The senator was in a combative mood, and he was pressed for time. Under normal circumstances his personal assistant would not even consider bothering him – but, of course, these were not normal circumstances.
Joyce Sullivan had been on Senator Langley’s staff for eighteen years, but it had not always been easy. Her sixty-one-year-old boss was an ultraconservative Republican, hopelessly set in his ways. To further compound matters, he refused to even consider differing viewpoints and he possessed an irritating self-righteous conviction that he was always right.
Joyce, on the other hand, was far more moderate in her beliefs. She considered herself to be an independent on the political spectrum because she felt that people should matter over party. That was why she was willing to interrupt the senator and endure his wrath.
She knew her effort to influence him was a long shot. But if, after meeting with her guest, he went ahead and voted against what she believed was a bill that would save lives, she was going to resign from his staff. She had decided there was no way she could continue to work for a person who was willing to cause so much misery and heartache over a political principle.
After all, no principal was worth embracing if it could devastate countless lives.
However, Joyce knew that Clayton Langley enjoyed being the center of attention. His colleagues, his constituents, and the press were all vying for a piece of his time. That was because he was the only senator remaining who had not publicly disclosed how he planned to vote on the bill. And it was now his vote alone that would determine whether the bill would pass or fail.
But Joyce knew her boss. It wasn’t that Senator Langley was cruel or cold-hearted, it was just that he refused to see the humanity that was affected by his decisions. He focused on dollar signs instead of the faces of those whose lives were impacted by his strict conservatism.
Throughout her employment, she had often been a thorn in his side. He appreciated her opinions when she agreed with him, but he did not want to hear them when she took the other side of an issue. But she was still going to make one final attempt to change his point of view. However, the way she proposed to do it was not going to be well received by the senator.
Without a doubt, the thing that Langley despised most about his job was having to meet face to face with his constituents. He was certain that they could not possibly understand the complexities of governing. He was convinced that most of them just wanted to complain about something, and, for some reason, they expected him to solve all of their problems. But that was not how life worked.
He was not an endless source of free money, and he resented those who demanded that he sacrifice his precious time so he could listen to them “bitch and whine”.
It was his cynical attitude that made Joyce nervous about interrupting the senator and asking him to meet with her guest. But no matter how angry he got with her, it had to be done. Even at the risk of losing her job, she had to make him look into the face of someone who had experienced the very thing that would result from his vote.
A half-hour later, Joyce was ready. She had spent the last few minutes trying to calm her guest who was both excited and nervous to be meeting a United States Senator. Joyce had quickly been impressed by the person’s naturalness and honesty. She could only hope that Clayton Langley would feel the same way – but she knew it was not likely. The Senate vote was only forty-eight hours away, and his fellow Republicans were counting on him to carry the day.
She led the visitor to the senator’s office door and gently knocked.
His thunderous response startled the guest. “Not now! I’m busy!”
Joyce knew that the senator had been on the phone for several hours seeking all the concessions he could get for a vote he had already decided to cast.
She knocked again. “Senator Langley, you have a visitor who just wants a moment of your time.”
“My God! Everyone wants some of my time. Get them out of here.”
Joyce turned to her guest. “I’m sorry. The senator is very busy and that is why he is being rude. Just give me a minute with him, and I will get you in to see him.”
The visitor was no longer sure this was such a good idea. Mr. Langley sounded like he would not be receptive to an unknown voter who had nothing to offer but an opinion.
Joyce smiled reassuringly at the visitor, opened the door and disappeared into his office.
The senator was sitting in his desk chair facing the wall holding his phone in one hand while he ran his other hand through a shock of greying hair. Hearing his door open, he swiveled around, pushed his glasses up from the end of his nose and opened his mouth to bluster his rage – but Joyce cut him off.
“Stop it right now! Your behavior is unacceptable.”
Clayton Langley was stunned by her words. She had never spoken to him like that before. He quickly told the person on the phone he would call them back, and then he glared at his personal assistant. “You cannot talk to me that way.”
Joyce knew she was in too far to back down now, so she forged ahead. “I have invited a person to speak to you today about the bill. In the eighteen years I’ve worked for you I have never asked you for a personal favor. Not one. But I am asking you now to please give her a few minutes of your time.”
“You know my mind is made up.”
“I understand that. But if you refuse to see her, I am going to quit. And you better believe me because I’m dead serious.”
