Wednesday, January 19, 2011

GADFLY: Guns Über Alles

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 6:33 AM


The recent tragedy in Tuscon has, once again, catapulted the issue of our gun-besotted culture into the headlines. Much attention has been paid by the media particularly to the seemingly counterintuitive phenomenon that the murders of six innocents by a deranged shooter has spurred a dramatic surge in gun sales in its wake.

All kinds of normally peace-loving people are now apparently not just taking up arms, but announcing itas well.

Surprisingly, the same thing happened following the Virginia Tech massacre, proving, I suppose, that violence begets violence (or at least fear of it).

I myself, a hoplophobe and gun control advocate my whole life, fell victim to this mentality when I got a carry permit and started strapping a Glock (a .40 caliber—-no puny 9 millimeter for me) on my hip immediately after September 11, 2001. I stopped doing that, though, when I realized paranoia and a delusional belief that carrying a gun made me safer were major motivating factors in my decision to carry. I will say, though (and this may partially explain the gun mania) that nothing gives you a more perverse sense of awe-inspiring power than knowing you can, if you have to (and without even getting dirty in the process), take another human being's life. If anything, though, that's a good reason to heighten the requirements for gun ownership.

The issue of gun violence and whether or not guns should be subject to more control than they currently are, is one of those subjects whose discussion always generates more heat than light. I include abortion and capital punishment in the same category. If you have a contrary opinion, there is no point trying to have an intelligent debate with anyone who opposes abortion, favors capital punishment or believes guns are a solution to violence rather than a cause of it.

Fortunately, guns haven't reached the point of becoming any organized religion's sacrament (though some gun owners are every bit as zealous in their beliefs as the most rabid of religious fundamentalists), the way opposition to abortion has, but for its acolytes the fact that the right to gun ownership is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and sanctified by the Supreme Court, is almost as good as if it had been handed down from Mt. Sinai or the subject of a papal encyclical.

The sturm und drang over gun control, and the similar intransigence of its opponents to that of some of the antagonists in the battles over the other issues I mentioned previously, made me realize, once again, how different our attitude towards life and death is in this country. Ultimately, we don't value life nearly as much as other countries do (and, with no apologies to anti-abortion zealots, whose arguments are driven by the dominance of religious dogma over science, I do not include abortion as a sanctity of life—-other than the mother's—-issue).

This ethos manifests itself in a variety of ways, not the least of which is an attitude that it's acceptable for people who don't have health care to die prematurely, which they do.

We're also still one of the few civilized countries in the world that executes convicted criminals, in spite of what we know about flaws in the criminal justice system and how often those convictions are unjust.

Death is a political (with both a small and a capital “p”) issue in this country. So, some kinds of death are more acceptable than others. It is far more worrisome to the powers-that-be in Washington that there may be radical Muslims lying in wait to kill us than that there are mental defectives like Jared Loughner buying guns, and the still-available high-capacity magazines for them, who actually do kill us.

And so, while the death toll from terrorism in this country in the years since September 11, 2001 continues to remain the one that was inflicted on that date, the death toll from gun violence during that same period is literally hundreds of times greater. And, while we continue to spend trillions of dollars on two wars, a contingent of Keystone Kops at airport security checkpoints and innumerable measures to deal with potential deaths from terrorism, we spend a pittance, comparatively, on research to cure diseases that inflict actual deaths by the tens of thousands every year on our countrymen.

But, of course, the same thing that drives our “war on terrorism” is what drives the gun trade: profits. Which is why gun makers maintain their unholy alliance with the NRA. They rely on the NRA to gin up gun-owning (and buying) fervor, and the NRA relies on them to fund its lobbying juggernaut. It has become an article of faith that any legislator who even hints s/he favors increased gun control risks being targeted (sorry) for electoral defeat by the NRA, which rarely misses its target. The NRA knows how to put its money where its mouth is, which is why gun control has become an untouchable political issue, and probably won't go anywhere this time either.

In spite of creditable studies which show that guns do not make us safer, there continue to be zealots (no matter how thoroughly discredited) who insist the opposite is true.

Guns seem to be the only life-threatening instrumentalities that defy the regulatory and corrective after-effects of a disaster involving their use. Imagine airlines, for example, trying (much less being able) to thwart the preventive measures the FAA invariably imposes in the aftermath of deadly plane crashes, or auto manufacturers or food and drug or baby crib (and so on) manufacturers thumbing their noses at safety recalls after deaths caused by their products. The public wouldn't stand for it.

So, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the anti-gun-control forces seem, once again, poised to defeat any attempt to stiffen gun lawsfollowing the Tuscon tragedy, just as they have after every prior gun-facilitated mass murder. After all, a constitutional right exercised to line the pockets of a multi-billion dollar industry trumps human life, doesn't it? I wonder what the Pope would have to say about that.

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