I remember one day when my father showed me a black-and-white photo of him and his buddies from his high-school days. They were all Italian – bred and raised in a typical 1950s neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Dad showed me the picture because I was trying to rediscover my own Italian roots. I was watching a lot of movies back then – “Goodfellas” and “The Godfather” – and admired the “old neighborhood.”
Usually my father watched along, but he always reminded me of something he learned on those very streets long ago, often repeating the mantra: “You live by the gun, you die by the gun.”
It is with profound irony that my father, who never celebrated guns, was the victim of a violent crime.
On Aug. 5, 2013, Rockne Newell stormed a town hall meeting in Ross Township, Penn., with a semi-automatic rifle, firing 28 rounds and killing three people, one of whom was my father, James “Vinny” LaGuardia.
Dad was attending the meeting because, as an active citizen, he always sought to improve his community by participating in the democratic process.
He was there with his neighbor and good friend, Gerry Kozic, who also died in the shooting. Dad was 64, and we were looking forward to his 65th birthday this November.
My father was a dedicated Christian and knew that positive, inclusive relationships were at the heart of Jesus’ teachings. My dad wasn’t a saint, but he tried to love everyone and live out of vibrant compassion.
As a Baptist minister, I have always carried on Dad’s values concerning peace and nonviolence. I, too, have told parishioners a time or two about the negative effects of gun violence, and when doing so have echoed my father’s words that those who “Live by the gun, die by the gun” more often than not.
You can imagine, then, the indescribable grief and sorrow my family is facing due to this senseless act of gun violence that has taken my father’s life and has stolen away my children’s grandfather.
But let me tell you something else about my dad. He believed in the Second Amendment right for all people to bear arms. Many of his friends love to hunt and fish, and he never would have sought to impose radical gun control legislation upon anyone.
He did, however, believe that common-sense legislation, such as standardized background check procedures and limited gun clips, did not infringe on those rights. I agree.
On that fateful night, Newell fired 28 rounds before two participants in the town hall meeting were able to subdue him and bring the violence to a halt after he ran out of ammo.
I have spent long nights wondering whether Dad would still be here if Congress had passed legislation last spring limiting ammo clips, especially for high-powered rifles, like the one Newell used.
I grieve my father’s senseless death, and I also grieve Congress’ failure to act on common-sense legislation that might have prevented my father’s death.
I wish our congressional leaders were as passionate about passing gun legislation as they are about placating a lobbying organization (the NRA).
Neither of Newell’s guns were illegally purchased nor stolen. Gun legislation would not have kept him from his Second Amendment right.
Yet, I believe we need greater gun control because it communicates something deeper about our nation’s values concerning the sacredness of life and the sanctity of our nation’s welfare.
My father never “lived by the gun,” but he has now become a victim of a gun culture that is out of control.
I appreciate those who own guns for hunting and recreational activities. In fact, I feel that a majority of Americans are safe, law-abiding citizens and responsible gun owners.
Nevertheless, I take issue with a Congress who fails to act on common-sense gun control legislation that would better protect all of our citizenry from those who use guns for unlawful purposes.
I pray that there will be a day when our representatives will come together and pass legislation that curbs our gun culture, nurtures a culture of peace and nonviolence, and creates sustainable communities in which reconciliation rather than revenge becomes our noblest virtue.
Someday I will show my son pictures of my family, and I’m sure many of them will include my father.
I rue that day because as I tell him how much his grandfather meant to me, I will also tell him that he died because a person bought into our nation’s infatuation with guns as a means to resolve conflicts.
I rue the day, but I also hope, because when my son is older perhaps Congress will have been courageous and creative enough to make us a safer nation by upholding the values of peace, life and liberty for all who live within our country’s borders.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Vero Beach, Florida.