Who would have thought that hard on the heels of recent lambasting in this space of the NRA/gun lobby’s stranglehold on discourse about gun violence, would come the unimaginable horror of Newtown, CT? Who would have thought that the alarm sounded by NBC’s Bob Costas about firearm proliferation, following the murder-suicide involving a pro football player, could eventually come to be seen as precursor to a citizens’ uprising that turned this issue on its head?
There was always something wrong with the picture in which, as a politician, talk of tightening gun laws was more likely than not to bring you pariah status. How quickly have things changed, though. The martyrs of Newtown -- most of them young innocents, to boot -- have reconfigured the politics of gun control, brought it around to where the madness gets confined to the margins and the rightful place of sanity and decency is duly honored.
After the tragedy, the NRA’s initial silence followed by a pro forma commitment to participate in the now full throated demand for a “national conversation” on guns, was of course tactical. Given its history, no one should harbor any doubts that the NRA will be what it will be. At the end of the day no one should be surprised at the kind of NRA scenario in which standard preachments are merely served up with a twist: “Of course we sympathize, but let’s not get carried away.” One of the interesting tidbits making the rounds, though, after those god-awful happenings, was survey results which indicated that better than 70 percent of NRA members favored increased control over the accessibility of firearms – a statistic which showed the unyieldingly rigid stance of the organization’s leadership clearly at odds with its membership.
Predictably, there have been pro-gun maniacs who aren’t unduly troubled about staying the course, regardless. In that vein of ludicrousness we’ve been regaled with the theory that the solution for such as transpired in Newtown lay in an even more widespread presence of guns. Schoolteachers (other “deserving” folk as well) should be armed, went this bone-headed idea of a salve. In another realm came Mike Huckabee’s take, that this latest, very palpable grief visited upon the nation is entirely a function of God having been banished from the classroom. Credit believers in this eye-popping advocacy with at least the chutzpah to give voice to it in the town square, while the rest of us stood frozen in place over last Friday’s news.
In the midst of the intense discussion that has ensued since Friday, the fervor of gun rights advocates who’ve been shamelessly uninhibited, even in the face of an unprecedented public outcry, has been one theater-of-the-absurd tableau assaulting our senses. Being bereft of even NRA-level sensitivity, in these circumstances, says a mouthful. One nut, whose name we need not record, has been getting a TV face-time bonus he would, for sure, not normally enjoy. That this kook owes his new-found notoriety to those young innocents’ demise is hardly a thought, obviously. But as the long-crusading Rep. Carolyn McCarthy observed, billboarding these types is, in the end, a good thing, “to show what we’re up against.”
Understandably, some still doubt whether Newtown was a game changer. After all, they argue, when Washington showed itself immune to even the Tucson outburst that maimed Rep. Gabby Giffords and killed others, what hope could there be that any other senseless gun-violence eruption would prompt the desired reaction? Clearly, the difference makers were the littlest martyrs. How mysteriously fate manifests itself.
There have been times that Americans have traveled paths of utter bewilderment to dispassionate observers. Two groups of Americans killing each other to the tune of a reported 600,000 over the slavery issue gets high ranking on that list. Then there have been instances along this American journey when its people have been called upon to stand up and do right. And they have. Forever will I recall reading in the Times, following Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, the comment of a man who evidenced being previously partial to segregationist sentiments. “And then they murdered this man,” he said, letting on how the ghastly act had recalibrated his sense of what’s morally correct. So too have the littlest martyrs awakened something in the American soul whose existence many of us were seriously questioning.
Lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, in good standing with the NRA, have been chiming in about the need for a new paradigm. Even as we continue to look askance at the NRA’s declared intention to participate toward that end. No way do we expect, this time, a fizzling out of this challenge to the national will, notwithstanding haplessness beyond redemption on the fringes. Not this time will there be the customary resort among gate-keepers of the status quo to, “Give it some time; it will blow over.”
The littlest martyrs have proven themselves mightier than anything a massive, well heeled throng of heavies could concoct. A disturbing, perplexing turn of events cast them -- not the sad sack politicians, not the clergy, not some purpose-driven swaths of the citizenry – but these beautiful departed, as the ultimate, defining voice of our humanity, and as a bulwark against a too-long raging lunacy. We need look no further for prime examples of Mr. Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature.” God bless them.