Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Honor the victims -- with action

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst
updated 7:41 AM EST, Mon December 17, 2012
President Barack Obama speaks Sunday at an interfaith vigil at Newtown High School in Newtown, Connecticut, for the shooting victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School. President Barack Obama speaks Sunday at an interfaith vigil at Newtown High School in Newtown, Connecticut, for the shooting victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School.
HIDE CAPTION
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
President Obama addresses Newtown
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Gergen says we should take a cue from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
  • He says U.S. must deal with its culture of guns and find real solutions
  • Gun owners should be licensed, and assault weapons should be banned, he says
  • He says we will be held morally accountable for what we do -- or fail to do

Editor's note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Yet again we are struggling to bear the unbearable. How can we find meaning in the massacre of so many innocent children, savagely cut down in a hail of bullets?

Abraham Lincoln is much on our minds these days and, fortunately, there is much his life teaches us about giving meaning to human horror. Eleven months from now, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of his journey to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he consecrated a national cemetery in honor of the thousands slaughtered in the Civil War battle there.

In the most eloquent address in American history, Lincoln told us, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to (their) great unfinished work." In their honor, he concluded, "we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom."

David Gergen
David Gergen

These were not idle words; he devoted himself to action. In the final months of his life, as the new film on Lincoln shows, he threw himself into the enactment of the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery in the entire nation. After his death, the nation continued to act as he had asked, passing the 14th Amendment and quickening its progress toward realizing the dream of the Declaration: that all are created equal.

The shootings in Connecticut are not Gettysburg, but surely the long, unending string of killings that we have endured must do more than touch our hearts. As Lincoln saw, we must find meaning in the madness of life -- and we do that by honoring the dead through action.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The moment to act is now upon us, not to be lost as we rush headlong into the holiday season and more twists and turns ahead. We are better than that.

There is a common thread running through most of the mass killings we have seen in recent years: A deranged gunman gets his hands on a gun, usually a semi-automatic, and rapidly cuts down innocents before anyone can stop him.

Clearly, we must find better answers for the mentally unstable. We have the ability to recognize the characteristics of those more likely to commit such acts of violence, and we must do more to provide long-term treatment.

But just as clearly, we need to change our culture of guns. There is something terribly wrong in a nation that has some 300 million guns floating around, easily accessible to the mentally ill. Of the 62 mass shootings in the U.S. over the past three decades, more than three-quarters of the guns used were obtained legally.

Obama: 'These tragedies must end'

Unless we act to change our laws as well as our culture, we will all be enablers when the next loner strikes. The blood will be on our hands, too.

Experts can come up with precise policy prescriptions that will allow us to maintain the constitutional freedoms of the 2nd Amendment while also changing our gun culture. Contrary to what the National Rifle Association says, it is very possible to do both. What is needed immediately is a conversation determining what principles we want to establish -- and then action to realize them. From my perspective, there should be at least three basic principles:

FIRST: To own a gun, you must first have a license -- and it shouldn't be easy to get. The right parallel is to cars: Everyone over a prescribed age is entitled to drive. But cars are dangerous, so we first require a license -- determining that you are fit to drive. Citizens have a right to bear arms, but guns are dangerous, too. So, get a license.

There are a number of issues with our current system of state-based permits. First, variation in gun regulations from state to state deeply complicates enforcement efforts. Arizona, for instance, allows concealed carry without any permit, while its neighbor California has implemented the strongest gun laws in the country. We must design a sensible federal gun control policy to address the current legal chaos.

As we construct a federal licensing system, we should look to California. The state requires all gun sales to be processed through a licensed dealer, mandating background checks and a ten-day waiting period; bans most assault weapons and all large-capacity magazines; closes the nonsensical gun-show loophole; and maintains a permanent record of all sales.

SECOND: If you are a civilian, you can't buy an assault gun. Hunters don't need military style weapons, nor do homeowners who want to be able to protect their families. They are far too popular among people who shouldn't have access to guns in the first place.

We should restore the federal ban that has expired.

THIRD: Parents should be heavily advised to keep guns out of their houses and out of the hands of kids. No one wants to blame the poor mother of the Connecticut shooter, but everyone wonders why she kept so many military-style guns in the house, so accessible to her son. It's hard to believe, but roughly a third of households with children younger than 18 contain at least one gun. In too many neighborhoods in America -- not just in big cities -- parents who don't allow guns in their homes are apprehensive, even frightened, by their kids playing at homes where they are kept.

Some years ago, no one thought that we could change our tobacco culture. We did. No one thought that we could reduce drunk driving by teenagers. We did -- thanks in large part to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Years from now, no one will note what we say after this latest massacre. But they will hold us morally accountable for what we do. To honor all of those who have been slain in recent years -- starting with the first-graders in Connecticut -- we should highly resolve to change our culture of guns.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Gergen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT