Our nation seems caught in a never-ending, inescapable loop of random mass tragedy and destruction. Every few months, we endure it all again. The first special reports on cable news about a shooting. The first video of the location, a school, a grocery store, a movie theater. The sirens and the flashing lights of the first responders. The heartbreaking stories of the victims. The speculation about the shooter's motives. And on and on.
Columbine. Virginia Tech. Tucson. Now Aurora. As the loop replays yet again, in recent years there is another familiar refrain. Despite the undeniable fact that guns, often with extraordinary firepower, were the enablers of mass killing in every case, we are told that nothing will be done about the guns. Why? Because, we are told, the political debate about guns in America is over.
Who is telling us this? Why, the political punditry. The experts. The people who love to tell us what we believe and how we will behave.
Take last Sunday's Meet the Press. Moderator David Gregory noted that although it may be "lunacy" for somebody like the Aurora shooter to be able to build an arsenal, "there's not really a gun control debate in politics anymore." He received quick agreement from Democratic Strategist Bob Shrum, "Yeah, there is none. I think the issue is settled." Republican Strategist Steven Schmidt quickly agrees, noting the "consensus... in this country today that there's not going to be any further gun control measures passed by the United States Congress. It's an absolutely settled issue."
So, there it is. The political pundits agree. The debate is over. It's interesting how self-fulfilling this idea is. What would bring about a serious discussion of guns by our politicians? The answer is simple: a serious discussion of guns by the American people. But, the pundits remind us, nothing is going to be done on this issue by the politicians. So, what's the point of a discussion by the people?
In the political insider world of Bob Shrum and Steve Schmidt, there may be no debate about gun violence because so many of their clients won't talk about it. In the world where the rest of us live, as we send our children off to high school, or to the sidewalk in front of a Safeway, or to a theater to see the latest blockbuster, there is a debate about guns.
The American people are sick and tired of reliving the horror of mass shootings, and the everyday madness of gun violence on our streets. They know we are better than this. They want answers.
In his speech yesterday to the National Urban League, President Obama confounded the pundits by entering the conversation the rest of us have been having. He actually allowed himself to acknowledge that we have a chronic, devastating gun violence problem in America: "For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, and here in New Orleans. For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland." After declaring his own allegiance to the Second Amendment, he spoke of common cause with many gun owners that "AK-47s belong... on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities." He said gun owners agree "that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons... "
Having acknowledged the problem, the President now needs to propose solutions. So does Governor Romney, whose contribution to the conversation thus far has been to incorrectly assert that the Aurora shooter acquired his arsenal illegally. Shortly after the Aurora shooting, Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted that it is not enough for the two Presidential candidates to talk "in broad [themes] about" making "the world a better place... We have a right to hear from both of them concretely, not just in generalities, specifically what are they going to do about guns."
Amen. Forget the political insiders and their pronouncements that the gun issue is "settled." The people need to take it directly to the two presidential candidates and let their voices be heard to demand solutions to the recurring American nightmare of gun violence. The people need to say, we are better than this.
Start by going to www.wearebetterthanthis.org and signing the petition to President Obama and Governor Romney calling for solutions rather than evasion. Join thousands of other Americans who understand that we, as a proud people, are better than this. And we deserve better from our leaders.
For more information, see Dennis Henigan's Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009)