We care about the parents of children murdered. We care when they lose their loved ones to psychopaths enabled by the NRA. We care deeply, don't we? That's why we're all so livid about this: the father of a boy shot in that school massacre, who was taunted by a proud militiaman, "Your son should have had a gun, you stupid...."
The howls of indignation have been heard nationwide. Haven't they? Except that this was a decade ago, and the father in question lost his son at Columbine, and I'm pretty confident that you never even heard about this incident.
Chances are that the parents of children gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School will not have these precise words thrown at them. Even Second Amendment absolutists don't expect six-year-olds to wield .45s. No, but we've already heard variants of this taunt on bulletin boards, aimed at the first-grade teachers in Newport: you idiots should have been carrying guns.
What have we done for Tom Mauser, who lost his son thanks to the NRA? Yes, thanks to the NRA. Daniel Mauser was shot by adolescent killers who effortlessly acquired weapons appropriate to an ambitious massacre. Specifically, he was shot by Eric Harris, a psychopath who managed to get his hands on a Hi-Point model 995 carbine rifle, as well as a 12-gauge Savage-Springfield 67H pump-action shotgun. And Harris would never, ever have managed this, were it not for strident insistence upon a young civilian's freedom to do so by the National Rifle Association.
One of the killer's friends, an 18-year-old girl, bought the rifle and two shotguns at the Tanner Gun Show. Because she was 18, the girl had every right to purchase not-trivial weapons.
Do you think that this girl could have bought these guns for her friends in England? In Canada? In Japan? Despite what you've heard from sophists, even in Switzerland 18-year-old kids cannot purchase rifles and shotguns at barely-regulated gun shows.
This girl was never prosecuted for her part in the Columbine massacre. She pleaded ignorance of the boys' intentions; I expect she was truly unaware. And why lay this at the feet of an 18-year-old girl, too young to purchase a drink? The casual availability of this kind of weaponry to a girl this age -- legally sold to her by a non-licensed dealer at a gun show -- is directly and without question the fault of the NRA.
Were it not for this lobby, such an uncomplicated purchase would be unthinkable; compare every other civilized nation on earth. No other liberal democracy is plagued by a lobby as repulsive and irresponsible as America's National Rifle Association.
Tom Mauser was demonstrating in front of NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia when he was dressed down by that practical, manly gun-lover: too bad your dead son wasn't packing.
Why was Tom Mauser in Virginia, two years after Daniel's murder? It's a painful story. First he tried to deal with the National Rifle Association the way that good citizens deal with responsible organizations: he wrote them a letter. Daniel's father wrote an extremely polite and reasonable letter to Charlton Heston -- nowhere near as angry as this piece I am writing now -- and he wrote it on May 11, 1999, three weeks after his son was gunned down in cold blood for the simple crime of attending high school.
Tom Mauser is a much better man than I am. I mean that. I have never lost a loved one to gunfire, and my hatred of the NRA is blinding; it borders on unseemly. Here is what Mauser did after two years of silence from the lobby responsible for the death of his son:
I went to the NRA national offices in Fairfax, Virginia. I carried a sign with Daniel's picture on it. On one side were the words, "My son Daniel died at Columbine. He would expect me to be here today." On the other it read, "Why won't Heston respond to me?"
Tom Mauser politely approached a security guard, requesting an audience with Charlton Heston. The NRA responded by sending out a photographer, who silently documented Mauser's trespassing.
Daniel's father did hear from a man who was not speaking officially for the NRA -- although I strongly suspect that he has donated to them, has voted for their approved candidates, and loudly supports everything that they stand for. This man drove by in a car, and yelled -- this time I won't censor it: "Your son should have had a gun, you stupid motherfucker."
By the way, Daniel Mauser was 15 when he was murdered. So this stern parental reprimand was not precisely fair. No, not even the NRA has managed to make it legal for a 15-year-old boy to carry a gun to high school.
After this encounter with a citizen, Mauser received an official response from the National Rifle Association:
At about 4:30, the NRA said they wanted me off their property. When I refused to (go), I was arrested, handcuffed and put into a patrol car. I was arrested on misdemeanor trespass charges, spent about an hour in a holding cell with about 18 other men and was released on $250 bail.
Tom Mauser is something of a saint. Informed that he was about to be arrested, "I told them I had certainly had worse things happen."
What bothers me -- what makes me want to scream -- is that Tom Mauser never had better things happen. Nobody came to his defense. He spent $2,000 of his own money answering the misdemeanor charges, which were dismissed for lack of witnesses.
The nation is currently outraged at a massacre of first-graders. Daniel Mauser was not six years old, it is true. He was 15. Perhaps we tell ourselves that Tom Mauser's heart is less broken by this discrepancy in age. That Daniel's murder was somehow less of a tragedy. How else do we explain our complete indifference to his quiet but very public suffering?
I urge you to read this account of Daniel by his mother, Linda: "Who Was Daniel Mauser? A Memoir by a Columbine Parent."
Linda Mauser's blog is introduced by a quotation from Euripides: "The good and the wise lead quiet lives."
Tom and Linda are in many ways too good. Perhaps too wise. Euripides was not speaking, however -- I am fairly certain -- about a nation's silent indifference to their suffering. Sometimes the good and the wise are called upon to scream.
