Twenty years ago we considered joining a neighborhood babysitting coop. Another parent called to screen us and earnestly asked if we kept guns in the house. This perhaps is the stupidest question anyone has ever asked me. One of my former employees was into guns but other than that, to my knowledge, none of my friends keep guns. Yet, in America the rate of U.S. gun ownership is the highest on the planet. There are way more guns than people. If the murder of twenty children at an elementary school in Sandy Hook isn't a catalyst to revisit our interpretation of the second amendment it terrifies me to think of what possibly might be. In 1876, an enlightened U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Cruikshank that “the right to bear arms in not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.”
In U.S. v. Miller in 1939 the Court ruled that the federal government and the states could limit any weapon types not having a “reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871 to booster marksmanship and promote gun safety. Before the National Firearms Act of 1934 was enacted by Congress, NRA president Karl Frederick testified before a hearing “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one...I do not believe in the promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” As late as 1968 the NRA supported a gun control act which created a federal system to license gun dealers as well as establishing restrictions on particular categories of firearms.
There are a number of reasons for the NRA's shift from advocating for sportsmanship and safety to proposing that a concealed carrying, assault weapon amassing America is the anecdote for an epidemic of mass murders. A potentially beleaguered gun industry has co-opted the NRA and therefore purchased the most powerful lobbying entity in the country. More subtly, as the cultural horizon shifts, white men feel threatened and impotent as they sense their ebbing hegemony. I think the election of Barack Obama raised a lot of hackles.
Himself distrusts Obama. I admit that the Hope Change thing hasn't panned out that well and many of the Changes I'd Hoped for haven't come to fruition. However, I don't think that anyone would doubt Obama's solid commitment to sensible weapons legislation and his frustration at the power that the NRA wields. Ironically, the election of an African American president has probably fomented a lot of the unease that the NRA and gun manufacturers exploit in order to keep sensible gun law reforms off the table.
Mass murders have become so commonplace that I respond on autopilot. The first thought that runs through my mind is to hope the killer isn't a Jew. Fortunately, since the Son of Sam back in the 70s, this hasn't been the case. Secondly, I hope that the murderer is not a Muslim. Lately I'm giving Bad for the Muslims near parity with Bad for the Jews. As complete sidebar here, is that once in a very great while I ask Himself a question that he is unable to answer. Recently I inquired as to why we used to say Moslem but now we say Muslim. In the rare instance there is something that Himself doesn't know my second choice is Wikipedia. This is what I discover:
According the the Center for Nonproliferation Studies: Moslem and Muslim are basically two different spellings of the same word. But the seemingly arbitrary choice of spellings is a sensitive subject for many followers of Islam. Whereas for most English speakers the words are synonymous in meaning, the Arabic roots of the two words are very different. A Muslim in Arabic means “one who gives himself to God,” and is by definition, someone who adheres to Islam. By contrast, a Moslem in Arabic means “one who is evil and unjust” when the word is pronounced, as it is in English “Mozlem” with a z.
My sidebar to the sidebar, is that the word “Moslem” is rejected by my spellchecker, although the “n word” and “kike” are not.
I keep my fingers crossed that the mass murderer du jour is neither Jewish nor Muslim and hope instead that it's some right wing nut job who at least can be held up to further discredit other right wing nut jobs and the NRA. It is better too if the gunman commits suicide or killed by law enforcement. I am rabidly anti-death penalty and firmly believe, and have personally witnessed, that redemption can happen behind bars. However, I think it is better that society be spared the expense of protracted legal proceedings and decades of incarceration and probably for the families of victims it is better to spared the experience of a long trial. I will add that I have met inmates serving life sentences with little chance of parole who have committed themselves to personal growth and restorative justice and actually manage to live fulfilling lives. The likelihood however of a notorious mass murderer having the wherewithal and access to resources for the promotion of healing and inner peace are slim. There may be exceptions but I think that in most of these cases it is better in every way that the shooters die along with their victims.
Finally, given the proliferation of mass shootings, once the deed is done, in addition to preferring a fanatical right wing perpetrator, I also prefer that news coverage not preempt Judge Judy. Given that absolutely nothing happened after the murder of children in Sandy Hook, I have lost hope that anything ever will. I am numb and prefer my usual routine of popcorn and my favorite arbiter of ethics, Judy.
This week's a game changer though. Wednesday morning Girlfriend-in-law is traveling to Los Angeles from Redlands via the Metrolink train from San Bernardino. At 11:30 she calls, upset. There's been a shooting nearby. The train station is crawling with police and the other passengers are very tense. She finally is able to board a train, and while the trip takes two hours longer than ordinarily, she reaches L.A. safely. We are shaken. Girlfriend-in-law attends, in Redlands, the same school from which I graduated, as did Number 1 Son. Usually when there's a mass shooting I sigh and curse the NRA and hope that Judy's still on. But now I am glued to the news and don't miss one bit Judy's cranky moral instruction.
I have driven on the same streets as the folks who attend a company party they'll never return from. I have likely shopped at the same supermarket as Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. As I write this their motive is still hazy, although evidence seems to be leading towards some sort of free agent terrorism. Not only does the proximity to my own stomping grounds catch my attention but I am gobsmacked at the thought of Tashfeen dropping her six month old baby with her mother-in-law, changing into tactical gear and then embarking on an inevitable suicide mission. This just doesn't match the usual profile of thwarted American dreamers determined to exact their fifteen minutes of fame at any cost.
San Bernardino is different in a number of ways of what we can now say are “run of the mill mass shootings.” The shooters aren't lone wolves but a married couple with a baby. Their apartment arsenal is blocks from my college. I hate though that it's this variance, from what's become a pattern, that captures my attention. It has to be more than just another crazy white guy. I detest how cavalier I've become. I agree that some mass shootings probably wouldn't have been prevented by stricter background checks and a ban on assault weapons. And it isn't just a matter of providing more outreach to the mentally ill. The problem is insidious and complicated and beyond my own grasp. Japan and Australia however have instituted strict gun-control laws and have virtually eliminated mass shootings so undoubtedly, some sort of restrictions would be at least a step in the right direction. It always seemed that my little quinoa eating, NPR listening enclave, by virtue of our enlightenment and liberalism, was exempt from the American phenomena of mass murder. Given the power that the gun industry wields I can't foresee any substantive gun control measures being implemented in the near future. It is harder to resign myself to this and the enormous suffering this has caused and will, inevitably continue to cause, when it happens in a place that's more to me than just on dot a map.
In the course writing this I make sure that there were no other Jewish mass murderers since Son of Sam. I google "Jewish murderers" and hit on David Duke's webpage which bears a huge headline declaring that “The Greatest Mass Murderers of all time Were Jews.” I think that an illustration of the memorials for the victims at Sandy Hook might prove poignant for this piece but my Google image search reveals mostly illustrations claiming to prove that the shooting was a hoax. The Internet has certainly accelerated the dissemination of lies and crackpot ideas, including a convoluted interpretation of the Second Amendment. I suspect that if the framer's of the Constitution had been able to imagine the 21st Century they well might have tweaked the Second Amendment. But even though now we can spread bullshit through the universe in a nanosecond I doubt if they would have touched the First.