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John Yarmuth to NRA: 'Children have right to be safe from guns without carrying a gun'

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(Editor’s note: This post was updated at 12:40 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 17.)

An emotional Congressman John Yarmuth said Friday’s Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre made him realize he’s “stayed silent too long” in the gun-control arena.

“I have been largely silent on the issue of gun violence over the past six years, and I am now as sorry for that as I am for what happened to the families who lost so much in this most recent, but sadly not isolated, tragedy,” Yarmuth said in a speech at the Wayside Christian Mission.

Early in his remarks, Yarmuth singled out the Fairfax, Va.-base National Rifle Association:

The National Rifle Association has spent untold millions of dollars instilling fear in our citizens and our politicians. That organization, which regularly fails to represent the responsible attitudes of its members, wants us to believe that the best protection against the irresponsible and lethal use of guns is for everyone to be armed. And while no specific gun regulation may have prevented the deaths of the 20 Sandy Hook Elementary children, 6 and 7-year-old children, the answer simply cannot be a gun in every elementary school lunchbox.

While he agreed Americans have the right to defend themselves and their property, Yarmuth added that every child has the right “to be safe from guns without carrying a gun.”

He conceded that Friday’s shooting, which killed 27 people, couldn’t have been prevented by any specific gun control law. He described the shooter, Adam Lanza, as the product of a culture that sees guns “as a solution to problems, whether psychological or others, and we must be determined to change that culture.”

Yarmuth ended his remarks by saying, “I will not stay silent any longer,” pausing to gather his composure during a previously scheduled visit to the Jefferson Street homeless mission to hand out holiday cards.

Yarmuth is one of the few elected Kentucky official to receive an “F” rating from the 4 million member NRA, which functions as a lobbying group for gun manufacturers and sportsmen. Other Democratic Kentucky officials such as Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway receive A ratings, indicating they have voted in support of the organization’s legislative agenda.

What the grades mean:

A+: A legislator with not only an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues, but who has also made a vigorous effort to promote and defend the Second Amendment.

A: Solidly pro-gun candidate including voting record.

AQ: A pro-gun candidate whose rating is based solely on the NRA-PVF Candidate Questionnaire and who does not have a voting record.

B: A generally pro-gun candidate; may have opposed some pro-gun reform in the past.

C: A candidate with a mixed record or positions on gun related issues, who may oppose some pro-gun positions.

D: An anti-gun candidate who usually supports restrictive gun control legislation. Regardless of public statements, can usually be counted on to vote wrong on key issues.

F: True enemy of gun owners’ rights. A consistent anti-gun candidate.

?: Refused to answer the NRA-PVF Candidate Questionnaire, often an indication of indifference, if not outright hostility, to gun owners’ rights.

The NRA opposes all restrictions on ownership of weapons of any kind including military assault weapons used in the Newtown, Conn. shooting.

Yarmuth said his office got hundreds of calls this morning in support of some sort of gun laws, “and I’m guessing this is the case with other congressmen.”

The murder of the 20 children ages 6 and 7 years old – first-graders – has created “a mass public outcry for reform,” he said.

“I do think we’ve reached a tipping point. If public support tips in favor of restrictions, I think we can easily overcome the NRA.”

Yarmuth said such measures could include reviving the assault rifle ban that congress allowed to expire  in 2004. New legislation could involve addressing high capacity magazines for pistols and guns shows.

Calls to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action were not returned.

The organization has taken down its Facebook page.

The New York Times is reporting that Sen. Joe Manchin III, a staunch pro-gun-rights senator from West Virginia and an NRA member, stated today that  “everything should be on the table” in future gun legislation debates.

Yarmuth extended something of an olive branch to NRA officials.

“What I’d say to the NRA is they’re not wrong on everything,” he said. But Yarmuth described NRA officials as unwilling to participate in a reasonable approach to gun violence.

The three-term congressman said he planned to meet with Jefferson County Public Schools officials, Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer and the Kentucky Education Association about gun violence.

Asked how much political capital he’s willing to spend on the battle for stricter controls on assault weapons, Yarmuth said, “I’ve already got an F-rating from the NRA. The last thing I worry about in this is political cost.

“It’s inconsequential.”

Here is Yarmuth’s full prepared statement:

Last Friday’s incomprehensible tragedy in Connecticut requires every citizen, and certainly every public official, to reflect on our responsibilities to our fellow citizens, because what happened to so many innocent and helpless children and courageous educators in Newtown can happen in any of our towns to any of our neighbors.

“I have been largely silent on the issue of gun violence over the past six years, and I am now as sorry for that as I am for what happened to the families who lost so much in this most recent, but sadly not isolated, tragedy.

“Like so many Americans, when I was growing up I thought guns were the things that protected us from the bad guys — the outlaws, the Nazis, the Red Menace, and the gangsters. Now I know, through painful history, that guns are much more likely to be used by the bad guys or the mentally unstable against the rest of us.

“Instead of the fictional Lone Ranger and the Rifleman and James Bond, there was the very real Lee Harvey Oswald shooting JFK, and then James Earl Ray shooting Dr. King, and Sirhan Sirhan killing Bobby Kennedy, and Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon. More recently we watched the massacres at Heath High School, Columbine, and Virginia Tech. Then I watched my friend and colleague Gabby Giffords attacked with weapons that killed several others and left her permanently changed

“I confess, I am afraid of guns. I am not ashamed of that, because my fear is reasonable and is based on the observations of a lifetime. But the question I ask today is whether the best response to that fear — a fear that now will be shared by millions of American school-aged children — is an acquiescence in more guns and fewer restrictions on them, or a concerted national commitment to protect our citizens from their misuse.

“The National Rifle Association has spent untold millions of dollars instilling fear in our citizens and our politicians. That organization, which regularly fails to represent the responsible attitudes of its members, wants us to believe that the best protection against the irresponsible and lethal use of guns is for everyone to be armed. And while no specific gun regulation may have prevented the deaths of the 20 Sandy Hook Elementary children, 6 and 7-year-old children, the answer simply cannot be a gun in every elementary school lunchbox.

“I agree that Americans have the right to defend themselves and their property. I believe even more fiercely that I have the right, and every child has the right, to be safe from guns without carrying a gun. That gun, by the way, is statistically far more likely to result in the injury or death of someone close to me or them, than someone bent on doing harm.

“That is the challenge we face today, and it is a challenge we must not put off another day.

“While it is unlikely that Friday’s insane massacre of children could have been prevented by any specific gun control law, it is also undeniably true that the perpetrator of the massacre was the product of a culture that sees guns as a solution to problems, whether psychological or others, and we must be determined to change that culture.

“Many of my colleagues are afraid that their support of efforts to reduce gun violence will bring the wrath of the NRA down on them. I believe it is more rational to fear guns far more than the illusory political power of the NRA.

“I applaud President Obama’s statement that we need to take meaningful action to prevent future suffering of the kind we experienced last week. I want to be part of that action, and I promise my constituents, the families of the bereaved in Connecticut, my own family, and every American family, that I will not be silent any longer.”

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