I tried to write something last night about the Orlando shooting that just left 50 people dead, but I gave up an hour or so into it. I’d sliced my hand open earlier in the day while working on the renovation of 209 Pearl Street, which made it difficult to type. [My right thumb was wrapped up in a bloody rag.] The bigger issue, however, was that I didn’t have anything even remotely new or insightful to say. Everything I wanted to say, I’d already said before.
Had I been smarter, I would have withheld some of the outrage I expressed in the wake of the Sandy Hook and Aurora shootings. I should have known that we’d have another, even bigger mass shooting just around the corner. But I gave you everything I had back then. I tore into the right for blaming such acts on the erosion of religion in American life. I railed against the NRA for suggesting that the answer was to put more guns in our schools. And I praised President Obama for his incremental moves to bring sanity back to the conversation by actually talking openly about the societal costs associated with gun violence and suggesting that we do the unthinkable and lift the federal ban on related research. So, when I sat down to write about yesterday morning’s attack on the nightclub in Orlando, our nation’s most deadly mass shooting in 34 years, it just seemed like I was rehashing the same old stuff.
After taking a moment to mourn the dead, I jumped right into my practiced talking points. I started writing about about the need for better mental health care, and how imperative it is that we close loopholes and expand funding so that we can actually enforce the gun-related laws that we already have on the books. Essentially I started repeating the popular liberal position, assuring any Republicans that might be in the audience that we don’t want to take their weapons, and asking respectfully that they engage in common sense reforms intended to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of terrorists, and those who would use them to do harm… But then it dawned on me, as I was sitting there typing, that I really didn’t wan to post yet another article assuring the gun-loving right we’d never dream of coming for their beloved guns. I’m tired of being respectful toward the far right on gun control, I thought, telling them that they don’t have anything to worry about, and that we don’t care how many assault rifles they have, just so long as they allow us to conduct even the most rudimentary background checks, so that we can keep guns from domestic abusers and known criminals. No, it occurred to me, we were probably beyond the point of being deferential.
Speaking of this reasoned approach to gun control, Obama had a masterful response to an older man during a public appearance on PBS a week or so ago who stood up and essentially asked him why he was coming for the guns of law-abiding Americans. Here, in case you missed it, is the President’s response.
First of all, the notion that I or Hillary or Democrats, or whoever you want to choose, are hell-bent on taking away folks’ guns is just not true — and I don’t care how many times the NRA says it. I’m about to leave office. There have been more guns sold since I’ve been President than just about any time in U.S. history. There are enough guns for every man, woman and child in this country. And at no point have I ever proposed confiscating guns from responsible gun owners. So it’s just not true.
What I have said is precisely what you suggested, which is why don’t we treat this like every other thing that we use? We used to have really bad auto fatality rates. The auto fatality rate has actually dropped precipitously, drastically, since I was a kid. Why is that? We decided we had seatbelt laws. We decided to have manufacturers put airbags in place. We decided to crack down on drunk driving and texting. We decided to redesign roads so that they were less likely to have a car bank. We studied what is causing these fatalities using science and data and evidence, and then we slowly treated it like the public health problem it was, and it got reduced.
We are not allowed to do any of that when it comes to guns because people — if you propose anything, it is suggested that we’re trying to wipe away gun rights and impose tyranny and martial law. Do you know that Congress will not allow the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence? They’re not allowed to study it because the notion is, is that by studying it, the same way we do with traffic accidents, somehow that’s going to lead to everybody’s gun being confiscated.
When we talked about background checks — if you buy a car, if you want to get a license, first of all, you got to get a license. You have to take a test. People have to know that you know how to drive. You don’t have to do any of that with respect to buying a gun. And we talked about doing effective background checks. It was resisted because the notion was we were going to take your guns away.
I just came from a meeting today in the Situation Room in which I’ve got people who we know have been on ISIL websites, living here in the United States, U.S. citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no-fly list when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun. This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer. And if he wants to walk into a gun store or a gun show right now and buy as many weapons and ammo as he can, nothing is prohibiting him from doing that, even though the FBI knows who that person is.
