Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Going Ballistic

It's not one of my fantasies that someday I will need to use a gun. I suspect I am in a minority, as it seems so many of the populace here in flyover country have run out and gotten weapons. Now it seems the freeing of hostage Richard Phillips off the coast of Somalia has given rise to yet more dreams of shooting those bad guys. Underlying those claims, that we should arm ourselves to be safe, is the argument that our government should not prohibit us all from buying all the weapons we want.

The power to wipe out another life seems to bring out a demon in souls of those under pressure. For that reason above all it would appear that wisdom would dictate limiting access to guns. When we have a time of obvious stress, and results are already in - guns have provided a hideous and repugnant recourse to violence for desperate people - courageous leaders should be coming forth calling for tough controls on sales of weapons. Sadly, its power to shoot down those courageous enough to stand up to them has been a penultimate defense for the NRA.

In a chat on eschaton this morning, Molly Ivors gave the ultimate rejoinder to opposing gun controls;

(me;) Greta on WashJournal telling Eleanor Holmes Norton that taking guns away is taking their rights.

Tell that to the Binghamton immigrant community.
Molly Ivors

The violence of others can't be countered by easy access to guns, the gun nuts' defense against gun controls. Making all of us armed only enables those who lose it and want to take their own frustrations out on the unoffending around them.

Americans have been killing each other for a long time - thousands upon thousands of men, women and children lying in the cold, cold ground from decades of homicidal violence, the bulk of it inflicted with guns. There are street killings here, bedroom killings there - single victims scattered across the daily news. (I saw my first victim 33 years ago this month, a woman shot to death by her estranged husband as she walked across a parking lot.) And then there are the mass killings, a squall of them this spring, with 57 dead within the last month or so, in a handful of incidents from California to New York.

I hear hardly anyone, anywhere expressing much more than a shrug about it.

This is what Scott Simon of National Public Radio wrote on Twitter the day a gunman in Binghamton, N.Y., fired 98 shots in less than a minute, killing 13 people at an immigration center: "Story like NY shootings is soft spot of jrnlsm. We can & should cover hell out of it. But in the end, what does it mean? What is there to say?"

I can almost understand Mr. Simon's shrug. After the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and again after the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, many of us believed the country would turn against guns - assault-style weapons and handguns in particular. But all these years later, we now recognize 280 million as the estimated number of firearms among the 300-plus million inhabitants of the United States. What is there to say? That is a mountain of guns, and it's growing.

Some say it's because President Barack Obama wants to renew the expired federal ban against military-style assault weapons - the gunman who killed three police officers in Pittsburgh last weekend said as much - so people are stocking up.

But there's more to it. There's a pessimism and cynicism about the kind of society we've become and the uncertain future we face, and that was evident before Mr. Obama took office.

People are stressed about the economy and worried that recovery might be a long way off, and that there may be shortages of food and gasoline, or an increase in crime as the jobless become desperate. So they've purchased guns and ammo, just in case the apocalypse comes before Mr. Obama's economic stimulus package takes effect.

Here's another reason why gun sales are on the rise: Americans are convinced that politicians aren't going to do anything about gun violence. Sixty-five members of his own party in the House of Representatives have urged the president not to resurrect the assault weapons ban that expired under George W. Bush. (One bright spot this year for gun control was in Maryland; the General Assembly authorized the confiscation of firearms from suspected domestic abusers.)

Most of us are also convinced that there are too many angry, ill and violent people in our midst, and that they have easy access to guns. Absent leadership that would promulgate greater control of guns, we fear mass killings will continue. So, the thinking goes, maybe it's best to be prepared - have a gun handy, just in case the madman comes to your office or your kid's school.

It's an epidemic of resignation, and it helps the National Rifle Association.

Great. Uncontrolled violence militates for more uncontrolled violence. I admit, I watched in horror as far back as the '60's, as great public servants like Sen. Joe Tydings and Sen. Al Gore were taken down by NRA dedication to the cause of arming the violent. And I admit I cannot understand a set of values that will sacrifice great public service for recidivist suspicions of our neighbors.

Under examination right now: the lawlessness of gun shows, where guns can be sold to criminals direct; and running guns to the Mexican drug wars. This kind of activity can in no way be claimed to be a benefit to our society. It's a disgrace that we can't bring the power of laws to our service in this criminal campaign against lawful society.

Maybe it would be a good time to go join your local NRA and start a move toward rational behavior. If we wait for leaders strong enough to counter these militia addicts, we may not see any rational controls in our time.

Gun controls will reduce violence by removing an easy way out to everyone who goes ballistic and lashes out irrationally. Fighting gun controls enables the criminally inclined, as well as the criminal elements. It's as simple as that.

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