Tag Archives: NRA

To Fear Itself

Fear, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew, would paralyze a nation more quickly than anything else. In recent years politicians have rather cynically used that information to sway voters. Fear-mongers, such as Trump, tend to have the upper hand because, ignoring FDR, we’ve given in to our fears. The shootings in Las Vegas on Sunday night are only one more example. The NRA, which has doggedly insists that the only way to combat guns is with more guns, defends its rhetoric yet again as 59 people have needlessly died just for attending a concert where a madman checked 23 guns into a hotel room with him far above. Conceal and carry is no solution to fear. Guns have no place in the hands of a fearful public.

A profound sadness accompanies such insane violence, supported almost unequivocally by the GOP. It’s not a matter of someone armed in the crowd shooting back; the shooters take the initiative of taking their own life when some hidden trigger tells them they’ve murdered enough. We see the pattern over, and over, and over. We are a violent people. A violent people have no business having easy access to weapons. As long as money has politicians in its wallet this will never change. We’re all afraid of those who have the guns. And Washington has a perverse love of money. Those of us who don’t have guns are easy to push around. That’s what America is all about anyway.

As this past election showed, and continues to show, a candidate without a mandate may easily buy the White House. The causes held so dear by the Republican Party—guns, no healthcare, tax plans that favor the wealthiest—all of this plays to our fears and gives them power. If we weren’t afraid, what need would we have of guns? After many decades of helping the poorest be an active part of this country, Washington is now intent on dismantling the aging safety nets we’ve put in place. Retirement is a reality for a very few. Medical costs are, even with Obamacare, still a constant worry for many. Natural disasters come and we can’t mobilize even to help our own. But we’ve got guns. Fear itself has come to define the home of the brave. It is said that Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester, never let the mansion built on blood money be finished for fear of haunting. That is one fear we apparently no longer have, even though guns have no effect on ghosts.

Frozen Over

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For reasons that may eventually become clear, I was watching The Blob. It seems that each generation’s fears are unique to its time—let the reader understand. For whatever reasons, star-appeal I expect, Steve McQueen was cast as the teenage Steve Andrews. A little unbelievable as a twenty-eight-year-old teen (Sissy Spacek was a more convincing teenage Carrie at twenty-six) Steve drives around his small town trying to find and stop the Blob. What is the Blob? Nobody really knows. Emerging from a meteorite, it seems to be an EBE (Extraterrestrial Biological Entity) that encompasses, dissolves, and assimilates animal life forms, getting bigger all the time. In a day when the Russians were actual enemies, this is hardly an intentional vision of capitalism but an apt description nevertheless. If it touches you, you’re dead. Since it can ooze through air vents, there aren’t too many places at hide. It forces itself upon you.

Steve’s love interest, Jane Martin, has a lisping little brother named Danny. While big sister is out on a date battling the jello-monster, Danny—a future NRA member—charges outside in his pajamas shooting at the thing with his cap gun. Can this be? One capitalist shooting at another? Don’t be fooled. This is the nature of the free market. Either the Blob ends up on a dinner plate, or Danny does. We know that prior to 1960s monsters seldom kill little children (but don’t get me started on Frankenstein), so it is the Blob that will succumb. As the town’s teens combat the goo with fire extinguishers, freezing it, Jane, Danny, and Steve escape to go hunting another day.

Those of you who’ve read my blog for any time know that subtext is often the point. I’m counting on you following along with me here—think of what day it is. The small town police chief, Dave, calls in the Feds. No wall will keep this alien out. It has to be deported. To some place that will never thaw. Like all good monsters, the Blob never really finally dies. It must be kept frozen to keep humanity safe. The final words Steve utters are indeed chilling, “As long as the Arctic stays cold.” Getting on sixty years later our “industriousness” has begun to melt the ice caps and the friends of the Blob deny global warming. I’ve seen The Thing from Outer Space too, and I know the last thing you want to do is thaw the Arctic. Remember what day it is, and do the right thing.

Things Being Equal

Gun violence is out of control. While experts dither and bicker about whether this or that act was done by “terrorists” they choose to ignore that gun violence is terror, no matter who’s pulling the trigger. The world in which bearing arms was declared an amended constitutional right was a world of muzzle-loaders. Like in those movies where someone took their shot, missed, and has to reload, feverishly pouring gunpowder down the barrel while the enemy closes in. Firearms were obviously deadly, but limited in their capabilities. All things being equal, it is easy to understand why such a right would be granted. Almost nothing is equal any more, however.

