Let’s begin with a moment of silence for those who died and those were wounded in the shooting.
I’m kidding, kind of. Unless you are Sarah Palin or think putting tea bags on your ears is a political statement, you probably didn’t read this out loud, so it was already a moment of silence.
I want to say something about how we now grieve. President Obama called for a moment of “silence and reflection.” That feels right. It’s beyond politics. No matter how degraded we’ve become in our public discourse, you couldn’t imagine Rush Limbaugh countering by calling for a moment of “noise and shallowness”, at least not in so many words. (A little off topic, but how can Rush Limbaugh love twinkies and oxycontin and be against other people’s health care? The whole reason that walking side of bacon exists is because Pfizer has a tube shoved up his ass, probably taking up half of their resources. If you want to cut the cost of healthcare, you should let Rush Limbaugh die. And Rush, as ever, if you are reading this, bone a lawnmower, you gravy-soaked mouth-breather. It’s a good thing your mother didn’t love you or else your first affection would be from a whore.)
Anyway, I was talking about civility in our public discourse. I’m all for it. And there’s something very human and touching about a moment of silence. But tea party to key party, we are all shocked by what happened to our neighbors to the west.
Wait a second, did I just say “to the west”? I did because I wrote the above five months ago after the Batman shootings in Aurora, Colorado. I meant to write a meditation on grief, on why so many people I love felt a special kinship with the victims at the theater that they wouldn’t have felt if the shootings had happened at, say, a football game. Above all, I wanted to say that the only patriotic move President Obama could do was to exploit the tragedy to win the 2012 election. It was, I assume, going to be brilliant. (As an aside, I like summarizing articles I didn’t write. It’s easier than writing them.)
So why didn’t I finish it? Because life goes on. I moved across state lines and started a new job. Then the election was in full swing. Look, it’s impossible to continuously feel grief for strangers. After a while, it moved to the back of my mind, the way these things do. I still feel bad for Chandra Levy, but my family didn’t mention her in our Thanksgiving prayers.
Why say this? I seriously doubt that my editorializing could have stopped more than half of the shootings. But what I’m interested in is the nature of how we express our grief. This goes back to our moment of silence.
TS Eliot ends “The Waste Land” with a chant he translates to “the peace that transcends understanding. “ The moment of silence approaches that. We bury our dead in awe of the happening. Reasons, explanations, and actions follow, but for now we accept the world rather than try to explain it.
But it’s just a fucking moment.
This is the reality we’re missing in our national discourse. The moment of silence has taken over our conversation. “Surely, we can’t talk about this when people are still in the hospital,” say the people with no connection to the victims who are trying to buy time. And to be clear, when President Obama says “We must never let this happen again”, he is continuing the moment of silence. Don’t say what we already know—repeating yourself accomplishes nothing but self indulgence (says the man who started this essay by repeating something he wrote half a year ago).
Five moths ago, we had a moment of silence. Then we extended it for fear of offending the dead. And now—as a tertiary result of our silence—children have been murdered. Because what has changed from Aurora to now that could have conceivably stopped this shooting? What has changed from the Gabby Giffords shooting? What has changed from Columbine?
Perhaps this is a better question: What practical good have assault rifles done? We know the evil they can do, but tell us the good they have done?
The silence you hear to that question is not an accident. The NRA eludes responsibility because we let them run out the clock. “To speak now is disrespectful,” they say. And soon you’re talking about the fiscal cliff, about Romney’s tax returns, about Christmas, about the UK/UL Game. Then we say “Wasn’t there a shooting in Oregon, or Hendersonville, or I think it was Vermont?”
Now is the time to talk about gun control. Not because of Sandy Hook, but because of the next one. The time is before, not after, a shooting. Don’t worry about the Newtown shooting, worry about the Lexington shooting that will happen next March—what did you do to prevent it? If you’re still saying it’s a matter of personal freedom as you’re picturing your kids hiding in their lockers to dodge gunfire, then I don’t know what to say except, “Senator Paul, I didn’t vote for you, but I respect your office”. But know there will be more. The shooters are getting smarter and more strategic. Let’s call this by its proper name: terrorism. And let’s deal with terrorism in the exact opposite way that Ronald Reagan did—let’s stop arming them.
