Friday, December 21, 2012

Pointing to the sublime to avoid the obvious

Anyone with any hopes that the National Rifle Association felt any responsibility for the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., last month is undoubtedly disappointed that its president, Wayne LaPierre, held a news conference today in which a) he said the solution to the problem is a police officer with a gun in every school; and b) didn't take questions.

Way to go NRA. Stick your head in the sand, disavow any part in any of this, and keep pushing your agenda.

Well, fine. If that's how he wants it, then don't give him and his group a seat at the table. Move to a new table and tell him he's not wanted.

The problem with the NRA is the same as with all agenda-driven groups. They're so proprietary that they miss the big picture. You want to ask them to take a step back and take in the entire landscape. Sick people don't use knives or baseball bats to commit spectacular murders so that they can leave this world in a blaze of glory. Unless they're devious enough, and smart enough, to be able to dose the water supply with strychnine, they use guns.

And weapons that can get off as many rounds as possible in the least amount of time are the preferred guns, too. Can't take the risk of popping two or three victims before someone catches up with you. That's not spectacular enough. To cause the type of carnage the killer (won't mention his name) caused last week, you need high-powered weapons that can spray bullets all over the place.

And then, once you get it all out of your system, you shoot yourself. That's how you end it. You don't go peacefully. Unless you're Mucko McDermott (and believe me, he was a rare bird).

Wayne LaPierre is free to say what he wants. And we're free to reject it ... in the strongest, most public ways we can. And I hope we do.

It's not that LaPierre is entirely wrong (something that pains me to say). He has some valid points. There is too much glorified violence in our entertainment industry. Someone on The View said the other day that these were "arcade murders" and that's exactly what they were. And while I've never been one to blame the media for the actions of people who are so disconnected from reality that they can't see the difference between a video game and 20 little kids, I'm willing to concede I may be wrong about that.

I'm willing to concede that the onus is on anyone who manufactures video games that dehumanize violence that the time has come for them to move away from that. I'm willing to concede that we, as a society, reject such "entertainment." If that costs the industry money, so be it.

I don't think you get anywhere banning things. All that does is turn the people whose products your "banning" into victims (and it's truly odious to me that the NRA can claim victimhood because of any imagined violation of the second amendment), and it turns the banned product into forbidden fruit.

What works is pressure. Life can be reduced to simple elements at almost every level, and when you understand that you're on the right road to a solution. Tom Brady cannot be Tom Brady if four great big, mean, nasty defensive lineman are in his face all day long

And were it not for Candy Lightner, perhaps we'd still be living in the dark ages with regards to drunk driving. But because her daughter was killed by a serial drunk driver, she got angry enough to form Mothers Against Drunk Driving -- an organization that went about putting pressure on authorities to change the way they think.

Has MADD stopped all drunk driving fatalities? No. Of course not. It's an imperfect world, people aren't perfect, a lot of them think that laws apply to everyone but themselves, and some are just truly ignorant of what driving while impaired means.

But Candy Lightner didn't set out to ban alcohol. In fact, she left the group she founded because she felt it was moving too far toward what she called "neo-prohibitionist." All she wanted to do was make it as difficult as possible for people to get behind the wheel when they've been drinking; and to make the penalties for those who drive drunk as severe as possible. She wanted no part of banning booze.

Similarly, banning all guns isn't the answer. Most reasonable people agree that the entire paradigm has to change. It's all-encompassing. But part of that paradigm involves guns. How can it not? How can anyone seriously suggest that guns are not a part of this equation?

We have the power in this country to reject that thinking, and to coalesce nationally to form a lobby as powerful as the NRA. And before anything gets done, that is what's going to have to happen.

And that means we have to frame the issue. It's no different than global warming. We're having a "storm of the century" every other year, it seems. If Sandy wasn't a wakeup call nothing is. My true belief -- despite what the Mayans said -- is that our species will be extinct well before the Biblical version of Armageddon ever occurs. And that's because we will -- by our inaction and squabbling on global warming -- render the planet uninhabitable for human life ... which, for all the gifts it has received in advanced intellect and reasoning skills, is perhaps more fragile than many other species.

