Are We Becoming Numb?
We Once Knew What to Do in Response to Gun Violence--What’s Wrong with Us Now?
Two Fridays ago, on November 4, I sent out a copy of “A parent's worst nightmare: An active shooter at my daughter's school”. I found it heart-wrenching—and a marked contrast to the lack of such nightmares in other first world countries, countries unlike ours in that they do not bristle with assault weapons. The same day Shawn Vestal wrote “A year after the Boise mall shooting, a litany of the same”. Vestal detailed an October 25th shooting that killed two and wounded four others carried out by a disturbed young man who moved to Idaho to take advantage of Idaho’s open-carry laws. Vestal then cited a fact one will not find on Fox News: when murders are looked at rationally as murders per 100,000 people in a state, murder rates are 40% higher in states that voted for Trump than those that went for Biden:
When critics claimed that this was only because of the murder rates in blue cities within the red states, Third Way responded by noting that, if blue cities were the sole source of the problem, then blue states would surely have higher murder rates – because they have more blue cities! It also calculated the murder rates in the top 10 red states without their worst blue cities – taking Jackson out of the calculation in Mississippi, for example – and found that the state ranking was largely the same.
But beyond that enlightening statistic, Mr. Vestal’s article was a wake up call to me: Mass shootings, including school shooting, have become so common that I’m becoming inured to them. Only the shootings with large numbers of victims or victims that seem like they could be me even register any more—there are just too many.
On November 6, just two days after Shawn Vestal’s , the Spokesman carried a short article, “9 people shot and wounded, 5 of them critically, in Philadelphia”. It caught my eye because it reminded me of a storied big city shooting that was still talked about and depicted in movies of my youth. On February 14, 1929, Valentine’s Day, in the midst of another drug and crime epidemic called Prohibition (1920-1933) seven men were lined up up against a wall in a parking garage and gunned down in a hail of bullets from the automatic weapon of the time, the Thompson submachine gun. No one was ever charged for the crime. Two of the four perpetrators were dressed as policemen, two wore suits, ties, and overcoats. At the time of reporting of the recent Philadelphia shooting there were no suspects, only the notation that “three or four” people jumped out of a car and fired “at least 40 shots”into a gaggle of young people. The article noted, (in an effort to dismiss its importance?), that the shooting occurred in “an area notorious for drug use and gun violence”.
I am sure I will never hear if the Philadelphia shooters are ever tracked down. After all, the casualties of the Philadelphia incident were only eight of the 2,000 people already killed or wounded in gun violence in Philadelphia to date this year. The overall Republican response to this carnage? More guns! Everyone must be armed in order to protect themselves! (More about that in a later post.) Eight wounded in Philadelphia didn’t even elicit “thoughts and prayers”.
In 1934 in response to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre the U.S. Congress passed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Firearms Act (NFA), a law that still stands today in spite of continued Republican efforts to repeal parts of it (including the efforts of our very own Cathy McMorris Rodgers). The NFA did not outlaw ownership and use of automatic weapons like the “Tommy Gun”. Instead, it required that full automatic weapons (along with silencers, sawed-of-shotguns, and other gun paraphernalia) be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco. The result was that, during my youth in Wisconsin, although I was embedded in the gun and hunting culture of the time, no one I knew owned a Tommy Gun or a silencer. They were fabled items of the gangster era, spoken of in hushed tones.
Since my youth, technology has outstripped the National Firearms Act. Semi-automatic assault weapons like the AR-15 and the AK-47 are far more efficient, easier to wield people killers than the massively heavy “automatic” Tommy Gun. Modern technology has blurred the line between semi-automatic (one trigger pull, one shot) and automatic (hold the trigger down and the gun keeps firing) weapons.
In 1934 we had sufficient national will to pass the NFA, a law that helped put a lid on the civilian proliferation of weapons of war. It didn’t happen until Democrats took control of the U.S. House and Senate and the U.S. Presidency, something they don’t teach you in school. Unfortunately, today’s Republicans, if anything, are even more attached to their warped interpretation of the Second Amendment than they were in the 1920s—and, by dint of McConnell’s power politics, they have packed the federal court system with like-minded judges.
We will not begin pass national gun regulation that the American people favor by solid a solid majority, laws that will begin to break this national fever of gun violence, until Democrats once again hold large majorities in the U.S. Congress and the Presidency—not until power is wrestled away from Republicans beholden to the gun industry and steeped in militia ideology. It won’t happen in the next two years but it is time to change the narrative and work toward that goal.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Of course, the same can be said of progress on climate change, women’s rights, minority rights, and voting rights. No amount of jawboning will change the mind of a single Republican—and if it does they will be primaried out of office by the rabid wing of the Republican Party. (Remember Bob Inglis (R-SC), a moderate Republican primaried out of office as soon as he acknowledged that climate change is real and human caused—and that we need to do something about it.)
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