"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-15 assault rifles, and fueled by a selfish death fetish, along with a 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 too big and tragic to comprehend: the murders, the victims, the victims' innocence and youth, the endless streams of grief, the news that 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. Lives cut off in mid-sentence. 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 slaughter demands we ask why. It is a 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. Just too many weapons. Too many angry, resentful people with access to weapons, and a culture that fetishizes weapons in a manner that was unthinkable 40 or 50 years ago.
Every time there is a mass killing like the ones this week in Connecticut and Oregon, there are the platitudes from politicians about the tragedy of the event, the concern for victims, and the inevitable "thoughts and prayers." This is expected, but the response itself has become a hurtful, dismissive cliché. 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 that 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 since the expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004.
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. It may never be the sole answer, but gun control is a critical component of these solutions.
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 a parent in the prime of life or a child 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 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 with no control over their own lives 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. They are assholes and cowards, eager to project a Wild West mentality of machismo as a "self-reliant individual," when they would likely be the first to scream for police in a real emergency.
And God help us if any of these fools were to actually pull their weapon in a real 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 their belief that their aim in a crowd of panicked, terrified 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.
Prolonged exposure to right-wing media has also played a critical role in the abandonment of reason among generations of Americans, and a willingness to embrace whatever the NRA says as gospel. Take it from me – I've worked 20 years in broadcast media, and there is a cumulative cult-like effect to the day-to-day droning of fear on AM radio and Fox News. Many white Americans, in fact, have become so divorced from reality due to Fox News they actually believe themselves to be "persecuted," even though they haven't a clue as to what real persecution is.
But while there is validity to the caricature of the gun-toting Sean Hannity fan who long ago ate up Rush Limbaugh's diatribes as substitutes for responsible public policy, mass shootings are typically carried out by far younger men who find their irrational fears, racism and gun festishism fanned on-line. Alleged conservatives make a big deal about on-line radicalization when it comes to international terrorism, but ignore that the very same thing when it occurs under their nose on their side of the political fence.
When anyone can borrow, steal, or have a gun loaned to them by a friend, parent, 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 actions of the vast majority of responsible gun owners to help enact quality, functional legislation. The solutions may be similar to 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 once was popular, 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."
"I thought we were going to get somewhere. All we got was silence.” – Aurora, Colorado shooting victim
By Tommy Hough
I would like to see elected officials remember they’re answerable to their constituents, instead of living in fear of the NRA.
I’d like to see leadership in this country, beyond platitudes, which endorses an agenda that eschews gun culture. I want to see guns go the way of cigarettes and handled with the kind of reverence and care other controlled substances are handled. They are not toys to be bandied about in public.
I want to see the end of automatic weapons in the hands of 20-year-old boys who aren’t otherwise soldiers and who haven’t been properly trained to understand the real effects of 600 rounds of ammunition on flesh and bone and lives.
I want to see leadership which places a greater importance on love and listening.
I want a moratorium on new gun sales in this country. Aren't there enough already?
Mostly, I want to see our leaders step up and begin leading on the failings of gun culture. We’ve got a lot of damaged DNA in the American psyche.
Canada comes from a similar frontier heritage of firearms, yet Canadians don't have weekly massacres by members of their own population. You want a world of the Hunger Games and a return to Wyatt Earp and the Old West? The NRA, Fox News, right-wing media and their minions in government are leading us there as fast as they can. We don’t deserve to be hunted like deer and murdered like lambs.
Despite what you see in the movies, gunshot wounds don’t magically heal. There’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in physical therapy that would bankrupt even most insured families who don’t have the last name of Romney. But one thing better than Obamacare coming through to cover a portion of a gunshot victim’s care is not being been shot at all.
A 15-year-old girl who was shot at a mall not far from where we live in Portland is fighting for her life with a bullet in her chest. She was Christmas shopping. This is not Afghanistan. Murder at the mall is not a reasonable expectation, a freedom from fear, or a component in the pursuit of happiness.
The pathological decadence of our firearms fetish is the epitome of a fundamentally flawed national personality. We didn’t have these sorts of events 40, 50 years ago, in part because public officials never would have stood for it, and because people didn’t have as great an access to the volume, caliber and abundance of weapons and hand-held killing machines as they do today.
And make no mistake, access to firearms enables behavior, whether that behavior is sane, crazy – or utterly devoid of conscience or humanity.
A former San Diego broadcaster and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.