gather.

If he were alive today, Robert Kennedy would probably be speaking to both rural and urban America with the same message: that it is our moral responsibility to make society safer for our children, and that we all need to do a little more to make it happen. that happen. .

Porter McNeil is an Illinois-based communications consultant and was Illinois communications director for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign.

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