But we haven't been able to frame the issue in such as way as to produce consensus. We are overrun by fanatics on both sides of the issue, and that prevents us from being able to come up with a reasonable set of objectives and goals to address the problem.

So it is with guns. To those who say the answer is to confiscate all guns: Don't be foolish. Nothing will drag this discussion down faster than to paint responsible people with the same brush as the lunatics and socio/psychopaths. Gun violence is the problem ... not necessarily gun owners.

 But saying that doesn't absolve the NRA -- as the primary spokespeople for gun owners -- from at the very least being willing to examine its own agenda, and its own membership, and to add to the national dialogue in a meaningful way. And while it's disappointing LaPierre chose not to, it's also not surprising.

They are who they are. And too many of them don't see the connection between what they hold near and dear and what reality is. And reality is that it's much easier to commit mass murder with a gun than it is with any other means of violence. It's over quicker, and it sufficiently dehumanizes victims because you don't have to look them in the eye, or get close enough to them to even see who they are. You can just go into a room and start shooting indiscriminately.

It's pointless to argue that the framers of the Second Amendment were talking about muskets, because the Constitution was written as a document that its authors hoped would stand the test of time. These weren't stupid people. They'd already seen enough change in their world to understand that nothing remains the same. They'd just survived a revolution!! Maybe they couldn't foresee the scope of modern weaponry, but I'm sure it occurred to them that someone, someday, might come up with a more reliable one than a musket.

But they weren't 100 percent clairvoyant. What they perhaps couldn't foresee was how much the times would change ... and how society would move so much faster 200 years from the time the Bill of Rights was passed ... and how thoroughly detached some of the ones who just cannot seem to catch up seem to feel. We were largely an agrarian society in the 1790s. There hadn't been an industrial revolution ... there hadn't been mass immigration ... perhaps we hadn't developed the hard, almost avaricious version of capitalism that exists today.

I'm just throwing things out here to make the point that there are so many people fighting for the same crumbs of the pie, and the fallout from it is akin to a feeding frenzy of lions fighting their way to get at the zebra they've just taken down.

Some people just go completely off the rails. And they fuel themselves by what they see around them ... and that's all-encompassing. And in the long run, THAT'S what has to change.

In the meantime, though, we have to address these problems as they come up. And while gun violence is but one symptom of a hornet's nest of sociological issues, it is a symptom that cannot be ignored any longer. We cannot keep pointing to the sublime in an attempt to avoid the obvious.

Yes, we are an avaricious society that smiles proudly on anyone who can make a buck ... no matter how. If you happen to make your money peddling the worst kind of mindless, dehumanizing violence, good for you. If you get rich enough, you'll see your name in Fortune 500 and be treated as if you were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

Yes, that has to change. But that's going to be a slow evolution, and it's going to involve waiting until enough people make the connection so that they can -- of their own volition -- reject such manufactured inhumanity. And that's not going to happen tomorrow, that's for sure.

And yes, we are going to have to -- at some point -- pull the belts in and concede that a society with so many members falling through the cracks gets more and more dangerous with each passing days. Thy whys and wherefores don't really matter. The reality does. And the reality is that there are far too many untreated -- even undiagnosed -- cases of mental illness of all varieties, and with every new case is the potential for enormous tragedy.

Overriding any of that, though, in the year 2012 going into 2013, is the common denominator. Guns. None of this happens without guns.

So the problem is to frame the argument in such as way as to come to a consensus, so that the numbers of those with a responsible plan of action can successfully butt heads with the Wayne LaPierres of the world.

But we cannot keep sitting there, sucking our thumbs, and crying that there's nothing to be done. Not true. We just have to figure out what it is. And do it. We can use the bully pulpit too. But we have to understand that's what it's going to take. Because unless we do something like what Candy Lightner did in 1980, all the politicians are going to do is wring their hands, say all the right words about how shocking and terrible this all is, and go right back to changing the subject to something far less challenging and divisive.

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