Consider this: weapons are now sold that can rapidly and repeatedly fire rounds that, in the wrong hands, can kill many people before anyone even has the time to react. These guns are useless for hunting, and their only purpose is to kill other human beings. We have been manufacturing them and selling them for many years and laws are such that most people could, if they choose to participate in the insanity, stockpile such weapons against a day when they will actually be used for their intended purposes. Consider also that the government, strapped for money to funnel to military causes, has shifted and narrowed the definition of mental illness so as to “normalize” people who would have, under other circumstances, been in institutional care. Add to this the increasing globalization that has effects that psychologists and sociologists are only now coming to see build stresses and strains in brains that evolved to be among their own “kind” and to distrust the “stranger.” And these stressed minds have easy access to powerful firearms. Who has the right?

I grew up in a different world. Yes, the Vietnam War was going on, but those who returned were exhausted by and despised the violence to which they’d been subjected. The pointless killing of others was culturally and personally just that: pointless. Fast forward half a century. Now we live in a world where seeing violent death represented is a daily occurrence. Even in simulation it is realistic. Mass murderers make videos presenting themselves as so heroic as to inspire followers. We no longer trust religion. We no longer trust the government. We no longer trust the American Dream. Wealth is bottled up where it can’t be reached and guns are distributed like candy. Are all things equal? Hardly. And yet those running for the highest office in the land worm for ways to keep the gun lobbies pleased. If we could only go back to muzzle-loaders and the time it took to reload—time in which even an unbalanced person had to think about what he, or now she, was about to do. Equality has, unfortunately, become as much a fairy tale as the right to bear arms.

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Trench Warfare

Once something becomes socially acceptable, it is nearly impossible to change. I’m no prude, but I remember when “swearing” in public was considered bad taste. When I was a tween (and there was no such thing as tweens then) I heard a guy talking to a friend in a department store. They were on the other side of those kinds of shelves where you can see through to the other side. One of them cussed and his friend said, “Man, you shouldn’t say that when there’s a little kid just there.” I wasn’t shocked by the word; I’m more worldly than most people grant me credit for being. Still, the sentiment was appreciated. These days I dodge f-bombs all the way to work. It’s effing acceptable.

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The tragic multiple shooting in San Bernardino to which I opened the paper yesterday morning was completely dispiriting. The statistics showing more multiple shootings than there have been days in the past year while Republican hopefuls chain their wallets to their pockets backing the NRA should give anyone pause to reflect, no matter their party. Our gun madness has led to a collective deathwish for our country. The only acceptable solution, according to the GOP, and Texas, is to get more guns out on the streets. The Old West is called “Old” for a reason. We should’ve become more civilized by now. Instead we accept fantasy for reality.

In a land where politics is making love to gun lobbies, the surest investment is the casket industry. It has become socially acceptable to shoot lots of people and then kill yourself or get yourself shot. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read about such an incident in the news. Swift, decisive action is called for but we’re mired down by politicians who need ever so much more money to campaign. Bread and circuses. I know responsible gun owners. It has become clear that the only real solution now is to do what is socially unacceptable. Give up our guns. If those who are responsible gun owners were willing to lead by example we might stand a chance against a socially acceptable plague that we’re unwilling to name. Even US citizens can be terrorists in their own country.

Hurricane Joaquin

The name Herostratus is deservedly obscure. In fact, I shouldn’t even be mentioning him here. His use as an object lesson, however, seems apt in a country fascinated by firearms and fame. Herostratus was an arsonist of the fourth century B.C.E. who destroyed the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He perpetrated this crime so that he would become famous, and he is representative of those who want fame at any cost. So it was that on Thursday a gunman, who shall remain nameless here, shot and killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon before being killed by police. This individual, upon investigation, had been fascinated by how obscure people gain immediate fame by killing innocents. After a summer of what seemed like endless, pointless shootings, we now have nine more graves of students to mourn, and as a nation we still lovingly stroke our guns.

Society is a dangerous combination of a cult of celebrity and violence. Most of us live our lives in utter obscurity, not being noticed. For many that is the way they want it, but for some it is a pathology. Guns are so easy to find. Police discovered seven firearms in this man’s apartment, in addition to the six he took to campus. Doing the math confirms the madness of a nation that makes guns so very accessible. Even the insane may buy. All it takes is money. The Temple of Artemis was one of the most magnificent structures of all time. It even gets mentioned, in an indirect way, in the Bible. Although it had been rebuilt, the idea had already fermented, without firearms, that fame could be had for infamy. In antiquity the perpetrator’s name was outlawed. Now anyone can find out who he is.

