“Americans Are Safe from Gun Violence Except in Schools, Streets, Malls, Movie Theatres, Workplaces, Streets, Own Homes”––– Spoof headline by Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker
Think about this: A one-year old child was shot when a bullet was fired into her home during a neighborhood party in Detroit, Michigan; a 16-year old was shot several times at his home in Houston, Texas, and a 17-year old was hit by gunfire during a drive-by shooting–––and on and on and on it goes.
Joe Nocera, an editorial columnist for The New York Times, publishes a gun report on his blog, and the people listed in the paragraph above were drawn from his posting for the dates of November 8-10. They are among 107 people Nocera identifies as injured or killed by gunfire over those three days, and among the estimated 10,455 people who have died in gun violence in America between the December 14, 2012 Newtown massacre and November 14, 2013.
How can this epidemic of violence be our accepted status quo? The Right Reverend Porter Taylor, Episcopal Bishop of Western North Carolina, summed it up in a recent newsletter: Gun violence in America is an epidemic that “has something to do with our polarization, our loss of community, and our culture of fear and antagonism…We have lost a common green where citizens come and share their hopes and lives with one another. We are losing a sense of the common good.”
This loss of common good was evident this week when the mayor and council in my city of Asheville, NC complied with a new state law and voted to allow concealed guns in city parks and playgrounds. Given the facts of every-day gun violence across the USA, it is not hard to imagine children being caught in the cross fire of an argument in which the protagonists resort to firearms.
But, there was no use in debating the council’s action because, they said, it was mandated by the state. And that is the problem: there is no conversation, no debate. Every time a thoughtful discussion is started, gun advocates and their lobbyists shut it down.
Bishop Taylor is correct––––we have lost the common green where issues can be discussed and argued, and a consensus built around compromise. The gun advocates brook no compromise and belligerently attack anyone who suggests something as limited as background checks. Take the case of Dick Metcalf in Pike County, Ill. as told by The NYT’s Nocera.
Metcalf, 67, is a gun enthusiast and a writer for gun-related periodicals owned by InterMedia Outdoors. He wrote the following, “I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms, but I do not believe they have a right to use them irresponsibly” and he proposed mandatory training for gun owners.
Gun advocates attacked his words as “boneheaded, uninformed and a patently obvious misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.” Gun manufactures contacted InterMedia Outoors and told them they would pull their advertising if Metcalf continued writing in their publications. Nocera reports that “within 24 hours Metcalf was permanently banned from the company’s publications” and an editor was fired.
This is an example of the gun lobby’s strategy: don’t permit discussion about any idea that does not support their cause, either in public or in legislative halls.
How do they get away with it? Money: 49 lobbyists from eight gun rights organizations (with a budget of $3.9 million) prowl the halls of Congress, while four groups with nine lobbyists represent gun control interests––– and their budget is $150,000.
The National Rifle Association contributed $1.5 million to candidates in the 2012 elections, and other gun rights groups added another $1.5 million. Gun control groups contributed less than $5,000 during the same period.
This is not how a vital democracy should work. A vital democracy faced with an epidemic that is killing thousands of its citizens each year would seek data and have an intelligent conversation about how best to combat the disease.
Ideas such as banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and requiring background checks before a gun can be purchased would be considered. A fact-based national conversation on these issues would not violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
It is interesting to note that gun rights advocates rarely mention the first four words of that amendment. It seems to me that those four words (“A well regulated Militia”) are a qualifier for what follows.
My questions: Why do we allow such a major public policy decision as shunning gun control–––one that involves dozens of deaths and injuries from firearms each day–––to be imposed on us. To borrow from Bishop Taylor: Is it because it’s easier to yield to fear and antagonism than confront it?