The senator’s face turned the brightest shade of red she had ever seen. She knew he was on the verge of losing control of his anger, but she didn’t care. For Joyce, this moment was so important it was worth risking her job for. She could only hope he realized that.
“All right, all right! Bring them in – but when this is over you and I are going to discuss whether you have a future on my staff!”
Feeling at least a partial sense of victory, Joyce stepped out and within a few moments reappeared with the individual.
Senator Langley groaned under his breath at the sight of Joyce’s guest as she slowly made her way into his office.
The woman had a noticeable tremor in both hands and there was significant surgical scarring and disfigurement on the right side of her face. It occurred to him that she probably only had vision in her left eye, but he wasn’t sure. Her movement did not seem natural, and she had to concentrate on every step. Her uneven gait clearly indicated a serious lack of balance, and he could not help but notice her left arm, bent at the elbow, was drawn into her side and she was dragging her left leg. The woman was using a broad-based cane to maintain her balance. Langley guessed that she was probably in her early thirties.
Dreading this conversation even more, now that he knew who it was going to be with, the senator smiled weakly and said without conviction, “It’s good to see you. Thanks for stopping by.”
Kristen had never been in a famous politician’s office before, and she could hardly believe she was here now. She took just a moment to glance around. His desk was large and made out of a deep rich dark wood. Behind the desk was a large window framed by long beautiful drapes. The left side of the office featured bookcases filled with reading material about government and legal matters, certainly not the kind of light reading that Kristen enjoyed. The right side of the room was dominated by a long glass table filled with eighteen years’ worth of awards, certificates, and citations. These were obviously a source of pride for the senator since they were so prominently displayed.
Joyce smiled warmly at her guest. Then she turned and looked the senator in the eye. “Let me introduce our visitor.”
Langley cleared his throat and tapped his fingers on his desk.
“This is Kristen Bennett, she is one of your constituents, and she plans on voting next November, based on the action you take regarding the bill that is so important to her.”
Joyce smiled sweetly at her boss and turned to leave. “I will let you two talk now.”
As she headed for the door, the senator barked, “Hold it! You’re not going anywhere.”
The sound of his voice made Kristen cringe, and Langley realized he needed to relax, listen to the woman, and get this over with as fast as possible so he could get back to the really important work of an elected official.
In a calmer voice he said, “Please, Mrs. Sullivan, I would like for you to stay.”
That was fine with Joyce. Wanting to be a part of the conversation, she quickly positioned two chairs in front of the senator’s desk and they both took a seat.
After a few moments of awkward silence, in which her boss made no effort to start the conversation, she interceded. “Why don’t you tell Senator Langley a little bit about yourself and why his vote is so important to you?”
He gave her a quick look to indicate his irritation with the entire process, but she ignored him.
Smiling at the guest, Joyce said, “Please, go ahead and tell your story.”
Although Kristen knew it was the only reason she’d been invited to the senator’s office, it was still difficult to talk about the life-changing event of seven years ago. She took a deep breath and slowly began to speak. “Okay. Well, first of all, it is nice to meet you, Sir.”
It was difficult for the senator to understand what she was saying because she spoke so softly, and that forced him to actually concentrate and listen.
Kristen shifted uncomfortably in her chair and then in a nervous barely audible voice said, “Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to see me. I know this was probably the last thing you wanted to do today – but your vote is important to me and others like me.”
The senator nodded.
“I’ve seen you many times on TV, but I have to admit that I usually turn it off because you make me mad.”
Now it was Langley’s turn to feel uncomfortable. He adjusted his glasses and said, “That’s okay. Please continue.”
Joyce watched carefully as Kristen tried to put into words what her reality was like.
“I am thirty-two years old. I’m not married, although I was once. I have no children. My life was very ordinary until I was twenty-five. I’d graduated from college and had a good job. My husband and I were thinking of starting a family, but then one day I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I was with a girlfriend in a restaurant after work when a man burst through the front door carrying a large weapon. I learned later it was an AR-15.”
Joyce watched Senator Langley’s face tighten. He was a staunch defender of the NRA, and he believed fervently in what the organization stood for. Of course, that belief was encouraged by their substantial campaign donations to him over the years.
Kristen kept her emotions in check as she recalled the horrific event. “The man began shooting randomly. The sudden screams and scrambling bodies were disorienting. Several people were struck in the back as they tried to run. One man bent down to help someone and his chest exploded. He fell forward dead.
