Much Ado About Nothing

Unless you live in Ecuador and the rains have interrupted your electricity, I’m sure you have read by now the kerfuffle about President Obama’s attitude toward guns. The NRA wants to make hay out of wet grass, but with the money at their disposal — and all the hot air they are able to produce — they are likely to pull it off. Obama made an off-the-cuff remark about how “we” shoot skeet “all the time” at Camp David. Apparently he wanted to make it appear that he is one of the “good old boys” and win over those on the right who have their sights set on him. Big Mistake. He was immediately confronted by Representative, Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) who apparently has nothing better to do than to challenge him to a skeet-shooting contest, certain that she would win hands down. And the officials at NRA were indignant as well. He poked the bear.

The story in HuffPost  includes the following comments:

The White House photo released Saturday is dated Aug. 4, 2012. The caption says Obama is shooting clay targets on the range at Camp David. Obama is seen holding a gun against his left shoulder, his left index finger on the trigger and smoke coming from the barrel. He is wearing jeans, a dark blue, short-sleeved polo shirt, sunglasses and earmuffs.

The National Rifle Association, which has rejected Obama’s proposals, scoffed at the photo.

“One picture does not erase a lifetime of supporting every gun ban and every gun-control scheme imaginable,” said Andrew Arulanandam, the organization’s spokesman.

White House Photo

White House Photo

Note, please, what is happening here: the NRA is attempting to shift the focus of attention away from the 20 children who were massacred in Newtown, Connecticut, not to mention the 270,000 deaths from guns in this country in the past decade, to the question of whether this President does or does not actually shoot skeet. Important, no? Give me a break. It couldn’t matter less. But it is a clever ploy by a devious group with money in their pockets (and therefore considerable clout in Congress) who are determined not to allow anything more serious than checks on future gun purchases come out of this Congress. The NRA will doubtless see that as a major concession. Given that they are the face of gun manufacturers who want dearly to continue to amass piles of money by continuing uninterrupted the sale of their product to all and sundry, the NRA has no scruples whatever about making a mountain out of a mole-hill. It will continue to divert attention away from the central issue.

Clearly what we have here are smoke and mirrors, a slight of hand designed to make sure we focus on the question of whether this president loves or hates guns rather than the question of whether this Congress will have the courage to do the right thing by the American people and push through meaningful gun control legislation, after which it will, presumably, return to more pressing problems — like global warming. My best guess is that Congress will wimp out….again.

New York: YES!

While the Congress of the United States prepares for what the NRA calls “the battle of the century” over gun control, the legislatures in the “blue” states try to do the right thing on their own. The “red” states, of course, are passing bills to allow teachers to carry guns to class with them, but the blue states are taking the high road. New York recently passed a tough gun control bill as the following article attests:

New York (CNN) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo beefed up New York’s gun-control laws on Tuesday by signing into law a new package of firearm and mental health regulations that mark the nation’s first since last month’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Cuomo, a self-described gun owner, said the December 14 tragedy spurred lawmakers to action and called it a “common sense” measure before enacting what are widely seen as America’s toughest gun laws.

“You can overpower the extremists with intelligence and common sense,” he said before inking the deal in Albany.

There are two things about this signing that I find particularly interesting. For one, Cuomo is a gun owner and yet he sees the wisdom in taking a restrained approach to gun purchase. After all, gun control is about control, not elimination. The bloat and rhetoric that comes from the political right on this issue is positively galling, especially the NRA’s most recent personal attack against the President and any who would have the audacity to try to interfere with our “Second Amendment rights.” I have never heard anyone talk about taking guns away from people — especially hunting and target weapons. The movement here is to eliminate the purchase of weapons of mass destruction, if you will, assault weapons that fire off hundreds of rounds a minute and are designed to kill people, not deer or pheasants.

The second interesting thing is that Cuomo’s appeal is to “intelligence and common sense,” and he is spot on. There is so much heat and so little light in the “debate” over tougher gun control it is refreshing to read that a group has sat down and put together a bill that is designed to introduce sanity into a situation that borders on the insane. Clearly gun control will not solve the problem of violence in this country, but it is a necessary first step.

As you may have read, while Cuomo was signing this bill conspiracy theorists were harassing good Samaritans in Connecticut whose hearts went out to the children who survived the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut as we are told in the following story:

A man who found six children in his driveway in Newtown, Conn., after their teacher had been shot and killed in last month’s school massacre has become the target of conspiracy theorists who believe the shootings were staged.

