At about this time last year, 20 six and seven year old children along with 6 adult school staff members were murdered in
the town of Sandy Hook elementary school by the mentally disturbed son of a Connecticut gun lover – whose last gift to her overtly troubled son was a check intended for the purchase of a CZ 83 pistol. As you might expect, the media has observed this sad anniversary with numerous stories evaluating the impact of that event from every possible perspective.
We’ve learned in last several days that since Sandy Hook at least 194 more children under twelve have died as a result of gun violence. We’ve learned that gun control advocates are still out there, if somewhat disheartened by the grip that the gun lobby has on the political process. And we’ve certainly learned that there are no limits to the outrageous lengths that the gun lobby will go to to limit reform, including claiming that it’s not guns that kill people, but gun laws.
Our state legislators in Missouri have mostly, with a few notable, predominantly Democratic exceptions, embraced the latter attitude. As Michael Bersin has documented here, here and here, the usual suspects are busy filing bills for the upcoming legislative session that are designed to turn Missouri into a facsimile of a glorified wild west where rugged men hold sway by virtue of their guns. There is, it’s true, HB1172, which attempts to mitigate the effect of a “stand your ground” law – but which hasn’t a prayer of a chance of passing in a legislature where guns are symbols of resistance against a world changing in ways that seems to upset a majority of white, male Missourians.
So what’s going on? How can hunters and sane gun owners object to laws that keep guns out of the hands of the Adam Lanzas of the world? How can sane folks in general want to send their kids to schools where teachers, janitors, and what-have-you, are toting guns in order to “protect” the students? What normal person wants to be confronted by gun-slinging hotheads at Starbucks when we go for Saturday coffee? And what kind of idiots think we have to resort to silly and unconstitutional “tenther” strategies for no reason other than to insure just these types of outcomes?
Last night on PBS I saw a Bill Moyers’ interview (available here in video or transcript) with cultural historian Richard Slotkin that suggests some answers to similar questions about the irrational hold gun mythology has on the psyche of some Americans. Slotkin, who has specialized in exploring the roots of violence in America, makes many excellent points, but I was especially taken with his taxonomy of gun supporters:
Well, I think the extreme gun rights position, so called, some once called it “gun-damentalism” connects on a kind of spectrum to more normative attitudes. You have, as I said, reasonable gun owners. Then you have the American consumer. The American consumer looks at the gun as it’s a piece of property. The American consumer wants to use his property without restraint, wants to throw his plastic water bottle wherever he pleases, wants to drive a gas-guzzler, wants to play his boom box loud.
Which is a crude way to put it, and yet I think there’s a lot to that. Nobody wants to be bothered registering their weapons. Take it a level down from that or level further out from that, there’s an ideological level which really kicks in around the time of the Reagan presidency in which gun rights is a very powerful symbol for the deregulation of everything. If you can deregulate that, you can deregulate anything.
And then the last level is what I’d call the paranoid level, the people who think that they have a Second Amendment right to resist Obamacare– that the constitution protects their right to resist the government, that that’s what the Second Amendment is about.
And that’s dangerous stupidity and nonsense. But it uses the language of liberty and rights that we’re used to thinking of in other contexts. And if you think of all of the rights in the Bill of Rights, haven’t they been extended and expanded over the years? Why not Second Amendment rights as well?
And that’s the level at which it gets pernicious. But their appeal, their ability to control the debate, I think, comes because their position coincides with the interest of the Reaganite ideologue who doesn’t want to regulate anything and the consumer who simply doesn’t want to be bothered.
Sounds about right to me. Picture my favorite paranoid bullyboy, GOP State Senator Brian Neives, for instance, or the currently infamous State Rep. Casey Guernsey (R-2), both of whom have prominently employed massively overblown, faux-heroic freedom and guns rhetoric, when you consider this further comment by Slotkin on the topic of just what kind of person it is who makes up the more deluded and paranoid rump of the anti-gun control agitators:
… I’ve always felt that it has something to do, in many cases, with a sense of lost privilege, that men and white men in the society feel their position to be imperiled and their status called into question. And one way to deal with an attack on your status in our society is to strike out violently.
The world is changing fast. Thirteen states have legalized gay marriage. We have a black president; we may very well have a woman president soon. After years of right wing and corporate resistance, we have actually done something to bring our country more in line with other industrialized nations as far as healthcare goes. Social precepts that were valid seemingly just yesterday are now in doubt. Do you wonder why those who depend on a vanishing status quo to preserve their sense of order and privilege are responding in what seems to the rest of us to be a disproportionate, even deranged manner? What we can know for sure is that we’d all better be very concerned about how these frightened and rage-filled individuals are fetishising guns in the process of acting out against their fears of social displacement.
