It's hurricane season and all along the east coast residents are girding themselves for major weather. Every once in a while a major storm makes landfall and property is destroyed and lives are lost. One hopes that doesn't happen this year. But natural disasters are a fact of life people just learn to live with. Tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, major floods and fires are considered to be acts of God and while we try to mitigate the damage everyone knows that we cannot stop them. It's just the way it is.
In America, gun violence is just another natural disaster. Like an earthquake for which you can never really be prepared, most people have come to see a mass killing like that which happened in Oregon yesterday as being unpreventable. We might as well try to stop the sun from coming up in the morning. All we can do is try to comfort the survivors and help people cope with the aftermath. On any given day we could personally be the victims of gun violence or turn on our TVs and computers and witness some kind of mass shooting, horrifying domestic dispute that ends in carnage, accidents or criminal activity. And that's normal.
To the rest of the world, this is simply insane. Elsewhere they treat gun violence like a public health threat and limit the public's exposure to it through strict gun regulation. Different cultures have slightly different approaches but there is no other developed country in the world that treats gun violence as if it were a simple fact of life they must live with.
But the fact that Americans accept this, doesn't mean they want it to be this way. The polling shows that majorities of Americans support common sense gun regulations
of the kind which are proven to work in other countries. The problem is that the political system is corrupted by the pro-gun lobbying groups which not only insist that society has no right to regulate their killing toys, they ensures that it has no ability to do it. Once again it has to be noted that after a disturbed young man went into an elementary school and gunned down 20 tiny first graders and 6 adults
, everyone was so shocked that it was assumed that something would have to change. It was unthinkable that it wouldn't.
But it didn't.
I wrote about why in my last piece about gun carnage
, after a disgruntled employee shot two former co-workers on live TV. We can thank one man who runs one powerful lobbying group, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA. According to the Frontline documentary "Gunned Down"
it was clear that the NRA was thrown by the Newtown massacre and there was personal pressure on board members to accede to some kind of gun safety regulation to appease the national sense of horror over the event. At the very least, they thought it would be wise for the organization to keep a low profile in the aftermath. But without telling anyone LaPierre staged a press conference in Washington DC and came out swinging. He said in no uncertain terms that there would be no compromise, no negotiation. He doubled down on the vacuous, insincere NRA logic that the reason those tiny children were gunned down in their 1st grade classrooms was the fact that there weren't enough guns there. He infamously declared:
"The only way — the only way — to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun... What if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday, he’d been confronted by qualified armed security?
"Our children— we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it.
The best they can do is to say that if we had sharp-shooters stationed in classrooms all over the country we could maybe cut the death toll. There would still be dead kids, of course. Maybe even more would die. But it is simply inconceivable to them that we might seek ways to end this violence in the first place. They say the world is full of monsters and predators. But just as we cannot hold back the tides it is impossible to keep deadly weapons out of their hands.
LaPierre gave no quarter after Newtown and the results speak for themselves. The bill the president pushed as hard as he could died in the Congress. And that, I believe, was the watershed that convinced Americans that we were impotent to deal with the problem. If the NRA is so powerful that it could single-handedly derail some very minor regulation in the wake of a massacre of babies then it just seemed hopeless. (And politicians wonder why people have lost faith in government.)
Yesterday, President Obama made yet another in a long line of impassioned speeches exhorting the congress to enact legislation to require a simple universal background check. He asked the press to show charts and graphs that illustrate the vast difference in deaths from firearms and terrorism, the latter problem of which we seem prepared to do absolutely anything to prevent and the former absolutely nothing. The difference is dramatic.
But the truth is that even national security will not deter gun-rights zealots from their rigid adherence to their cause. Recall that in December of 2001, as Attorney General John Ashcroft was rounding up American and foreign Muslims by the hundreds, he refused to allow the FBI to check records to see if any of them had bought guns. This would have violated their 2nd Amendment rights, you see. The New York Times reported
[I]t is in keeping with Attorney General John Ashcroft's strong support of gun rights and his longstanding opposition to the government's use of background check records. In 1998, as a senator from Missouri, Mr. Ashcroft voted for an amendment to the Brady gun-control law to destroy such records immediately after checking the background of a prospective gun buyer. That amendment was defeated...
The Justice Department's action has frustrated some F.B.I. and other law enforcement officials who say it puts the department at odds with its own priorities. Even as the department is instituting tough new measures to detain individuals suspected of links to terrorism, they say, it is being unusually solicitous of foreigners' gun rights.
There is literally no reason the gun proliferation activists and the NRA will allow the common sense gun regulation that exists everywhere else in the developed world.
There are many fine people working to bring some sanity to American gun laws. In fact, one of the saddest consequences of all this gun violence is that each time a new mass killing takes place you see that more family members from previous horrific events have been radicalized by the government's inability to deal with this problem. And one cannot give up hope. But the world's worst terrorist attack couldn't budge them. The wanton killing of 20 little six-year-olds merely motivated them to strengthen their resistance. Constant gun violence in work places and churches and movie theatres and schoolrooms has only caused them to redouble their efforts to put more and more guns into society. It's hard to even imagine what could possibly make a difference at this point.
So Americans now carry on as if it's as normal for average citizens to be randomly gunned down in a classroom or during a prayer meeting as it is for a tornado to tear through a small town in Oklahoma or wildfires to burn through the forest. All they can do is watch in horror and be grateful it hasn't happened to them. Not yet anyway.