I’m a cynic. I assume the absolute worst will happen, and allow myself the pleasure of being pleasantly surprised when, from time to time, it doesn’t. So when 27 people are gunned down in cold blood in a school in Connecticut, I’m not surprised. Why would I be? Mass shootings happen in this country at least once a year, usually two or three times. This has been the case during the entirety of my adult life. Frankly, if these events suddenly stopped, it would cause me more surprise then when they do occur. Until we address the issue of the insane prevalence of guns in America, these incidents will continue unabated.
Since 1968, more than one million Americans have died from gun violence. To give you an idea of scale, this is more people than died in the genocide in Bosnia and the American Civil War combined. It’s become a routine feature on our news feeds, to wake up to reports of anywhere from 5 to 30 innocents slaughtered at the hands of a young man, who, gathered in a school, a grocery store, or a theater, could be any one of us. The sad truth of the matter is, despite perhaps not wanting to admit it, is that we’ve become used to periodic episodes of particularly sickening violence. Even the White House Press secretary today, when pressed for a reaction on today’s events, demurred, saying: ‘I’m sure there will be rather a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I don’t think today is that day.’ You know, because we have to focus on the fiscal cliff, right? The shit that actually matters, Carney’s tone suggests.
As previously stated, I’m a cynic, but I’m also hopeful about the future.
During his time as mayor, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has demonstrated that he gets the job done, and is willing to spend a boatload of his own cash in so doing. The intersection of determination and lots (and lots) of money has a way of getting things done. In the past electoral cycle, Bloomberg put up $9 million of his own money to assist US House candidates that share his views on gun control, education and political moderation. The two Democratic candidates he backed won, the two Republicans he backed lost. Going forward, I believe that today’s events will have the effect of helping him focus his energies and resources on a confluence of these issues, which means that for the first time, we’ll have a counterweight to the ATM of the gun lobby: the NRA. Financially, Mike Bloomberg can effectively level the playing field when it comes to the issue of gun control in electoral politics. So, we have the money part covered.
The second is the President. For the first time in almost 20 years, stronger gun control is going to return to the political discourse as a viable undertaking. Bill Clinton signed the assault weapons ban into law (it lasted a decade before expiring) and since its expiry, Democrats have been so terrified of losing further ground with working class whites that we’ve dropped the issue entirely. In the President’s statement today, we have the first indication that gun control might be back on the agenda. Politically speaking, the gun issue (in addition to being good policy) would have the added advantage of driving ever more suburban moderates into the arms of the Democrats once they see the apoplectic fit that those nutbags on the right have once the issue is raised. It’s not going to do the GOP any good to go hard right on the issue, but that’s where their base is, so that’s where they’re going to be at on it. So we have the leadership part covered.
And third is this: Americans might, at long, long last, have woken the fuck up to the fact that we’re getting used to this. When they realize that we’ve actually gotten used to the fact that large numbers of people die on a daily basis from gun violence in this country, they may realize that 1) the US is the only country in the world where this happens on such a large scale and 2) we have the power to demand that this stops.
Despite being a cynic, that last reason gives me hope. Americans get the government we ask for. Most of the time, we’re so busy watching monster truck rallies or buying another dozen snuggies for our morbidly obese families that we have absolutely no clue whatsoever as to what the hell is going on (let alone what it is that we should be asking for), but, from time to time, we actually get our shit together and do something spectacularly right. This could be just that, something that, at long, long last, we get spectacularly right.
So, we have the money to get it done, and we have the leadership to get it done. The question, then, is do we have the hunger to demand that our government get its shit together and do something about it? How many more events like those of today do we need before we do so? Not many, I think.