Thank you Mayor Garcetti for that kind introduction. And thank you for your unwavering commitment to ending the crisis of gun violence in our community and for your tireless efforts to lift up the quality of life for all the citizens of Los Angeles.
President Clinton, you honor us with your presence tonight.
On the day he signed the Brady Bill into law – back in 1993 – President Clinton said it was “step one in taking our streets back, taking our children back, reclaiming our families and our future.” Mr. President, thank you for taking that step over 20 years ago that has saved countless lives… and for your vision, your dedication, and your leadership on behalf of our country. And of course, I’m privileged to share this evening with one of the Brady Campaign’s staunchest supporters: Dede Gardner. Although we didn’t coordinate ahead of time, our remarks share a similar theme.
The moving stories and videos we’ve seen tonight underscore the critical importance of the work of the Brady Center to help curb the scourge of gun violence that is undermining the very fabric of our society. So much has already been said tonight that I don’t need to repeat, and I’ve taken a healthy pencil to my remarks, but I think we’re here because we all hope and aspire to be a country that is better than the tragic stories this evening
If money could solve the problem, through the support of groups like the Brady Center and others, then the problem would have been solved long ago. There is where we face the real personal challenge. If we can’t fix the problem of escalating gun violence by raising more money, and relying on anti-gun violence groups to solve the problem on their own, then, we have to accept the fact that we are the solution, each of us individually has a responsibility to act beyond just writing a check.
The only chance we have is a greater level of personal involvement and civic engagement, and a focus that falls into three main initiatives;
First, we need to hold our leaders in Washington much more accountable to the victims and impact of gun violence in our society. Every day your Senator and Congressperson fails to require background checks for every gun purchase in America – they are accountable. Every day they don’t stop the dealers who supply 90% of all guns to criminals – they are accountable. Calling out the shameful lack of courage on this issue and electing leaders willing to take on the gun lobby is imperative.
Second, I appreciate that this audience understands the need to stigmatize the portrayal of gun violence in our mainstream media. I often use an expression that if you want to live in a world without gun violence then you have to take the steps to create a gun violence free world. Let’s make gun violence less ‘cool’. Deaths from smoking declined significantly when it became less cool to smoke and when advertisements for cigarettes were curtailed. The same can be true for reducing deaths from gun violence.
Third and final, we must address the desperate conditions in society that lead people to reach for guns in the first place, as Dede says, how to get to the ‘beginning’ (of the ills of society). So fighting gun violence also means fighting poverty. Fighting gun violence means fighting intolerance and racism. And yes, fighting gun violence means fighting mental illness. But above all, fighting gun violence means fighting fear. Because make no mistake, a society broken by gun violence is, at its core, a society of fear.
Many people own guns because of tradition. But don’t underestimate how many buy guns because – plain and simple – they are afraid. Afraid of violence. Afraid for their families. Afraid, consciously or not, of those who look, think, and act different. If we don’t address the source of that fear—if we don’t excise it from our public life—then no progress we make will ever truly be real.
So how do we fight fear?
We fight it with education and support for programs that address social injustice and income inequality in our society. We fight it with empathy, and kindness, and compassion, and we fight it with courage. The courage to not lose hope. The courage to believe – really believe – that we can be better. It’s the courage to imagine the nation we could be… and the conviction to build it. We can reduce the number of deaths from gun violence, we have the means and the tools, now it’s our unwavering responsibility to act. I salute those in the room who have taken a leadership position.
Thank you, once again, for this honor. But above all, thank you for your commitment, your conviction, and your engagement.
I’m proud to be your lifelong ally in this cause.
Video of the remarks: