“Not Again!” seems too much of a cliche to start a reflection on yet another shooting tragedy. The scene this time is Columbia Mall in Maryland, about as conventional a place for modern Americana as you might find. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims, and yes, the family of the shooter as well who must also be suffering immense grief at the thought of what their relative has done — and whether anybody could have stopped him.
As I watched the news reports from Columbia, with tales of shoppers and employees diving under counters and sheltering in place in locked storage rooms, my mind went to a time long ago when we children were taught to hide under desks in our classrooms in anticipation of great destruction. Baby boomers in the 1960’s grew up thinking that the worst thing that might happen to us was a nuclear bomb launched by the only real foe we heard about, Russia. As we grew older, we learned to fear and hide from other threats, but mostly we felt fairly safe as the years went along and the Cold War climate grew warmer. September 11, led to a whole new national obsession with sheltering in place and “being ready” for personal annihilation. Untold billions have gone into threat assessment and strategic defenses against terrorism.
To protect ourselves against the terrorist’s murderous plots, we have even quite willingly given up many of our civil liberties, from being treated like suspects at airports to shrugging at the thought of the NSA listening in on our phone conversations. Anything to protect the public!
Really? Then why can’t we find a way to deal with the greatest threat we really face, the prevalence of guns?
America in 2014 does not need to shelter in place against the next great terrorist attack or random nation-state bomb. The real threat to the daily health and well being of the more than 300 million people in this country comes from the person next to us in the checkout line who harbors homicidal ideas and cold steel under his coat, the co-worker who plots a rampage to relieve stress and anxiety, the classmate in the lab with a thirst for revenge, the father or mother or sister or brother who decides to act out fantasies of violence in spectacular public ways.
What is wrong with us as a nation that we willingly stand shoeless like sheep in the TSA lines but shrink from the thought that we can control the guns that are killing Americans at increasingly alarming rates each day?
A little over a year ago, after the great tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, for a fleeting moment it seemed that American common sense and collective will might finally come together to enact some reasonable laws to control the flow of guns into the hands of mentally unstable individuals. But meaningful gun legislation was not to be, thwarted once more by the shamefully self-serving rhetoric and lobbying of the gun lobby among the craven legislators who never met a campaign dollar they didn’t like. The fact that the lives of tens of thousands of Americans are snuffed out each year by gun violence seems to count for little when the National Rifle Association threatens to work against the re-election of a politician.
The N.R.A. says that the only effective solution to the “bad guys with guns” is to have more “good guys with guns.” That is such rot it’s hard to know where to begin. That logic would be akin to suggesting that the only way to combat terrorism is for all of us to carry explosives and box cutters, too.
The purpose of government is to protect people from harm, not to set up a corral where people can have a shooting match. On the topic of guns, the government has failed the people utterly and completely. To say the government has no power is ridiculous. The federal government makes laws and rules that intrude into just about every aspect of life and liberty. I can’t smoke in the shopping mall but I can carry a gun there. This is nuts.
The end result of governing cowardice is a never-ending body count amid the most mundane places of our daily lives, the schools and shopping malls and places of work where, of all places, people have a right to feel safe and secure.
By the way, I heard a guy on the radio this morning advocating now for metal detectors in shopping malls. There we go again, giving up one more scrap of our freedom to move around without fear while bowing to the gun lobby’s refusal to accommodate public safety in any modestly rational way.
Maybe we all should just stay home, shop online, and telecommute to work. Maybe we don’t need a free society, just some secure caves where we can all shelter in place forever.