So yes, let’s start with an assault rifle ban. You could go farther than this, but that is the minimum. Let me state my biases on this: I’ve never fired a gun. Guns never appealed to me, but then again NBA basketball and college football appeal to me, and a lot of my friends think those are ridiculous indulgences, so I get it.
So let’s talk about it. (Let me say that I have great friends and family who call themselves Libertarian and I genuinely love them, while thinking their opinion is fucking idiotic, so I want to represent their POV as honestly as I can.) The libertarian argument, as I understand it, breaks up into the following five points.
1. Do we trust the government to take our guns from us?
Take our guns? Who? Seriously who said that? No one is going into your house and taking what you’ve already bought. When McDonalds discontinues the McRib or the Shamrock Shake, you don’t think they are going after your weirdly-named Irish Heart Attack Foods, do you? What’s yours is yours. No one is taking your guns. What I’m talking about is discontinuing a certain type of weapon that serves no purpose except to kill multiple people in very little time. That’s different than entering your house and seizing all of your guns.
2. It’s a matter of mental health, not gun control
This is kind of true and very beside the point. Sure, we want to take care of the mentally ill. (Even if Republicans don’t want to take care of the physically ill). What does that have to do with guns? It also doesn’t help that the NRA will still block mental testing for people buying assault weapons. So it’s not about guns, it’s about mental illness, and it’s our job to arm the sane and insane alike. Also, have you noticed how no one says, “It would be wrong to exploit this tragedy to talk about mental illness.” It’s only guns we can’t talk about. Because of respect for families. Obviously.
3. It’s not a matter of need; it’s a matter of want.
This one is true. If people want them, and the market can maintain them, then we have the right to have them. Gun owners don’t have to justify themselves to the government for what they want. Fair enough. But again, when there is tangible harm done by assault weapons and—as far as I can tell—absolutely zero positive benefit, then why should they be legal? When you say words like “rights” or “liberty” you have to understand those are abstract. Dead children in Connecticut are concrete. Does it infringe on your rights that you’re not able to own a SCUD missile or a grenade launcher? Some things are made illegal for the greater community’s safety. Aren’t assault weapons demonstrably dangerous enough to be labeled as such?
4. If everyone had assault rifles then it wouldn’t have happened.
Seriously? Fuck you.
4. If everyone had assault rifles then it wouldn’t have happened
Oh, you are being serious? Who is that supposed to dissuade from shooting up a school? The shooters who always kill themselves? Your idea is to introduce assault weapons to schools, where people can’t hold their liquor, are constantly bullying each other, and think suicide is a cool phase you go through? You don’t see any problems with that? Is my increasingly condescending string of questions making my answer obvious enough? It’s not? My answer is “Seriously? Fuck you.”
5. It’s crass to use this tragedy for your political advantage
Okay, so we’re back to the moment of silence. Just know that the people who say “we can’t talk politics during this time” fear the politics of this time. This is a winning issue for liberals. Assault rifles have never been less popular. If a school shooter attacked an elementary school, and a crack-shot teacher shot the gun from his hand and apprehended him, and suddenly assault weapons were insanely popular, would the NRA say “Now’s not the time for politics.” The NRA isn’t stupid: they know what side public opinion is on, and they’re the ones clamoring to change the subject. Do it for politics or do it to save children: it’s still the right thing to do.
The moment of silence is over, and with ever day that passes we become less likely to do anything of substance. Except, of course, waiting for the next one. We’re a pretty practiced nation of weepers. We’ve been told it’s the only valid response. But we all know that’s a lie—let’s be both brave and impolite enough to remind people of that.
I’ll end with two quick observations. One: You know those commercials that they run during basketball games where there’s this yuppie couple who surprise each other with cars for Christmas. And the narrator is like “You dumbass, why didn’t you just buy her a car? That will make her happy.” And we’re supposed to be like “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? I forgot that people like new cars. Why didn’t I just buy everyone a car?” Those used to drive me up a fucking wall. In fact, I thought they were the worst part of the Christmas season. Then the school shooting happened. I offer that as a reminder to keep perspective this year.
Secondly: On Saturday, the day after the shooting, my cousin collapsed of a heart attack while jogging. The first responder who saved my cousin’s life was Adam Lanza’s uncle (His mother’s brother). It’s a strange and almost comforting feeling to know that someone associated with the most hated man in America can save your family member’s life. I offer that as a reminder that life is strange, and that’s as it should be.