Guns, Divisive Rhetoric to "Honor" Lincoln and King?

There's a sad irony in all of these people at the podium, with their supporters, celebrating their worship of guns while invoking the legacies of two great Americans whose magnificent lives were cruelly cut short by bullets.
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A disturbing magazine cover crossed my desk last week announcing, in big bold print, that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the NRA are hosting a "Restoring Honor" rally next month.

It's being held at the Lincoln Memorial, a place that honors America's most revered president: the one who saved our union, freed African slaves, and breathed the healing balm "of malice toward none" at the conclusion of our bitter Civil War -- and who was killed by a gun.

It's also being held on the 47th anniversary of the "March on Washington." The march where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke so eloquently of his dream that one day his children would live in a nation where "they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Where this same civil rights giant, and pacifist who won the Nobel Prize for Peace, was joined on the podium -- and in the 200,000-plus audience -- by Americans of all races, backgrounds, and religions.

And where the transformative power of non-violent protest and forgiveness traveled deeply into the racially scarred American consciousness, and prodded political leaders to pass laws that struck down decades of discriminatory practices that had relegated a group of people to the desert of second-class citizenship.

Now picture the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on the anniversary of I Have a Dream, with Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the NRA's Wayne LaPierre at the podium, and our National Mall teeming with their followers to, in Beck's words, "pick up Martin Luther King's dream..."

Calling the date of his rally "Divine providence," (as noted ironically by the Colbert Report) this is the same Glenn Beck, a life-member of the NRA, who has insulted the Anti-Defamation League; challenged Keith Ellison, a Muslim who had just been elected to Congress to "prove to me you are not working with our enemies"; repeatedly called President Obama "a racist" and accused him of having "a deep-seated hatred for white people." This same Beck recently urged Christians to leave their churches if their ministers ever spoke about "social justice" -- the very foundation of King's leadership during the 1950's and 1960's -- because he considers the term code for "communism and Nazism."

This is the same Sarah Palin, who has purposely stoked fears and resentment among gun-owners by wrongly accusing President Obama of wanting to ban guns; who disregards the 70 percent of Americans who want restrictions on semi-automatic assault weapons; and rejects the medical community's assertion that gun violence in America is a national health problem.

This is the same Wayne LaPierre, who insists that "'s the guys with the guns make the rules." Not Jefferson's 'We, the people,' the American voters, or their representatives. No, "the guys with the guns" -- a statement that bears eerie similarity to the one John Wilkes Booth authored in a letter on April 14, 1865, the morning before he assassinated Lincoln, that "Might makes right."

The same LaPierre who just weeks ago debated me on PBS's NewsHour and argued that laws, such as requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales at gun shows are the equivalent of a "poll tax."

Yes, you read that correctly. LaPierre equates laws restricting access to guns by dangerous people with a tax designed to keep African-Americans from exercising their 15th Amendment right to vote, which had been blocked for a century after the Civil War. A tax that ultimately was consigned to the dustbin of history by the groundswell of support for the 24th Amendment, which became law on the heels of the 1963 March on Washington. Somehow a proposal designed to slow the mind-numbing gun violence touching so many in this country equals -- in LaPierre's mind -- the century-long disenfranchisement of former slaves and their descendants.

On that podium also will be Ted Nugent, a guitarist and NRA board member, who has insulted women and gays, and who told the Detroit Free Press magazine that, "Apartheid isn't that cut and dry. All men are not created equal. The preponderance of South Africa is a different breed...."

A large part of the audience likely will be those who identify themselves as members of the Tea Party, some of whom at past public events have openly carried guns and used tactics of intimidation; brandished racially offensive posters depicting President Obama; and shouted racial and anti-gay slurs at congressional leaders outside of a rally to allegedly protest health care legislation. One of the spokespersons for the Tea Partiers even wrote a facetious letter "from the Colored people" to Abraham Lincoln praising slavery, to challenge the NAACP's claims that the party harbors racist elements.

Most jarring is the sad irony of all of these people at the podium, with their supporters spread across our National Mall, celebrating, in part, their worship of guns, while invoking, quite blatantly, the legacies of two great Americans whose magnificent lives were cruelly cut short by bullets.

And as you hold that image in your mind, consider the words of Dr. King, who, while mourning with all Americans the loss of President John F. Kennedy to gun violence, suggested: "While the question 'Who killed President Kennedy?' is important, the question 'What killed him?' is more important. Our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred and raging storms of violence. It is climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder."

Are Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, and Ted Nugent, at this place and time, the new keepers of King's dream and of Lincoln's legacy? Or do they, with this event at this place and time, in one of the boldest and most public ways imaginable, mock, and indeed, slander, everything for which these men so nobly stood, and for which they died?

Paul Helmke is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Follow the Brady Campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

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