One wonders what makes people like this tick when they write hate notes and repeatedly phone and then hang up on a 69 year-old retired man whose crime was that he reached out to help a group of youngsters who were traumatized by the shooting in their school. The very idea that the shooting itself was somehow “staged” in order to allow the government to take steps to restrict future purchase of assault weapons is over the edge and would require Freud working together with Adler and Jung to figure out how on earth those minds came so badly unhinged. One can only hope that the number of these nutters is very small and is dwarfed by the numbers of people whose hearts went out to those children and their families. I expect that is the case.

In any event, despite the fact that the Congress seems unable to enact legislation that would offend the NRA, states like New York have shown how it could be done. It won’t be nearly as effective as a Federal policy, but it is a step in the right direction.

Knee Jerks

It was interesting to read the comments made by several conservative politicians after the shootings in Newtown insisting that we should avoid “knee jerk” reactions to the terrible events of that day — (trans: don’t pass anti-gun legislation). These comments were in line with the NRA hardliners who fear that there might actually be tougher restrictions about buying automatic weapons and hand guns after the latest terrible shooting event. The NRA, of course, has a vested interest in fighting off the restrictions since it is funded in large measure by the people who make the guns. (That seldom gets mentioned, strange to say — even though we are told repeatedly that the media lean precariously to the left.)

It’s not as though the shootings in Newtown are an isolated incident in this country, though. In fact, America has nearly twenty times the number of mass shootings as any other “developed” country in the world. There have been 31 school shootings in this country since Columbine in 1999 — mostly in high schools. But the Newtown shooting targeted very young children and this seems to have finally soaked into the brains of many who like to waive the second amendment in the faces of those who would cry “enough”! Many, but not all.

Reportedly gun sales were off the charts right after the shootings in Newtown when people rushed to stores like Walmart to buy weapons and gobs of ammunition — as we are told in this story in The Los Angles Times:

Calls for stricter weapons laws after the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school have gun enthusiasts scrambling to buy firearms before they’re restricted or banned outright.

Brownells Inc., which claims to be the world’s largest supplier of firearms accessories and gunsmithing tools, said it has sold 3 1/2 years worth of ammunition magazines in three days.

It’s quite possible that those sales resulted not from opportunism but from the fear running through the population as part of the aftershock from  the latest in a series of mass killings that seems finally to have gotten the attention even of the Congress — several members have come out against the continued sales of weapons that are not legal for hunting. A couple of those who spoke out are card-carrying members of the NRA! I dare say their membership will be revoked: members really aren’t allowed to make public comments suggesting that the purchase of automatic weapons may be an incredibly stupid idea.

I tend to lean toward the second explanation of the spike in the sale of guns and ammunition: I think it is fear. This is not the first time that fear has proven to be a powerful motivator. Conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich have used it as an effective motivator for years. And the liberal political fund-raisers are starting to use it as well. It works! In this case it may have resulted in another “knee-jerk” reaction, namely, the rush to buy automatic weapons — presumably to defend oneself against all the other maniacs out there who have rushed out to buy automatic weapons. It really is madness multiplied.

Speaking of knee jerks, it is heartening to read that Smith and Wesson’s stocks recently plummeted in the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown. Apparently investors see the handwriting on the wall: there may be tougher restrictions after all. We can only hope. But if there are tougher restrictions against the purchase of automatic weapons, hand guns, and/or ammunition clips that hold more than ten bullets that will be a very good thing — as long as the restrictions are accompanied by a buy-back of some (if not all) of the weapons already out there, not to mention the 3 1/2 year supply of ammunition that was sold three days. (It does boggle the mind.)

But after the dust settles, we really need to address the larger question: why is this culture so in love with violence? and why do we think that violence is the best way to address our problems — as individuals and as a nation?

Guns Kill People, Too

The mindless mantra of the pro-gun activists that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” ignores the data from other countries that suggest that tighter gun control would make guns less readily available and therefore reduce somewhat the ability of many to pull a gun when anger and frustration raise their heads. But then, as the activists are quick to point out, if a person is determined to kill someone he can always find a weapon. This is true, but trite. A baseball bat in the hands of a madman like the one who walked into Sandy Hook School could readily be turned into a murder weapon. Probably so, but it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to kill 26 people with a baseball bat whereas it took only a few minutes for Adam Lanza to fire off enough bullets to kill those kids, their teachers, and himself.

