I know how some of you will react. "Guns by themselves don't kill anyone!" "It's mentally ill people and criminals, not law-abiding gun owners, who are the problem!" "It's our Constitutional right!" Yes, I've hard all these arguments, ad nauseum. I even feel some sympathy for them, particularly the one about how our society no longer cares for the mentally ill as it once did, and something needs to be done about that. I've also been reminded, by Michael Moore of all people, that Canadians own more guns per capita than Americans and seem somehow to manage not shooting each other thirty times a day. His reframing of the slogan goes like this: "Guns don't kill people. Americans kill people."
But here's where the rubber meets the road or, better euphemism, the hot lead punches through the rib cage: people are dying, boatloads of them, and apart from sympathetic speeches, empathetic arms around the shoulder, and choreographed hand-wringing,politicians, the only people who really can do something about it, don't. The posture, they protest, they shake their fists and point their fingers, but they never, ever do anything to stop the killing.
If this were a virus, if 10,000 Americans a year were dying of a rare disease, we'd be pouring millions, perhaps billions, into research, enlisting laboratories around the world to find a vaccine. Once it was found, health teams would descend upon schools, community centers, churches, anywhere people gather, and they wouldn't stop until every person had been inoculated. Some would protest, refuse the injection, and as dunderheaded as that might be, we'd probably give them that right--though if it meant endangering their children, as well, we'd probably have some misgivings about according them that freedom. In the end, we'd eradicate the disease.
Handgunitis, though, is a disease that has powerful defenders. Millions of otherwise intelligent Americans insist that this virus must be permitted to live, that it must be protected at all costs, even as thousands of innocents die from it. Yes, many more people die from the use of alcohol, tobacco, automobiles--and as a result, all of these are strictly regulated to lessen their virulence. Not so with guns. Thanks to constant lobbying by the NRA and its minions, the strictest gun regulations in this nation are minuscule next to the rules imposed on other dangerous substances or devices.
On May 23, a young man killed seven UCLA students with handguns he had purchased legally. He acted out of frustration that he couldn't find a blonde woman to date him. The next day, Richard Martinez, father of one of the victims, cried out against the NRA and the lily-livered politicians who advance its agenda. In a short piece in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes this:
Why did Christopher Michael-Martinez die? Because the N.R.A. and the politicians they intimidate enable people to get their hands on weapons and ammunition whose only purpose is to kill other people as quickly and as lethally as possible. How do we know that they are the ‘because’ in this? Because every other modern country has suffered from the same kinds of killings, from the same kinds of sick kids, and every other country has changed its laws to stop them from happening again, and in every other country it hasn’t happened again.
In America, it keeps happening, and it will keep happening, because no matter how much the anguish of the survivors may be to bear, the people who most need to hear them will not. Instead, they will cling to their guns, cling to their arguments about the right to defend oneself, the right to responsibly bear arms, while ignoring the reality of the many who choose to attack rather than defend, and the many more who irresponsibly leave weapons lying around for toddlers to use on each other, and flimsy regulations that permit first-time murderers to purchase the weapons they need to be mass murderers, armed with guns that can take dozens of lives in minutes with no more effort than the squeezing of a trigger.
I read these stories, I see the video, and I know that the only backlash that will count is that of the gun lobby, fighting to protect not the innocent, but the right to bear arms, a right far costlier than any other; and so, with Stephen Stills, I sing:
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground.
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down.