Who says things can't change in politics? We just learned, again, that they can – and fast! Ten days ago, you couldn't find a politician in the South who had anything bad to say about the Confederate battle flag. Today, they're tripping all over themselves to get rid of it.
To their credit, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush led the pack. Bush pointed out that as governor of Florida he'd given orders to take down the flag and consign it to a museum. Calling it a "symbol of racial hatred," Romney tweeted that South Carolina should remove the flag from the grounds of its state Capitol. Both provided a stark contrast to presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham, who initially waffled on the flag question.
Then South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley stepped up to the plate. For the last five years, she'd walked away from any debate over the flag, but suddenly she, too, got religion, pulling together all of the Palmetto State's Republican and Democratic leaders in a dramatic show of unity, demanding that the state Legislature take down the Confederate flag. At which point even Rubio, Cruz, Walker and Graham clambered on board.
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Overnight, Haley's initiative sparked an avalanche of efforts nationwide to eradicate almost all traces of the Confederacy. The South Carolina House voted 103-10 to open debate on taking down the flag. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley beat them to the punch. He simply gave orders to take the flag down from state Capitol grounds immediately. In Mississippi, the Republican speaker of the House called for removing the Confederate battle cross from the upper-left-hand corner of the state flag. And when Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that he was ending the sale of license plates bearing the Confederate flag, political leaders in Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee made the same call.
It wasn't just the flag that fell. In Tennessee, politicians of both parties called for removing a statue of Confederate general and KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol. Even more dramatically, in Kentucky, both the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor announced their support for moving the statue of Jefferson Davis, long-revered president of the Confederate states, out of the Capitol building.
And politicians weren't the only ones to act. With one voice, major retailers – including Amazon, Wal-Mart, eBay, Sears and Target – announced they would remove all Confederate paraphernalia from their shelves. Valley Forge Flag Co. and Elder Flag Manufacturing Co. said they'd no longer manufacture the Confederate flag. Pretty soon, you'll find few traces of the Confederacy left.
It's tragic that it took the murders of nine Charleston churchgoers to bring people to their senses. Nevertheless, it's still good to see that we, as a nation, are burying the Confederate flag once and for all. There's only one problem: Nine beautiful people at Charleston's AME Church were not killed with a Confederate flag. They were killed with a gun. And not just any gun. A Glock .45, a semiautomatic pistol designed specifically for use by police and the military. A gun which no civilian has any business owning – but which Dylann Roof, as twisted as he was, as full of hatred as he was, was able to walk into a gun store and buy. No questions asked.
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And yet, with all the talk about the Confederate flag, there's zero talk about guns. What a contrast with the response to the massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the immediate wake of the Charleston shootings, even from the most outspoken proponents of sensible gun safety legislation in the Senate – Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Joe Manchin, Pat Toomey – there was radio silence on guns. And in his first response to the tragedy at Charleston, President Obama appeared to wave the white flag on gun control. No attack on the NRA. No challenge to Congress. No call for action. Instead, on gun safety, saying only: "At some point, it's going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it." At some point? Whatever happened to "the fierce urgency of now"?
So, yes, let's agree that the Confederate flag is no flag of honor. As the symbol of racial hatred and treason, it should be taken down and locked away. But that's not enough. There's one even more urgent priority. First, take care of the flag. Then, take care of the guns.