“Because we were seated farther from the door, other people were hit first. The shots were fired so rapidly that most people had no time to react. The sound of the gunfire ricocheting around the large room was deafening.
“I struggled to move, but I guess I was too afraid. My friend stood up, and I forced myself to turn toward her just in time to see her get hit between the shoulders. The force of the shot threw her forward several feet and drove her to her knees. The air instantly filled with a red mist of blood. The shock of seeing my friend’s gaping wound as she crumpled to the floor made me temporarily lose the ability to think clearly. I must have been in shock. None of what was happening seemed real. It was just too much to comprehend.”
The senator’s expression did not change. Joyce did not understand how he could have no reaction.
Kristen continued. “We had been best friends for years. We were like sisters.” She paused for just a moment and then said, “I was told she struggled for thirty-six hours before she died.
“I finally threw myself down on the floor as the endless gunfire just went on and on. My friend was hemorrhaging, and I wanted to get to her – but I couldn’t. Suddenly the shots began to get closer, and then he was there. I remember looking at the shooter as he pointed the weapon at me. He was maybe ten feet away when he fired. I was struck in the right temple. The shell blasted away a portion of my skull, severed the optic nerve in my right eye, destroyed the eye socket, my cheekbone, and shattered my jaw.
“I remember frantically gasping for air, as blood filled my mouth and ran down my throat, choking me. I guess the shooter decided I was as good as dead because he moved on. I fought to remain conscious, but the pain was unbearable and each time I tried to refocus what was left of my vision I saw more grisly wounds as people’s lives were torn apart all around me. The last thing I remember was the horrifying screams of those that were wounded and dying. But, as I found out later, more than two dozen human beings were scattered around the room laying in what one reporter called ‘eternal silence’.”
Joyce shook her head. She had picked Kristen up at her apartment and driven her to the capitol. During the drive, they had chatted a little bit about her guest’s story, but hearing her describe it in detail was far more powerful.
Kristen took a few moments to collect herself and then said, “They removed most of the bullet fragments from my brain – but they couldn’t get all of them. My face was completely rebuilt. The shooting was seven years ago and to date, I’ve had thirteen major surgeries and so many minor procedures I’ve lost count. The doctors and surgeons were amazing, and I know it is a miracle that I survived. However, I will live the rest of my life with serious neurological issues that keep me from living as independently as I would like. It took twenty-four months for me to be able to walk again and another twelve before I could speak. Four years into my recovery, my husband decided he couldn’t take it anymore, and he filed for divorce.
“Although I’ve recovered physically as much as possible, the neurological challenges I live with every day can be overwhelming.”
Joyce looked intently at the man she had worked with for so many years, but she could still not detect the slightest bit of emotion on his face.
There was a long pause and then the senator spoke. “Miss Bennett, your story is remarkable, and my heart goes out to you for everything you’ve had to endure and for the loss of your friend. No one should ever have to suffer the way you have.”
Kristen listened carefully. She was hoping he would speak to her as a person – not as a politician.
But immediately his tone became condescending. “I’m sure that as a victim of gun violence you believe you have some special kind of insight that the rest of us don’t have. I know that you believe our nation should ban assault weapons once and for all – but, I’m sorry, you are wrong.”
Joyce could feel her face flushing with anger as she realized that Kristen’s story had not altered the senator’s hardline opinion.
In an even tone of voice, the senator said, “What happened to you was the fault of one disturbed individual. I do not believe that taking away the gun rights of millions of Americans is the solution.”
“But Senator, he was able to fire the weapon so fast that no one could react. It allowed him to kill and wound so many people.”
The senator’s face remained impassive. “It is important to understand that banning weapons is a road we cannot start down. There is no way to know where it will stop, and we can’t have a citizenry that is unarmed and not able to protect their families and their property.”
Joyce knew every word of the senator’s position on guns by heart. It was the straight party line funded by the NRA. She had hoped that coming face to face with someone whose life had been devastated by that organization would be enough to at least make him question his commitment to them. But now she realized that she had been wrong – and she realized that she would soon be looking for a job.
Kristen was aware of the fact that Langley had not served in the military, so she suspected she knew the answer to her question before she asked it. “Senator, have you ever been shot at?”
Langley didn’t care for the implications of the question. “No. I have not.”
