WE OFTEN reminisce about where we were when JFK or John Lennon was killed, or when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. And someday we might be asking each other where we were when we heard about the April 16 killings at Virginia Tech, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
But I have a different question: What will we say when someday we are asked what we were doing between that horrific day in Blacksburg, Va., and the date of the next major gun tragedy, which will most certainly occur?
I'm not looking for answers like, "We were working," or "Going to college," or "On a sabbatical."
What I want to know is, what were we doing to help change the laws that make handguns so accessible in this nation, particularly in Pennsylvania?
We can continue to express our outrage, shake our heads in disbelief, blame intransigent legislators or curse the NRA.
But such hand-wringing won't get us anywhere, any more than it did after blood stained the grounds at Columbine as 11 high- school students and a teacher were slaughtered, or after blood stained the floors at the Amish schoolhouse where five children were murdered, or as fresh blood stains the streets of Philadelphia, day after day.
We sit glued to the television, fret for a while, and then go about our business until a mentally troubled Seung-Hui Cho gets his hands on a Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and snuffs out the lives of the best and the brightest.
We are in our fretting mood once again, but if the past is prologue we will soon regain normalcy and forget about Blacksburg until the next tragedy.
And that's what the NRA and other single-minded gun advocates rely on: our inertia.
It's not that the NRA is so strong; it's that the rest of us are so naive. The NRA and its cohorts understand that democracy American-style is about money, organization and hand-to-hand combat. Too many of us believe that right makes might. While NRA members roam the halls of Congress and the state House, we are in our community hot-tubs telling each other how terrible all this violence is.
I recently became president of the board of directors of CeaseFire Pennsylvania, a statewide organization dedicated to reducing gun violence. I did so because I believe we can make a difference and bring sanity to our handgun laws, laws that are so lax they don't even prevent an identified terrorist from getting a handgun in Pennsylvania. (So much for homeland security.)
We will be successful only if we raise money and organize a grass-roots campaign from Allentown to Aliquippa.
The day I became president of the group, I also joined the NRA. I even received my first issue of "America's First Freedom." I can now read "What all gun owners should know about assault weapons."
I joined the NRA to remind myself that it is not the enemy.
Its members are exercising their constitutional rights to express themselves and petition their government. And, frankly, they have done a hell of a job.
It's the rest of us - to paraphrase Pogo - who is the enemy.
We walk around with our tail between our legs. Some bemoan the "fact" that you can't change the handgun laws in Pennsylvania. Other well-meaning people argue that tougher handgun laws aren't the answer. The real answer, they say, is more cops or tougher judges or more probation officers or intact families.
But this isn't a multiple-choice test - you can choose more than one answer. These solutions are not mutually exclusive. We don't have to choose one at the expense of the others.
What we need to remember is that poll after poll indicates that a significant majority of Pennsylvanians favors changes in our gun laws. It doesn't matter whether they live in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre or Central Pennsylvania.
Gov. Rendell has thrown his weight behind sensible handgun measures; the House Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings throughout the state; and mayors from cities like Allentown, Easton, Reading, Scranton, York and Lancaster have taken up the mantle for sane handgun laws before violence wreaks havoc on their cities as it is doing in Philadelphia.
Rather than trying to change the minds of die-hard gun-rights advocates, we need to change the attitude of those of us who favor change but are defeatists. We need to remember we are in the majority and have a choice. We can sit on the sidelines or put our helmets on and get into the game we call democracy. Yes, contribute money, organize and make our voices heard.