In the aftermath of horrific mass shooting after horrific mass shooting – elementary, high school or college students dead, church-goers dead, nightclub patrons dead, policemen dead – the same depressing news cycle plays out.
We are subjected to interviews with friends and family members of the victims and killer(s), harrowing eye-witness accounts of the mayhem, heartbreaking expressions of grief, canned statements from politicians, words of condolence from clergy, talk of justice, healing and resilience, condemnation of anyone who “politicizes” the issue, and, finally, the resurfacing of our bitter national gun-control debate that changes nothing and fills everyone who wants the violence to end with despair.
We are stuck in a nightmarish Groundhog’s Day scenario. Americans are dying on the street every day as gun sales skyrocket. The Congressional Research Service, whatever that is, estimates that there are 300 million guns in America. Those are the guns that can be accounted for. There are unquestionably many more guns than that in circulation. America has more guns now than people and the very word “gun” is part of the problem because it is a misnomer. A mere “gun”– think Wyatt Earp – doesn’t qualify as a slingshot in a country with a citizenry arming itself with assault rifles. And what exactly is an “assault rife”? We can’t even agree on that.
Who and what is responsible for this state of utter madness? There is certainly plenty of blame to go around: the NRA, Congress, the Supreme Court, the media, Hollywood, our primitive violent nature, and the Second Amendment itself, which like the Third Amendment (which forbids the government from housing soldiers in private homes) made good sense in 1791 and no sense in the 21st Century.
I am thinking of what President-elect Ronald Reagan said in 1980, with a stone-faced Cardinal Terrance Cook by his side, when he was asked about the assassination of John Lennon: “What can anyone say? It’s a great tragedy and it’s just other evidence of what we have to try and stop happening in this world.”
The reporter then asked, “Would you stop that with handgun legislation?”
Reagan answered: “I have never believed that. I believe in the kind of handgun legislation we have in California. If someone commits a crime and carries a gun when he’s doing it, it adds five to fifteen years to the prison sentence.”
It wasn’t long before Reagan himself was shot with a Röhm RG-14. Six shots were fired in 1.7 seconds. Had Reagan’s would-be assassin used an AR-15 or similar weapon, the current favorite of today’s terrorists and mass shooters, he would have been massacred beyond recognition. Instead, he survived and to his credit went on to support the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the Assault Weapons Ban, which has since expired leading us to where we find ourselves today. And where exactly is that?
We all live in Deadwood now, a kind of futuristic Deadwood in which seemingly everyone has a gun and a smart-phone to record gun violence. I’ll bet it’s just a matter of time before we can download a gun app for our smart-phones and start firing away. Let’s face it, in this environment what reasonable person wouldn’t want a gun? Bill Maher owns a gun. Michael Moore owns a gun. President Obama posed shooting a hunting rifle.
I myself have never held a real gun in my hand, though when I was a kid I did have a squirt gun, which I remember well. It had a nifty manual squeeze trigger and what I considered an ample 10-ounce fluid chamber. I loved shooting at the blouses of girls I had crushes on and making wet marks on them. But these days no self-respecting kid would be seen with such a harmless toy. Squirt guns have been replaced with “super soakers,” “double-drench blasters” and “water cannons” equipped with multi-quart chambers that can saturate a girl, and her teacher too, in mere seconds from 50+ feet away. Okay, I’ll admit, that does sound like fun. The thought of getting the girl of my dreams all wet is a real turn on.
So, I imagine the thrill of holding a loaded gun that can do real and lasting damage is a real turn on too, all the more so because we have fetishized guns, fetishized violence actually. Whether we kill or not, what an exhilarating power trip it is to have the power to kill in our hands.
Let’s not forget, of course, that guns don’t kill people. Also, forks don’t eat food, but they sure do make eating a lot easier. Imagine if there was an assault-fork which allowed the average-Joe to eat 18 seven-course dinners in 51 seconds. You think that might have an undesirable impact the national obesity rate?
The sobering reality is that we have travelled a very long way down a very dark road. Gun control laws won’t stop gun violence any more the speeding laws stop speeding. But speeding laws do reduce speed and keep us marginally safer. In this dangerous country with its sick gun culture, “marginally safer” is the best we can hope for.