Just for the heck of it, let’s indulge in some speculation about how the NRA brain trust may have reacted to that deadly outbreak of gun violence in Tucson the other day. For one thing, we can be reasonably certain that not even with a member of Congress, Arizona’s Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, as a victim would the NRA have come anywhere close to pressing the panic button, fearful that this latest episode would do anything to upset their apple cart. More likely the NRA would have seen the Tucson massacre as a blip on their screen, which in no way affected their confidence about possessing the ammunition (so to speak) to stifle any clamor for injecting sense into the free-for-all ethic that evidently prevails in the gun culture.
As it turned out, there was no need for any NRA mouthpiece to chime in, at least not in the tragedy’s immediate aftermath, assorted gun loonies stepping right up to the plate with the kind of sick chatter that comes with that gun-fanatic territory. Four-square behind the idea that everyone ought to be packing heat, a state legislator from Arizona regaled us with, “When everyone is carrying a firearm, no one is going to be a victim.” A Republican member of the Arizona congressional delegation lamented that there hadn’t been “one more gun” in Tucson, meaning a gun carried by someone who could have dealt with the individual responsible for the mayhem.
In a New York Times opinion piece, Timothy Egan cited these examples of advocacy of gun-toting rights taken to preposterous extremes, along with that of a Republican Congressman from Texas, Louie Gohmert, who proposed legislation to allow members of Congress to carry firearms into the Capitol Building. To which Egan added this neat coda: “Gohmert has enough trouble carrying a coherent thought onto the House floor. God forbid he would try to bring a Glock to work.”
We don’t know if the seal of approval these and other Second Amendment zealots earn from the NRA includes an obligation to form the first attack wave whenever the folly of unrestricted firearms access rears its head in dramatic fashion. Maybe it’s just a reflex action — maybe bizarre utterances such as came from these guys are supposed to routinely follow a jolt to normal folks’ sensibilities, as Tucson was. Whatever, it sure makes for sober contemplation of what a troubling complexity the American landscape can be, encompassing the sanity of a New York gun ownership policy, for example, along with the open floodgates of states where the fact that the semi-automatic weapon used by that nut job in Tucson was acquired like any candy store purchase, doesn’t even qualify as a matter for debate.
Gun manufacturers and their lackey in the NRA and in politics have conspired to give a sense of impregnability to the opposition to any moves aimed at turning an allegedly civil society away from “guns for everybody” that appears to be the designated signal callers’ mantra of choice. In light of which, the Clinton administration’s battling for and getting enacted the assault weapons ban in 1994 seems even more herculean today. And because there are few issues that have made wimps of members of Congress as has gun control, it’s easy to understand why the act’s sunset in 2004 was allowed to fade with nary a serious effort toward an extension.
Following the Tucson shootings, Sen. Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, introduced a proposal for renewing the assault weapons ban. But he has candidly acknowledged having no optimism about this going anywhere, saying: “I recognize the politics with regard to this are on a different track altogether.” A similar outcome, for sure, awaits the unrelenting champion of gun control in the Congress, New York’s Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who also introduced a measure to reinstate the assault weapons ban. Lugar, for his troubles, will likely find a stiffening opposition in his home state to his desire to run for a seventh term next year, Tea Party types already agitating to force him into retirement.
As a 21st century phenomenon, this notion of America settling into a comfort zone about its gun culture literally regressing to a frontier-exploration stage is more than a little unsettling. Polls taken after the Tucson tragedy showing a more or less even split between those favoring stricter controls on gun availability and those supporting people’s right to unimpeded access to guns speak to a national mood shift that’s alarming to many of us. The folks whose recommended solution to the several campus shooting sprees is that students be permitted to carry firearms, aren’t making tongue-in-cheek suggestions. Those who believe doing background checks on would-be gun purchasers is some kind of infringement on their rights, are dead serious as well.
Congresswoman Giffords’ coming to within a hair’s breadth of losing her life may have occasioned some talk about civility in political discourse and all that jazz, but it apparently won’t be doing anything meaningful about the essential truth behind the killing and wounding in Tucson. A bunch of kowtowing, spineless so-called leaders in Washington and across the country will see to that.
As for the people, those of us really given to a measure of civility, we can only wonder whether we will somehow be also held to account, for apathetically entrusting the running of the asylum to inmates.