A Yankee Notebook

October 5, 2015


MONTPELIER – GUNS, GUTS, AND GOD = AMERICA! It was a pretty catchy bumper sticker pasted on the pickup’s tailgate where it was bound to be more visible to following drivers. It was almost physically painful to look at it – as if someone had slashed an Old Master or splattered ordure on the Lincoln Memorial. I’m sure the truck’s owner thinks of himself as a patriot, a descendant of one of the heroes who wrested the nation from the wilderness, battered its original inhabitants into submission, and instituted well-regulated militias to keep slaves in their place. I couldn’t help but wish he might park his truck someday at the Wounded Knee memorial.

It’s happened yet again: A deranged young man with access to a houseful of weapons and (if early reports are to be believed) a mother who’s an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment, entered a classroom and slaughtered nine people, ending the episode by shooting himself. And once again the cries go up from, on one side, those who believe new regulations will cure what’s become an epidemic social and health problem in the United States and those on the other, who vow to die, if necessary, defending their right to “carry.”

Most news items on the Internet about the killings are followed by comment sections which devolve after only one exchange of opinions into schoolyard name-calling and remarks about the sanity, gender identity, patriotism, intelligence, or Constitutional literacy of the opponents.

This does not bode well for the hopes of an early solution, or even an adjustment, of our current situation, in which about fifty times as many Americans have died in gun violence since 2011 as died in the attack on the World Trade Center that year. In the face of the ritual abuse rained upon proponents of changes in gun regulations, many Americans seem to have adopted a sort of fatalism: What are you gonna do? Or, to quote candidate Bush, “Stuff happens.”

I sense the fatalism in the comments of people who say, “Something’s got to be done about it.” That’s the passive voice, and it’s not the voice of the America I grew up in, before so many of us became frightened of our own shadows.

THIS VEHICLE INSURED BY SMITH & WESSON. Another zinger, this one intended to be grimly humorous. Which it’s not; it’s just chest-beating bluster. Who – except for a person so fearful or territorial that he’s already armed himself – would shoot anybody trying to steal a few things from his vehicle? It’s probably someone with no idea of the legal costs involved in defending his actions afterward. It’s almost certainly someone who’s never shot anybody before. The Old West is dead – really dead – except in many Americans’ imaginations.

Americans are notoriously impatient. Like Alexander the Great, when faced with a knotty problem, we tend to slice it into pieces, rather than attempt to untangle it. It’s clear, however, that if we are to continue to inhabit this nation in unity, we’re going to have to find a solution to this apparently intractable public health problem. Congress has effectively prohibited the Centers for Disease Control from even studying it. Those of us who are older, however, tend to take a longer view, exercise a little patience, and look for hints of coming trends. I think I see one developing.

It’s a given that the current state of affairs is unsustainable; eventually enough congresspersons’ constituents will demand their representatives grow backbones and do what they’ve been elected to do: find a solution. A majority of Americans are now calling for one.

It’s pretty clear that more regulation, the very sound of which is anathema to dyed-in-the-wool gun owners, won’t do it. It’s probably true that would-be criminals will obtain arms one way or another. But it’s also true that Newton’s Third Law really works; and the growing groundswell of public opinion will eventually overwhelm the intransigence of the National Rifle Association.

THIS HOUSE DOESN’T CALL 9-1-1 – Another humorous little death threat. People who post these witticisms by their driveways often e-mail me with the startling suggestion that since “cars kill more people than guns, they should be outlawed, too.” This simple-minded disingenuousness misses two points: first, that for all the blather on talk radio and the Internet, nobody – nobody! – responsible has advocated “outlawing” personal weapons; and second, that, while cars are designed primarily to transport human beings as safely as possible, so-called “assault weapons” are designed to kill as many human beings as possible in the shortest possible time. Anyone carrying one in the woods in deer season – at least in my neck of the woods – would be laughed out of the forest. Anyone interested in target shooting (except, perhaps, when the targets are human profiles) would be far better off with a small-caliber biathlete’s nail-driver.

The problem isn’t mental health; other countries have disturbed individuals, too. It’s cultural, as evidenced by the first bumper sticker I quoted above. So rather than try to further restrict access to the new fantasy-inducing weapons, we might do better to use the automobile analogy and simply require that they be registered to an owner, with an identifying sticker, and insured for liability, with the owner carrying proof of insurance, just as we must when driving. A license to possess and use a weapon designed primarily for homicide might be a good idea, too.

Most of all, with so many grown men claiming “personal protection,” we might try to remember that, besides being the land of the free, this is supposed to be the home of the brave.

Photo by Willem lange