“At this point, we’ve seen the adults are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is to keep us safe. So we’re done with going to them and asking for permission. At this point we’re just going to do what we have to.”
Can there be a more calmly damning, withering critique of the failure of American political institutions and the adults who run them to come to terms with the appalling gun violence in this country than that statement last week by 16-year-old Vikiana Petit-Homme, a junior at Boston Latin Academy in Massachusetts?
And the real goal of those advocating for stronger gun laws is to destroy ‘all individual freedoms’ in a stealthy legislative coup. One wonders whether LaPierre, shrewd as he is, actually believes this nonsense, or he is just tossing red meat out to the distinct minority of NRA fanatics who do.
Petit-Homme is one of many student leaders organizing a National School Walkout Day to protest gun violence on March 14. She was speaking to National Public Radio in response to scattered reports that school authorities from around the country would not tolerate any such activity and would initiate suspension proceedings against those taking part, potentially damaging their college prospects.
An example from Needville, Texas Superintendent Curtis Rhodes, who posted a warning on Facebook that specifically forbade demonstrations during school hours and promised three-day suspensions for those not taking heed, adding:
“Life is all about choices, and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter it if is one, fifty or five hundred students involved… and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline.”
Interestingly, the post was soon taken down and school officials declined further comment after a widespread public backlash. Among the respondents were some 250 colleges that included Harvard, MIT, Cornell, University of Florida, and Vanderbilt. All of them echoed sentiments along the lines expressed by Brandeis University Dean of Admissions Jennifer Walker:
“Having the bravery to stand up, to organize people, that takes a lot of courage and that is certainly something that I think would be applauded here. From a Brandeis perspective, I think speaking up and speaking out is a good fit for our campus culture.”
How the walkout and other student activism plays out on this issue remains to be seen, but let us consider for a few moments the point we have come to here in the United States, with its dismal recent history of gun violence.
Our record of 3.85 gun deaths per 100,000 population has us keeping company only with the likes of failing, war-torn or drug cartel states such as Yemen, Iraq, Venezuela and Colombia. No other modern industrialized nation comes even close, with Japan at 0.04, England 0.07, Germany 0.12, and our neighbor Canada at .48.
The common denominator in these countries is that gun purchases are slightly more burdensome than buying a car and obtaining a license to drive it, and military grade automatic weapons designed for mass slaughter of human beings—be they enemy soldiers, students, moviegoers, office workers or night club revelers—are not available to ordinary citizens.
Various proposed regulations have substantive data supporting their curbing of deaths by gun violence. And arguments in favor of those regulations have gotten exactly nowhere in Congress year after year, from one horrific mass shooting to the next (not to mention the steady drip of suicides and murder by firearms in this uniquely gun-saturated culture).
For politicians whose campaign war chests are regularly filled by the National Rifle Association (see figures below, from a recent New York Times report), even the most minor effort to stem the tide of gun deaths via common sense regulation is regarded as heresy. The slaughter of innocents and their freedom to go to class or the movies without being killed is as nothing compared to the “freedom” of others to easily obtain weapons of mass carnage.
So: can a righteous uprising of organized and determined students finally make the kind of difference that has eluded so many other earnest reform efforts in the past? These consistently failed measures have included such seemingly innocuous matters as universal background checks for gun buyers, and the ability to deny those on terrorist watch lists or those with a history of mental illness the legal right to buy weapons.
Notably, all these and virtually every other gun control measure has been shunned in recent years by the Republican Party, which has controlled the legislative and regulatory agenda and consistently blocks most every such proposal from even coming up for a vote. This despite the fact that the well-respected Pew Research Center indicated in June, 2017 that 84% of Americans support expanding background checks to include private firearm sales and purchases at gun shows. That figure even includes a majority of Republican respondents to the poll.
Other polls of NRA rank-and-file members themselves indicate some 70-80% support for universal background checks.
Given those realities, why have we seen zero progress on this issue amidst the bloodbaths of recent years? Why do the kids now have to be throwing themselves into a life-and-death issue that is the true province and responsibility of adults?
Two reasons, I think.
One, as is always worth examining in U.S. politics: campaign contributions, aka, “Follow the money.”
Here’s a list of the top 10 recipients in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives of contributions from the NRA through the entirety of their political careers. To save repetitively listing this fact below, let it be noted that all of them are Republicans, and all responded with variations on how their “thoughts and prayers” were with the victims in Newtown, in San Bernardino, in Orlando, in Las Vegas, in Parkland, and…whichever venue may next be in the sights of a troubled man with a penchant for violence and the means to easily obtain the weapons to carry out his grim task.
