Let’s begin with a big generalization that might be relevant: Laws in America often change in response to an undeniable tragedy. Tragedy should always be undeniable since anything that is clearly tragic is tragic, such as young men and women returning from an oil war with missing limbs. But to stay with that example, just the fact of that doesn’t necessarily mean that lawmakers will act responsibly to make sure those young heroes are taken care of when they come home.
Now we have the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, and the expected tsunami of grandstanding and look-at-me that comes with undeniably tragic gun events. I’m going to stick with the phrase “gun events” since I find it defining and clear.
I accept that an event such as the attacks on 9/11 can be interpreted on more than one level or field of discussion, and further, that they should be. I do not accept that easy access to guns with big-load clips is a dialogue that is so complicated it can’t even begin. We’ve delayed and avoided the national dialogue as though it were a sex discussion for pre-teens. And now, through the pristine clarity that a dark event can bring, we see that we must have that conversation. Now.
Language matters, most definitely when it is applied to the loss of human life and even more deeply when that loss of life is the result of arrogance and our tolerance of it. Among the many sins involved in the deception leading to the war in Iraq, there was arrogance on the part of the perpetrators. When Republican state Sen. Ron Gould of Arizona said regarding the Giffords shooting and related murders, “I don’t really think it changes anything… I don’t see how gun control could have prevented that shooting unless you take guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens,” he demonstrated a level of arrogance regarding reaction to a plague (of guns in America) that blows the glass out of the dolt measuring meter. When Associated Press reports “Arizona Republicans remain adamant that the shooting will not dissuade them from pushing their pro-gun agenda,” you feel your heart sinking into your shoes.
Language issuing from reactions to the Giffords shooting has contained various blends of solids and gas. That someone would use the event to fabricate self-serving feuds as their reality show sinks in the ratings so lowers the level of public discourse that soon the word “prostitute” will have nothing to do with sexual acts.
People are murdered in a multitude of ways, and each one of those is still murder. But a gun event is different. Guns are now manufactured to operate at a level of efficiency that, to some extent, contributes to the blueprints gestating in the dank skulls of shooters such as the alleged perpetrator in Arizona. To wit: Had the assailant approached the scene with a hockey stick instead of a semi-automatic Glock with capacious bullet clips, the outcome would simply not have been as deadly. I’m arguing that the event is not merely changed by the gun, but rather that the event is the gun.
Let me risk sounding silly and perhaps tiresome to reinforce the point. The killers at Columbine did not swing baseball bats. James Brady was not permanently disabled because Hinckley came at Reagan with a bag of eggs. The desires of these individuals – regardless of how they came to have those desires were met and satisfied by the efficacy, portability, and (I would argue) drug-like empowerment of guns. Guns that anybody can buy and own and decide to deploy.
As American citizens we’ve witnessed events of tragic and easy gun access all of our lives. President Kennedy, regardless of who pulled the trigger, did not have his head opened in Dallas with a hunting knife. You can make the statement, by mere dint of sales and numbers of gun owners, that America likes guns. We like guns in our entertainments, and we have a relationship with guns that may include some level of concern for safety but it most definitely includes the buzz of empowerment that owning and holding a gun provides. All this is way before you start any discourse on gangs or youth or criminals. I’m talking about the middle of the road. Suburban homes. Shopping malls. A depressed Dad, who does not accept changes in his life, puts on a business suit and takes out his ex-wife and their children because we enabled him to get that gun. We said he could have that gun. Here, depressed dad, here you go. It’s your right, so here you go.
A few paragraphs earlier I posited that the event was the gun. I believe we are in serious denial of that dimension of these tragedies. The Second Amendment was written at a time when guns were cumbersome and considerably slower, and often used to kill small mammals for dinner. That has changed. And our forefathers’ children did not ingest thousands of hours of homicides, suicides, and debilitating injuries presented as movies and TV drama by the time they were of age to own a gun. A jerk-off bought a gun, walked up to somebody who was contributing to the larger good of our nation, and put a hole in her head.
If we don’t have the conversation about gun love, ease of access, and gun events after this shooting in Arizona, I’d like to know what in the name of sanity it is that we are waiting for.