“It is terrifying. You are sitting in a restaurant having a nice time with someone you care about and suddenly you realize that there is a person who is trying to kill you. It is not some tragic accident or mistake. The man is there for only one reason and that is to end your life.
“I was at that restaurant because we were celebrating a happy occasion. My friend had gotten a big promotion, and she was so pleased. But if she had not gotten it, she would be alive and I wouldn’t be here talking to you.
“Senator, something is wrong when you can’t go to a public place without being in danger……My God, even innocent little children are being murdered in their classrooms.
“And you’ve got to understand that it is not just the dead and wounded who are victims of these shootings. The survivors who witness these slaughters are also changed forever. To see the kind of horror that takes place in a war zone overseas happen in your own neighborhood is traumatizing.”
Langley sighed and put his head down. However, it was not because he was reacting to the weight of her words but rather he was discreetly trying to look at his watch. He had several more important phone calls to make, and he didn’t want this encounter to drag on much longer. He was tired of being lectured.
Joyce glared at him because she knew exactly what he was doing. She could tell the senator was not moved by Kristen’s story, and she knew he was not going to change his vote. He depended on the financial support of the NRA, and even if he actually suspected that America would be safer if assault weapons were no longer available, she was certain he was still going to vote against the bill to ban them.
Langley looked up and in a matter of fact voice said, “Miss Bennett, I admire your courage and I respect your desire to see your point of view become law – but I must tell you that it is not going to happen. I am going to cast the deciding vote in the Senate that will continue to uphold the rights of honest, law-abiding citizens to legally purchase the firearms of their choice.”
The realization that the immense power of the National Rifle Association was in complete control of the United States Congress began to sink in, and it made Kristen feel sick at her stomach. “I am sorry you feel that way, Sir. I honestly believe that if you could’ve seen the carnage I witnessed you would change your opinion.”
Ignoring her last remark, Langley stood up and came around his desk. He extended his hand to Kristen. “I appreciate you coming to see me, Miss Bennett. I know this wasn’t easy for you to talk about.”
She stood and shook his hand. At that moment he realized just how severe her tremor was and for just an instant he felt a slight pang of guilt.
“Senator, I wish there was something I could do or say that would change your mind – but I understand how valuable your time is.”
Kristen turned to Joyce. “Thank you for arranging this meeting, Mrs. Sullivan. I’m grateful you gave me the opportunity to try and help others.”
Joyce could feel a wave of emotion sweeping over her. “You are very welcome, Kristen – but it’s not over. This fight is not going to end here.”
The senator’s personal assistant felt genuine sadness that she would be leaving his staff. She had tried her best to perform her job duties, and she would miss the other men and women on the team because they were all working together to try to make a difference – but she believed with all her heart that this was an issue she must stand up for.
Filled with discouragement, Kristen slowly turned toward the door. But just as she took her second step, she was struck with shocking ferocity by a grand mal seizure. She immediately lost awareness and lurched to her left, her right hand losing its grip on the cane.
Joyce saw her start to fall, and she desperately lunged to grab her – but it was too late. Kristen fell and struck her forehead with tremendous force on the edge of the glass table. It instantly splintered and sliced a long and deep gash across her forehead which began to spurt torrents of blood.
As the fragile table shattered and collapsed under Kristen’s weight, the precious evidence of the Senator’s political victories was sent flying in all directions.
Horrified, Joyce knelt down next to Kristen and checked her breathing. It was not easy because there seemed to be blood everywhere. The seizure continued to increase in strength causing the young woman to shake violently. Joyce turned to her boss who stood frozen. “Call 911. Tell them we have a woman who is having a seizure. Tell them she has cut her head and she is bleeding badly.”
The Senator did not appear to hear her. He did not move.
Joyce yelled with all the force she could muster. “DO IT NOW!!”
The volume and urgency of her voice broke through the Senator’s shock. “Oh, yes. Of course.” He immediately placed the call and began giving information to the operator.
Joyce looked around for something to place over the grotesque wound on Kristen’s forehead. She needed to apply pressure and control the flow of blood. In the corner, she saw a large scarf draped over a wall mounted hook. She quickly grabbed it and went back to the stricken woman.
Concerned that Kristen would choke, she gently rolled her over on her right side. Joyce knew that you were not supposed to move someone with a head injury, but she had to take that chance. As Kristen kept shaking, the bleeding intensified. Joyce struggled to hold the drenched cloth in place.
