A Truly Heroic Speech

Six-year-old Benjamin Wheeler was one of the victims of the 14 December 2012 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Benjamin’s father, David Wheeler, testified at a public hearing before the Connecticut State Legislature’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety.

David Wheeler

It was a truly heroic speech.

As a father of two, I shudder to think what Mr. Wheeler, his wife and the families of the slain children and teachers must have experienced and what they must now endure. And that makes Mr. Wheeler’s speech all the more courageous, all the more remarkable.

Admiration for David Wheeler

  • David Wheeler spoke passionately and yet was able to control his own emotions.
  • He spoke without bitterness. Instead, he focused on the problem of gun violence and offer specific, balanced recommendations for action.
  • David Wheeler spoke simply and clearly, pausing for emphasis, and looking the members of the Panel squarely in the eyes.
  • He concluded by invoking one of the fundamental principles from the Declaration of Independence. And he made an incredibly powerful argument as to how it must be interpreted:

Thomas Jefferson described our inalienable rights as life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness—the rights with which we are endowed, for the protection of which we have instituted governments. I do not think the composition of that foundational phrase was an accident. I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard or casual.

The liberty of any person to own a military-style assault weapon and a high-capacity magazine and keep them in their home, is second to the right of my son to his life—his life; to the right to live of all of those children and those teachers, to the right to the lives of your children, of you, of all of us—all of our lives—it is second. Let’s honor the founding documents and get our priorities straight. Thank you.

Mr. Wheeler, you have my utmost respect and admiration. I sincerely hope that your words are taken seriously—and acted upon—by your officials in the United States.

I’m sorry that you had to give that speech. My sincere condolences for your loss and my best wishes for happier days ahead.

Image a low resolution screenshot from video above

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    1. Thank you for the sharing the article. Suzanna Hupp spoke forcefully and persuasively. She is to be commended like David Wheeler for putting aside any personal bitterness for such a terrible personal tragedy and focusing on the issues at hand.
      On the issue of gun control, however, I must respectfully disagree with the conclusions that you draw. Your country — I assume you are American — is a great one, but you have a serious problem with your fixation on guns. Gun ownership per capita in the US is something like 90 guns for every 100 people according to the most recent statistics that I have seen. No. 2, at 55 guns per 100 people is Yemen. Yemen! A semi-lawless state where the ruling government is facing its own Arab Spring and Al-Qaeda is known to operate. Switzerland, where I now live, is No. 3 and is at half the rate of the US.
      The whole situation has gone off kilter because over the years, vested interests were able to promote the fiction that general gun ownership was somehow a constitutional right guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment. That Amendment reads as follows: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” (Emphasis added.) The entire premise for gun ownership, as envisioned by your Founders, was that it should be within a well-regulated militia, not by every man, woman or child on the street. This was completely understandable: you had just fought a revolutionary war and were wary that the English might try to win back what they had lost.
      But the whole notion of the militia was disregarded and was finally thrown under the bus by the US Supreme Court in a highly controversial 5-4 split decision in 2008. It was clearly a partisan decision (and yes, you have had partisan decisions cutting both ways over the years) but in my respectful view, and speaking as a lawyer, it was a bad one. Justice Stevens, in his dissent, put the matter simply: “When each word in the text is given full effect, the Amendment is most naturally read to secure to the people a right to use and possess arms in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia. So far as appears, no more than that was contemplated.”
      Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, less than three months ago, somewhere between 1,300 and 1,500 more people in the United States have died from gunshot wounds (intentional, accidental or suicidal). From what I can see, the rate shows no signs of slowing down. So I am sorry, but I disagree with your position. Your country has a serious problem with guns and throwing more guns at the problem is not the way to solve it. I wish you and your fellow citizens the best of luck in finding a solution.
      John Zimmer

      1. Thank you for the well written and logical response. There are so many that simply spout emotional phrases on both sides. I wish you the best and thank you for the great communication resource.

        1. I appreciate your answer. You are right: knee-jerk answers from either side will not help at all.
          All the best in return. You are welcome on this blog any time.

  1. A statement that hits the spot. As for the debate on gun safety, it (like so many issues) has become an emotional debate. Similar to climate change, interests don’t want to view the issue based on data, statistics, and hard facts. No, too often emotions steer our “thought” process.
    I’m somewhat jaded and believe more and more that reason has been subordinated to pathos.

    1. Thanks for the comment, John.
      Pathos certainly has its place in a debate (on some subjects more than others) but when pathos starts to override logos and ethos, it set the entire framework for a good speech that Aristotle established millennia ago off kilter. In fact, your comment reminds me of something one of our late Canadian Prime Ministers, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, said: “Reason before passion.”

  2. John, thanks a lot for highlighting this unprecedented speech, full of courage, dignity, sense and clarity. My hope is that people with the necessary power have the wisdom to make the given advice happen.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

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National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

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Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

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Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International