In an American history class my junior year of high school we watched a series of films called "Profiles In Courage." It was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by John F. Kennedy (ghostwritten by his aide Ted Sorenson).
Kennedy, then a U.S. senator, was convalescing after back surgery when he came up with the idea of writing a book on tough choices that senators had made over 150 years of congressional history.
It profiled such senators as Robert Taft, John Quincy Adams, and Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, who knew he would lose his Senate seat if he voted against convicting an impeached President Andrew Johnson. But he did it anyway because "it was the right thing to do." When it came time to vote, Ross said, "It was like looking down into my own open grave."
As we all know, the U.S. Senate took up the subject of gun violence the other day and, by a vote of 54-46, showed that a great number of our senators lack anything close to the courage, conviction or moral character of their more illustrious predecessors. A number of them confessed they voted out of fear.
These senators considered a number of the most benign and practical of solutions offered by moderates from each party, and then, in Rep. Gabby Giffords' words, "they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby" and, in a single act of mass cowardice, chose to disgrace their office.
They are now busy trying to hide their decision behind equivocation; behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done.
Their claim, for example, that the bill would have created a national registry of gun owners was an utter lie. The bill actually created a new felony for using background checks to create a registry.
But the truth has fallen on very hard times in this country in the last few years.
It makes me sad that a growing number of Americans are buying another lie fed them by the National Rifle Association: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
If you are tempted to believe this, and many are, let me remind you that on Aug. 24 of last year, a gunman shot and killed a former co-worker outside the Empire State Building in New York City. Following the initial shooting, the gunman, 58-year-old Jeffrey T. Johnson, was fatally shot by police officers after raising his weapon at them.
Nine bystanders were wounded by stray bullets fired by the officers and ricocheting debris.
The next day, city police Commissioner Ray Kelly confirmed that all of the bystanders had been wounded as a result of police gunfire.
Nine bystanders. And all shot by trained veterans of the New York City police force. Imagine the carnage in our crowded theaters when untrained civilians start pulling out their high-power pistols to stop perpetrators of violence. Better to just stay home.
Sad, yes, and sick.
It is my personal conviction that had any one part of the bipartisan gun bill passed, and thereafter saved the life of just one child by keeping one mentally deranged person from buying a gun, it would have been worth it.
Edmund Ross did, indeed, lose his seat in the U.S. Senate in 1870 for his unpopular vote, but he lived long enough to be recognized as a hero of conscience, a leader with great moral courage.
Scott Dalgarno is pastor of the Wasatch Presbyterian Church. He lives in Salt Lake City.