Do you know what The United States is really good at doing? Nothing.
Now, wait. I don’t mean to say there’s nothing we’re not good at. In fact, I can think of at least three things that America excels at, right off the top of my head:
1. Over-sized Belt Buckles
2. Taco Bell “Food” Inventions
3. Doing Absolutely Nothing About Very Obvious Problems We Face
Let’s hone in on number three, shall we? Yes, yes we shall. Why? Because you’re not in the room with me right now, and you can’t control my fingers.
In modern America we are beset on all sides by the consequences of the terrible decisions that came before us. We are surrounded by the results of societal evolution’s pace being that of a snail’s trek through your garden as opposed to a Chunnel right from Paris to London. We are faced daily with the ramifications of allowing our free market capitalist economy to be given near free reign over anything it so chooses to do. We read stories all day every day about what happens when 237 year old legal prose aimed at avoiding the need for a standing army gets co-opted by a fringe element of society that is pandered to by corporate blood mongers who see the body bags and know they can gin up just enough fear to cause a run on their products.
And we do nothing about any of it.
I suppose in some respects it’s to be expected that in a nation of 300 million people it’d be monumentally difficult to get a true majority of the people motivated and engaged enough to demand change, to say nothing about getting a majority to agree on the solution. Unfortunately that means we still face a War on Drugs that’s imprisoned generations of young people of color. We still live in a society where women are on average paid less for doing the same work, for no other reason than because they have vaginae. We still face times where being homosexual is considered being subhuman to the lesser-evolved among us. It’s 2013 and we still have systemic, covert racism tainting the policies of politicians in red states, despite what the Supreme Court decided this summer.
Perhaps the most depressing and simultaneously enraging bit of social apathy we suffer from though is that of gun violence. This time last year we were shocked and mortified of the reports of the Sandy Hook Massacre. Twenty children and six of their caretakers were viciously gunned down by a mentally unstable person — barely out of his adolescence in his own right — to the point of being unrecognizable to their parents and loved ones. You would think that if anything could break through the thick haze of rhetoric based on historically inaccurate interpretations of the Second Amendment, it would be twenty children being murdered in the middle of the holiday season. And yet, despite overwhelming support for something as simple as universal background checks before buying one of these implements of mass carnage, nothing got done.
The proof of just how much nothingness got done is the fact that in the year since Newtown became another pinpoint in the growing sea of red dots covering the continent (over one million have perished at the end of a gun since John Lennon’s assassination in 1980), another 194 children — by conservative estimates — have died from gun related causes. How can we not admit that we have a fundamental problem that needs addressing when in the year since twenty kids were riddled with bullets, nearly five times that many of died from the same damn thing? I’ll tell you why — because there is a misconception about those who advocate for tighter gun restrictions that we are all anti-gun, that we all want to have “jackbooted thugs” come knocking on innocent hunters’ doors and take their guns away, robbing them of the ability to feed their families.
Every time a mass shooting occurs, or every time news outlets publish stories about toddlers finding their parents’ gun and shooting their brother, sister or playmate, the NRA’s most sycophantic drones come out and start screaming that it’s too soon to talk about gun laws. They keep telling us it’s a Constitutional right to own any and all weapons they want, in the off chance that the very same government that guarantees their right to keep and bear arms will change their minds and come for those very same guns, and we must be armed and ready. These people truly believe that one day our government will become so tyrannical that we have no choice but to fight it in the streets. Sadly, many believe we’re already there.
It doesn’t matter how much you point out that in a truly tyrannical society we wouldn’t get to vote for a regime change every four years. It doesn’t matter how much you lead them right to the letters, documents and historical records that prove the Second Amendment wasn’t written as insurance against the phantom threat of the government coming after its own citizens, but as a means to mitigate the need for a large standing army. None of this matters to those who see themselves as the shepherds of the Revolutionary Spirit of ’76.
They do indeed bitterly cling to their guns and religion because they are all real, live Archie Bunkers. They are afraid of what change brings, even if the change is so small as to effectively say, “You need to start doing due diligence to make sure you aren’t giving a psychopath, rapist, or terrorist a gun with which to inflict bodily harm and death upon others.” They cling to those guns because they are convinced that every person who advocates a new gun safety law is part of the cabal of miscreants whose sole purpose is to enable the confiscation of every gun everywhere.
I know there are those among us who would and do advocate for the collection of all firearms and the deletion of the Second Amendment from the Constitution entirely. I don’t agree with them. But I would love to ask a gun zealot directly if they feel those people are just entitled to their extremist opinions as the gun zealots themselves. Aren’t we all entitled to have our opinions in this free and open society we cherish so much?
This irrational fear of confiscation is why the NRA so successfully killed the Manchin-Toomey background check bill. They fueled enough paranoia about a gun registry that was specifically prohibited within the language of the bill itself that they were able to stop even the smallest modicum of progress in the arena of gun safety, thereby leaving the door open for the next Newtown. All this while they knew full-well they had their own illicit list of gun owners, many of whom were on the list without any knowledge of it themselves. Touching, isn’t it? The NRA isn’t just full of history revisionist blood mongers; they’re hypocrites to boot.
In the end, it’s up to the rational people in the middle of the argument to move the ball forward on every issue, but especially that of gun control. We cannot be afraid of those who would try to bully or intimidate us with semantic arguments about who “causes” gun deaths, technical specs of the guns themselves, or just threats of outright violent retribution for any perceived transgression upon their sacrosanct right to own weaponry. We have to take charge of our society with the full knowledge that most of us don’t care who owns a gun as long as they aren’t a violent criminal, mentally unstable, a sexual predator, or a terrorist. Those seem like some pretty universally-agreed upon categories of Americans that should not have unfettered access to weapons.
We need to be unafraid to have frank conversations in public and in the halls of Congress about what kinds of guns we feel are appropriate for consumer consumption. No one loathes a police officer abusing their authority and military-grade equipment like me, but the fact of the matter is when the shit goes down, I want a trained cop protecting me, not Dudley Do-Right. Maybe Dudley’s a good shot. Or maybe he’s had one too many espressos. Sure, the same could be said of Joe Blow Cop, but I’ll take my chances.
The point is that the more we allow the extremes to dictate the conversation, the lower the chances become of us fixing anything. Progress moves at a snail’s pace in this country, and pretty much within our species. I’m just as frustrated by that fact as anyone, but it’s heartbreaking and sickening to think that next year instead of five times the Newtowns, we may see six, seven, eight, or more because we keep letting this small fringe of misinformed jackasses scare us and cow our representatives into keeping the status quo in place.