She wiped her watch against the leg of her slacks to remove the blood so she could mark the time. The seizure had lasted almost a minute and was not letting up. Kristen gasped for air as she continued to thrash around in the broken glass. Joyce gently held her and tried to keep her from cutting herself anymore.
Finally, after another two minutes, the seizure began to subside. Joyce glanced over at Langley who still had his phone in his hand. His face was a ghastly white, and he appeared to be stunned by what he had witnessed.
Slowly Kristen’s shaking eased and her breathing became more regular. Joyce continued to apply pressure to the huge laceration until she heard a commotion in the hall indicating that the EMTs had arrived.
A few seconds later the medical personnel entered the room and took over. As Joyce watched them expertly go about their work, she suddenly felt exhausted. It had been no more than four minutes, but she was completely drained. When she finally took her eyes off of Kristen, she realized her own clothing was covered in large bloodstains.
The EMT’s began to ask her questions, and she provided them with as much information as she could.
After bandaging the wound, they carefully placed their patient on a gurney.
When they were ready to leave, Joyce told them she would follow them to the hospital. She did not want Kristen, who was still not aware enough to respond to what was going on around her, to wake up alone.
As she followed the gurney out of the office, Joyce stopped and turned back to Langley. “Senator, I hope you finally understand the pain an assault weapon can cause.” Then she stepped out of the room and slammed the door behind her.
As the senator stood and looked at the splintered shards of glass and the large pools of blood soaking into the carpet, blood from a person he had not known an hour before, a disturbing image suddenly filled his mind. He began to picture what the restaurant must have looked like where more than two dozen people were murdered and many more, like Kristen, had their lives devastated. He could not even begin to imagine the amount of blood that was spilled on that floor. He thought about how scared he was just a few minutes before to be in a situation he had no control over, and he realized how terrifying it must have been to be trapped in a public place and to feel so vulnerable and helpless.
As the senator stood and looked at the scattered reminders of his so-called “accomplishments” he felt ashamed by some of the decisions he’d made to earn them. How many times had he sold his soul to garner financial contributions? How was it possible that he had lost his integrity and sense of decency? Why did he believe his principals were more important than people’s lives?
He could not help but feel guilty because he shared the responsibility for allowing a man intent on taking lives to have easy access to a military-style killing machine. He had made his reputation as a United States Senator by being a hard-line Second Amendment advocate. But suddenly he was not sure that he could continue to reconcile the thinking of the founding fathers with a weapon that could kill so rapidly and that left law enforcement outgunned.
As his eyes continued to sweep across the floor, he spotted the award he’d been so proud to receive from the National Rifle Association. It was now stained with the blood of someone whose life had been decimated by the power of that organization, and he wondered how he could, in good conscience, ever take their money again.
As he stared at the meaningless document, he tried to imagine how many people like Kristen bore the scars of his extreme partisanship, and, even more tragically, he thought about all the heartbroken families that had buried loved ones because he lacked the courage to stand up to the gun lobby.
For a short time, the senator stood in the deafening silence, lost in thought, and then he did something he hadn’t done in years. He began to softly cry.
The next morning, Clayton Langley knocked on the door of hospital room 135. He strained to hear Kristen say, “Come in.”
When he stepped through the door, he was surprised to see Joyce sitting beside the bed. She had left a message that she would not be coming into work, but he assumed it was because she was angry with him.
His assistant looked at him coldly and said, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Kristen said. “Me either.”
The senator stared at Kristen. Her head was swathed in gauze, and her face was a mass of blue and purple bruises. He also noticed smaller bandages on her arms, no doubt cuts and punctures from all the splintered glass. The sight of her made him feel disgusted over the way he had behaved in his office.
Gently he asked, “How are you feeling this morning?”
There was a long awkward silence and then she made him feel even worse. “I’d like to pay you back for breaking the table and damaging your awards. Please let me know how much it will cost.”
Joyce stared at the man who was to become her former boss and said, “Kristen has eighteen stitches in her forehead and a subdural hematoma. If the bleeding in her brain does not subside on its own, she will have to have a surgical procedure to drain it.”
Langley grimaced. “I am so sorry.” His words were heartfelt, but they hardly seemed like enough.
“Miss Bennet, you said in my office that you live with neurological issues.”
Kristen answered, “Yes. I chose to describe it that way because it doesn’t sound as scary as saying you have seizures.”
