Former President Bill Clinton issued a sharp declaration on gun control during a speech reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy Wednesday at the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington.
“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon,” Clinton said. “We must open those stubborn gates.”
Firearms regulations have been a divisive issue in the country, especially in the wake of the deadly Newtown school shootings last December. Despite poll numbers showing the vast majority of Americans supported a bill for stricter background checks, the legislation failed to pass in April.
Clinton urged Americans to move past petty disagreements and work together as a way to honor King’s enduring spirit of fighting for equal rights and civil liberties.
“We don’t face beatings, lynchings and shootings for our political beliefs anymore,” Clinton said. “Martin Luther King did not live and die to hear his heirs whine about political gridlock.”
Clinton cited the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act and the health care reform fight as examples of not giving up in the face of opposition.
“We cannot be discouraged by a Supreme Court decision that said we don’t need this critical provision of the Voting Rights Act because, look at the states, it made it harder for African Americans and Hispanics and students and the elderly and the infirm and poor working folks to vote,” Clinton said. “What do you know—they showed up, stood in line for hours and voted anyway. So, obviously we don’t need any kind of law.”
Clinton, who is scheduled to give another speech next week for the rollout of the Affordable Health Care Act, noted, “We cannot relax in our efforts to implement health care reform in a way that ends discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions – one of which is inadequate income to pay for rising health care – a health care reform that will lower costs and lengthen lives.”
Clinton spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where King had delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech exactly 50 years ago.
President Obama, former President Jimmy Carter and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis also delivered speeches.