No shooting is without tragedy. Those that take place on college campuses and high schools are especially tragic because education is the only way to move forward from barbarism. Those who went to class on Thursday were improving their minds. Education makes the world a better place. They were, however, eliminated by a nameless man with easy access to weapons and a wish for fame. Perhaps American Idol and American Gladiator should offer a venue for those who wish to slaughter each other in public. It could be sponsored by the NRA. It was the ancient world, after all, that also gave us bread and circuses. Although the hurricane may be veering away, we have already been hit by tragedy, only this one was of our own making.

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Saints and Serpents

Santa Barbara feels like paradise.  To a guy who grew up under the gray clouds and sometimes cruel winters of the northeast, the sun-washed placidity of the California coast feels almost surreal.  I’d never witnessed a flight of pelicans before, or visited a university campus that felt more like a spa.  Nothing introduces trouble into paradise like guns.  As we are beginning to try to make sense of yet another mass shooting involving college-aged kids, the somber-faced newscasters talk about how difficult it is to handle mental illness as they fret over seven more coffins that should never have been necessary.  It’s the right of Americans to own guns.  It’s the heritage of many to experience mental illness.  Elliot Rodger only had three guns and over 400 rounds of ammunition in his car.  Where’s Charlton Heston when we need a little comfort now?

 

America’s love affair with firearms is too protracted and entrenched simply to turn back the clock.  Guns are functional devices, but their deterrent force seems effectively only on those who don’t own them.  We’ve opened Pandora’s box and shook the last bit of hope out of it.  College is the stage of growing up where we learn about what life has to offer.  Choosing majors, meeting potential mates, gaining a measure of freedom.  Freedom.  Those who own guns don’t seem to appreciate how unbalanced this makes the rest of us feel.  When I walk behind someone smoking on the city streets, I can’t help but think that I’m doing nothing to foul the smoker’s air.  If only I had a gun.

 

One of the most poignant scenes in the Ellis Island museum is where the potential immigrants are being tested for mental illness.  As a hopeful paradise, we seemed to say, we don’t want to invite any problems ashore.  Mental illness is not the fault of the sufferer.  Making guns available to those who suffer depression and rage is madness.  And despite the rhetoric, the only one with gun in hand who ever seems to stop the rampage is the killer himself, by turning his own on the victim and perpetrator.

 

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Standing on a beach in Santa Barbara, you are looking out over five thousand miles of placid, unbroken, blue water.  The sky and the ocean seem to blend together.  A scoop of pelicans flies overhead, becoming lost in the sun.  And there is a serpent wrapped around a tree somewhere nearby.  There always is.

California Weeping

Once again, we as a nation are left to mourn. Gun violence against the young seems, according to the posturing of the NRA, to be a legitimate diversion. I remember watching Gilligan’s Island growing up. The episode “The Hunter”—where if Gilligan survives being stalked by big game hunter Jonathan Kincaid, the castaways will be rescued—now seems strangely prescient. The location changes every few months, however. Yesterday it was in Santa Monica, California. College kids studying for finals being shot at by a man with a semi-automatic rifle. And even after Sandy Hook, and Columbine, and Virginia Tech, we still do not have the will, as a nation, to safeguard our young. Such a perversion of evolution the natural world has never seen.

The logic of allowing widespread ownership of firearms doesn’t make me feel any safer. Judging from the number of young victims of various gunmen—most of whom end up dead so no questions may be asked—we are willing to allow our children to be collateral damage in the war to keep personal weapons. As city after city after city is scarred by the anonymous guy who’s got anger issues taking it out on the helpless, we still insist that guns are our friends. I’d rather be friendless.

My fingers grow fatigued scrolling through the increasing list of multiple shootings. It takes one of sterner constitution than this writer even to make it through the Wikipedia page listing school shootings. Those who die give us ample cause for tears. Those who survive will spend lives dealing with horrible memories. Schools are where we place our hopes for the future. The lessons learned there should give our young the knowledge they require for a lifetime in this complex society we’ve created. Unfortunately that society also includes facile access to deadly weapons that kill with ease. Our hearts raced as Gilligan outsmarted Mr. Kincaid, although we knew he would have to survive. The star always does. But television is a poor guide to reality, unless it’s the NRA telling us why the only reasonable response is to increase the number of guns and let civilization do its work.

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