Clinton advocates 'sane gun laws' at Robert Kennedy memorial
© Getty Images

Former President Clinton invoked former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in a call for increased gun restrictions on Wednesday during a memorial for the 50th anniversary of the former senator and attorney general's assassination.

Parkland, Fla., shooting survivor and "March for Our Lives" student activist Emma González read a portion of one of Kennedy's speeches to a crowd of hundreds, including members of the Kennedy family, at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. 

“We stood up for Emma,” Clinton said after González's reading. “You know why I love that? Because she and her generation are the first people who have made sensible, sane gun laws a voting issue in this country.”

“Bobby Kennedy would say ‘Hey, nobody is trying to take away your right … but we should take away the option to commit mass murder with killing machines without adequate background checks, sure,’ ” Clinton continued. Kennedy died from gunshot wounds. 


“I think if he were here today, and as we were told in the invocation he really is here today, he would remind us that perhaps the words he spoke then are truer today than they were then,” Clinton told the crowd in a short speech.

Clinton said Kennedy's message of inclusiveness applies to modern politics but did not mention specific policies.

“His message really, no matter how dressed up in the finest poetry, never changed: We can do better. And because we can, we must,” Clinton said. “And the intensity of conviction burned away like a blowtorch all those layers of complacency and comfort. Show up, stand up; we can do better."

“And if we had had a large Muslim population back then he would have gone to them and said you too can be part of America if you share our values and our vision,” he continued.

Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedySupreme Court confounding its partisan critics Warren says she'll run for reelection to Senate Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote MORE III (D-Mass.), who is Robert Kennedy's grandson, echoed Clinton's call for the country to be more inclusive and "better," in keeping with his grandfather's vision.

“Empathy for those struggling and striving,” Joe Kennedy said. “Indignation at the wealthiest country on Earth would leave children hungry, sick, abandoned and alone. Compassion for the least among us. Faith that our nation, that our world, are capable of better.”

Joe Kennedy said his grandfather fought for “the very thing at stake today: a country who accepts you for who you are.” 

Several prominent lawmakers and leaders were present at the ceremony to read famous quotes from Robert Kennedy, including his daughter and former lieutenant governor of Maryland Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former aide Peter Edelman, Ambassador of Ireland to the United States Daniel Mulhall, Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Senators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Tim Cook called Pelosi to say tech antitrust bills were rushed MORE (D-Calif.), Rep. John LewisJohn LewisCan Manchin answer his predecessor's call on voting rights? Biden to deliver remarks on voting access next week Schumer vows next steps after 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE (D-Ga.), Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonFauci: Emails highlight confusion about Trump administration's mixed messages early in pandemic Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump Progressives nearly tank House Democrats' Capitol security bill MORE (R-Mich.) and Sen. Ed MarkeyEd Markey'Fairplay' to launch campaign for children's online protection 'Killibuster': Democratic angst grows as filibuster threatens agenda Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure MORE (D-Mass.). 

Clinton closed his speech and the main events of the memorial with a call for hope.

“And we have got to stop hating each other, it’s bad for us,” Clinton said. “And by the way that includes the members of our clans and our tribes. The outstretched hand beats the clenched fist.”

Country star Kenny Chesney performed "This Land is Your Land" at the event. Other musical performers included Irish tenor Mark Forrest, the Eastern High School Choir, the American University Gospel Choir and the Choral Arts Society of Washington.