“After Paris,” says the lead editorial in the bi-weekly magazine that arrived in my mailbox on Thursday. The issue was put together early last week, placed in the mail by week’s end and then took a few days to make its way across the country to me from New York.
By then, it was hopelessly outdated, lacking even mention of “After Planned Parenthood” and “After San Bernardino” and “After Wherever Mass Shootings Will Occur Again Today or Tomorrow” as the United States continues on its average pace of at least one multiple murder by gun daily during 2015, though most of them have resulted in less carnage than occurred at the San Bernardino Regional Center. (Should we be thankful and express relief for that fact?)
France: not even close to keeping pace.
For my own part, I continue trying to keep a sense of historical perspective on matters of humankind’s evolution. Convincing data show a steady arc of progress on most every metric of our development, with net gains in technology, scientific achievement, literacy, longevity, income, infant survival and many other matters fundamental to our humanity, along with reductions in wars and crime and yes, in the long view, even gun violence.
The data tell us we are steadily, inexorably, even through various fits and starts, turning a corner toward a more just and flourishing future.
But after Sandy Hook and Boston, Charleston and Planned Parenthood and San Bernardino, my stomach is telling me something different. And it’s doing so in a more haunted voice, which I notice sometimes contains a note of despair.
“When will we ever learn?” asked Pete Seeger 60 years ago.
Not yet, apparently.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” was how Thomas Paine led off The Crisis, published December 23, 1776, as the dark of the winter solstice cast its shadow on what appeared to be nearly a hopeless situation for the American Revolution. Nearly 239 years later, one is tempted to feel similarly hopeless about the prospect of ever uniting these supposedly “United” States, when the divisions run as deep as they do between Republicans and Democrats, the coasts and the interior, the religious and the secular.
That’s because there is no middle ground for gun worshipers, who regard every single concern over the easy access and ongoing proliferation of military-grade and every other weapon in this country as an incursion on a sacred right.
On one side: those who decry the veritable ocean of guns and their attendant violence which wash ashore every single day of American life, in every state of the union, leaving almost no community untouched.
On the other: those who suggest the problem is that the innocents among us are insufficiently armed.
Thomas Paine wrote a far more famous tract than the one cited above. Nearly a year earlier, his Common Sense in January lit an emotional flame under the American colonists, playing a pivotal role in the Declaration of Independence that would unveil itself that summer.
A brief excerpt from Paine might help frame the discussion that follows.
“However our eyes may be dazzled with snow, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and of reason will say, it is right.”
“The simple voice of nature and reason.” I like how unadorned that is. Simple, but appealing to reason, which never allows us to be simplistic. So here is my simple, reasoned, but increasingly angry truth:
The worship of gun rights in these United States is completely off the rails. It is historically unprecedented, constitutionally unsound, morally corrupt, ethically challenged and contrary to every basic religious tenet as religions have been elaborated through history, even though religions’ actual practices have, lamentably, often fallen short of those tenets.
The gun rights debate in this country is no longer a matter of principled parties with divergent opinions meeting in the middle and forging some kind of compromise so we can respect the Second Amendment while also beginning to reduce the unconscionable slaughter of innocents, in which the U.S. is a world leader.
That’s because there is no middle ground for gun worshipers, who regard every single concern over the easy access and ongoing proliferation of military-grade and every other weapon in this country as an incursion on a sacred right. And for that supposed “right,” they pony up their fortunes for NRA lobbying activities, and profess willingness to lay down their lives in some fantasy armageddon-like battle with federal storm troopers.
The gun lobby does not have a rational leg to stand on when it regards even the tamest and most basic gun control measures as a call to total disarmament and a mortal threat to the Second Amendment. And the extremity of its position has never been more clear than Thursday’s disgraceful, cowardly Senate votes to reject proposals that would deny gun purchases to those on a federal terrorism watch list, and to enact background checks for would-be gun purchasers of the type we endure to, you know, get a job or a credit card or a driver’s license.
Can’t get on an airplane because you’re known to have consorted with Pakistani or Syrian terrorists? Here, buy yourself an assault rifle anyway.
What kind of madness is this?
Yes, I know Democrats raised these bills to get Republicans on the record yet again in supporting the outlandish demands of the NRA. But why would they want to go on record supporting such outlandish demands?
