There comes a time when insanity and injustice becomes so rampant that it reeks to high heaven. To remain silent in the face of it is to become complicit.
Such is the case with the collective meltdown of the American psyche evidenced by the latest mass shooting(s) (I hesitate even to name a specific one because chances are that by the time I post this, there will have been another one – or two, or three).
We Americans as a whole tend to be be more tolerant of differences than we’re given credit for, managing to (for the most part) coexist peacefully with neighbors holding diametrically opposed religious, political or social views. Most of the time, this is something to take pride in, something that helps define the unique qualities of what it is to be American.
But this 21st century version of the old hippie “You do your thing and I’ll do mine” ethos, while fundamentally sound, has its limitations. At some point it stops being a blessing and turns into the curse now besetting out nation: whether through benign tolerance or malign neglect, we have abdicated our moral responsibility and allowed—indeed, virtually encouraged—evil to flourish.
When we were a frontier nation, when large numbers of our people hunted for survival and lived in far-flung homesteads where they could not always count on the government to protect them against animal or human interlopers, then of course it made sense to have a relatively relaxed attitude toward gun ownership. Today, with 82% of our population living in cities or suburbs, only a maniac seriously believes that unlimited access to high-powered weaponry and ammunition is either desirable or necessary.
Scratch that: there are other interest groups who remain avid supporters of the firearms industry: the merchants who share in the profits, which easily reach into the several billions, the lobbyists—like the National Rifle Association’s chief liar-for-hire Wayne LaPierre, who pulls down in the neighborhood of a million bucks a year for his Goebbels-like exculpations of mass murder, and the bought-and-sold politicians who, in Congress and the Supreme Court, have successfully resisted even the most moderate adjustments to our wildly inadequate gun laws, and have gone even further to weaken our existing ones.
The time has come to stop wringing our hands and saying “Isn’t it awful?” on the near-weekly occasions when innocent and broken young bodies are once more hauled out en masse to the charnel house. These savage killings are not something that just “happens,” the way tornadoes do in Kansas or hurricanes in Florida. They are not simply a matter of bad luck or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
No, they are a wholly predictable and more or less inevitable outcome of policies and actions embarked upon, whether innocently or not so, by our neighbors and maybe even our friends, people who live and work in our communities, who we may see at church or at the ball game or even at a rally for our favorite political candidate. They may from all appearances be perfectly nice, genial people, helpful, honest, the salt of the earth, but it’s time to stop mincing words: every time children (or people of any age) die in another senseless shooting, these “nice” folks have hands that are dripping with blood.
What’s more all-American than Walmart, for example? They have a widespread reputation for low prices, family values (they won’t even sell records containing “dirty” words), but they will sell you weapons and ammo capable of murdering everyone on your street in about 30 seconds.
What about the “good old boys” of the NRA? Many of them are very simply guys (or ladies) who like to hunt, and share an interest in the firearms necessary for hunting, and all the best to them. But when they (and of course it’s nowhere near all of them) almost violently oppose ANY restrictions on how, where, when and why guns can be sold, then they are saying, in effect, “Yeah, tough luck about all the dead six-year-olds, but my ‘freedom’ is more important.”
Your “freedom” to do exactly what? Almost nobody is seriously proposing that guns be banned or greatly curtailed. The proposed laws that induce apoplectic fits in the NRA honchos are typically nothing more radical than the notion that someone should have to identify himself when buying a weapon, to pass a background check, to be responsible for the safekeeping of the weapons they already own. These do not seem like radical infringements on anyone’s freedom. At least not when compared with a mother’s or father’s freedom to cherish a living child rather than a mangled corpse.
Yes, these are harsh words, but they need to be spoken: you, Wayne LaPierre, you, stockholders and executives and, yes, even customers of vast weapons emporiums like Walmart, have blood on your hands. Granted, no single action that we take as individuals or even as a society can solve all problems or resolve all injustices, but that does not mean we shouldn’t do what we can, however little or much that should be.
So if you’re an NRA member and you don’t support the mass murder of small children, let the NRA know you’re not paying any further dues until they moderate their stance and begin working with the government to develop sane laws that protect gun ownership but don’t put the rest of the society at risk to do so. If you’re a Walmart shopper, let them know they won’t be seeing any more of your business until they stop trafficking in murder.
What would a reasonable gun policy look like? And how do we avoid getting bogged down for years in Talmudic squabbles over what constitutes an “assault” rifle (ghoulish lobbyists and politicians relish these definitional fights because they can spin them into millions of dollars of legal fees and endless delays and obstructions, during which time hundreds or thousands more will die waiting for justice to be served)?
Here’s some basics:
1. All guns, and I mean ALL guns will have to be registered, with the owner having identified him or herself, passed a background check, and furnished the regulating agency with the address at which the weapon is being kept. The weapon can not be sold or transferred to anyone else without the same procedures being followed.
2. As long as a weapon is registered in your name, YOU are fully responsible for any damage it does. If you leave it lying around the house and one of your kids or a neighbor’s kid gets hold of it and kills himself or someone else, YOU’RE going to jail. This also means, obviously, that you keep it under lock and key AT ALL TIMES when you’re not using it.
3. With that in mind, anyone owning any kind of firearm needs to have a liability insurance policy safeguarding against damage done by that gun—the same as you presumably have on your car, which is probably less likely to end up seriously injuring or killing someone. We’re probably talking about a million dollars coverage here, which is not unusual for an auto insurance policy. What price would you put on another human life, and do you have enough in the bank to pay it?
4. You can buy all the ammunition you want, but you’ve got to show ID and your gun registration, and fill out a form showing where the ammo will be kept (if not on the same premises as your gun(s). Also, the price of ammo should be dramatically increased, partly to cover the administrative costs of this program, but also because any “normal” use of weapons (whether hunting, target shooting or self-defense) does not require military-size caches of bullets or shells. Even a hunter who’s a really poor shot is not going to use more than a few dozen bullets (and if he does, maybe the cost of ammo will inspire him to take some lessons and become a better shot).
5. Oh yeah, speaking of courses, any gun owner will have to pass a basic competency exam on the use and care of firearms, not unlike what anyone is expected to undergo before driving an automobile.
There are other things that can be done—we can certainly have that debate about how large an ammo clip is “necessary” before a defensive weapon turns into an offensive one, but these five proposals, if enacted, would go a long way toward bringing America into the 21st century and at least beginning to put an end to our national madness. You’ll notice that none of them, in any way, interferes with an individual’s right to hunt, target shoot, or keep a weapon in his or her home for self-defense.
If you still protest that there is something un-American about requiring people to be responsible and accountable for their weapons, then I respectfully submit that it may in fact be you who is un-American. “Freedom” is only one half of the equation that makes America what it is, and it was never meant to be utterly untrammeled freedom, freedom that concerns itself only with our own immediate desires and remains oblivious to the needs and desires of others.
A look at our history—or at common sense—tells us that we cannot enjoy freedom in a vacuum, and that even if you could, it would not be the sort of freedom any sane person would relish. In the wake of the Connecticut school tragedy, I have literally heard people say that the deaths of 20 small children, while unfortunate, was a “relatively small” price to pay for what they considered the “freedom” of unlimited and unregulated gun ownership. Such an notion literally sickens me, and I think—in fact am quite sure—that a large majority of Americans feels the same way. It’s time that make ourselves heard, time that we demand an end to this senseless and shameful slaughter.