Chris Matthews: RFK came around to pushing gun control. We should too.

Through one rampage after another, we've been like the frog that doesn't notice the water in the pot's about to boil. Is this the country we want?

Chris Matthews
Opinion contributor
Lowering the flag to half-staff in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 6, 2017.

When are these mass shootings going to bring action on gun control?  How long will we play the frog in the pot waiting for it to boil?  Isn't there something we should be doing, at least trying to be doing? 

When Bobby Kennedy was shot, I did something I had never done before and never did again. I wrote my congressman and asked him to do something about gun control. That was 1968. With a few rare exceptions, I've been waiting ever since.

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This time, in Texas, it was an AR-556, a military-style weapon capable of killing 26 people in a moment of rampage. Perhaps if this guy were carrying a musket available when the Bill of Rights was ratified, there'd be a shorter casualty list.   

I know in writing this that we don't all agree on how to stop this only-in-America carnage.  

"Sutherland Springs" has triggered the usual list of suspects. Some obsess about the killer, as if knowing who did it will prevent it from happening again. This ignores the grotesquerie that the killer rarely survives. He ends up in the gunfire, usually by design. 

So human instinct alone, basic survival instinct, should point us from the "who" question to the "how." How to stop it from happening again.  

Question: How did the killer get the weapon needed for such an assault?  

Answer: He bought an assault rifle. 

As long as these assault rifles are easy to get your hands on, we will find them getting in the wrong hands.           

As we all know too well, Sutherland Springs joins an ever-growing list of towns and schools known for carnage. It's the code for someone with a gun going on a rampage of horror, often involving children.

So we have to do something. 

When President Kennedy was killed in Texas that well-remembered November, Bobby Kennedy focused first of all on the shooter. He wanted to know the "who." Like most of us, he assumed on hearing the news from Dallas that it was someone angry at the New Frontier push for civil rights, a fight for which he had been point man.

"There's so much bitterness," he told an aide. "I thought they'd get one of us. ... I thought it would be me."

Even after accepting the Warren Commission report, after studying all the evidence in the archives, RFK still harbored doubts, wondering whether his enemies and his brother's were involved. 

But as the years passed, he sought a higher meaning to gun violence. The night that Martin Luther King was killed, he spoke to an African-American audience about the need to "make an effort" to end racial division. "I had a member of my family killed — but he was killed by a white man."

At the end, he focused on gun control itself. Ten days before his own death, he confronted a crowd of lumberjacks in Roseburg, Ore. Does it make any sense, he demanded to know, “that you should put rifles and guns in the hands of people who have long criminal records, or people who are insane, or people who are mentally incompetent, or people who are so young they don’t know how to handle rifles and guns?” What he didn’t say, but clearly meant to ask, was why a known security risk like Lee Harvey Oswald was able to get a rifle by mail order.

A member of the Kennedy family gave me a hint of what had changed in him. He had discovered that life's villains tend to create their own hells on earth. Certainly, this is the case with mass killers. They end up in the gunfire.  

So having spent much of his career "chasing bad guys," RFK decided to devote himself to the victims and preventing more of them.   

Out of our will to do something, we care as best we can for those whose worlds have been destroyed, the families who are victims themselves. 

And then comes the human instinct to try to prevent more sadness. 

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It does little good to focus on the "who." There will always be a different "who" with a different grievance. This time, it might be a family matter. Next time, it could be a political vendetta.

The one enduring question we can answer is whether we want to remain in the ever warming water, refusing to notice the boil.  

Is this the kind of country we want to live in? 

Chris Matthews is host of MSNBC’s Hardball and the author ofBobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, published Oct. 31. Follow him on Twitter: @HardballChris