Tuesday, August 7, 2012
As published in
July 25, 2012
Only in America.
The massacre in the Aurora movie theater should surprise no one. After Virginia Tech, after Columbine, after Jordan Lee Loughner’s assault on Gabby Giffords, it should surprise no one. And that’s just the latest. Count on it, it’s going to happen again.
We’ve created a perfect storm for random violence. The blame reaches far and wide, and pundits’ psycho-babble, legitimate and otherwise, is already raining down around us, again. Societal permissiveness. Violence in the media. Video games. Parental acquiescence. The pressure to succeed. Ultra-conservative dogma. Promiscuity. Movie madness. Penn State. Digital replacement of personal relationships. Heavy metal music.
All of it – and none of it - true. And one more thing: the absurdly easy access to guns, enabled by champions of the loose interpretations of “the right to bear arms.” And the unwillingness of, well, anybody, to confront the NRA.
All of it, uniquely American. Who to blame? You, me, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Democrats. All of us.
The statistics are mind-numbing, and undeniable. There’s nearly one gun in America for each one of its citizens. Of the estimated 300 million firearms, owned by some 70 to 80 million adults, 100 million are handguns (“Firearms Fact Card, 2010. National Rifle Association”). We lead the civilized world in homicides by firearms (Nationmaster.com/ crime statistics).
The AR-15, one of the weapons the Aurora suspect carried, is a lightweight, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed semi-automatic rifle. Automatic variants have a three-position rotating selective fire switch, allowing the operator to select between three modes: safe, semi-automatic and either automatic or three round burst, depending on the model (Wikipedia, AR-15). It was banned – and compatible magazines were limited to ten rounds - in 1994, but all of it rescinded 10 yrs later by a Republican-led congress under pressure from the National Rifle Association. Today a legal AR-15 is capable of firing 800 rounds per minute, and a drum magazine with a 100 round capacity – which the Aurora suspect carried - is also legal in most states. In fact you can buy an AR-15 online with minimum qualifications.
This is America’s weapon of mass destruction. It is designed for one purpose, and one purpose only: to kill a lot of people. There is no reason for it to exist, much less be owned, outside the military.
But it does, and is, in America.
Equally unique to America are the arguments defending such madness, including:
The second Amendment guarantees the “right for individuals to bear arms.” Except there’s an equally compelling argument that the founding fathers intended the amendment to provide for states’ rights to mount armed militias. As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This clause in the Bill of Rights is subject to as much interpretation as the Bible – and those that chose to take either one literally reveal a rigidity unfit for today’s world.
Banning assault weapons signals the beginning of a slippery slope toward an unconstitutional denial of our right to bear arms. Did banning the “F” word on network television lead to rampant censorship, or denial of freedom of speech? Did removing the Ten Commandments display from the Arkansas State House lead to reckless denial of religious freedoms? And so it goes.
There’s so many guns already out there, most of them owned by bad guys, that the only way to protect ourselves is to, well, own one. And so we do, one for every citizen in the country. But some studies show that “in homes with guns, the homicide of a household member is almost 3 times more likely to occur than in homes without guns” (“Gun Control Facts,” by James D Agresti and Reid K. Smith. Just Facts, Sept 13, 2010).
We impose speed limits to make the highways safer.
We legislate fuel efficiencies to combat pollution.
We remove sugary drinks from grade schools to confront childhood obesity.
We regulate medications in an attempt to mitigate abuse.
But we do not regulated gun ownership. And the damage done by guns is more obvious, more linear and less forgivable.
Like the single raison d’etre of an AR-15, there’s one reason politicians don’t address gun control – they want to be elected more than anything else. Their need to hold office supersedes ethics. It’s why Mitt Romney has changed his mind on every significant issue. Republicans are beholden to the NRA and gun rights advocates. Tellingly, nearly twice as many Republicans own guns as Democrats (41% vs 23% - with 27% Independent. “Gun Ownership and Use in America, Joseph Carroll, Gallup Nationwide Poll, Nov 22, 2005”). According to the Federal Election Commission, a full 85% of all financial contributions from gun rights advocates went to Republicans in the two decades from 1990 to 2010 ("Gun Rights: Long-Term Contribution Trends." Center for Responsive Politics. Accessed September 2, 2010).
Isn’t there something in Romney’s “deep-seated” religious faith that moves him to support even some form of limited gun control?
No matter; it seems neither party is willing to confront this issue head on.
I’m with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (“a leader in the search for sensible answers about guns” – NY Times Editorial page, July 21, 2012), who said, “Maybe it’s time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it
Louie Gohmert, Republican Representative from Texas, drew a bizarre connection between the horror in Colorado and “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs” (NY Times, Editorial, July 21, 2012). He also said this, “It does make me wonder, you know, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody (else) that was carrying? That could have stopped this guy more quickly?” (Colorado is one of 38 “shall issue” states, meaning that if a person passes certain minimal requirements, then the state must issue them a concealed weapons “carry” permit).
But think about what Gohmert – and millions of other NRA sycophants - would have: a fully armed populace, armed and ready to defend themselves against all threats, real or imagined. And an armed threat in a movie theater far exceeds the gray area provided for in Florida’s perverse “Stand Your Ground” law. It’s there, it’s real, and, until he starts firing, he’s legal under America’s right to bear arms and Colorado’s right to carry concealed weapons. But, so would other carriers. Imagine: the “Joker,” as the Aurora wacko called himself, opens fire with his AR-15. Instantly, another carrier responds with, say, a Glock – a popular semi-automatic pistol from Austria, also legal, also available online, and capable of firing 33 rounds from a high-capacity magazine. (The “Joker’s” carrying one of these, too). He misses – but he’s got 32 rounds left, and continues firing. Then a half-dozen more legal carriers engage, firing at, who? The Joker? Or, the first defender – or each other? - because, after all, how would they know, there in the dark of the movie theater, who was who?
And so ensues America at its finest. More movie goers rise to the occasion, all legally armed and carrying, pickling off rounds of semi-automatic ammo in the dark, scoring hits, misses, wreaking havoc, killing … other movie goers, their children and each other. And in short order, there’s but a single soul left standing, having exercised his or her right to bear arms and defend his own American self.
Alas, he’s mortally wounded, too.
A metaphor for what’s to come. This is what we’ve created.
Only in America.