There’s been some noise generated by the usual suspects about whether or not President Obama was too late to dub the Boston Marathon bombing an act of terror. Generally, a political or social motive is considered essential for such an act to be considered terrorism, and even though the suspects have been identified, we have no clue as to their motive, so others, including a few sane conservatives, have responded that assigning a label is actually premature.
However, given the general furor raised by what conservatives want to view as the the president’s failure in regard to semantics, Senator Claire McCaskill has taken the issue a step further and asked some pertinent questions about how we label acts of mass violence:
Based on the evidence at this point, is there any difference between Sandy Hook and Boston other than the choice of weapon? … We are so quick to call Boston terror,” McCaskill said. “Why aren’t we calling the man with the high-capacity assault weapon and the high-capacity magazine, why aren’t we calling him a terrorist?
I would probably have been inclined at one time to say that I’m not interested in the words that we use to describe these actions. However, it occurs to me that McCaskill’s concern underlines the fact that how we label vicious events is indicative of how seriously we take them. If we are going to deal with the epidemic of gun violence – in the face of NRA intransigence, their paid-for gun whores, and other assorted 2nd amendment nutjobs – we need to conceptually separate it from everyday crime and elevate its importance, something that the label “terrorism” might do. Another example of using labels as a tool to fight especially vicious crime is provided by the designation of “hate crimes.”
The importance as well as the fungibility of such labeling was really brought home to me by a Daily Kos posting about a Fox news contributor who tweeted:
Just b/c the bombing suspects were Muslim, that doesn’t make it ‘terrorism’ any more than a crazy abortion clinic bomber is a terrorist.
Poor baby probably thought she was counseling forbearance in the absence of real information. Instead she reveals an unfortunate mindset when it comes to terrorism – that’s right, terrorism – against abortion clinics. As the DailyKos poster notes, the range of violence that has been carried out against abortion doctors and clinics meets the FBI’s definition of terror* – which, as far as I am concerned, is as good as any. It’s important to make this point because only when we realize that we are talking about people who resort to the same solutions as Al Queda, do we finally understand the full, evil implications of their actions. I’m not sure that “terrorism” is the word we want to use to describe Sandy Hook, but perhaps we do need some special label to designate such events as distinct phenomena that we need to combat with the same energy we have shown when we approach the issue of terror – preferably a label with the same emotional impact as “terrorism.”
*There is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism. Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85).
The White House Weekly Address, by Francine Wheeler:
Remarks of Francine Wheeler
The President’s Weekly Address
The White House
April 13, 2013
Hi. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not the President. I’m just a citizen. And as a citizen, I’m here at the White House today because I want to make a difference and I hope you will join me.
My name is Francine Wheeler. My husband David is with me. We live in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
David and I have two sons. Our older son Nate, soon to be ten years old, is a fourth grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our younger son, Ben, age six, was murdered in his first-grade classroom on December 14th, exactly four months ago this weekend.
David and I lost our beloved son, and Nate lost his best friend. On what turned out to be the last morning of his life, Ben told me, quite out of the blue, ” I still want to be an architect, Mama, but I also want to be a paleontologist, because that’s what Nate is going to be and I want to do everything Nate does.”
Ben’s love of fun and his excitement at the wonders of life were unmatched His boundless energy kept him running across the soccer field long after the game was over. And he couldn’t wait to get to school every morning. He sang with perfect pitch and had just played at his third piano recital. Irrepressibly bright and spirited, Ben experienced life at full tilt.
Until that morning. Twenty of our children, and six of our educators – gone. Out of the blue.
I’ve heard people say that the tidal wave of anguish our country felt on 12/14 has receded. But not for us. To us, it feels as if it happened just yesterday. And in the four months since we lost our loved ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun. Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief.
Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy.
Sometimes, I close my eyes and all I can remember is that awful day waiting at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse for the boy who would never come home – the same firehouse that was home to Ben’s Tiger Scout Den 6. But other times, I feel Ben’s presence filling me with courage for what I have to do – for him and all the others taken from us so violently and too soon.
We have to convince the Senate to come together and pass commonsense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer and prevent more tragedies like the one we never thought would happen to us.
When I packed for Washington on Monday, it looked like the Senate might not act at all. Then, after the President spoke in Hartford, and a dozen of us met with Senators to share our stories, more than two-thirds of the Senate voted to move forward.
But that’s only the start. They haven’t yet passed any bills that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. And a lot of people are fighting to make sure they never do.
Now is the time to act. Please join us. You can talk to your Senator, too. Or visit WhiteHouse.gov to find out how you can help join the President and get involved.
Help this be the moment when real change begins. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.