“So, you’ve had seizures before?”
Even in her discomfort, Kristen managed a slight chuckle. “Yes, a few.”
“Did you have seizures before you were shot?”
Langley sighed deeply. He was beginning to feel the repercussions of his staunch defense of the NRA over the years.
Joyce studied the senator closely and it dawned on her that there was something different about him this morning. His entire demeanor conveyed a sense of regret. There was not the maddening certainty about everything that he always possessed. The self-righteousness was gone. He seemed genuinely affected by what had happened. She suddenly realized that this was actually an opportunity.
She turned to Kristen. “Please tell Senator Langley how often you have seizures.”
Kristen hesitated for a moment and then said, “Eight to ten times a day.”
The senator gasped. “What?” He could not believe that she lived with such a condition. “Are they always like the one you had in my office?”
“No. Often they are worse. Sometimes they last much longer.”
Langley shook his head in disbelief. “Why didn’t you tell me all of this in my office?”
“Would it have made a difference?”
His shoulders slumped, and he answered honestly. “I don’t know.”
“Senator, I didn’t come to your office to play the victim. I didn’t want your pity. I wanted your vote in favor of the ban. I came to see you in the hope that others could be spared what happened to me and my friend.”
“What was your friend’s name?”
“Laura Griffith. She was happily married and her beautiful daughter was only two years old when her mommy was murdered.”
Senator Langley sank into a chair. For possibly the first time in his political career, he was at a loss for words.
Joyce watched the man she knew so well. She could tell he was struggling inside.
Finally, he said, “Kristen, please tell me what your life is like.”
“Well, the way it looks now I’m just going to have to keep living with the seizures. Unfortunately, that type of surgery is not an option because of the bullet fragments still embedded in my brain. I take a lot of meds to try and control them, but there are times when I can’t afford all the medications so I have to pick and choose what I hope are the most necessary.
“Obviously I can’t drive. I’m not supposed to use the stove in my apartment without supervision. I almost never go out in public alone. That’s why Mrs. Sullivan picked me up and brought me to your office. I’m can’t even bathe alone for fear that I could drown in eight inches of water. Therefore, I have aides that assist me most of the time.
“But there is no use complaining about it. Many people have seizures far worse than I do. It is just unnerving to know that at any moment – no matter where you are or what you are doing – it could happen. As you saw, when someone is having a seizure, they are completely vulnerable. At home, I have a protective helmet that I use, but I didn’t want to wear it to your office. I was afraid it would make me look like I was trying to be dramatic just to influence your vote.”
At that moment Clayton Langley hit rock bottom. He looked at the bandaged battered woman in the bed who might be facing yet another surgical procedure to save her life. He thought about how her world had disintegrated seven years ago. He thought about what her life was like now and what the future held for her – and he thought about the incalculable price in human suffering that the nation was paying just so someone could own a goddamn assault weapon.
He looked intently at her and said, “Kristen, I apologize for the way I treated you in my office. All you wanted was a few minutes of my time to talk about a life or death subject, and I treated you with complete disrespect. There is no defense for my behavior. Words can’t express how sorry I am for everything that has happened to you.”
Kristen ignored the pounding pain in her head and said, “Please don’t feel sorry for me. I’m alive. Feel sorry for my friend. Feel sorry for all the children and parents who’ve been murdered. Feel sorry for the individuals who’ve been wounded worse than me.”
Kristen bit her lip and then said, “Feel sorry for all the victims of the next shooting because you know it’s going to happen again. And as long as assault weapons are available, the death count will keep growing. In fact, if you want to know the truth, I feel sorry for you, Senator. You have to live with the consequences of your decision.”
The following afternoon, Joyce sat next to Kristen’s hospital bed, holding her hand. Together they stared in amazement at the wall mounted TV as Clayton Langley, the senior senator from one of the reddest states in America, stood in front of the nation on the Senate floor and addressed the chamber.
“For all of my life I have been an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment – and I still am. As I stand here before you today, I believe that every law-abiding citizen has the right to own a firearm. I believe that right should be protected by law and that we must never falter in our support of that policy. We cannot deny our citizens the ability to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their property.
“However, after much soul-searching and introspection, I have decided I can no longer be an accomplice to the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent men, women, and children in our nation. Those of you who know me will agree, I do not often admit to being wrong. But when it comes to assault weapons, I have never been so wrong about anything in my life.
