Sandy Hook, the Green Ribbon, and NRA Bullying

Yes, there's something irritating about the whole ribbon thing, but Congress is about symbolism.

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President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013.

If a viewer wanted to tell who was a Democrat and who was a Republican at the State of the Union address, there was no need to match faces to facebooks or even to see where they sat in the House chamber. All that was necessary was to look for the green ribbon.

Democrats (and some guests) sported bright green ribbons on their lapels, symbolizing support for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre. Republicans were largely ribbon-free. You can see the loop of green on the suit of Vice President Biden in photos of him standing behind President Obama at the speech. House Speaker John Boehner's lapel is bare. It was like a live-action version of the Dr. Seuss tale about the Star-bellied Sneetches and the Plain-bellied Sneetches. But instead of being a thinly-veiled lesson on race relations, as the children's book is, the ribbon divide displayed a force nearly as powerful in American politics: the National Rifle Association.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

Now, in the plain-lapelled members' defense, there is something a little irritating about the whole ribbon thing. There's a ribbon for everything (if there isn't a rubber bracelet), and not everyone wants or needs to wear a spot of color to express concern for an issue or disease. How many of us sided with Seinfeld's Kramer when he refused to wear the AIDS ribbon (even as he attempted to do the AIDS walk)? The social pressure to show solidarity by accessories can be a tad too much.

But congressmen and congressional politics are all about symbols. So why couldn't the entire House and Senate just wear the damn ribbon? Sadly, the ribbon came to mean something more political than it was meant to be. It was supposed to be a symbol of memory and respect for the children gunned down in their elementary school. Instead, it became a symbol of being for gun control. And while there are indeed members who sincerely oppose any kind of gun control on Second Amendment grounds, there are others who are simply too afraid of the NRA's power to take a stand—even a mild one—for even the tamest of gun safety proposals. Someone can be a strong Second Amendment supporter and still have compassion for the families of the Sandy Hook victims. The NRA shouldn't frighten lawmakers from showing basic respect for innocent victims of violence.

  • Read Ron Bonjean: Obama Declares War on the GOP in the State of the Union Speech
  • Read Nancy Pfotenhauer: What Obama Got Wrong in the State of the Union
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