Gun Violence in America: Someday, When We Awaken, We Will Be Appalled
Someday, in that New Day, when America has recovered its conscience and grown to maturity; when as the world’s oldest democracy, a project in self-governance, we finally govern ourselves properly; when even the hardest of hardline gun rights advocates sicken on the rivers of blood unloosed by their fetish and agree to regulation, then and only then can we finally take the full measure of our present gun-induced madness — and we will be appalled:
Someday, we will be appalled that we allowed children — children — to be gunned down in their schools.
In the here and now, from high schoolers — Columbine and Parkland — to the littlest ones — Newtown and Uvalde — children are targets whom we fail to protect, despite our avowals of their preciousness. Per the CDC, guns are now the #1 killer of children in the U.S. So far this year, and it’s only the midpoint: There have been 27 school shootings — repeat: 27 school shootings — around the country, the most horrific being the recent massacre in Uvalde, Texas, which snuffed out the lives of 19 children and two of their teachers. As The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Bruenig writes, “A culture that kills its children has no future.”
Someday, we will be appalled we allowed ordinary citizens to be gunned down going about their ordinary lives.
In the here and now, nowhere is safe anymore for ordinary citizens — nowhere — not their houses of worship, not their local grocery stores, not hospitals, not movie theaters or clubs, not even cemeteries(!). In a horrific shooting weeks ago in Buffalo, 10 African-Americans, most elderly, were gunned down in their local Tops grocery, shot by an 18-year-old white male spewing racist ideas. Days after the Uvalde massacre, a hospital in Tulsa saw four more shooting deaths. And, this just in: Two women were shot at a cemetery in Racine. So far this year, again we’re only at midpoint: More than 230 mass shootings — repeat: more than 230 — have occurred in the U.S. (mass shootings are defined as four or more dead, not including the shooter). With 12 more — repeat: 12 more — last weekend, Memorial Day! In America, what once was said of the guilty now applies to the innocent: You can run, but you cannot hide.
Someday, we will be appalled we allowed weapons of war to wreak havoc in “peacetime” America.
In the here and now, weapons meant only for combat against a declared enemy — high-powered assault weapons — are allowed into our communities. By now, against our will, we all know of AR-15 and AK-47 rifles, the instruments of death preferred by mass killers (a seller’s website touts its AR-15’s “ergonomic grip”). President Joe Biden, addressing the nation post-Uvalde, pleads for a ban on assault weapons, yet the next day a Republican Congressman who supports this common-sense ban is primaried and drops his re-election race, all because he opposed the GOP’s nihilistic orthodoxy. The State’s prime duty is to protect its citizens, most especially from its own arsenal. This is not peacetime; this is the ultimate dereliction of State duty.
Someday, we will be appalled we allowed weapons of war in the hands of teenagers.
In the here and now, there’s a disturbing new trend in mass shootings: The age of the shooter is getting younger and younger. The alleged shooters in Buffalo and Uvalde are just 18, using, yes, assault weapons. The media are investigating the neuroscience: Noting the teen years are “a critical time for brain development and a time, for most teenage boys, characterized by aggressive and impulsive behavior,” The New York Times quotes a therapist: “Then there’s access to lethal means, that’s the center.” It is a double tragedy: Most school shootings now involve shooters in their late teens or early 20s: children killing children. And we have allowed it: children armed, legally.
Someday, we will be appalled we allowed all this carnage without federalizing even basic safeguards.
In the here and now, common-sense safeguards — assault weapons bans, background checks, waiting times, red-flag laws for the mentally unstable: All impossible to federalize — any regulations on the books have loopholes galore — all because common sense has no chance at all in our vicious and blinding ideological battles. It’s beyond feckless; there is something suicidal about our inability to protect ouselves.
Someday, we will be appalled we could not do two things at once — gun control AND mental health.
In the here and now, in the aftermath of another mass shooting, “debate” instantly stalls into an either/or death-spiral, with Democrats insisting guns are the central problem, while Republicans insist mental health is. But clearly, both conditions apply: We need to control our super-abundance of guns (we have more guns than Americans) and we do indeed have a mental health crisis. But in our frozen ideological crouches, it is beyond us to get to both/and, to enact legislation covering both. In his address to the nation, Pres. Biden, lifelong Democrat, broke ground and reached out on mental health. And Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is doing heroic work, post-Uvalde, putting together a legislative package addressing both. (Murphy speaks of being haunted by the massacre of the innocents in Newtown ten years ago in his home state.)
Someday, we will be appalled we allowed a minority of the population to dictate to the majority.
In the here and now, solid majorities of Americans tell pollsters, over and over, that they want gun control, including in polls taken post-Uvalde. And, over and over, the minority — insisting on their Second Amendment right to bear arms — overrules the majority. And a minority party, the Republicans, exploits this imbalance to stay in power. Another indicator that democracy, a form of government putatively observing majority rule, is imperiled in America.
Someday, we will be appalled we allowed the egregious misuse of the Second Amendment.
In the here and now, we see how the Second Amendment, originally a well-intentioned effort ratified in 1791 to regulate state militias providing for the common defense, has morphed over time into the promiscuous interpretation that guns be allowed everywhere, unregulated. The Supreme Court amplified this trend with its 2008 Heller decision, finding a personal right to bear arms, ostensibly for self-defense. Meanwhile some scholars are attesting the origins of the Amendment itself to be dubious: that laws encoded in the 17th century prohibiting the enslaved from owning, carrying, or using firearms actually informed, via the southern delegations, the creation of the Constitution itself; thus, they claim, the Second is racist at its roots. In sum, we are awash in guns, thanks to gross misuse of a Constitutionally-enumerated right perhaps dubious in its origins. What a mess.
Someday, we will be appalled that, after so much carnage, we were no longer appalled.
In the here and now, post-Buffalo and Uvalde, the most recent massacres, the general reaction is: “…and nothing will be done.”
What will awaken America?
Is there a critical volume of blood that must flow? Is it happenstance that our pop-culture “entertainment” features oceans of blood, endless killing, “cool” guns? When will we address the violence in the American character, when will we mature and embrace Reason? Is there any chance a Republican politician will have a Gethsemane moment over the GOP’s nihilistic orthodoxy on guns, break his/her own fever, and get colleagues to return to Planet Earth, to peacetime America? Would publishing photos of children pulverized by an assault weapon, which experts say is the impact such weapons have on smaller bodies, break that fever, and start saving children? Why can’t America do as other countries have done after a mass shooting: pass gun control legislation, launch a federal buy-back program retrieving guns from private hands — and see a dramatic drop in the carnage, making mass killings once again rare?
When will we, “Can-Do Nation,” actually do and stop our suicide? Abraham Lincoln would urge us: “We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Democrats will question my use of “we” in this catalog of failure. We Dems abhor America’s gun culture, have staunchly advocated for gun control for ages. But again, we are a democracy (nominally) and we hang or we flourish by prevailing policy, prevailing reality on the ground, prevailing Reality, and thus are responsible for it.
In Greek tragedy, catharsis occurs when the central character, at the climax of a life-or-death crisis, recognizes at long last a truth that, at the outset, he/she did not know. We are in a crisis of gun violence now, a crescendo. Will we, can we, see at long last the base truth of it — and quit our national suicide?