Like the rest of the country, I was horrified to hear of the massacre at the midnight screening of the new Batman film. I've witnessed gun violence firsthand from a very early age. All my life, I've seen families mourning the way that the families in Colorado are now mourning. I wish there was something that I could do to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again -- but I can't.
Nor, apparently, can anyone else. If they could have, then they would have done so already. Some of us are old enough to remember when a madman poisoned packages of Tylenol in 1982. Seven people died, and the reaction was immediate: the entire run of the product was recalled. Packaging was changed so that the buyer would know it's safe and wasn't tampered with. Liberal or conservative had nothing to do with it. It was not treated as a political issue. No one claimed that making it marginally harder to get at those headache pills was the first step toward dictatorship.
Drunk driving was a similar scenario. No one argued whether it was the alcohol that was the problem, or the car. No one advocated for prohibition or for some sort of nationwide bus system in lieu of the automobile. We did not hear that drunk driving is a right enshrined in the Constitution by our founding fathers. People just got sick of losing their friends and family members due to tragic circumstances that were entirely avoidable. Ad campaigns were launched, the police cracked down, and a nationwide stigma developed.
It's in this context that I view gun violence. Over 10,000 Americans are killed by guns every year in this country. A bullet doesn't care where you stand on the ballot. This is a public health issue and should be treated like one. But we can't. Every time this kind of thing happens, the players act out their parts according to the script. First, the politicians get on TV and express shock at the senselessness of the occurrence -- even though this has been happening on the regular for decades. The people on the left will argue for more gun control laws; the people on the right will claim that armed civilians would have stopped these massacres in the first place. The NRA hits the red-alert button to make sure no discussion can be had. A stalemate is reached, and the nation moves on -- and doing nothing remains the answer by default. This happened after Colombine, after Gabby Giffords, after Virginia Tech, after Fort Hood.
I'm not arguing for more gun control, though that might be the answer. What I am arguing against is hypocrisy. As I discuss at length in my upcoming book on American hypocrisy, I have seven guns myself and have always viewed them as a tool. All I am advocating for is that we address the issue honestly. The issue isn't guns per se; the issue is our national adoration of violence. The easiest way I can illustrate my point is this: when President Obama legislated for greater health care, he was declared a dictator -- simply for wanting, say, more women to be able to get mammograms. Meanwhile, when President Bush invaded two foreign nations and killed over 100,000 civilians in the process, he was regarded as a conquering hero. George Zimmerman got on TV this week and brazenly said that shooting an unarmed youth in the streets was "God's will." If killing kids -- even supposedly aggressive ones -- in the streets is "God's will," then I fear for our country even more than I already do.
Our country was founded in violence. George Washington was a general first and a statesman second. Thomas Jefferson blithely observed that, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Lincoln's Civil War was a mutual massacre. Our first progressive President, Woodrow Wilson, is remembered far more for winning World War I than he is for even one single reform.
I find absurd the argument that an armed populace is the answer. Someone may have been armed in Arizona when that tragedy happened. I would be willing to bet that there was more than one handgun in that "urban" movie theater at midnight in Colorado -- and that person ran just like everyone else. Is a shootout in a smoky, crowded movie theater going somehow to lead to less deaths? Who are the cops going to shoot when they arrive?
To all my right-wing NRA friends who think this is a political issue, let me put it in the very terms that you always champion. Over thirty years ago, President Reagan was shot and came extremely close to being killed. If John Hinckley's wedding proposal had come to pass, would the world be a better place today? Would George H. W. Bush have defeated Gorbachev and ended the Cold War? Would he have stayed the course on Reagan's vision of huge tax cuts for the wealthy that supposedly ushered in an era of prosperity (you know, "voodoo economics") -- or would he have folded like he did in 1990? Would the Republican party now be a bastion of rigid conservative orthodoxy, or would the Rockefeller Republicans be running the show?
We can be upset that these tragedies happen -- but we can't be surprised when a pattern plays out. We can't be shocked when a problem is not addressed, and then rears its evil head again. All these moments of silence are adding up very quickly. All those flags at half-mast will be lowered as quickly as they were ever raised. Until and unless we can have an honest national conversation about our violence-obsessed culture, we will always be waking up to mourning in America.