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The nation's founders would have stopped the gun slaughters

Gloria Garces kneels in front of crosses on

Gloria Garces kneels in front of crosses on Tuesday at a makeshift memorial near the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas. Credit: AP/John Locher

We’ll never know whether the founders intended to create a nation with the long-term capacity to self-correct. We’ll never know precisely what the Federalists and anti-Federalists had in mind when they designed the Second Amendment.

But every American of good faith can be certain that the men who in the Declaration of Independence pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” would never have stood idly by as their children were slaughtered.

We are disgusted by the butchery in Dayton, Ohio; El Paso, Texas; Gilroy, California; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Aurora, Colorado; Parkland, Florida, and on and on.

As a young public defender in New York City in 1972, my first case involved a charge of possession of a zip gun. My client was sentenced to jail. Most Americans have never heard of a zip gun — a device made of wood, metal springs and car antennas. These weapons could kill, but often injured the shooters themselves.

But by the late 1970s, the world had undergone dramatic change. “Saturday night specials,” cheap handguns, were readily available. Soon, the National Rifle Association was transformed from an organization of hunters and firearms-safety instructors into what is essentially a subsidiary of the arms manufacturers.

The rest is tragic history. America has become a culture obsessed with firearms. And when such a spirit synthesizes with primitive ultranationalism, the product becomes exponentially more lethal.

No one in my family has been sacrificed to the nation’s preoccupation with weapons. Nevertheless, I spent hours on the phone with Mark Barden, whose precious son, Daniel, 7, was buried after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, when I worked on the first “red flag” legislation. That was a difficult conversation for me. It was, however, intensely more painful for Barden.

Years later, I met Linda Beigel Schulman of Dix Hills, who has become a dear friend. She and her family lost her amazing son, teacher Scott Beigel, in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018.

But it isn’t only the Bardens and the Schulmans who have lost their children. So many others have been lost to our collective American family.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of “our better angels.” He told us that America is the Earth’s “last best hope.” But it will not be the aspirational nation we want for our children unless we are prepared to fight for its integrity, fortune and sacred honor.

And that has become our challenge.

New York and other great states have enacted laws to curb gun violence. I am proud to have fought for laws making it more difficult to possess and sell weapons in New York State.

But your children and my children could be victimized by other states that don’t act to counter wanton gun violence. To the contrary, reacting to New York’s enactment of the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act in 2013, too many states passed laws to facilitate the sale of weapons, which could find their way into New York.

It is my faith to believe in Lincoln’s better angels. But today our people are stalked and hunted by too many angels of death.

So, the question for Americans is this: With which of these angels shall we stand?

Winston Churchill said you can always count on Americans to do the right thing, but only after all else has failed. As the son of an American-born mother, he was permitted that observation.

Count the names of our dead, and we can see that all else has failed.

Now is the time for the president and the U.S. Senate to fulfill their solemn responsibility of leadership to protect us from the proliferation of guns. Now is the time for the president to put an end to his propaganda of prejudice.

The founders would have had it no other way. After all, isn’t that what America’s life, fortune and sacred honor are all about?

Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) represents the 13th District in the New York State Assembly.

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