Monday, July 27, 2015


In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death the late Neil Postman describes how television (and, in a forward to the new addition, his son references social media) has cheapened the art of public discourse. This point is nowhere as evident as the life and death struggle relating to gun crime.

America's schizophrenic obsession with guns manifests itself in a lot of verbiage, and not a lot of discussion. It is impossible to draw truly useful conclusions with even a superficial survey of the headlines. One finds themselves buried with accounts of one fatal incident, while another appears and fades like a shooting star. Press organs of various political stripes manipulate the facts to create narratives fitting its editorial policy, unconscious to the true needs of its spectators.

We are allowing the anachronistic tail to wag the confused, horrified dog. In the meantime, the question that needs to be answered is ignored in an increasingly polarized rhetorical atmosphere. A man walks into a recruiting center and murders five servicemen. One pundit spends a thousand or so words arguing that it was not terrorism, but an act of war. Two of the men - one sailor and a Marine - may have used privately-owned weapons to defend themselves. The anti-gun lobby seizes on this fact to crow triumphantly that good guys with guns die when bad guys shoot them. Like that is new information.

A young woman enjoying the pleasures of an evening stroll with her father is murdered senselessly by a man who should have been in prison, or back in his native country. The ensuing conversation? Immigration policy and the wisdom of being a "sanctuary city."

A madman sits among a congregation of the faithful, armed. They treat him so well he almost abandons his plan. He murders nine anyway, pausing to reload as he goes. The ensuing public conversation revolves around a flag, and whether the time has come to dig up the remains of a Civil War officer and his wife.

A drifter crazy as a shithouse mouse inexplicably pulls a gun in a movie theater and randomly kills two others before committing suicide. The act propels individuals, including the President, to wonder if enough is enough.

Of course it is. Let's ask the right question, and look for the right solution. Let's start with - "How the hell did these men get their hands on guns?"

In at least two cases, guns were purchased legally by men who should have failed the background investigations mandated by law. In one, the FBI screwed up (and they feel just sick about it). In another the state of Georgia is apparently so inept that a man who has been institutionalized fails to ring the bell when his name is run on their system.

At what point do we point the finger at government and question whether the ding dong dillion we all pay to be protected from assholes like this isn't being pissed away on bullshit, feel good projects of meaningless posturing. At what point do we look in the mirror and ask when the hell we are going to get serious about keeping guns out of the hands of the insane (whether the insanity arises from mental illness or radicalization). The state of Oregon, fer christ's sake, has just made it a violation of a person's constitutional rights for a police officer to ask if they are armed.

America has, on her books, laws that would be effective in preventing many of these crimes. But, laws do not enforce themselves. Merely passing a law (and congratulating ourselves for doing so) does not solve the problem. We lack the will to enforce laws already existing. We have turned public opinion against the men and women charged with finding among us the deranged murderous before they act. It would be easy to say we get what we deserve, but that would be shameful.

We sow. People in a church, a theater or a wharf suffer. We act like we don't care enough to set aside the superficial, dogmatic arguments of political genuflecting long enough to ask ourselves - what are the root causes of these criminal acts?

We are in denial because the answer is - society as a whole lacks the will to look evil in the eye, preferring to be positively sick with sorrow about the results. We send flowers, we post pictures and then it's off to our next adventure.

I have an idea. Let those of us who have made a profession of confronting the monsters among us enforce the laws you have demanded. Ensure that background investigations for gun purchases be meaningful, and include information that seems increasingly relevant. Reasonable restrictions on gun ownership are constitutional, and effective. They should be rigorously, enthusiastically enforced by men and women who have the resources they need.

Or else, we could just keep watching people die.

No comments:

Post a Comment