ARLINGTON, Va. – Former President Bill Clinton praised gun control activist Emma Gonzalez and the “March for Our Lives” organizers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at a Robert F. Kennedy memorial service that marked 50 years since Kennedy’s assassination.
“50 years later, [RFK] would say, I’m 92 now and you have to listen to me from a distance, I still try to speak to the young. We stood up for Emma [Gonzalez], and you know why I love that? Because she and her generation are the first people who have made sensible, sane gun laws a voting issue in this country,” Clinton said on Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I was president, we passed the assault weapons ban and the ammunition limit – wait, wait, wait – we did it all and we couldn’t make it a voting issue and we got our brains beat out,” he added. “When she and her colleagues say, we do not deserve to die in school, schools need not be a killing ground, Bobby Kennedy would say, hey, nobody is taking away your right to hunt, to sport-shoot, to defend your family, but we should take away the option to commit mass murder with killing machines without adequate background checks. For sure, that’s what she did – that’s the kind of thing he did viscerally. I never saw anything like it.”
The Parkland students, including Gonzalez and David Hogg, were honored by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization with the RFK Human Rights Award on Tuesday.
Clinton said Kennedy delivered the same message regardless of the crowd he was addressing.
“His message really, no matter how dressed up in the finest poetry, never changed: We can do better and because we can, we must,” he said.
“If we had had a large Muslim population back then, he would have gone to them and said you, too, can be part of America if you share our values and our vision,” the president later added.
Clinton encouraged young people to watch footage of Bobby Kennedy’s speeches as a New York senator.
“Look at the films, if you weren’t alive then, that are coming out now. The energy was awesome and intensity of conviction burned away, like a blowtorch, all those layers of complacency and comfort. Show up, stand up, we can do better – and he didn’t let anybody off the hook,” Clinton said.
“[RFK] said, yeah, I want to help you but you’ve got to work hard and all you comfortable middle-class people, you don’t have a lot of money to give away, you need to do something to serve your community and work your community,” he added. “And all of you people who are rich like me, we don’t need this much, you need to give more so we can grow together and prosper together. And oh, by the way, we’ll all be better off but you should do it, as you heard, because it’s the right thing to do. There’s something for everybody to do.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga), Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) also participated in the memorial service.