That’s the first thing to acknowledge. There is simply no way to grasp in mere words the sheer moral outrage of what happened in Robb Elementary yesterday, much less to try to find in words some way to redeem it. Action is all that can redeem it, and that is precisely what we as a nation are incapable of.
For we are, perhaps permanently and irredeemably, a nation not of people, but of guns. We are a gun culture. Guns mean more to us than anything. More than family, who are put at risk by them, more than God, who begs us to forswear them, certainly more than the lives of children, who die by them.
We’ve always had them right there next to us, in our homes and fields, as far back as the beginnings of the republic, when we actually needed them to survive and to conquer. They give those of us who feel worthless a sense of worth, those of us who are cowardly a sense of power, those of us who are fearful a sense of safety, those of us who feel trapped a sense of freedom. They animate our games and entertainments. They amuse us, even feed us. They enable us to kill those who we believe to be our enemies. So important are they that they’re mentioned in our Constitution. They are our history and our future.
We are awash in guns. There are more guns in public hands than there are human beings in the United States. We’re proud that we invented most of them, and we manufacture them at great profit that we use to ensure that we can make more of them, and we export them to other countries where they fuel even greater misery than we’ve inflicted on ourselves with them. There is no end to them, for just as we are a nation of laws and not of men, we’re a nation of guns and not of laws.
So mere words can do nothing. But words are all we have right now, and so below are three pieces out of many posted over the years on this subject, each written in the wake of a disgustingly similar event, each attempting to do what cannot be done in words. Because words fail.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Oak Creek, Tucson, Portland, Sandy Hook —the list goes on, too many towns and venues to remember, too many tragedies. The facts in common? A “shooter,” always a young male, nearly always white, kills multiple total strangers by waltzing into a public place – a school, a theater, a shopping mall, a place of business, a place of worship — and opening fire. The determination to kill (and not just intimidate, threaten, or maim) is always clear, and often, with the help of semi-automatic weapons, the shooter is highly efficient in his killing. Frequently he kills himself as well, rounding out a vivid self-portrait of cowardice and sparing us the trouble of proving in a court of law that he’s a mass murderer, but no one is spared the direct or vicarious grief, the sense of outrage, the diminishment of our collective sense of community, safety, decency.
In the wake of Sandy Hook, the latest and in some ways most shocking of these events, involving as it does the killing of little children who are even less capable of protecting themselves than the rest of us, the airwaves are, as always, full of psychobabble about alienation and dissociative behavior, traumatized childhoods and so on, and about how we should all be more watchful for nutcases in our midst and somehow, despite the cutbacks in public spending that we are also clamoring for, make sure these people are getting help. Fair enough. But if we’ve really had enough, what we should do first is make sure those nutcases can’t get hold of guns.
The mayor of New York, God bless him, has been screaming about the need for leadership on gun control, and each time something like this happens there is a brief nod in that direction, as in Obama’s veiled reference to “meaningful action” to prevent things like this. But these gestures always subside into a morass of inaction, with the President turning gutless on the issue and the gun lobbyists springing into their familiar stances, arguing all the unsung good guns do, how we never hear about all the cases where someone successfully defends him or herself with a gun, how hunters and other sportsmen (and they are almost always men) help regulate animal populations and have good clean fun doing it, and, finally, how (it’s the trump card) it’s a Constitutional right to carry a gun, a right that our current Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed in no uncertain terms, and any “meaningful action” will have to deal with that fact.
Let’s acknowledge that gun control alone can’t prevent a madman from killing children (though “madman” is too lofty a word for whatever kind of delusional moron this one turns out to be). Connecticut has one of the tougher sets of gun laws in the nation, and that didn’t save 20 kids from being shot to death in their classrooms. Combine an assault rifle with the usual deranged white boy with inattentive, incompetent, and/or delusional parents, and you’ve got an inherently increased chance of mayhem. So let’s hold parents responsible for the evil their children do. But if we’ve really had enough, stricter gun control is the only place to start.
So what if Antonin Scalia thought that gun possession is a Constitutional right and that there should be no significant barrier between a fool and his firearm? Amend the sucker. Amend the Second Amendment. If I hear one more pompous ass expound on the “Framers’ intent,” I think I’ll scream. Who can doubt that if you dragged the Framers, every last bewigged one of them, out of the past and introduced them to an NRA lobbyist, much less made them read the headlines, they would be utterly aghast at what we’ve allowed to happen in the name of their little Constitutional footnote about arms and militias? And by the way, who in Sandy Hook or anywhere else cares today what the Framers intended? They and Antonin Scalia are as dead as those 20 kids, and it’s our lives and the lives of the kids still living that we have to protect from another Sandy Hook, the Second Amendment and Scalia’s benighted interpretation of it be damned.
This may mean, yes, another Constitutional amendment. It’s been done before. What the Framers clearly did intend was that the document they were drafting be a living, evolving contract between the people and their government, not the ossified object of brain-dead idolatry that it has become.
