"You think Social Security is the third rail of politics? Try guns." – anonymous Republican strategist
By Tommy Hough
In the ongoing tragedy of America's gun worship, the mass murder of children and teachers in Connecticut on Friday comes on the heels of Tuesday's similarly terrifying, random attack on the Clackamas Town Center in suburban Portland.
In both instances, the attacks were carried out by lone gunmen armed with AR-15s, and fueled by a selfish death fetish – and a disturbing fetishism for firearms. The Portland community was still processing the carnage and shattered lives at Clackamas when news of the calamity in Connecticut arrived Friday morning.
The enormity of the incalculable pools of loss suffered by the community of Newtown is indeed too big, and too tragic, to comprehend: the murders, the victims, the victims' innocence and youth, the endless streams of grief, the news the children had literally been shot to pieces with weapons designed for war.
The Clackamas Town Center attack similarly left two victims dead, in the prime of their lives with families, friends, spouses and those they loved and cherished left behind. The attack also left a 15-year-old girl shot through the chest, fighting for her young life in a Portland hospital.
Since Friday other assault-rifle attacks and mass killings, albeit less sensational but no less awful, have occurred in Nevada and Alabama, punctuated by a man in Orange County who fired off dozens of rounds from an automatic weapon in a mall parking lot. It is the sound of the ongoing unhinging of American sanity – and the capitulation of the American political system to the NRA.
The week's harvest of American slaughter is reason enough to drop everything, break down and ask why. It is a wholly normal, human response to look for some scrap of logic or purpose in actions which are cruel and insane. But there are no answers. There never are.
Every time there is a mass killing like the ones this week in Connecticut and Oregon, there are the usual platitudes from politicians about the tragedy of the event, the concern for victims, the "thoughts and prayers." This is expected. But for public officials, it's also often the end of any action or concern on the matter. As one wounded survivor of the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting this summer said, "I thought we were going to get somewhere. All we got was silence."
America's rudderless fetish for home arsenals and weapons of war runs deep.
If terrorism or murder by foreign agents with firearms is not acceptable on American soil, then why is terrorism or murder perpetrated by domestic agents so quickly brushed under the rug by the NRA and Fox News, and by extension, public officials?
The Second Amendment has been warped by pro-gun interests into a false prophet of revered holiness, all of whom conveniently opt to ignore the "well regulated militia" called for in the Constitution is also known as the National Guard.
Even at a glance, firearms are not the same as they were in 1789. The technology of the six-shot revolver was still decades away at the time the Constitution was ratified, to say nothing of the instruments of modern death available to any citizen ever since the expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. Looking for a 10-round clip? A 30-round clip? Remember, ammunition makes great stocking stuffers.
Democrats long ago opted to roll over and pretend the NRA and the growing gun culture in this nation wasn't there, and they have benefitted politically from their reluctance, even cowardice, to take on the NRA. But Democrats need to make use of their political capital and begin enacting real change and real safeguards to prevent these massacres from occurring. Gun control is a component of these solutions, but it will never be the sole answer.
Most Republicans know right from wrong, but are unwilling to raise their voice against the NRA for fear of a primary challenge to their right from a Tea Party-aligned, NRA-funded candidate. These public officials need to remember who they work for, and what they want their legacy to be. Many love to talk about how pro-life they are – but only for the unborn. Whether you're in the prime of life or in your kindergarten class, it's just too bad if you're cut down by a warped interpretation of the Second Amendment.
Sadly, many in the GOP camp opt to spout bellicose, ridiculous tones of intolerance for those who don't own firearms, and who claim more firearms and a greater culture of fear with an armed populace is somehow the answer. But the dystopian future they fear is already here. Does anyone need more proof after this week? More guns are not, and cannot, be the answer.
Some gun advocates are merely bullies who childishly and provocatively wear holstered handguns around the office or to their local Starbucks, intimidating colleagues and baristas to make a ridiculously regressive point about the Second Amendment while only proving themselves to be assholes and cowards. They essentially claim a Wild West mentality, seeing themselves as Wyatt Earp, and seek to build an odd, machismo stature as a "self-reliant individual," when they would likely be the first to scream for police in a real emergency.
God help us if any of these fools were to actually pull their weapon in an emergency – or a perceived emergency. Some concealed carry advocates believe they will always have their back to the sun, will always have the "bad guy" or perpetrator framed just right for a shot, and will be magically free of normal reactions like fear, panic, confusion or terror in the event of actually being present at a moment of gun violence. I'm sure some even imagine heroic music swelling as they reach for their weapon.
Most disconcerting is the belief of these individuals that their aim in a confused crowd of panicked patrons will be as good as it is on the firing range, or on their umpteenth try at shooting at a cardboard cut-out target of President Obama.
And while the caricature of the gun-toting, Sean Hannity-abiding white male who long ago ate up Rush Limbaugh's diatribes as substitutes for responsible public policy persists, prolonged exposure to right-wing media outlets has played a role in the abandonment of reason among generations of Americans. Many have now become so divorced from reality they believe themselves to be "persecuted," even though they haven't a clue as to what real persecution is.
And when it comes to weapons and firearms, who checks their mouth and machismo at the door in favor of a cool, quiet professionalism? The legions of trained police and military personnel who understand the irreversible consequences to flesh, bone and lives when a firearm is used.
When anyone can borrow, steal or have loaned to them a gun by a friend, parent, spouse or neighbor, the background check process becomes a moot point until after the fact. It will take more to address this issue, but above all else it will take the loud, decisive and progressive actions of the vast majority of responsible gun owners to help enact quality, functional legislation. The solutions may be similar to the laws passed in Australia following the murder of 35 and wounding of 23 during a mass killing at a resort in Tasmania in 1996.
It may be hard to believe today, but there was once active advocacy in this country against the proliferation of handguns and other firearms, particularly in the wake of John Lennon's murder in December 1980, and the attempt on President Reagan's life in March 1981. We need this groundswell again. The NRA is not entitled to a one-sided conversation.
As New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in the wake of the Connecticut massacre, "calling for 'meaningful action' is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership — not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today."
Tommy Hough is a former San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.