1. John McCain, AZ $7,740,521
2. Richard Burr, NC $6,986,620
3. Roy Blunt, MO $4,551,146
4. Thom Tillis, NC $4,418,012
5. Cory Gardner, CO $3,879,064
6. Marco Rubio, FL $3,303,355
7. Joni Ernst, IO $3,124,273
8. Rob Portman, OH $3,061,941
9. Todd Young, IN $2,896,732
10. Bill Cassidy LA $2,861,047
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
1. French Hill, AK $1,089,477
2. Ken Buck, CO $800,544
3. David Young IO $707,662
4. Mike Simpson, ID $385,73
5. Greg Gianforte, MT $344,630
6. Don Young, AK $245,720
7. Lloyd Smucker, PA $221,736
8. Bruce Poliquin, ME $201,398
9. Pete Sessions, TX $158,111
10. Barbara Comstock, VA $137,232
I will let those numbers speak for themselves with only these simple questions: Why is it permissible for lobbying groups to lavish huge amounts of cash on legislators who then vote on matters directly affecting the interests and success of the organization? Isn’t that somehow, in plain terms, just wrong?
In any case, let me now proffer a second, perhaps equally important reason for the intransigence of far too many politicians and gun rights advocates who continue to fight off every attempt at curtailing an absolutist view of the Second Amendment’s endorsement of a “well-regulated militia.”
The reason has to do with what can only be called a deep paranoia.
It is reflected in gun advocates’ oft-repeated fear that even the most benign regulations will land them on a slippery slope craftily designed to completely disarm every American gun owner and make guns of any type illegal for private citizens.
Here’s Wayne LaPierre, the powerful head of the NRA, sounding wholly unhinged last week in playing to these fears by accusing gun control advocates of far more sinister motives than merely Making America Safe Again:
“What they want are more restrictions on the law-abiding—think about that. Their solution is to make you, all of you, less free. They want to sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of the family, the failure of America’s school systems and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI….It’s not a safety issue, it’s a political issue. They care more about control. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eliminate all individual freedoms.”
Oh, that’s right—the real reason 17 Parkland students died the other week is not because a troubled young man had easy access to an automatic rifle meant only for military use, but because schools, parents and the FBI were collectively negligent in protecting them.
And the real goal of those advocating for stronger gun laws is to destroy “all individual freedoms” in a stealthy legislative coup.
One wonders whether LaPierre, shrewd as he is, actually believes this nonsense, or he is just tossing red meat out to the distinct minority of NRA fanatics who do.
LaPierre’s spokesperson Dana Loesch wasn’t about to let the media off the hook either, delivering this gut punch to reporters everywhere:
“Many in legacy media love mass shootings. You guys love it. I’m not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold to you…”
So there we have an additional racial component thrown into the mix: the media love to make hay out of tragedy, but being the racist institution it is, it doesn’t care a whit nor pay attention when crying black mothers mourn their dead children.
Neat little trick there, trying to split the natural constituency of all parents of slaughtered children into warring elements by playing the race card.
These outbursts are but tame examples of those pushing the false narrative of warring extremes in the gun control debate. The truth is that one side is pushing sensible regulations to reduce senseless deaths, while another side constantly mans the barricades against any regulation whatsoever.
No compromise and nothing but thoughts and prayers for those unfortunates who become collateral damage in the service of an absolute right to easily purchase weapons of any caliber and purpose.
The solution for all those dead kids in schools? Let’s “harden the target” by arming teachers who are prepared to engage in hallway shootouts.
Ditto, by that logic, for movie ushers and nightclub bouncers.
It can and does get worse, as in this post which led off the NRA’s Facebook page this past weekend:
So, Mr. Raso repeats the claim mentioned above that the hidden agenda of everyone favoring sensible gun regulations is to “ban every gun in America.”
The post picked up some serious steam that stood here Monday morning:
Impressive numbers, but let us note that last week’s letter from the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods indicating the national retail chain would no longer sell automatic weapons, high capacity magazines, nor guns to anyone under 21 years of age, had garnered the following:
Think people might be just a little bit engaged on this issue?
It has become a kind of cultural meme in recent years that liberals are elitists with their heads so far in the clouds that they never “listen” to the concerns and aspirations of just regular people in flyover country. Maybe so, though an effort to procure data on that matter would no doubt represent a social scientist’s nightmare.
But here’s what I do know from my own self and the selves of countless others who share my abhorrence at the easy availability of lethal weapons and the staunch defense mounted by those who think all gun laws are onerous impingements on their Second Amendment rights.
Dear U.S. Navy SEAL Dom Raso: I do not want to disarm you.
I want you to have the freedom to keep guns for self-protection, for hunting, for shooting at old cans out in the desert.
I have no designs on a dictatorship of liberals.
I do not want to eliminate the Second Amendment.
I do not want to eliminate “all individual freedoms.”
If you and Mr. LaPierre actually believe that, then you are not listening to me.
Or you believe I have hidden motives, or am a dupe for more sinister forces.
Mr. Raso, I have no hidden motives and I am not a dupe.
I just love the lives of children and all innocents more than I do anyone’s “right” to buy any gun, of any lethal force, anytime, without any background checks or other regulation that might help reduce the heartbreak and shattered lives that are threatening to turn our country into a permanent domestic war zone.
And if you won’t listen to me, try listening to the kids. You and all your guns are not protecting them, and neither am I. We should both feel badly enough about that to try something different, at long last.
Living in hope with Bob Dylan…
Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. See more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill of Rights photo in public domain
Minneapolis protest photo by Fibonacci Blue, Minnesota https://www.flickr.com/photos/fibonacciblue