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C. Fraser Smith: The cowardice of Congress

Ten or so players from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gave another of their comforting, impromptu in memoriam concerts Monday afternoon.

We all knew why. Oh, of course, another mass killing. We were all suffering. Everyone knows we are all in the cross hairs of fate. Music helps us escape reality or tolerate fear or warn us against more violence.

The BSO has become a refuge for the soul from Freddie Gray forward. Mozart and Handel and Bach become a refuge – not a shield but a place or a moment of escape, even knowing there is no escape.

Michael Lisicky, an oboist with the orchestra, fumbled to explain why they were there, outside a restaurant near the symphony hall. We were there in sympathy, to share in the grief of Orlando and to find a moment of solace.

I feel like many of us had finally hit bottom on this issue. In the past, I know I am not alone in thinking we had finally had enough. Or actually that our government had finally had enough.

Silly me.

As sickening and disheartening as the massacre was, there was another element. After Sandy Hook and Charleston and so many other mass shootings, people thought there will be something from our Congress. Large majorities of Americans, polling shows, are demanding an effective response.

And that response: Nothing. Not even a conversation.

So, like many of us, the fear and anguish was accompanied by the realization that I am living in a democratic nation in name only. The toll – 50 dead, many others fighting to survive – will have no meaning, judging by the immediate past.

We are living in a country where the voice of the people will not be heard. No chance, I thought. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me day after day and my scar tissue runneth over. This is the way it is in the land of the free and the home of the assault weapon.

Before the BSO played Wednesday evening, before Yo-Yo Ma played the Dvorak cello concerto, the orchestra’s president, Paul Meecham, announced the BSO performance would be in honor of the Orlando dead.

Those remembrances, sincere I am sure, mean nothing. Does anyone think the symphony hall is a safe zone? Is there such a place: a public elementary school in Connecticut, a historic church in South Carolina, a movie theater in Colorado, a parking lot in Tucson where a congresswoman was maimed?

There has to be more than the usual moment of silence.

The president has suggested single-issue voting. Would that work? We don’t know. Would something else work? We know that. Gun licensing has worked in a number of states. Many think that background checks might work. And that the assault weapons ban, allowed to die by President George W. Bush in 2004, would have reduced the killing.

There is something else horrifying and apparently unavoidable here. The conversation goes to arguments that fewer children would have been killed in Newtown if the shooter had fewer bullets in his assault rifle magazine.

We are debating how many deaths we can live with. Maybe that would be progress: At least we’d be debating.

But even that seemed unlikely – until this week.

One day after the Orlando shooting, some congressmen walked out during a moment of silence: Democrats were angry that House Speaker Paul Ryan blocked consideration of bills intended to curb gun violence.

Connecticut Democratic Rep. Jim Himes said he had had enough. There was a real element of representativeness in that. He called moments of silence “obnoxious expressions of smug incompetence.” The script of one such general purpose “moment of silence” called for trust in national leaders to deal with the issue. Good luck on that.

Himes represents a congressional district close to Newtown, Connecticut. This is where the gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults. Himes was acting for all us, though, since 2012.

His U.S. Senate colleague, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, joined him in protest Wednesday: He led a 14-hour filibuster to make some of the points Newtown parents and parents everywhere have been making even before  2012.

Murphy says many of his Republican colleagues privately share his frustration and concern. Apparently they don’t dare to voice them.

Silence equals death.

We need deafening expressions of outrage.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is 



One comment


    It is the spray paint can that is responsible for the graffiti, not the hand that holds the can?