Sunday, December 16, 2012

Exactly My Question

This piece in Slate asks exactly the question I have: If Newtown doesn't change the way Americans treat guns, can anything? Precisely. Just how many innocent people have to be blown away because they have the misfortune to inhabit the same time and space as some asshole blazing away with a gun and a grudge?

Here are some potent paragraphs from the article, with commentary:

I keep reading that we have 300 million guns in this country. “This is a gun country,” Jeffrey Goldberg writes at the Atlantic. “We are saturated with guns.” Actually, I think that’s only half right. We are saturated with 300 million guns but we are not truly a country of guns, because that would means we collectively understood and respected them. I’ve lived in Israel, where nearly everyone serves in the military and knows how to use a gun. That’s a place where it’s possible to imagine an armed defender stopping an assailant like Adam Lanza or James Holmes. In the United States, we’re divided, and we have no universal basic knowledge of weapons. We make it incredibly easy to buy the kind of weapons that shoot and shoot again instantly, but we don’t search people at the doors of schools or malls or movie theaters, and we don’t post armed guards in these places. We have the guns without the safety checks. We call that freedom. We invoke the current Supreme Court’s understanding of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Lower courts strike down bans on carrying concealed weapons, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit did last Tuesday, eliminating an Illinois law.
I, for one, cannot for a moment understand what the impulse is driving people to want to carry a concealed weapon, much less walking around packing in plain sight. And the thought that we have 300 million guns abroad in this land is beyond belief. I mean, what does this say about this country? I don't know this to be a fact, but I would bet that there is no other country on the globe with a ratio of guns to people as high as this. I read somewhere the other day that sometime late in this decade, the number of guns in the country will outnumber the number of people . . . just take a second and think about that. Good God in heaven!
The cost of this definition of freedom is too high: That’s the point advocates for gun control make, over and over again. If this lesson sunk in, maybe we’d take seriously the results in Australia, where a massacre of 35 people led to a 1996 ban on semi-automatic and automatic rifles and shotguns. (Adam Lanza had the first, according to reports.) Australia also started a mandatory buy-back program for the weapons it banned. A drop in the firearm homicide rate and the firearm suicide rate followed, according to some research. There are other, smaller fixes, a by now familiar list: Bring back the ban on assault weapons, which Congress allowed to expire in 2004. Ban the sale of rapid-fire ammunition. Quit letting people buy weapons at gun shows without background checks. That alone could help keep guns out of the hands of some people who are mentally ill and not getting treated.
You're damned right the cost is too high. All of the suggestions made in this paragraph ought to be implemented here, but I'm here to tell you, I'm not at all optimistic that anything is going to happen. The gun lobby is so powerful and our politicians so lily-livered that at best what might pass is some toothless, meaningless gesture so all those jerks can go back to their districts and claim to have addressed the problem. I've railed against the credulousness and ignorance of the American voters for a long time. I'm just hoping that this time, this outrage, these 26 dead people, will have a loud enough wail from their coffins that our gutless legislators will find some courage to do the right thing. . . . But I'm not going to hold my breath.
Those steps would help, and they would also signal the beginning of a cultural shift. With a big push from the gun lobby, in the last generation we’ve become a country in which no social disapproval comes with owning a semi-automatic handgun you’d never hunt with. As Slate’s David Plotz wrote in an email this morning, “If you stigmatize the ownership and use of guns for most recreational uses—and in particular the ownership of handguns and non hunting weapons—there will be less presence of them in the culture, less use of them, gradually fewer and fewer of them in society, less tolerance for people talking about them and playing with them, and as that happens, guns will become less present, less accessible, less embedded in American society and that gun crime will fall accordingly ... It is not a single legislative change or even an overnight cultural change. It is a gradual process.” Right. We need to reckon with the kind of country we actually are—one in which semi-automatic weapons are used far more often for harm than for self-defense—and act accordingly.
A cultural shift, you say? I won't live that long, but please, God let it come for my grandchildren. They should not have to live in world where elementary schools have had to turn themselves into fortresses because crazed killers with guns that can be had easier than a driver's license are stalking innocent targets.
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