Oh, because the NRA threatens to ruin them with scurrilous campaign materials in the legislator’s next election battle.
The multiple mass shooting deaths suffered by Americans thus far in 2015? Unfortunate collateral damage in the service of re-election.
Let’s be clear: people with malevolent intentions who really, really want to get hold of a gun will find a way. Bad things will always happen.
But the idea that we should therefore shrug our shoulders, and say the Sandy Hook children and San Bernardino health workers are the price we pay for it being just too darn difficult and ultimately impossible to totally eliminate gun violence is to become nihilistic, to devolve once again to the law of the jungle. And if we’re back in the jungle, as gun worshipers like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump imply by suggesting innocent people should do a better job of arming themselves, then there is nothing to assure our safety save for having the most powerful gun in the jungle, and the training and willingness to use it.
Charmingly, just to punctuate his enthusiasm for arming the entire nation, Cruz hosted a festive gun rally yesterday, 48 hours after the San Bernardino atrocity. (He’d waited three days after the Charleston massacre to visit the same range in June.) He wouldn’t even consider postponing or canceling the event, he said, adding this utter non-sequitur by way of elaboration:
“Folks in the media ask on behalf of the Democrats, ‘Isn’t it insensitive to do a Second Amendment rally after the shooting?’ I really don’t view our job as being sensitive to Islamic terrorists.”
“You don’t stop bad guys by taking away our guns, you stop bad guys by using our guns.”
That’s the Cruzian and Trumpian and whole-damn-Republican-candidatian-field’s remedy: more guns, in more people’s hands. We have seen the future—and it looks increasingly like Blade Runner.
How many ways is this perspective ignorant, unfeeling, wrong, and doomed to promoting an endless cycle of fear, violent crime and vengeance?
Besides a gun in every cabinet and under every pillow, what does the NRA and the nyet-nyet congressional gun lobby most want? They want us to give up, to shrug in helplessness, to concede their power as monolithic and unyielding, forevermore. They want us to accept the status quo of 31 deaths by gun per 1 million people in this country. Japan, Poland, England? 1 per million. Germany: 2.
In my weaker moments, I’m tempted to give up, until I get angry and realize that my despair and capitulation just make their job easier and their position more powerful still.
So I’m writing and ranting here as one thing I can do, and when I’m done, I’m going to continue with my year-end charitable giving by making a donation to the Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence.
James Brady was Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, standing near Reagan when both of them were shot in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley. Brady suffered a grievous head injury that left him partially paralyzed the rest of his life—and incredibly energized with his wife Sarah to make a meaningful contribution to this country by stopping the insane, easy proliferation of handguns.
Here’s the donation page link.
Brady’s boss Reagan, by the way, renowned “conservative” that he was, also supported conservative principles of being careful with who had access to guns. He wrote the following in a 1991 New York Times op-ed entitled, Why I Support the Brady Bill:
“Every year, an average of 9,200 Americans are murdered by handguns, according to Department of Justice statistics. This does not include suicides or the tens of thousands of robberies, rapes and assaults committed with handguns. This level of violence must be stopped. Sarah and Jim Brady are working hard to do that, and I say more power to them. If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.”
Since then, the Brady Bill has been diluted and circumvented whenever possible via all the powers and wiles of the NRA, and every other proposed bill to place reasonable restrictions on gun purchases has been either summarily rejected or not even allowed to come to the floor of Congress. And the deaths keep piling up in ever more heinous fashion, which in the past one assumed would have caused sober reflection and calls for solutions to ring across the land, Common Sense style.
Instead, we get a doubling down by gun zealots, and a call to even more arms, more lethally employed.
Which can make us crazy, dismayed and prone to quit the fight.
Which would mean they have us exactly where they want us.
Which would make us as unconscionable as they are.
I’m not going there, Ted.
I like the note of anger and defiance Marlene Dietrich adds to this usually more passively rendered classic, made famous by Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary.
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Young man mourning photo near top of page by Luc De Leeuw, Puurs, Belgium, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9619972@N08/
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Grief sculpture photo by Caneles, Amsterdam, Netherlands, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/94446676@N00/