Getting a gun in this country ought to be harder than getting a driver’s license, harder than getting married, harder than getting into college. It ought to be extremely expensive and difficult, and you should have better reasons for it than that you had a manly, violent urge when you happened to be in Wal-Mart the other day. Likewise, selling a gun in this country ought to be harder than getting a liquor license, or opening up a hair salon, or starting a charter school. But it’s far easier than any of those things, and that’s an outrage.
While we’re waiting for our President and legislators to do the right thing, let’s do what we can in our own homes and communities. Get rid of the guns. Don’t delude yourself that you keep them where the kids could never find them, or that they’re under lock and key. The odds of one of your kids or grandkids getting shot are far higher than that you will need to defend yourself against that imagined burglar, and you know it. Get rid of them.
Let’s stop romanticizing guns in general. This is mostly a guy thing. Guys, grow up. Find another way to express your masculinity. Guns cost us all ‘way too much. Next time you pull one out of your closet or your pants, think about Sandy Hook and the look in the eyes of the last child you loved. Ladies, let each of your male friends and lovers and husbands and brothers know that you don’t think it’s at all sexy that he owns a gun, and that you think it’s repellent if he carries one. Women could probably clean this mess up in about a month if they set their minds to it.
Let’s end this destructive nonsense. As ever, all that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.
Ok, let’s think about this.
Guy goes into a gay nightclub at two in the morning, the tail of a Saturday night, and shoots people. Dozens die. They get the exact number wrong. Most people killed in a “mass shooting” in U.S. history. A record of some kind.
First thought: guns. Prevent people from having assault rifles and maybe this won’t happen, or won’t happen as often. But we know where that thought goes. It goes up against the Heller decision, Scalia reaching out from his grave, and the NRA, and every self-imagined revolutionary cowboy out there, and it’s not as though this isn’t just a lens collecting in one place a few of the hundreds of deaths-by-gun happening every week in U.S. cities. And the wind goes out of it and the thought dies. These people are determined, we’re told. If we take their guns away, they’ll just build bombs out of pressure cookers or load trucks with explosives. Myself, I guess I’d like to make them jump through those extra hoops, test that determination a bit. Just a thought.
Second thought: politics. More xenophobic fodder for Trump, more ineffectual gesturing from Obama, more talk of terrorism as though this guy was anything but another narcissist moron with a gun looking for a justification for his pathology, what we used to call simply a murderer without the need to elevate him into an enemy combatant. More talk from Rubio about how it’s not the weapon but the ideology that we must somehow control, as though you can shame an ideology with the phrase “Islamic terrorism” or control it with –what? More guns? And of course the FBI interviewed the guy in 2013 after he mouthed off at work about Al Qaeda. This catch-and-release trope is getting overly familiar.
Third thought: media. More grist for the media mills, sending their reporters to Orlando to stand in the street where it happened, an odd throwback to old TV, as though personal presence has any meaning anymore, unless you’re there, actually there, when it happens, and get a video of it on your phone. Ratings bumps, a couple of news cycles on this, at least.
If we can’t bring ourselves to enact serious gun control, let’s enact a Murderer Effacement Act, which would make it a federal crime to publish the name or the likeness or any personal details about anyone committing a mass shooting. Would present First Amendment issues, but by now should pass the yelling-fire-in-a-crowded-theater test.
More sanctimony about the gay angle, punditry about hate crime and solidarity with our gay friends, moments of silence, ritual flower altars in the street next to the club. Seen it all before, it’s losing its capacity to horrify or titillate or inspire; a couple of news cycles on this, at most.
Not many thoughts. Then acceptance, silence, receptivity before the screens. A hundred more angry young men notice the attention being paid, want it for themselves. Next time. Soon.
Every time this happens, you want to think: maybe this time. Maybe this will be the tipping point, the moment when the rural hunter and the open carry advocate and the urban liberal who never touched a gun all have the very same thought: enough is enough. We need to do the obvious to prevent another dozen children and their teachers, another crowd of innocent concert-goers or movie fans, from being gunned down by another sick boy with an assault weapon.
But then you think of Sandy Hook, and if that wasn’t enough to bring the majority of Americans and their representatives to their senses on this topic, where could that tipping point possibly be? And the TV crews withdraw back to their studios, and the NRA spews more nonsense about how the answer is more guns in more hands, and Trump mouths platitudes about mental health and school safety, and nothing changes.
But I believe it will happen, someday. Some day the tipping point will be reached, the sea change will occur. It will happen suddenly, and it will probably start with women, who tend to see less sense in guns of any kind or purpose and who bear the children being killed with them, and it will start not on the floor of some statehouse, much less in Washington, but in private. Women will turn to their families and say, enough. They will cease to tolerate men who teach their sons how to operate an AR-15 just in case they one day want to secede from the union, or because they like to put on the trappings of bravery and competence as a substitute for the real thing. They will forbid their sons from bringing guns under their roof. They will no longer find it amusing that their husband or lover or brother wants to keep guns in the house, and they will laugh in the face of anyone who tells them that it’s for their protection. They will refuse to countenance a brand of masculinity whose expression includes machines of mass death.
The body politic is a slow learner, but one day our disgust with this self-inflicted carnage and our outrage at the slaughter of our children will rise like a palpable tide, and shame those in power into action. Probably not this time, but perhaps next time. Or the next.