An excellent letter from a gun owner who hunts and defends the right to bear arms puts the issue in perspective. As a father of young children he now advocates some sort of gun regulation. His letter was written in response to the terrible events in Newtown and he asks that we try somehow to approach the matter calmly and reasonably. Heaven knows calm and reason have not been present at the table in this discussion so far. But it is refreshing to read comments made by a man who argues for the right to bear arms while at the same time he realizes the time has come for tighter gun control. He says in part:

I have never felt that my sporting arms were threatened by those who were calling for tighter regulations on gun sales and ownership – particularly when directed at cheap handguns and guns whose value as sporting arms was marginal or specious.  The fear of a slippery slope leading from common sense gun regulation to the loss of hunting firearms is a fear that the NRA uses to sell its political agenda.  It is false.  A gun is a tool like a hammer but unlike other tools, guns are designed and optimized to deliver projectiles for the purpose of killing efficiently.  In the context of hunting, this efficiency is needed to ensure that an animal dies as quickly and humanely as possible.  However, this is also the reason why the “guns don’t kill people, people do…” line of reasoning rings hollow.  One can kill another person with a hammer or with a car but that is not what hammers and cars are designed to do.  Guns are a special case and we should start by acknowledging that.

I must say I am not optimistic about the possibility that this Congress will pass any meaningful gun control legislation — given the immense power the NRA wields in Washington and their tendency to jerk their collective knee every time some maniac shoots someone and reasonable people start talking about trying to take measures to stop the madness. In fact, as we attempt to figure out why these terrible shootings happen we might also try to figure out why this country is so in love with guns and why even the suggestion that we stop the sale of hand guns and automatic weapons (which are hardly the weapons of choice for hunters) is so upsetting to so many people.  But perhaps the world-wide reaction to the atrocity in Newtown will finally result in sane heads taking command. One can always hope because this madness has to stop.

However, tighter gun control is clearly not the entire answer. We need to probe more deeply into causes, as I suggested in a recent blog. But it is a step in the right direction, and it is one we should have taken long before Adam Lanza stepped into that school-house in Newtown and started shooting young children.

More Madness

When I was seven years old we moved from Baltimore, Maryland to Dodgingtown, Connecticut — midway between Bethel and Newtown. My sister and I went to Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was a member of Troop 70 Boy Scouts in Newtown, caddied at the Newtown golf course, walked with a friend of mine every Saturday afternoon to the movie house in Newtown to watch the latest cowboy thriller, and my mother ran a shop in Newtown called “Presents Unlimited.” Newtown, Connecticut is a place I once knew very well.

So when I read about the latest shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, I was touched on a very deep level. I have so many childhood memories of that region. Now those memories are mixed with mayhem. It leaves the stomach unsettled and the mind in a whirl.

The President of the United States fought back tears as he pledged to rise above politics and make sure something is done to stop this carnage. He has said this before, but this time he seems to mean it. Easier said than done: the NRA will be geared up for battle and they are one of the most powerful and effective lobbying groups in Washington. We can expect little in the way of serious gun control to come out of this Congress. But gun control is not the whole answer. To be sure, it is a step in the right direction, but it is not sufficient to stop the craziness that seems to be growing in our population. We need to probe for deeper causes.

Let’s take a close look at the youth in this culture who spend hours each day playing violent games on their Xboxes and watch even more hours of violence on TV and in the movies (which make my cowboy thrillers look like Sunday School stories). Humans are animals and young animals learn from imitation. There can be no question the constant immersion in violence plants seeds in the young. Add to this a weakening reality principle, a thin thread separating these kids from the fantasy world of their games where they rule and the real world where (as things now stand) they also rule: they are told they can do no wrong and they are entitled to accolades and applause for every breath they take. Their sense of self grows as their sense of the world they live in shrinks. They crave fame and glory, like the heroes they play in their games. They learn to expect applause for their every effort no matter how impotent. Their ability to connect with other humans weakens as they become more and more isolated.

These speculations are not far-fetched; they are based on solid data, studies that show our culture is becoming increasingly narcissistic and self-absorbed. Combine these factors with the ready availability of guns and one can easily imagine a young Adam Lanza strapping on a bullet-proof vest, grabbing his automatic weapons, and storming into a school pulling the triggers on both weapons as he shoots his “enemies” and emerges a “hero” to the applause of thousands.

Granted, this scenario is a bit of a stretch, but what I say is based on solid evidence and there is a disturbing sense of truth to what I have supposed here. How else do we explain this madness? How else do we explain how a young man can shoot innocent children and their teachers? Only in a world where people get cut off from reality, where the thin thread connecting them to the real world suddenly snaps and their fantasy world takes over. What happened in Newtown, Connecticut cannot be real: it must be a video game — except it isn’t.