Part of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s initial reaction to the Aurora theatre massacre was to assure citizens that the act of a “deranged” individual would not be allowed to take away Americans’ freedom to lock and load with private arsenals of assault weapons.
Boy, am I relieved. For a moment there, I thought that yet another slaughter of the innocents might threaten Bubba’s right to own enough weaponry to wage a small civil war.
No one is talking at the moment about the squirrel gun in the barn, or even the .38 Special in the nightstand. Maybe some places have too many squirrels, and maybe some neighbourhoods have too many thugs.
But when Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin responded to the immediate calls for a little gun control by suggesting that a well-armed “responsible citizen” in the movie theatre might have prevented some of the carnage by cutting loose with his own weapon(s), you really had to wonder just what planet these people inhabit.
Yes, I know about the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It says that the citizens’ right to bear arms may not be “infringed.” It also says that the intent of the amendment is to foster the maintenance of “well regulated” state militias in a country that had no intention of keeping a standing army. But that’s just the details. Everyone knows that what the amendment really means is that any and every urban criminal and rural yokel can stock up at will. And, way too often, fire at will.
In the good old days when a man, a horse, and a gun were the sanctified combination that tamed the West and settled the frontier, there was good enough reason for just about everyone to have a gun. But even the James gang didn’t have large-clip Glocks and fully-automatic assault rifles. And nobody has any legitimate reason to have them now.
What freedom, beyond the freedom to entertain the fantasy mythos of the free-firing frontiersman, requires concealed weapons, “stand your ground” shootouts, and guns in schools and churches? That’s not “freedom”; that’s “irresponsibility.” Not to mention nuts.
Let’s see. You’ve got a country with by far the world’s highest rate of gun deaths. You’ve got a country with some of the world’s loosest gun control laws. Perhaps there’s a connection?
OK, let’s say that you don’t think that there is a connection. Let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that it’s true that gun control has little effect on some nut’s ability to get his hands on unlimited numbers of portable weapons of mass destruction. And to be fair, let’s subtract the number of victims killed by that nut, and all of his nutty friends. In other words, take out Columbine and Arizona and Virginia Tech and Aurora.
What’s left is, no surprise, by far the world’s highest rate of gun deaths. The well-armed “responsible citizen” that Senator Johnson wished had been at the movie theatre in Aurora has guns. His neighbours have guns. His friends have guns. His children have guns, or easy access to them.
When the domestic squabble boils over, when the road rage explodes, when the jilted boyfriend sees his former lover with a new man, when the old lady in Tampa hears a noise in her yard — all of them have quick recourse to the closest weapon. And in America, that weapon isn’t a rolling pin or a steak knife. It’s a semi-automatic pistol. The difference that makes to the level and frequency of real tragedy cannot easily be dismissed.
But politicians dismiss it. The most striking political response to the Aurora tragedy came from the campaigns of the presidential contenders. While regular campaign events were cancelled, for a day or two, and while lower lights and surrogates argued on the Sunday morning political talk shows about the need for and usefulness of enhanced gun control, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney said anything about the issue. They were quick to lament the loss of life — and even quicker to duck and cover, cowering away from the political dynamite of gun control. Obama can’t come out in favour of gun control, or he’ll be accused of politicizing a human tragedy. And Romney can’t come out against it, or he’ll be accused of being insensitive to that tragedy. Safer to say nothing. Better a murderous status quo than a political gaffe.
Even more cynical is the response of Warner Brothers, whose response to the tragedy was to refrain from releasing the opening weekend box office numbers for “Dark Knight Rises.” The studio’s delay was ”out of respect for the victims and their families.” Ah, the sensitivity. It makes you choke right up. Instead of posting the box office projections on Friday, Warner Brothers will release the actual weekend receipts on Monday.
That should be enough time for respect, shouldn’t it?