By Charles M. Blow – New York Times.
An exasperated — and frustrated — President Obama said of the gun massacre last week in Oregon:
“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We have become numb to this.”
“What’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere, will comment and say ‘Obama politicized this issue.’ Well this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.”
And as if on cue, leading Republican candidates came out against more gun restrictions.
Speaking Friday in South Carolina, Jeb Bush resisted calls for greater gun restrictions, saying: “We’re in a difficult time in our country and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this. I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It’s just very sad to see.”
Bush continued: “But I resist the notion — and I had this challenge as governor — because we had — look, stuff happens, there’s always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”
Stuff happens? Really? That stuff is the continued gun slaughter of Americans by other Americans. This “stuff” is a scourge.
But Obama is right: We have grown numb to this scourge, and even when politicians politicize gun violence, Washington can’t seem to muster the political will to make even the most modest changes to our federal gun laws.
This has to change. We have to start the process of curtailing our gun culture, and I don’t say that as an anti-gun absolutist, but as a person who grew up around guns, and even owned a gun.
When I was growing up in the rural South, boys had rifles. There was nothing odd about it. Every boy in wood shop made a gun rack.
A rifle wasn’t a weapon as much as a tool. People hunted. They raised and slaughtered food animals. Rifles were used to keep the snakes out of the grass and the vermin out of the garden (though surely there must have been more humane ways to do this). They were poor folks’s fireworks on special occasions like New Year’s.
And they were a guard against intruders — though those intruders were more an idea than a reality in those parts — who might threaten life or property. Law enforcement officials were scarce, and 911 was nonexistent.
But that seems to me another time and place. There didn’t exist the fear and paranoia that grips so many now when it comes to gun ownership. And there wasn’t the fetish for military-style weapons and armor-piercing bullets.
And as I have mentioned before, my oldest brother is a gun collector. He is a regular at the gun shows, buying and selling, but even he talks about a sense of unease at those shows as people engage in what can only be described as panic buying and ammunition hoarding.
These people are afraid. They are afraid of a time conservative media and the gun industry has convinced them is coming when sales of weapons, particularly some types of weapons, will be restricted or forbidden. They are afraid of growing populations of people they don’t trust. Some are even afraid that a time will come when they will have to defend themselves against the government itself.
Unfortunately this fear is winning, as many Americans think crime is up, even though it’s down. This fear is winning as massacres, and the gun violence discussions that follow, don’t lead to fewer gun sales, but more. This fear is winning, following continued violence by antigovernment militias and hate groups.
Fear is winning as there are now close to as many guns in this country as people — with the gun industry producing millions more each year.
We have reached our supersaturation point as a culture. And with that many guns in circulation, too many will invariably make their way into the hands of people with ill intent.
But for how long we are willing to let fear overpower reason? We have to decide if the positives of having a gun culture outweigh the negatives.
Do we want a society in which some 33,000 people in America lose their lives to gun violence each year and more than twice as many are injured by guns? Do we want a society in which mass shootings are routine?
If we do, well, we have it. But if we don’t, and I believe that most of us don’t, then we have to start thinking about ways to not only keep guns out of the wrong hands, but also about how we slow or reverse the proliferation of guns.
If there is one thing that my brother’s collection has taught me, it is that guns outlive their owners. These hundreds of millions of guns will most likely be part of our society for decades, and some even for centuries, regardless of what laws we pass now. That is something of which we should truly be afraid.