A Couple of Reflections Prompted by Sandy Hook

Yesterday, on Facebook, I reposted a link to a post I had written here in response to the Aurora shootings in July. You could change the title of the post slightly to reference ‘Sandy Hook’ rather than ‘Aurora’ and nothing else would need changing. This morning, still clearly unable to write anything coherent in response, I posted the following three messages on my Twitter feed and Facebook page:

Guns don’t come up with half-assed arguments against gun control. People do.

Guns aren’t scared of the NRA. People are.

Guns don’t say after every tragedy: “Lets mourn, no time to talk politics’. People do.

You get the picture; I’m still not capable of making a reasoned contribution to the ‘national debate’ on gun-related violence.

But I do want to make a couple of points about the nature of the ‘debate’, such as it is.

The first is prompted by the third quip above. For an outstanding feature of the political response to the sickeningly common and soon-to-be-mundane massacres is the loudly broadcasted call to immediately seek refuge in bromides and palliatives: the usual mix of mourning, counseling, holding hands, which is supposed to bridge political divides, apply ‘healing balms’ and bring peace to all us traumatized folks. There is never, ever, seemingly any desire evinced by our political classes to prevent the recurrence of the massacres, for they are, as noted before, inevitable. This call is then faithfully parroted by the media (always at its ghoulish worst in its coverage of these kinds of tragedies). This is what I’d much rather see the next time: ditch the candlelight vigil and tell your local politician, congressman, senator, or anyone else that matters that they don’t get your vote unless they start a ‘national conversation’ about guns. Or something else. (The broad similarity of this call to the calls that electoral disputes be settled quickly so that the nation’s citizens don’t get embroiled in something as messy as a politically tinged dispute, one that might produce a little heat and light, is unmistakable and not coincidental. As always, the most important thing is to keep citizens numb, not provoked. God forbid that a difficult issue be aired in all its complexity and that the inevitable disputes it provokes be allowed to get a decent hearing.)

The second is prompted by noticing how mental health is sought as an obfuscatory factor in this debate.  That is, a familiar slogan soon starts making the rounds in two variants: one, ‘this is a mental health issue, not a gun issue’ and second ‘people will find a way to kill people, so banning a particular weapon is unlikely to bring these massacres to a halt.’   These are particularly egregious; they amount, roughly, to saying that no actions need be taken that might make it more difficult for mentally deranged people to go on brutally effective and successful killing sprees. We can control the damage done by the insane by treating them and by making sure they cannot lay their hands on dangerous weapons. The two are not mutually exclusive.

It is truly amazing that a nation, so willing to put up with the evisceration of its civil liberties in order to guard against shadowy, poorly understood threats from elsewhere, is unwilling to countenance the most minor of inconveniences in order to guard against a clearly visible threat from within.

Aurora is All-American, Grimly So

I consider myself to have some facility with words but I’m struggling today to find a term that will describe a political debate that has progressed to the point where the most perspicuous contributions to it are made by satirists, cartoonists and professional humorists. (Should all political debates be so blessed? I wonder.)  The ‘debate’–for reasons of accuracy, I must enclose that term in quotes before proceeding–that I refer to is the so-called ‘relationship between gun control laws and mass murder in the US debate.’ The Onion is first out of the blocks in responding to the Aurora shootings, quickly taking the lead, and it is closely followed by Tom Tomorrow (that link is the response to the Tucson shootings last year, in which fact one might find some resonance with the content of this post today). Having read those two, one is done.

For yes, the endlessly repetitive discussion is upon us again, its numerical parameters tweaked to accommodate its toll of the dead and wounded, with its inevitable grief counseling, Presidential consolations, NRA push-backs and hyperventilating television anchors to follow. And all too soon, we will settle back into our seats, waiting for the next time the New York Times will break out the 18-point font to let us know ammunition manufacturer stock prices have gone up again. As the penguin says, putting up with these mass killings–in one form or another, sometimes as audience, sometimes as participant–is the price we have to pay for living in this nation of ours. It’s a tax, one that won’t be up for repeal any time soon.

The mass murderers come from everywhere and anywhere; their backgrounds straddle ethnic and class divides; sometimes they ‘go postal’, sometimes they ‘go academic’; sometimes they are black, sometimes white, sometimes Asian; they are young, and they are old; sometimes they did badly in school, sometimes they were academic overachievers; they kill when they are laid-off and they kill when they are employed; they kill in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Wisconsin, Texas, Chicago, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, California, Alabama, North Carolina, Washington, North Illinois, Nebraska (from sea to shining sea?); they kill rich, poor, student, mother, father, daughter, son, all alike; they use all kinds of guns, ranging from simple hunting rifles to high-powered assault gear suitable for invading oil-rich emirates; they kill in shopping centers, university campuses, movie houses, prayer services, high schools; they kill strangers, they kill family members, they kill fellow-workers and students, they kill the young and they kill the old; sometimes they turn themselves in, sometimes they kill themselves, sometimes they get shot. It’s a melting pot, if there ever was one.

In years to come, perhaps it will become a true American rite of passage: you’ve either carried out a massacre yourself, been a survivor of one, or know someone who is a victim or survivor of one. Perhaps in these so-called divisive times, the murderous violence of the gun-toting mass killer will bring us all together, united in blood-soaked gunpowder and attendance at a memorial service.

As American as apple pie? How passé. As American as a loaded ammo belt and a rifle with a scope.