Like so many Americans, when I was growing up I thought guns were the things that protected us from the bad guys -- the outlaws, the Nazis, the Red Menace, and the gangsters. Now I know, through painful history, that guns are much more likely to be used by the bad guys or the mentally unstable against the rest of us.
Instead of the fictional Lone Ranger and the Rifleman and James Bond, there was the very real Lee Harvey Oswald shooting JFK, and then James Earl Ray shooting Dr. King, and Sirhan Sirhan killing Bobby Kennedy, and Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon. More recently we watched the massacres at Heath High School, Columbine, and Virginia Tech. Then I watched my friend and colleague Gabby Giffords attacked with weapons that killed several others and left her permanently changed.
I confess, I am afraid of guns. I am not ashamed of that, because my fear is reasonable and is based on the observations of a lifetime. But the question I ask today is whether the best response to that fear -- a fear that now will be shared by millions of American school-aged children -- is an acquiescence in more guns and fewer restrictions on them, or a concerted national commitment to protect our citizens from their misuse.
The National Rifle Association has spent untold millions of dollars instilling fear in our citizens and our politicians. That organization, which regularly fails to represent the responsible attitudes of its members, wants us to believe that the best protection against the irresponsible and lethal use of guns is for everyone to be armed. And while no specific gun regulation may have prevented the deaths of the 20 Sandy Hook Elementary children, 6 and 7-year-old children, the answer simply cannot be a gun in every elementary school lunchbox.
I agree that Americans have the right to defend themselves and their property. I believe even more fiercely that I have the right, and every child has the right, to be safe from guns without carrying a gun. That gun, by the way, is statistically far more likely to result in the injury or death of someone close to me or them, than someone bent on doing harm.
That is the challenge we face today, and it is a challenge we must not put off another day.
While it is unlikely that Friday's insane massacre of children could have been prevented by any specific gun control law, it is also undeniably true that the perpetrator of the massacre was the product of a culture that sees guns as a solution to problems, whether psychological or others, and we must be determined to change that culture.
Many of my colleagues are afraid that their support of efforts to reduce gun violence will bring the wrath of the NRA down on them. I believe it is more rational to fear guns far more than the illusory political power of the NRA.
I applaud President Obama's statement that we need to take meaningful action to prevent future suffering of the kind we experienced last week. I want to be part of that action, and I promise my constituents, the families of the bereaved in Connecticut, my own family, and every American family, that I will not be silent any longer.
Yarmuth, a Democrat from Kentucky, is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.