So, sir, I just have to say respectfully that there is a way for us to have common-sense gun laws. There is a way for us to make sure that lawful, responsible gun owners like yourself are able to use it for sporting, hunting, and protecting yourself. But the only way we’re going to do that is if we don’t have a situation in which anything that is proposed is viewed as some tyrannical destruction of the Second Amendment. And that’s how the issue too often gets framed…
And, for what it’s worth, Obama was absolutely right in what he said. If we ever want to see reform in this country, this is the way we’re going to get there. It just pisses me off that no one in power can tell the complete truth, which is that there’s no place in civilized society for weapons intended to kill one another, especially ones designed to take the lives of dozens of human beings in quick succession.
Yes, I understand that the Constitution says you have a right to be armed as part of a well-regulated militia, but… let’s be honest… the world we live in has changed quite a bit over the past 240-some years. We no longer live in a world where individuals armed with muskets can fight back physically against the government. That horse, as they say, has left the barn. And no matter how may AK47s you might have, you’re not going to fend off a government with surveillance drones, armored assault vehicles, and bombs designed to wipe out hardened subterranean bunkers. If you think I’m wrong, ask the folks in Waco.
I’m not saying that I’d like to eliminate every weapon in America. I just don’t see why it’s not even on the table as an option. It bothers me that it’s just taken for granted that no one in elected office can say, “What if we got rid of every assault rifle in America?” Again, I’m not saying that I’d necessarily suggest this course of action. It just bothers me that, when we’re assessing potential paths forward, it’s not even an option. It’s like if you were a 800-pound man, suffering from diabetes, and approaching certain death, and your doctor couldn’t even say, “Well, you might want to consider giving up pop,” because everyone knows you love the fuck out of your pop, and you’d start screaming your fucking ahead off if anyone even suggested that you cut down to a single six pack a day.
Again, I have no idea what the answer is… I just think that we should try to get beyond politics for a minute and put everything on the table, from arming every kindergartener, to melting down every gun ever made.
One more thing. If I’d written this yesterday, I likely would have mentioned that it had been reported that the killer, Omar Mateen, was a radical Muslim who once flew into a rage having seen two men kissing. Well, according to reports coming out today, Mateen’s feelings concerning homosexuality may have been a bit more complicated. The LA Times is reporting that the 29 year old Mateen was a user the gay chat and dating app Jack’d, and had spent time at this very Orlando LGBT nightclub prior to yesterday’s attack.
One wonders how many men are driven into fundamentalism because they live in cultures where they can’t be themselves. I don’t want to make excuses for Mateen, but it’s not difficult to see how a young gay man growing up in a fundamentalist household might be more inclined to gravitate toward jihad rather than face the reality that he’s gay.
OK, remember how I said that yesterday I didn’t have any new ideas? Well, that was yesterday… And now I’ve got two new thoughts on how we make this planet of ours a better place.
1. We radically change America. We institute a minimum income for everyone, we offer free healthcare, and we get the money out of politics, so that the government actually works for the people. All we ask in return is that you not be a douche, and give up your weapons. And, if you don’t like that, we pay for you to move to a new country that we’ve established in the former state of Texas, which has huge walls all the way around it, and operates under the libertarian principles of Ayn Rand.
2. We create a tropical paradise for anyone who feels like he or she needs to escape fundamentalism and be themselves, and we market the hell out of it globally. We make sure that everyone knows that all they need to do is call a toll-free number anywhere in the world, and we’ll whisk them away in the dead of night and give them an opportunity to start over again. And, yes, I know that all jihadists aren’t closeted gay men who would have jumped at a chance to live on a fabulous island away from their fundamentalist neighbors, but how cool would it be if we could deter 10% of jihadists just by turning GITMO into a giant, sunny “no judgment” zone where people could feel as though their best option on any given day isn’t mass murder to glorify a god they think hates them, but a peach daiquiri and a sunset dolphin watching tour?