Like most days, today roughly 93 Americans will die from gunshot wounds, adding to the 33,000 of our fellow citizens who will die by gunfire this year. Two-thirds of those will be suicides. Most of the rest—12,000 or so—will be murder victims; a much smaller number will be killed by gun accidents.
The slaughter's daily drumbeat fades into the background: two killed in a drive-by shooting in Carson, a domestic murder-suicide is reported upstate, a deliveryman kills three coworkers and then himself in a UPS facility in San Francisco. Even the mass murders become part of the rhythm, with Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech joining too long a list.
So much bloodshed can barely register unless and until it touches people you know, people you love.
Too regularly, a particular shooting will rise above the noise, catching our attention because of who got shot or how many were killed or, increasingly, if some part of the carnage was captured on film.
But then too regularly, a particular shooting will rise above the noise, catching our attention because of who got shot or how many were killed or, increasingly, if some part of the carnage was captured on film.
- A year ago, a 29-year-old security guard killed 49 people and wounded 58 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
- A year before that, a young white supremacist killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, after sitting in for part of their Bible study class.
- Last July, a St. Paul policeman killed a black man, Philando Castile, he had pulled over really for driving, or in his case riding, while black—a murder Castile's girlfriend broadcast live on Facebook.
- Six years ago in 2011 in Tucson, a rising Arizona congresswoman from Arizona, Gabby Giffords, was shot in the head by a crazed gunman, who then went on to kill six people, including a judge and nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, wounding 13 altogether, several of them armed themselves.
This past week, of course, we've got the shooting at the Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field, where Republican Congressmen were taking batting practice and fielding grounders. We know about this one because another congressman, this time Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), was shot in the hip by a high-powered rifle round. Like Gabby Gifford did, he is fighting for his life and expected to survive the assault, as will the two Capitol Hill police officers who rushed to the defense and who killed the gunman before he could do further harm.
Endless discussion has followed.
Three Things Will Happen
Every time we have one of these larger-than-life shootings, a certain kind of person will try to make political hay out of the tragedy. When Gabby Giffords was shot, the white-hot political vitriol of right-wing talk radio and Fox talking heads was initially blamed for radicalizing the shooter, until it unfolded that he was a deeply paranoid schizophrenic and may not have known who he was shooting nor why.
Now, we've got the likes of Newt Gingrich blaming Bernie Sanders—since the Virginia shooter was indeed a Sanders supporter, who had railed against Republicans online and in person—and virulent left-wing antipathy toward President Trump.
To hear Gingrich and allies among the right-wing fringe tell it, you'll soon see people wearing Birkenstocks and those pointy pink pussy hats breaking down the doors at Republican congressional offices from coast to coast, which couldn't be more ironic coming from such a bitterly partisan crew as Gingrich and his cohorts.
Sanders, of course, vehemently denounced the shooter, saying he was sickened by the actions of his former volunteer worker.
Second, we'll pick up the conversation about what to do about all the gun deaths we have in America—25 times more murders than in any other developed country, with two additional people injured when someone is shot to death.
We'll remind ourselves that there's a strong correlation between a history of domestic violence and mass murder—the Virginia shooter was known to police for his abuse record and yet purchased his rifle legally—observing that most of the 1,700 women who are shot to death each year die as a result of domestic violence.
We'll discuss reasonable measures, not to take away everyone's guns, not to trample the Second Amendment, but to, say, prevent people with domestic abuse convictions or mental issues from owning guns or establishing a national gun owner registry so we can be sure guns down fall into the hands of people not prepared mentally or emotionally to handle them.
We'll talk about creating a government-sponsored gun buyback program like the one Australia had years ago to remove a third of the guns that country had in private hands.
Others of us will argue that the best remedy for a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun, I guess saying that if only the second baseman had been packing heat nobody but the nutcase would have gotten shot in Virginia.
And then the third thing will happen:
That's right. We'll point all the fingers we have to point about the latest outrage, some of us harvesting a bit of political hay, others of us signing petitions for stricter gun-control laws, yelling out our windows in outrage, exercising our jaw muscles and wringing our hands just like we did the last ten times.
And still nothing will happen–or at least very little.
We'll just let the drumbeat of 93 daily gun deaths wash over us until the next time a prominent person gets shot—or a whole bunch of people, or maybe a classroom full of 5-year-old preschools kids—and then we'll rinse and repeat.
