So here we now have on us this unthinkable Newtown tragedy. And we know the cycle of our response to such events: first shock, then grief, then anger, then a slow fade until whatever news next rivets our attention. That's how it's done. That's how we all do it.
Except this time it doesn't quite feel that way, does it? This time it feels different. This time it feels like our cumulative grief and outrage might actually result in something being done about this raw insanity with our guns.
And we all feel the N.R.A. executives and the craven politicians they own out there, hunkering down together and strategizing about how best to weather--and, ultimately, capitalize on--what they're no doubt shamelessly considering a PR problem.
And all of us have this fury inside of us. And that fury has nowhere to go, because we feel so impotent against a problem so huge and so bound up with stuff that we know is good and right, like our Constitution.
Constitution good. Capitalism good. Assault weapons easily purchased at guns shows bad.
It's just one big knot we feel we can't unravel. So we stew, and cry, and despair.
And most immediately we hold our children to our breasts, and desperately wonder how our country could have come to this.
We're easily the most absurdly armed country in the world. There are three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. No other country comes anywhere near that.
We're simply crazy about guns.
Well, some of us are: a full three-quarters of people who own guns own two or more guns. Most American don't own a gun.
Not much could more perfectly capture everything that's mind-bogglingly ludicrous about the American gun business than this video, featuring two painfully immature boys masquerading as adults. "Everybody needs some kind of combat weapon," says one of the boys somberly. "You could buy a crate of these [high-powered rifles], and about five crates of ammo, for about two thousand dollars," says the other. "That's a real good cheap way to arm ten men ... you can be very deadly in large numbers. You can use this gun to kill elk, bear, moose, deer, two-legged game of all sorts if you need to. They excel at that."
Did you laugh when he said? Did you think that was funny?
In an average year roughly one hundred thousand Americans are killed or wounded with guns. One in three Americans know someone who has been shot.
Not that at this point we need statistics to prove to us that we have a problem in this country with too many guns being too easily obtained by too many people.
But what to do about that problem?
Well, a decent place to start might be understanding that the N.R.A., which everyone thinks owns the gun control issue in America, isn't anywhere near as powerful as people think it is. On NBC's Meet the Press yesterday New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this:
The NRA's number one objective this time was to defeat Barack Obama for a second term. Last time I checked the election results, he won and he won comfortably. This myth that the N.R.A. can destroy political careers is just not true.
Here's Paul Waldman, of The American Prospect, writing in February of this year:
We all know that the National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, interest group in Washington. With their money and their committed supporters, they can carry candidates to victory or defeat as they choose, just as they've done in the past. Right? Well, maybe not. To determine just how powerful the NRA really is on election day, in recent months I assembled a database covering the last four federal elections: 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010. These years cover two presidential and non-presidential years, as well as two significant Democratic victories and two significant Republican victories. I gathered data on the outcome of every House and Senate election, including the margins of victory, the money spent by each candidate, the partisan character of each district, and whether the NRA made an endorsement in the race and how much money they spent.
The conclusion to be drawn from these data will be surprising to many: The NRA has virtually no impact on congressional elections. The NRA endorsement, so coveted by so many politicians, is almost meaningless. Nor does the money the organization spends have any demonstrable impact on the outcome of races.
Finally, here is Mark Glaze, director of the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns:
People are hard-pressed to find more than a handful of members of Congress who have ever lost their seat because of the NRA or because of a gun vote. But the NRA has spent a lot of money and a lot of years building up that very reputation, and a lot of Democrats have bought into it.
The N.R.A. is just a lobbying organization. It's got four million members. There are three hundred eleven million people in America. The N.R.A. doesn't own the freakin' country.
Politicians are still elected--by us. They'll still dependent for their jobs upon us. And anyone who thinks politicians don't listen their constituents knows squat about politics. If more than fifty people in one day write any elected representative anything that's the same thing, that representative stops what they're doing and pays attention. Because they understand that the cost of failing to do so might result in them having to do what no politician wants to: getting a real job.
We're not helpless to address the gun problem in our country. This is still America. We--the common person, the average citizen, the normal, everyday Joe and Josephine--still rule. We just have to speak as one voice.
