EDITOR’S NOTE: As Mark Twain, put it, I apologize for the length of this blog. If I’d had more time, I could have made it shorter. But I don’t have more time. And neither do any of us when it comes to what our political representatives are allowing to happen in our country today. If you take the time read any of my blogs, please take the time to read this one, and think about what you might be able to do to improve what is confronting all of us today. One other point. I was about to release this blog yesterday when I read that our President was about to speak to the nation last night. So I waited to listen to him first in the hope that he would have something new to say that I could include in this piece. If he did, I missed it.
Last week was a great one for GUN manufacturers: Holiday shoppers bought a record number of GUNS on Black Friday, the most ever in a single day. The FBI processed 185,345 firearms background checks in that one day. Black Friday . . . indeed.
For those who question whether authorities can vet 20,000 Syrian refugees over a period of months to find the one or two (or 10 or 20) needles in the haystack, do you actually think the FBI can meaningfully identify and vet the number of GUN purchasers in 185,000 who have absolutely no business owning . . . a GUN? In a single day? Before the sale is allowed to be consummated? One thing you can be sure of: The number, including those on “fly by” watch lists, who were—but should not have been—permitted to purchase a GUN—particularly assault weapons of war designed to kill mass numbers in just a few seconds—dramatically exceeds the “few” (?) ticking time bomb refugees—or visa and visa waiver applicants—who should not be allowed to enter—let alone settle in—the U.S.
Speaking of numbers: According to the Washington Post, there have been at least 351 “mass shootings” in the U.S. in the first 334 days of this year, mass shootings defined for statistical purposes as incidents in which four or more people, including the attacker(s), are killed or injured by GUNfire. There were at least 13 in the previous week or so alone, including the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting and the San Bernardino assault weapons of war rampage.
More than one “mass shooting” per day! We can’t even keep the number of these incidents straight in our minds. (At least I can’t. Can you?) Or the number of bodies. Think I’m kidding? Look at this partial list: Columbine; Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Newton, Aurora, Isla Vista, Charleston, the Washington Navy Yard, the Boston Marathon, Colorado Springs, Umpqua Community College, Tucson. Can you recall off the top what each entailed? What happened? When? Or exactly where? Or Why?
How’d you score? Answers here: http://timelines.latimes.com/deadliest-shooting-rampages/.
But, aside from not wanting to trivialize the dead victims, who cares? Motives? What do they matter? What does the warped thinking of one gun toting nutcase after another matter? Bonnie and Clyde. Syed and Tashfeen. Who cares? Do you really think it matters? Do you think it will tell us who will strike next, when, where or why?
Let’s focus on some things that do matter, shall we? Why are mass shootings “trending,” not in online social media but in the real world, especially here in the United States? The thoughts that have ruminated in my mind are “keeping up with the Jones” and “bigger is better,” perverse as those euphemisms obviously are. The best reasoned explanation of this I’ve read was recently penned by Malcolm Gladwell in “Thresholds of Violence.” What we are experiencing—and what we will likely continue to experience on an escalating basis unless “we” put a stop to it (more on that below)—is, in essence, “a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot.”
Gladwell asks, rhetorically, and then answers, how does a “riot” develop? It begins when someone with a low “threshold of violence” (easily given to violence) decides to break a shop window. In a matter of moments, ala classic mob psychology, people with higher thresholds of violence (not as easily given to violence), who wouldn’t remotely originate a riot, find themselves following suit and joining in.
Normally, riots occur in one place at one time, even if that “time” spans more than a single day. Here, in the face of the growing number of mass shootings, we are seeing a far scarier phenomenon, a slow motion riot where the higher threshold followers are somehow being inspired to act out in kind not in a more customary spur of the moment manner, but spread over time in due—simmering—course. Think of a viral or biological epidemic that grows, faster and faster, stronger and stronger, more and more deadly, until it becomes pandemic. Perhaps suppressed in one geographic locale, momentarily forced into hiding, only to resurface again when someone inadvertently transports it to another locale.
A very powerful and scary virulent strain of mob psychology violence to be sure, “inspiring” people with far higher thresholds of violence—people who never would have fired a weapon at their classmates or fellow workers—to join in “the” riot. Gladwell concludes: “The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men [and women] who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men [and women] no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.” The ramifications of this conclusion are exponential in magnitude and frequency, and beyond conventional grasp. But nevertheless becoming more and more irrefutable.
Syed and Tashfeen are perfect examples of this geometrically increasing phenomena of festering, marinating “self-radicalization.” At one moment, living the American “dream,” school, a decent job, marriage, a nice home, a newborn child. Six months later, their mutation complete, they embark upon a military rampage, killing at least 14 innocent victims, wounding up to 21 others guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, surrendering as well their own lives, and abandoning their six-month old daughter in the process. And more just like them will follow. Who next will innocently be in the wrong place at the wrong time? You? Your spouse? Your children? Your grandchildren?
So, how have we arrived at this point, transforming the 2nd Amendment notion of a “well regulated” right to bear arms into the increasingly popular wild, wild west notion that every man, woman and child can be his or her own policeman? I believe it is explained in one word (albeit far from me to say anything in one word!) that I’ve been hearing a lot lately—“inspiration.”
Terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda are inspiring the likes of Syed and Tashfeen. Not necessarily organizing, training, directing, or supporting them, but simply . . . inspiring them. Putting out the word that it’s perfectly okay—not just okay but laudable—to take as many innocent lives as they possibly can, if only to inspire more to do the same. And, remarkably, they are succeeding!
Syed and Tashfeen knew—accepted if not relished the fact—that they were on a suicide mission. They knew their end game was that the FBI and the cops would take them down, permanently, make “martyrs” of them. They hardly would have been discouraged knowing that Lash Larue and Annie Oakley would be lying in wait for them at the San Bernardino social services center.
And for those who argue that if people at the San Bernardino social services center had been armed, Syed and Tashfeen would have been stopped before they did as much carnage as they did—c’mon, give me a break. You’ve heard of “friendly fire” in the military context. There were at least 35 people in the San Bernardino facility. How many of them would/should have had GUNS on them? How many innocents would the good guys have inadvertently shot in their untrained haste to all draw their GUNS in disjointed disarray and start firing? That predictably would have led to still more carnage! And, by the way, had you been there, how would you have distinguished the good guys from the bad guys? Are the good guys first required to shout out “FBI wannabe and good guy here, drop your weapons bad guys (don’t want any of the good guys dropping their guns), you’re under arrest!” Wouldn’t the bad guys yell the same? And are all these cowboys and cowgirls going to stop doing their laundry, shopping for groceries and going to the malls on Friday nights so they can get to their local gun clubs to learn how to maintain and use their GUNS and to then put additional time in on the practice range—so that they might be able to hit the broad side of a barn, let alone the bad guys who are firing back and who, no doubt, manically, will be far more trained and practiced?
For very different reasons both schools of “thought”—terrorists and gun advocates—are wrong. But they do have one root thing in common: GUNS! We are not going to change the misguided minds of those who, for whatever reasons, have found their calling—to terrorize. Nor are we going to change the equally misguided and misinformed (no matter how well intended) minds of the NRA leadership and minions who stubbornly refuse to recognize the plain meaning of the 2nd Amendment, that it was to enacted to prohibit arms not “well regulated,” and not to give every Tom, Dick and Harriet the right to bear arms. One wonders whether NRA aficionados believe the right of free speech “assured” by the 1st Amendment would allow some creep to go into a dark movie theater with the intent to start a stampede and yell “Fire!” (In fact, it has been argued by some that the NRA is just itself another terrorist organization, bribing, coercing and terrorizing our political representatives into doing their bidding on fear of being stripped of their cushy jobs and inspiring and inciting their NRA followers to deify their GUNS just as much Syed and Tashfeen did.)
So, we can’t get rid of guns any more than we can get rid of cars or planes or restaurants that sell liquor. But look at the difference. To drive a car or fly a plane (even just for yourself), you have to pass written and physical tests. You have to show that you know the rules of engagement, that, at least with eyeglasses or contact lenses, you can see adequately, and that you actually know how to properly operate your car or airplane. You need a license to drive a car or fly a plane. The same is true if you want to sell liquor in your restaurant; you need a license to do that too. Or to practice law or medicine, or dentistry or pharmacy, or to run a bank, or to offer and sell stocks and bonds, or real estate.
Why not do the same with GUNS? Why not legislate that you can’t “drive” or “fly” (or even buy or own) a GUN without a license that requires you to complete so many hours of prescribed courses and field training in a government certified school, just like we do with airplane pilots (even the ones who only fly themselves and their families and friends)?
The tuition for these schools will likely be expensive. If you can’t afford the price, perhaps that’s just too bad. It is if you lawfully want to fly an airplane. Or serve drinks in your restaurant. But, for those who will argue that the Constitution doesn’t assure the right to drive a car or fly a plane (but don’t forget the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) as the 2nd Amendment arguably does for the right to bear arms, I’m willing to subsidize those who can’t afford GUN school. We can give them GUN stamps. I might even be willing to have the taxpayers underwrite these schools altogether, so that they are free for everyone, even for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
Under my hypothesis, you won’t be able to buy, own, carry, brandish, or firea GUN unless and until you first complete a certified course of study and (repeat and) then pass a battery of tests designed to show that you are emotionally qualified to own a GUN (just like having to show that you have good eyesight), that you have a clean background (try getting a liquor license for your restaurant without showing as much) and that you know how to properly care for and accurately draw and fire a GUN (just like having to show that you know how to drive your car or fly your plane)—a combination of protocols to assure not only “how to” but “who to.”
Just a few more details for my plan: No multiple GUNS or military assault weapons for anyone; no existing GUN owners “grandfathered” or “grandmothered;” existing owners who do not obtain a license within a specified period of time, must surrender their arms, but will receive huge subsidies (well in excess of the street value of their arms) for doing so, to be sure there is “no taking without just compensation,” and with attractive bonuses for those who surrender their arms “promptly; similar subsidies for any licensees who voluntarily choose to surrender up his or her arms at any time; and, not last or least, large penalties for those who violate the licensing law or aid and abet others who do so, including GUN dealers, ratcheting up such penalties for multiple offenders—both monetary fines and mandatory public service (our prisons are already overcrowded, but we still have lots of potholes that need filling and lots of graffiti and litter to be cleaned up and/or picked up.
