Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gun Control after a Tragedy

At this point, the sad story is known to just about everybody.  On December 1, Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, who was also the mother of his child, and drove to the Chiefs’ practice facility and killed himself.  The next day, at halftime of Sunday Night Football, sportscaster Bob Costas gave a two minute monologue expressing regret about the tragedy and stating his belief that if Belcher had not possessed a gun, he and his girlfriend would both be alive.  The reaction to this short and measured statement has been unfortunate.

Fox News, the bastion of conservative stupidity, labeled the two minute segment a “rant” which was nothing more than an attempt to capitalize on a tragic event to push a liberal agenda.  After Costas appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show to defend his position, Fox ran two articles with arguably the most tasteless and shockingly unaware headlines in the past year.  “Costas Can’t Shoot Straight When it comes to Guns” and “Costas Sticks to His Guns on O’Reilly.”  How these made it past a single editor is simply disgusting, and every single soul associated with Fox News should be utterly ashamed of themselves and take a long look in the mirror when they question why more people hate conservatives than they hate liberals.
A slightly measured column by Mercedes Colwin, which still erroneously labels Costas’ segment a rant, does raise a valid point.  Perkins was a victim of domestic abuse which, in this case, was carried out with a gun.  Colwin goes on to discuss how gun violence and domestic violence are not mutually exclusive.  This is true as well; domestic violence comes in many forms and many different weapons, be them fists, knives, or virtually anything in a house, can be used in the committing of the act.  Where Colwin falls of the train of reality is when she states that [t]he continuation to politicize [Perkins’] death under the sham that gun control is the reason [she] died, causes her death to have been in vain.”
How the use of Perkins’ death to enact stricter gun control laws would make her death in vain is baffling.  For one, of course her death was in vain; she never should have died in the first place.  But stating that the attempt to use her death to create more gun restrictions does a disservice to the cause of ending domestic abuse is simply wrong.  While domestic abuse, as mentioned above, can be employed with almost anything, laws regulating control of by far the most deadly tool would be a godsend. 
In the horrifically headlined “Costas Can’t Shoot Straight When it comes to Guns” John Lott propagates the stupid claim that increased gun possession can stop tragedies.  While discussing the Aurora theater shooting Lott claims that if an individual in the theater was armed, he or she could have ended the massacre before it began, going as far as to state that  “disarming law-abiding citizens leaves them as sitting ducks.”  Because the best thing to do is arm those ducks in a darkened room, while experiencing the most stressful and frightening event in their life, and trust them to hit the individual in the crowd who is carrying the shooting out. 
Friendly fire happens in war, Pat Tillman is an example of that.  It is not rare for police in firefights to accidentally shoot bystanders.  Soldiers go through years of training and countless hours of target practice and still hit the wrong people.  Police go through years of training and countless hours of target practice and still hit the wrong people.  My brother, a twenty-one year old art student, could go out tomorrow, apply for a gun permit and within a month be armed; and that’s the end of it.  Individuals have little to no training, and they certainly are not prepared for the intense fear which will unquestionably set in during a shooting.  The assertion that a regular individual can stop a shooting in-action reeks of watching Die Hard a few too many times; the very “Dirty Harry” mentality Costas bemoaned during his conversation with O’Reilly. 
Another faulty assumption employed in Lott’s reasoning is that, even if we assume—unrealistically—that an regular individual would be composed enough to be able to stop a shooting in-action, that individual would have to actually have the gun with him or her.  The Aurora shooting took place at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in a safe neighborhood in a safe city.  Even had it been legal for a patron to possess a gun in the theater, it is unlikely any of them would have felt the need to take a firearm to what would normally be a fun event with friends.  Some gun-hawks may claim that it is this very feeling of safety that makes people vulnerable (Lott himself suggests this by insinuating that James Holmes chose that specific theater because it is the one which most likely would not have any armed patrons).  But I believe that the day when people feel the need to carry a gun everywhere lest they fall victim to a tragedy is the day that we have failed as a nation.
Once upon a time, America reacted to gun tragedies with legislation.  The Waco Incident led to the passing of the Brady Act in 1993 and the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994; the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. led to the Gun Control Act of 1968; widespread mob violence led to the National Firearms Act in 1934.  All these laws passed within months of the inspiring incidents.  Now, however, since the National Rifle Association haunts Congress and statehouses like a specter, legislators react with empty words about how guns are not the problem.
Since the Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, gun violence has not stopped.  Virginia Tech.  Tucson, Arizona.  Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  Copley, Ohio.  Chardon High School.  Brookfield, Wisconsin.  Omaha, Nebraska.  Delaware State University.  Carnation, Wisconsin.  Northern Illinois University.  Alger, Washington.  Covina, California.  The 2009 Alabama spree killings.  Hampton University.  Binghamton, New York.  Texas Southern University.  Fort Hood. 
How many more people have to die before legislators and conservatives take a long, hard look at the gun culture endemic in American society and recognize the problem?  How many more children have to be orphaned, spouses widowed, families devastated before people realize that this is real life, not an action movie?  How many more sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, friends, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandfathers, grandmothers, grandchildren have to die before people realize that guns do not keep people safe from guns?  How many more funerals have to be conducted decades before they ought until the Republican Party realizes that despite the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms should be allowed to expire?   

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