If you want less Americans going batshit and grabbing ridiculous amounts of weaponry they then use to go on horrifying killing sprees, then here are some things that you can actually do to stop that from happening with the increasingly regularity that it is:
→ Write your elected representative. Use Google for .8 seconds, find out who represents you at the local, state, and national level, and write to them. Tell them this:
Dear [Representative who is paid out of my taxes]:
Like millions of Americans I am am sick of living in a society where buying firearms is as easy as buying toilet paper. I am begging you to make a priority in your daily work the toughening and tightening of gun laws. I want a ban on assault weapons and any gun that comes with or accommodates a loading system that can have no purpose beyond killing as many people as possible as quickly as possible. I want the gun-show loophole closed. I want penalties much more severe for gun "staw purchasers" (and if you don't know what those are, I want you out of office). I want radical enhancements to our state and country's background-check system.
I want you to tell me what can be done to reduce gun violence. You've got the power. You know what you're doing. You tell us (being me and my friends) what you're doing to combat gun violence in our society. Come up with a policy or a plan about that, publish that policy/plan on your website, and then on that website keep us informed about how it's going: about what you're actually doing to help prevent tragedies such as the recent massacre of children in Newton.
Tell us who's helping your efforts to combat gun violence. Tell us who's hindering you. Tell us everything. You tell us who is and isn't on your side in this crusade, and what they are or aren't doing to help you, and I promise you that we'll help anyone not helping you understand why it's in their best interests to get on board, and with you start doing everything they can to stave the spread of gun violence in America.
Thanks! You rock. Show up properly on this issue, and I promise you'll always have the support of me and my friends.
Your concerned and attentive constituent,
→ Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress is a petition on whitehouse.gov. Go sign it. If you don't, then please never again complain about the gun problem in this country, since when you had a chance to do even the slightest thing to help with that problem you did nothing.
→ Part of the job of the Federal Communications Commission is to "maintain decency standards designed to protect the public good." The chairman of the FCC is Julius Genachowski. His email is Julius.Genachowski@fcc.gov. Send Mr. Genachowski an email saying:
Dear Mr. Genachowski:
Please strongly encourage all television networks to cease publishing the names and photos of individuals who have gone on killing sprees. No one should ever know that committing a mass-murder is guaranteed to make them nationally famous.
Copy that email to:
Commissioner Robert McDowell (Robert.McDowell@fcc.gov)
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (Mignon.Clyburn@fcc.gov)
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (Jessica.Rosenworcel@fcc.gov)
Commissioner Ajit Pai (Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov).
Instant nationwide fame is a powerful motivator. Let's make sure it becomes no motivator at all.
→ Refuse to go see or rent movies that are clearly extremely violent. Similarly boycott violent video games. Don't let your kids buy or play either. Sure, that's old-fashioned and square. The alternative is to continue allowing ourselves and our children to be desensitized to the reality of shooting others to death. Murder isn't entertainment. Square up.
→ Encourage your elected representatives to tax the crap out of gun manufacturers and the people who buy their products--the same as we do with tobacco. And then let's use that money to develop and implement in our elementary schools programs designed to teach children about conflict resolution; the ignobly cruel, long-lasting, and alarmingly dangerous effects of bullying; the fluid line between mental health and losing the ability to cope; and why the most heroic thing anyone can do is actively care about the well-being of others, particularly those burdened with less advantages than others.
→ You tell me. You tell everybody what thoughts and ideas you have about getting the American gun problem resolved. This is a collective problem calling for a collective solution. Let's talk about this. Let's get answers out and circulating. Let's create all kinds of symposiums, conferences, public forums, and all kinds of events that we all put together right in our community centers or living rooms in which we actively and enthusiastically solicit all sorts of ideas on this issue. There are lots of people out there who really know this stuff, who've deeply considered this issue, who have solutions to crucial aspects of this problem that make sense and would actually work. Let's get those people and their ideas the attention that they deserve and that we need.
→ Pray. I don't care who you are or what you believe, pray. Send up to God, the Divine, the Universe, or however you personally understand The Large, and ask for more love to occupy more space more often in the hearts of more people. Ask that with all the intensity you have. Love is the only transformative power in the world: people change for love and no other reason. More love in the world equals less people killing other people. That is the inviolate, sacrosanct rule of life. Embed yourself in that truth.
Ask for--and thereby create--more love.
Also, share your thoughts and feelings. Share them here if you will. Tell us where you're at with this whole thing.
As the optimistic little boy said: God bless us, every one.
Most of the stats I used came from Jill Lepore's exceptional New Yorker article, Battleground America.