Don’t misunderstand, I would rather not have Calamity Jane or the Lone Ranger (even with his telltale mask) sitting around me at the next USC football game or Lakers basketball game, but I can live (and hopefully will) with that result under my licensing approach. Is this approach infallible? Of course not. Will we have to put up with governmental bureaucracies to pull this off? Of course we will, but we manage in the context of cars, airplanes, liquor licensing, licensing to practice law, human and veterinary medicine, banks, brokerage services, and on and on. Will some bad or sick people still slip through a well thought out and well oiled GUN licensing system? Of course some will. But not as many as those getting their hands on and holding onto GUNS today who have no business doing so. At a minimum, it will reduce the number of Syeds and Tashfeens able to assemble the arsenals they used.
To put this in context, we might have a better chance of taking GUNS out of circulation than we have of taking self-radicals out of circulation. At a minimum, GUNS will start trending down even if self-radicals continue trending up. We won’t be able to stop all GUNS just like we won’t be able to stop all self-radicals, but we will make it tougher for them to assemble their arsenals. And to carry out the next San Bernardino.
And, finally, because this blog (I would have said “piece,” but some might have confused that with the GUNS they want to carry) would not otherwise be complete, who exactly is to blame for this current mess? How about:
The terrorists? Hardly. From infancy, they’ve been raised as low-lifes (I wanted to say “animals,” but The Wife said that was politically incorrect and unfair to our furry little friends—and she’s the only editor I have to proofread this stuff). No matter the descriptive, most of the terrorists simply don’t know any better.
The likes of the NRA? Not really them either. They’ve been brainwashed for so long they truly believe their silly rhetoric: “GUNS don’t kill, people do” (except that people without GUNS kill a lot less than people with GUNS); “the bad and the sick will manage to get their hands on GUNS no matter what” (sure, and people still run stop signs and speed, but less than if we didn’t have stop signs and posted speed limits, and there are less oddballs out there practicing medicine without a license than before we required doctors to be licensed); “the bad people would not be able to kill as many if they were confronted by a lot of individual private cops lurking out there” (but with “friendly fire,” will the innocent casualties be any less?); and, perhaps the most amusing of all, “we need our secret stockpiles of GUNS to protect us from governmental tyranny” (our country is 239 years old, I haven’t seen any telltale signs of governmental tyranny on the horizon, or any militias, credible or otherwise, trained and waiting in the wings to protect us, and the only thing protecting us from this “tyrannical” abyss just waiting for the chance to strike, but I am concerned about the next Syed and Tashfeen planning to do so). If we can’t reason with the NRA, or our political representatives who do their bidding, pay homage to them, we will have to wait until the pile of innocent bodies becomes too great to ignore. 🙁
No, the real culprits here are you and me, for not telling our political representatives what WE expect them to do, and not do, in order to protect their jobs and their pocketbooks—not from the NRA, but from us.
Approximately 225 million Americans are eligible to vote today. The NRA has approximately 5 million members, although that number may be on the rise if the number of GUNS just purchased on Black Friday is any indication. Let’s up the number to 10 million members and drop the number eligible to vote to 200 million. (I like simple math and my point will not be lost by making these concessions.) “We” thus outnumber the NRA members by at least 20 to 1. Why do they—who seem far more invested in defending their positions than finding meaningful solutions–get their way with Congress, while “we” do not?
We have no one to blame but ourselves. We are guilty of pacifism, denial, disassociation—outright acceptance. We can survive violence. We can even survive fear. But we cannot—and will not—survive apathy.
Across the country, students are protesting insensitive Halloween costumes. Increasingly, many are rightfully protesting when a racist white cop wrongfully kills an innocent black kid, and hopefully when some coward senselessly kills a cop for nothing more than being in uniform. Nero fiddled while ancient Rome was burning. And we are tweeting while our country is under siege. While our innocent citizens are being slaughtered in far greater numbers than racist white cops killing innocent black kids. (And yes, even one of those is one too many.) But where are our protesters at the offices of every politician who resists soundly reforming our GUN laws? Why are we not screaming for their resignations.
The number one mantra of GUN proponents is “GUNS don’t kill, people do.” They’re absolutely right. GUNS don’t kill. “We the people” are the ones doing that by not speaking out. We do not live in an occupied nation—yet. We do have the right to speak out. We should not apathetically sit by while we are held hostage by the mentally infirm, the ill-intended terrorists, and, yes, the NRA. The NRA is a stubborn lot. Their heels are dug in. They will not reason. But we outnumber the NRA just like we outnumber those who think there is somehow an answer in killing innocent victims guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What we need to do is peacefully stand up and confront our leaders until they are willing to listen and act, if only to save their jobs.
We should not have to teach our children and grandchildren how to dodge GUNfire. Or . . . how to shoot back.
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