Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Gun Issue Has All the Tyranny of Perceived Reality

“Murder most foul,” cries the ghost of Hamlet’s father to explain his own killing in Shakespeare’s play.

We shudder in the United States when yet more children are slain by deranged shooters. Yet, we are determined to keep a ready supply of AR-15-type assault rifles on hand to facilitate the crazy when the insanity seizes them.

The murder in Nashville of three 9-year-olds and three adults should have us at the barricades, yelling bloody murder. Enough! Never again!

But we have mustered a national shrug, concluding that nothing can be done.

Clearly, something can be done; something like reviving the assault rifle ban, which expired after 10 years of statistically proven success.

We are culpable. We think our invented entitlement to own these weapons, designed for war, is a divine right, outdistancing reason, compassion and any possible form of control.

The blame rests primarily on something in American exceptionalism that loves guns. I mostly understand that; I like them, as I write from time to time. I also like fast cars, small airplanes, strong drinks, and other hair-raising things. But society has said these need controls — from speed limits to flying instruction — and has severe penalties for mixing the first two with the last. Those controls make sense. We abide by them.

Regarding that other great national indulgence — guns —  society has said safety doesn’t count. So far this year, more than 10,000 people have been killed in gun violence. If that were the number of fatalities from disease, we would again be in lockdown.

We have concocted this sacred right to keep and use guns. To ensure this, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been manhandled by lawyers into being a justification for putting something deadly out of the reach of social control or even rudimentary discipline.

The latest school shooting has raised our hackles, but not our capacity to act. This national shrug at something that can be fixed is a stain on the body politic. Most of the conservative wing of the establishment, represented by the Republican Party, has dismissed it as one might a natural disaster.

But the routine murder of innocents in school shootings is a man-made disaster. Worse, it is sanctified by a particular interpretation of the Second Amendment.

It is an interpretation that has demanded, and continues to demand, legal contortionism. This is used to justify the citizenry owning and using weapons of war.

This latest school shooting, which happened in this young year, was shocking, but the political reaction was more shocking.

President Biden wrung his hands and said nothing could be done without the support of Congress — thus endorsing a national fatalism.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina suggested more police officers in schools, and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said teachers needed to be armed. His children are homeschooled.

In personal life and in national life, perceived impossibility is hugely debilitating.

Imagine if the Founding Fathers had said the British Empire was too strong to challenge, if FDR had said America couldn’t rise against the forces of the economic chaos of the 1930s, or if Margaret Thatcher had said British trade unions were too strong to be opposed?

These are incidents where perceived reality was, with struggle, trounced for the general good.

Guns, along with drugs, are the largest killer of young people. They aren’t unrelated. Unregulated guns find their way to the drug gangs of Central America, facilitating the flow of drugs.

On the Senate floor, the chamber’s longtime chaplain, retired Rear Adm. Barry C. Black, took on the pusillanimous members of his flock after the Nashville murders, quoting the 18th-century Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke’s admonition, “The only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Indubitably.

This article first appeared in the White House Chronicle, and is republished with permission.

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Llewellyn King

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of "White House Chronicle" on PBS.

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