A generational change may lead to some sense on guns…

February 21, 2018

I turned off the car radio when a caller into a conservative talk show said the students from the Florida high school where the latest mass shooting took place should “shut up and go back to school and sit down and learn something”.

It seemed apparent to me that the caller felt threatened by some of the surprisingly articulate students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who as survivors of one of the worst mass shootings in the nation, are urging lawmakers to take action on gun control (to no avail currently).

And wouldn’t you know it? Part of the reaction by the reactionary right is to say that the students are being put up to it by subversive gun control forces — a staffer of a Florida legislator even erroneously described a couple of the students as phonies, as actors.

If I had thought someone might come on to counter the caller I might not have switched the radio off, and, actually, I did turn it back on moments later — I was bored. But usually on these shows you don’t get much give and take. It’s usually one-sided. Debate is not what these shows are for. You get listeners and listeners beget sponsors. And for some reason apparently a lot of people just want to have their own beliefs validated and are not interested in sorting anything out.

And left-wing radio talk shows can be just as bad, and ultra left-wing worse. It’s just that there does not seem to be the market for left wing to the extent there is for right wing.

I prefer to think that I am a middle of the roader. And I think that there is such a thing as a middle-of-the-road talk show or one that avoids partisanship, but that’s probably confined to public radio which the right wingers are fond of calling “communist radio”. But with the near eradication of communism or the red menace of the Cold War, the term communist has been supplanted by “liberal”. And I guess liberal is considered bad by some folks because the term means you challenge the status quo. And if you are comfortable with the status quo well then you would feel threatened.

But what if you would just like to change some things but leave other things alone? Like don’t try to fix something that isn’t broken. That is where we middle of the roaders fit in or don’t fit in. No in today’s political discussions you gotta be one way or the other.

It’s hard to stir people up with moderation. And politics depends upon stirring people up.

But on this scourge of mass shootings, primarily carried out with semi-automatic assault rifles (sometimes converted into automatic), there are a  lot of things that could be done I am sure and a lot of things that do not need to be done. We don’t have to ban all guns from all citizens (and I don’t really hear anyone calling for that). We don’t have to abolish the Second Amendment. We don’t have to form a police state.

But it would seem prudent to me that we outlaw private ownership or the carrying of assault rifles. And then every time I write that I feel compelled to answer the retort that if you outlaw guns then only outlaws will have them. But in most of these mass shootings the outlaws got the guns legally. You make something hard to do and it will be less likely — not impossible of course — for it to happen.

And for those who just love to spray bullets out of semi-automatic rifles for fun — not to hurt anyone — geesh! I don’t know, maybe keep it legal to use them at rifle ranges where you could rent the weapons.

Improved background checks for gun ownership might help. Improved procedures for identification and treatment of those who suffer from mental health problems could help too, but to me those are side issues.

Identifying people with mental health problems is like identifying suspected terrorists. We can’t just round them up on suspicion. We are stuck taking them into custody after the fact, after the damage has been done, that is if they themselves survive. And the real frustrating part is that in so many cases, including the most recent, the authorities were aware of the threat but could not (or at least did not) do anything.

As to arming teachers with guns: seriously? I should not make a joke out of this, but have you ever dealt with a classroom of high school students? The temptation would be too much. Okay, that was wrong of me to make light of it — but seriously, I think the goal should be to cut down on firearm danger, not add another element that could lead to accidental shootings and create an atmosphere where the gun becomes the problem solver.

The main problem is that it is way to easy and legal to get ahold of assault rifles, which have no legitimate use outside of the military (save non-human target practice) in a civilized society.

Inertia and the National Rifle Association or NRA seems to prevent lawmakers from acting. Through political pressure and outright bribery the NRA has thus far successfully fought off most sensible gun control measures, including a former ban on assault rifles.

It may take a generational change to get anything done. The students in Florida are speaking out and trying to spread the word to others across the nation.

Meanwhile, back to that caller on the right-wing talk show:

He prefaced his remarks by saying that he was so frustrated (with the talk of gun control by the students) “that my head is about to pop off “. I almost thought he was going to say that “I want to go out and shoot someone”.

And that is the danger. We have some folks out there who are really frustrated and then they get their hands on an easy-to-obtain assault rifle and do some shooting.

p.s.

All this said, there is always a danger to our democracy in an over-reaction to a security threat. The right wing usually overreacts in favor of choking down on civil liberties, such as freedom of speech (not so on gun rights, though). The left wing might overreact by trying to repeal the Second Amendment or at least interpreting its somewhat ambiguous wording to where it is useless (I realize some say it is not ambiguous). I have to say the Second Amendment does make our democracy unique in that it guarantees citizens the right to own guns and in turn be able to rebel against their own government (whether or not that was the real intent of it). I would not particularly like to see that amendment repealed — it’s so American. Maybe a rewording in today’s language and understandable syntax would help.

Also, there is something to be said for individual citizens having the right to defend themselves. The police usually are not able to respond until after the fact of a tragedy. But do we want shootouts with assault rifles?