GELFAND’S WORLD - A dying father shielded his son from bullets, while politicians defended the right of the killer to buy them.
As the news accounts showed, the rifle was purchased legally, even though the young man who bought it and murdered so many people is clearly daft. Thus one more mass shooting of random people on a public street, this time on the 4th of July.
There are a couple of lessons that we must continue to suffer. One, perhaps the strongest, is the remarkable and continuing level of cowardice of Republican politicians. They continue to fight each and every increment in controlling the mass ownership of deadly firearms amongst even the certifiably nuts. Profiles in Courage is not a description for these guys.
But even if we were to try to write and enforce the so-called Red Flag laws -- an attempt to identify dangerous people in advance and deny them gun ownership -- there is a curious paradox. In each recent mass shooting, the conservatives in congress talk about our need for mental health screening, implying that the legal system would then deprive potential killers of their weapons of mass murder. But who shall they screen? Apparently we should be looking for people who evince anti-social tendencies such as disregard for the law, or who show evidence of early psychosis, or -- importantly -- people who display more than the usual anger and paranoia. One thing about this last class of dangerous people -- don't they overlap in strong part the gun collectors who are so active in yelling for gun rights?
The people who stormed the Capitol building last January 6 -- don't they fit the profile for those who must be denied the ability to own such weapons? They are clearly angry and they show evidence of being deluded. They suffer from the inability to reason clearly, considering how gullible they were. Some of them even argued psychological disabilities as part of their defense strategies.
So there it is -- the people who yell the loudest about gun confiscation are the ones most in need of having their guns taken from them, because many of them are angry and delusional, and some mass shooters have, indeed, come from within their ranks.
And here's the prime example of someone who displays all the attributes of the disturbed individual, the one whom Ted Cruz would deprive of weapons after the fact. Meet congressional representative Marjorie Taylor Green. We are talking full-on conspiratorial thinking, proclaimed loudly.
Of course the political activists and the congresswoman are not the only ones who are a danger to the rest of us. The young man who did the July 4th shootings had multiple anti-social traits which came out after the fact. One psychologist who was asked how this happened (in spite of the fact that Illinois already has a "Red Flag" law for confiscating guns from disturbed people) pointed out that it's a lot easier to notice such things after the fact. He spoke sarcastically about the use of the "retrospectoscope" to determine such mental disability.
I think that psychologist hit it on the head. All of that mental health screening and Red Flag waving will work fine in retrospect, about the time the bodies are being loaded into the coroner's wagon. But in the real world prior to the next shooting, the young man (typically it is a young man) will be just one among dozens and hundreds who seem a little distanced to their elders, who have hobbies that 50-year-olds don't understand, and who even listen to a different kind of music.
In other words, it isn't always possible to pick the potential mass-murderer out of the thousands of typical adolescents. A more simple way of saying this is that Ted Cruz and his NRA buddies are just BSing us, because they have to defend gun sales as an absolute.
One in a million on any given day
The calculation, horrifying as it is, is irrefutable: There are more than 300 million Americans. It only takes one American out of a million on any given day to misuse a gun, the result being that we are and will continue to have one mass shooting a day on the average. The reason that we are different from European countries, for example, is the ease with which Americans can buy and stockpile these guns and all that ammunition.
There is guilt to be attributed. The gun lobby and its apologists in congress are responsible for the numbers of dead bodies. Together, they have driven the message that American civilians need to have high power semiautomatic rifles in order to maintain order and liberty, or just for sport. Indeed, the gun lobby has decided to rebrand the AR-15 type rifle as the MSR, for modern sporting rifle, in the same way that used car lots started to refer to every old clunker as a "pre-owned vehicle."
The gun lobby is also trying to sell us on the idea that the American population has to be armed to the teeth in order to prevent the government from becoming too overbearing. They imply by this that they don't really believe that elections will be honored and obeyed. You can fill in your own joke about psychological projection here, but that's basically what it is.
It's not a very positive view of American liberty. It seems to be a hard-right-wing fever dream of a government obsessed with putting us in prison camps and forcing us to endure desegregation. This of course is nothing new -- we've been hearing from them since the days of Brown v Board of Education and since an earlier Supreme Court ruled that children could not be forced to pray (using somebody else's prayers) in public schools.
There is even a perfectly circular logic involved. The wingers think they need guns to overthrow the government some time in the future, and talk up the danger that the Democrats will take their guns away if they don't resist mightily. The fact that there was at one time an assault weapons ban, yet we had free elections, is lost on them. The fact that they are armed to the teeth with these battlefield rifles, yet are simultaneously complaining that the 2020 presidential election was stolen (in some mysterious way), is testimony enough that angry people stockpiling rifles isn't a sure defense of free elections. The failure of the January 6 insurrection to steal the election from Joe Biden is additional proof that the gun-nut fantasies are just that.
So the result of this political schism over gun control is the latest mass murder at a public event in what should have been a peaceful day of celebration. One toddler went to the parade with parents and returns without any. That father's blood is on Mitch McConnell's hands. It is on Kevin McCarthy's hands. It is on the hands of all the senators who blocked every bit of rational legislation from even being debated.
A few days ago, not much longer than the Illinois shooting actually, they were crowing about how they had managed to pass their lily livered excuse for a gun bill. And even then, a majority of Republican senators voted against it. The bill will allow for some marginal improvement in finding the mass shooters in advance, but in spite of the Illinois Red Flag law (which already exists), the latest crazed killer slipped by the limitations.
Most of our recent mass killers bought their guns legally. How was it so easy? One reason is that the federal Assault Weapons Ban had a time limit and the Republicans would not renew it. So there are zillions of high power, semiautomatic rifles in the hands of the American people. It's true that most of those weapons will not be used for mass murders, but it only takes that one crazy (out of more than 300 million of us) on any given day. It's a good thing that it's still illegal to buy and use plastic explosive for sport.
It's the guns.
No matter how many excuses the gun lobby manages to dredge up, it's impossible to make a rational argument for how we can prevent these mass shootings without doing something about the guns. There are two ways to prevent the shootings:
The first alternative, also known as the Ted Cruz proposal: Make the United States into a prison camp where we track down everyone who is depressed, or seems a little weird, or is a loner, or expresses anti-social thoughts. Then we set up bureaucracies to register all these people we can locate (missing new ones who are growing into their obsessions on a daily basis). Then we task the court system to subpoena all the accused, and pass judgment on them, and then (actually the hard part) we manage to confiscate their weapons and (harder) keep them from obtaining replacements. And then we sit back and watch as killers new and old slip through the cracks and engage in mass shootings.
The alternative way is to put rigid controls on the guns in question. It may be that this country could engage in a system of background checks, registration, and licensing, and do so in a way that confines most of these weapons to the so-called responsible gun owners. This might be a workable system that would avoid using the word Confiscation.
And at some point over the next hundred years or so, as the use of such weapons dwindles, communities and states and eventually the federal government can prohibit the use of such weapons in hunting and at target ranges, in a slow but steady attempt to rid ourselves of the terror of the 2020s.
There is one problem with this go-slow approach. Gradualism is going to cost a lot of children their lives.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)