Since Gabby Gifford was shot in 2011, "more than 100 bills seeking to control access to guns—from tougher background checks to banning magazines holding more than 10 rounds to closing the “gun show loophole”—have failed to pass, primarily because of the cozy relationship between the gun lobby and Republican lawmakers."
And when you say "gun lobby," what you mean is the National Rifle Association, which leverages its $300 million annual budget to prevent any bill limiting their "all guns everywhere" agenda—recall that Rep. Scalise himself voted against a bill to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. The NRA's standard threat is to "primary" any legislator, Republican or Democrat, who opposes them—a threat they have not been slow to wield in a nation with more guns, 300 million, than people.
Even though most rank-and-file NRA members support some gun-control measures, its leadership is firmly in bed with gun manufacturers—which are "showing them the money." NRA President Wayne LaPierre and his cohorts have stymied sensible gun control programs for years as a result—and it's hard to see what would change there.
Getting money out of politics, having government pay for political campaigns, would dampen the need for congressmen and state legislators to listen to gun lobbyists and the like in return for campaign cash. But this afternoon, in the Land of Trump, where the door is being slammed in Cuba's face and undocumented students are suddenly in dire risk of being deported, anything as sensible and rational and "First World" as preventing corporate control of our elections just seems too much to consider.
A Long Shot
So as long as we're talking about long shots, let me tell you about the inspiration I get every time I make my weekly investment in the California Lottery down at the corner liquor store. There behind the cashier are rows and row of cigarette packages—not the classy, seductive brands like Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields from back in the day when I smoked my Luckies right down to my yellowed fingertips, but cheaper, utilitarian, fly-by-night brands.
As I've said elsewhere, people smoked when I went off to college in 1965—in restaurants, classrooms, doctors' offices—great clouds everywhere you looked. Statistics say that 42% smoked 50 years ago, compared to just 15% now, but it seemed like it was 142%.
Back then, if you could find a no-smoking section, you wouldn't want to sit there, much less eat.
You walked into someone's apartment, you didn't to ask permission. You just lit up and looked around for one of the several ashtrays your hosts had laid out for your convenience.
Try that now and you're likely to get a bucket of water dumped your head.
The government played a role in that massive change by taxing the bejeezus out of cigarettes, limiting where you could smoke, and cracking down on sales to minors.
The American Cancer Society relentlessly took center stage by telling the ugly truth about how cigarette smoking would shorten your life.
But the bottom line is that Americans in great numbers moved. If we smoked, like Sharon and I did, we stopped. And if they we never smoked, like my daughter and Sharon's son and daughter, we never started. Plain and simple.
Americans in huge numbers just turned our back on the whole idea—overcoming the boatloads of cash Big Tobacco threw at legislators to preserve their right to poison fellow Americans.
One thought to consider. When I was a kid, I used to watch old movies like The Big Sleep, Key Largo, and To Have and Have Not that showed Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall smoking up a storm, making what the two of them did with the curling smoke from their cigarettes look like the best foreplay going.
But after that, much thanks to pressure on and cooperation by the film industry, cigarette smoking disappeared from the silver screen and subsequently from television shows.
Shoot 'em Ups
Can you imagine where we'd be if today's television rarely if ever showed gunplay, rather than displaying one improbable gunfight in every action film—and some chick flicks—that comes down the pike, bodies tumbling everywhere, holes knocked in walls and windows shot out, gunshot victims writhing in pain on the floor?
You have to know that hours and hours of watching dashing leading men and sexy starlets gunning down faceless bad guys has to debase our understanding of what an actual bullet does to a real person.
Indeed, research shows that the growing level of gun violence shown in PG-13 films—said to be appropriate for kids 13 years and up—has grown dramatically over the years, doubling since 1985 and growing even more rapidly in the past several years.
American kids currently witness 200,000 violent acts on television before they turn 18, with 91% of movies on television containing violence, even extreme violence and video games are even worse.
What all these displays of gore do isn't so much to spur kids into getting or using guns necessarily, but it makes them and us view aggression as more acceptable.
Maybe if we handled this issue much like we handled smoking, we'd get somewhere. If we mounted a campaign to stop making gunplay and murder seem sexy in movies and on TV, and instead showed the honest truth. Remember when the American Cancer society showed a woman smoking even after having her larynx removed? That's some truth.
Watch the video below to see how much can change in a single generation. If we have the will, we can change this countries fascination with guns.
Editor, LA Progressive