Tom Mauser is not completely quiet. He protests, peacefully. He delivers speeches. When he speaks to an audience, he tends to wear the tennis shoes that Daniel was wearing when he was shot by Eric Harris.
It is very draining. But it is what I have committed to do. It is how I honor my son. Parents should not have to walk in the shoes of a slain child.
The Mausers have accomplished something in the way of legislation. "He helped close a loop hole in Colorado that made it harder to buy weapons at gun shows without a background check." This was not enough to prevent 26 people -- mostly children -- from being gunned down in a small New England town, but it might have saved Daniel. Perhaps. Probably not.
Even if you have not heard about Tom and Linda Mauser, I assure you: the men who own semi-automatics and pump-action shotguns have. Tom in particular is vilified on gun sites around the web. What was said to him on that day in Fairfax was mild relative to what is done to his name, regularly, by people outraged at his small efforts to curtail their weaponry.
He has been accused of lying about his son's death, because he said just after the massacre that Daniel was shot with a TEC-DC9 semi-automatic pistol, which is classified as an assault weapon. Clearly this was a deliberate effort to slur assault weapons, since we know that the TEC-DC9 was carried by the other killer, Dylan Klebold. I'm sorry, but Daniel was shot with an ordinary rifle.
The point of lying is difficult to nail down. Klebold certainly killed people with the TEC-DC9. It was his primary weapon -- this blowback-operated semi-automatic handgun -- and he fired it 55 times. Yes, this assault weapon killed people. That's what assault weapons do.
Still, how are we supposed to take a man seriously when he can't even get his guns right? The fact is that Tom Mauser is a traitor to the Constitution. An enemy of freedom. He is clearly obsessed with achieving an indiscriminate, permanent ban on coveted weapons like the TEC-DC9. Furthermore, he dares to protest that his son was murdered in accordance with the Second Amendment.
Ordinary citizens -- ignorant of lethal minutiae -- have pretty much forgotten Tom Mauser. Unless you care about your semi-automatics being taken from you, what does one mourning parent matter? Furthermore, what's the point of banning assault weapons, when Daniel was killed with an ordinary rifle, or perhaps a sawed-off shotgun?
Will we act the same way towards the parents of the children murdered on December 14 -- two weeks before Christmas -- by an assault weapon whose casual availability is the fault of the National Rifle Association? Or will we perhaps do something about it?
Much can be done. No lobby, however wealthy and well-armed, is more powerful than the American people. Democracy works this way: it has non-violent means of purging malignant elements. Sometimes violence is necessary -- the end of slavery could not have been achieved by anything less than war -- but America has generally conquered evil in its midst by careful and deliberate due process.
The Civil War was an anomaly. McCarthyism was the norm: a threat to democracy laid to rest by the legislative branch of the American government. The NRA is certainly less of an evil than slavery, but is it really less ugly than McCarthyism? How many lives did Joseph McCarthy take? Let's count the innocent children, to be precise, slaughtered as a result of Senator McCarthy's policies. Now weigh that number (which -- unless I'm mistaken -- is zero) against the bloody, miserable body count which is a direct consequence of the policies shoveled onto the nation by the NRA.
Yes, despite widespread defeatism, much can be done. There are options. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York has taken the initiative, and has won significant victories against the NRA, as I discuss here.
Jane Smiley, a novelist with a superb mind, has laid out a series of precise and viable proposals, in "A Few Remedies for the Right to Bear Arms." Myself, I have written something of a manifesto. It is a much less polite document -- essentially a battle plan: a call for a counter-lobby as wealthy and relentless as the National Rifle Association.
The NRA are very, very strong, but they are not invincible, and these are efficient, detailed strategies to strip them of their undeserved power over American citizens.
This battle will require action -- the kind of action the nation has never taken on behalf of Tom Mauser, despite the outrage against Columbine. It will require money -- much greater amounts of money than the $2,000 that were never reimbursed to Tom Mauser. Fine. Since when are political engagement and funding an impossibility for an American populace motivated by legitimate outrage?
Yes, we are asking soccer moms to go up against armed survivalists. And yes: I put my money on the soccer moms. Paranoid gun thugs in fact care less about themselves than mothers care about their children. Ideology is powerful, but it withers relative to blood ties: a mother's fearsome determination to preserve the safety of her children is one of brute nature's more uplifting phenomena. (I'm not being sentimental. If you want to put bromides about mom and apple pie into perspective, threaten a newborn wild boar.)
One comment beneath my unpleasant manifesto spoke volumes: "I'd pay $35 a year to be a member of a an organization that lobbies for peace and against guns. Let's do it."
Wouldn't you? When you think about it? If a national lobby were forged -- right now -- willing to go up against the NRA, wouldn't you toss at least $35 in its direction? Perhaps more? Perhaps as much as the average card-carrying member donates to the organization that puts your family in danger?
I have a tendency to phrase things in much less peaceful terms than the comment above -- and I am often taken to task for militant language in the cause of peace -- but you have to speak from the heart, and my heart is not at the moment a very peaceful place. So let me put this in words that will no doubt make you uncomfortable, but are addressed to the mothers and fathers I genuinely believe can take down this vile lobby:
Who do you love more: your own children, or paranoid survivalists with constitutionally-ordained assault weapons?