Washington, DC -- The moment that most deserves to be remembered from Sunday's thrilling Super Bowl came before the game, when Jennifer Hudson joined students from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in singing "America the Beautiful." It was a heart-rending elegy for the fallen -- and a stirring call to action.
The brave students, in khakis and white polo shirts, survived the unspeakable massacre in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 of their schoolmates dead, riddled with bullets from an assault rifle fired by a madman. Hudson, the acclaimed recording artist and Oscar-winning actress, lost her mother, brother and nephew to Chicago's endemic gun violence in 2008 when a troubled relative went on a murderous rampage; she had to identify all three bodies at the morgue.
The performance brought tears to the eyes of some of the players -- and, surely, many television viewers. It was a reminder that life goes on, but also that we must not lose sight of unfinished business: reducing the awful toll that barely regulated, insufficiently monitored commerce in powerful weapons takes on innocent victims, day after day after day.
Despite the best efforts of the National Rifle Association and like-minded groups to make sure this business remains unfinished, reducing gun violence remains stubbornly high on the nation's agenda.
This is partly due to the ravings of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president and spokesman, who almost single-handedly, or single-mouthedly, is making the pro-gun argument sound even crazier and more irresponsible than it is. And that's saying something.
On Sunday, LaPierre treated viewers of "Fox News Sunday" to some of his lunacy. Anchor Chris Wallace gave him the opportunity to disavow the NRA's shameful ad accusing President Obama of hypocrisy for supporting gun control while his own family is protected by armed Secret Service agents. LaPierre stuck to his guns, such as they were.
The president's daughters "face a threat that most children do not face," Wallace pointed out.
"Tell that to people in Newtown," LaPierre replied. He was about to continue in this vein before Wallace interrupted.
"Do you really think the president's children are the same kind of target as every school child in America? That's ridiculous and you know it, sir."
LaPierre then went into an absurdist rant about how "all the elites and all the powerful and privileged, the titans of industry" have armed security and -- in LaPierre's fantasy -- send their children to schools that are veritable bunkers. Wallace noted that he sent his children to the same school the Obama daughters attend, and there were no armed guards on campus.
"The idea of an elite class," Wallace said, "it's just nonsense, sir."
When Obama unveiled his far-reaching proposals on gun violence, it appeared initially that the NRA was willing to compromise. NRA President David Keene seemed to indicate the organization would accept universal background checks for gun purchases while strongly opposing proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But LaPierre declared Sunday that that the NRA will resist (BEG ITAL)any(END ITAL) new legislation.
In Senate hearings last week, LaPierre portrayed life in the United States as one long horror movie. "What people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government," he said. "If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs, that they're going to be out there alone, and the only way they're going to protect themselves, in the cold, in the dark, when they're vulnerable, is with a firearm."
He left out the zombies.
With so many members of Congress already bought and paid for, it's understandable that the NRA would feel a measure of confidence. But I believe the pro-gun lobby is seriously overplaying its hand, and that the wind has shifted.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords also testified at last week's hearings; she spoke only briefly, because it is still difficult for her to form words after being shot in the head two years ago. The gunman was wielding a semiautomatic pistol with a 33-round magazine. No one can convince her that if we lived in the world the NRA would like to see -- in which everyone is armed to the teeth with military-style guns and ammo -- we would be safer. Nor can anyone convince the children of Newtown. Or Jennifer Hudson's family.
The NRA is powerful but not omnipotent. Polls show that Americans favor sensible gun control; if Obama and other proponents of sanity keep the issue alive, we can achieve it. From sea to shining sea.