“Tragically, my misjudgment, my narrowmindedness, and my unwillingness to open my eyes and see the truth have played a significant role in causing the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Even more have been wounded and had their lives altered forever. And a staggering number of people have been left traumatized by what they experienced – all because, as a new friend recently described it, they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Parents have lost their sons and daughters while children have lost their mothers and fathers. People are no longer safe in theaters, restaurants, malls, churches, and schools – even elementary schools. This is not the America we want to live in. We cannot continue to allow the proliferation of these weapons in our society and expect our citizens to be safe.
“I am painfully aware that I cannot bring back those who’ve been lost. I cannot heal those who have endured horrendous wounds. I cannot soothe the minds of those who carry the psychological scars of what they witnessed. But by God, I can do everything in my power to keep it from ever happening again.
“That is why today I am going to cast my vote in favor of the long overdue bill that will completely ban all assault weapons in the United States.
“It is time for America to join the rest of the civilized world and take this necessary step to protect our people. I would also like to take this moment to renounce my membership in the National Rifle Association. I will no longer accept their financial support, and I will actively use the power of my office to campaign against their agenda and their influence on both the state and federal level.
“On a personal note, I did not come to this decision willingly. I had to be shown the pain that my decisions had caused other human beings. Because of the courage of one person who confronted me with their story, I have changed. I now see this life and death issue with a new understanding.
“To show my appreciation to this individual, I want them to know that, as of this morning, all of their medical expenses have been paid and any cost going forward will be covered. I want to assure this person that they will never again have to skip any medications because they can’t afford them. There is no doubt in my mind that this innocent victim of gun violence, who had the courage to confront me face to face regarding my vote on this bill, will ultimately be responsible for saving countless lives.
“To the families of those who have lost loved ones to the horror of mass shootings, particularly those who were cut down by assault weapons, asking for your forgiveness seems inappropriate. I cannot begin to understand the pain and anguish you’ve experienced. All I can say is that I will live with the guilt of my shameful embrace of the NRA for the rest of my life.
“Finally, I want to address my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who still believe that a private citizen should be allowed to purchase a military grade weapon that is specifically designed to kill as many human beings as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
“For all of my adult life, I believed that gun ownership should have no restrictions. After each massacre, I told myself that I must not abandon that principle. I continually struggled to rationalize why supporting the NRA was more important to me than the lives that were being destroyed. Was it the money that organization contributed to me? Was it my fear of being voted out of office? I suspect that most of you feel the same uneasiness that I did – however, you still cling to the belief that a suburban household should have a weapon that can potentially kill 30 children in 10 seconds. But I also suspect that you know in your heart that is not right.
“Each one of us must answer for the decisions we make, and I am fully aware of how harshly I will be judged. I willingly spent my political career allowing others to suffer so that I could selfishly retain power and enhance my stature within this legislative body – but I was a fool.
“And, even worse than that, I was a coward. I did not have the strength or the character to stand up to the gun lobby and their blood money. I am ashamed to say that because of my weakness, innocent people were murdered. I don’t deserve the respect that should be accorded a United States Senator. I did not protect the people I represent, and, in fact, I put them in greater danger by my actions. That is unforgivable.
“Ironically, I face re-election next year. I can only hope that the men and women of my state will consider my actions today as a sincere apology to them and that they can find it in their hearts to give me the opportunity to serve as their senator for another term so I can prove that I am now a better person. But should the voters decide otherwise, I will be able to take my place in private life knowing that, at the very least, I corrected the most grievous mistake of my political career.
“Every person in Congress should learn from my misjudgment. Each of you should cast politics aside and make a genuine effort to understand the horror of those who’ve lost loved ones in mass shootings and to appreciate the incredible courage of the survivors as they struggle to recover physically and mentally while attempting to rebuild their lives.
“As we prepare to vote, I hope that each of you will look within yourselves and determine that not another child will lose their parent because of the lethal rate of fire of an assault weapon, and not one more mother or father will have to watch as their child is lowered into a grave just because legislators were bought and controlled by the National Rifle Association.”
Forty-five minutes later the Senate passed the bill by a margin of 51 to 49. Twenty-four hours later, The President of the United States signed the bill into law, and the nation was finally allowed to replace its collective fear with a new sense of hope as assault weapons were officially banned in America.