In the aftermath of San Bernardino, we saw the fight against an entrenched, irrational, implacable ideology – ISIS – run smack dab into another equally fanatic force – Second Amendment Literalists. We all know who’s going to win that fight.
The president and a few other pragmatists suggested for the umpteenth time modest limits on assault weapons and other measures that might make it harder for violent extremists, crazy people or stone cold killers to shed blood. On paper this ought to be a slam dunk.
Polls show 92% of Americans would favor background checks for all gun purposes. Seventy-seven percent approve the idea of a ban on gun sales to persons already on a terrorism watch list. Sixty-four percent of Americans say they are afraid of gun violence, not in the abstract but in their neighborhood.
But the proponents of such measures are wasting their breath. The NRA is to America what ISIS is to the Middle East. It is a zealous force that few are brave enough to oppose. So the gun culture is safe and the killing will continue.
Bloodshed due to Islamic terrorism is particularly spooky because it seems weird and alien, but it is just a drop in the bucket. Since September 10, 2001, American lives lost at home to Islamic terror, from the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 up to San Bernardino, number less than 3,500. That’s a god awful number, and if you add in combat casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, another 6,700, the cost of radical Islam in American lives approaches 10,000.
And yet, in the same time period – from the day before 9/11 to the present – the number of American lives lost to daily gun violence has been 40 times greater. That’s right, over 400,000 Americans have killed themselves or each other using guns in the last 14 years. That’s as many Americans as died in World War II.
If ISIS had killed 400,000 Americans we’d have nuked Raqqa by now, but the NRA is alive and well. We now have about 300,000,000 guns in this country, two guns for every registered voter. And they are used every day, and not — as the gun apologists would argue — for benign sport shooting, hunting or to protect one’s homes and little children.
No, they are used by family members on family members, by drunks and drug-fueled loons for murder and suicide, by loners to get even, by the lovelorn to express sexual frustration, by the unemployed to gun down former co-workers. They are used to express rage over child custody or abortion or hatred of Sikhs or Jews or Christians or blacks. They are used in petty thefts and in gang violence, in drug wars and turf wars and for no reason at all.
They are used by deranged, off-kilter people in one mass shooting after another. So, nine die in a historic black church in Charleston, nine more on a community college campus in Oregon, 12 in a movie theater in Colorado, 26 in an elementary school in Connecticut, 12 in a Washington Navy Yard and on and on and on.
By one measure we are now up to about one mass shooting – four or more dead – every day of the year in America. And the death toll of 30,000 dead a year (about two-thirds of them suicides) is dwarfed by the 85,000 a year who are wounded but survive, many of them damaged for life by the experience.
Gun apologists say that if everyone were just armed, the violence would stop. The good guys would shoot the bad buys, just like the O.K. Corral. But everyone is armed and so far no one in a church, school or theater has whipped out a handgun from holster or purse and put down the AK armed killers. The posse is a pipedream, as is the idea of solving the problem by more money for mental health. That would be a social good but, like the white hats riding to the rescue, it is usually too little too late.
All such phony nostrums come up against an implacable fact of life. We’re Americans. We tote guns. We solve problems with guns. We play kids’ games with guns. We watch movies whose only plot is guns. We admire guys with guns. We live in a sea of guns and aspire to die with them clutched in our cold, dead hands.
You don’t like it? Well, then, you must be an effete pantywaist who’d be happier in Canada or Australia or Japan or all those sissy European countries where there are more sidewalk cafes than gun stores and entertainment is an art exhibit not a gun show. So maybe you’d better get out of Dodge. Or else.