As I write this Monday morning, after putting aside for another time what was to be my column for this week (an appreciation of the heroism and solidarity of the people of Mexico City in response to the recent earthquake), the exact number of casualties from Sunday night’s Las Vegas massacre, already the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, has yet to be determined.
What is clear is that this is only the latest and bloodiest in a long list of home-grown, gun-enabled mass killings, a recurring nightmare that has struck elementary schools, university campuses, movie theaters, trains, even fast-food joints.
I watched the coverage on CBS This Morning from shortly after 7 until 10, when the network went to a game show. The anchors and reporters seemingly covered every known fact and possibility. Or almost: It wasn’t until 9:48 before I first heard the phrase “gun control” used on the air. Then it was invoked by the network’s White House correspondent speculating about the subject of President Donald Trump’s upcoming address to the nation.
Some silences speak louder than words. This silence is not the solemn silence of the monastery; it is the silence of fear and frustration. Time and again former president Barack Obama experienced the sadness these events evoke, never wearying of consoling the victims or speaking out about guns and their key role in these tragedies.
But he could do nothing about it. Each time when he broached the issue of guns, Obama ran into brick walls. The NRA and its craven confederate-in-arms, the U.S. Congress; the current right-leaning U.S. Supreme Court and its willingness to elevate the Second Amendment, an anachronism crafted for an age of single-shot guns and tyrannical kingly rule, to a fundamental individual right.
The coverage of the multiple killings in Las Vegas provides another piece of the puzzle at the heart of the American madness around guns. The raw political power of the NRA plus the broad streak of radical individualism in U.S. culture have created denial first and then a deafening silence regarding the connection between firearms and murder. In this atmosphere of strong-arm politics, delusionary denial, political cowardice, and fanatical gun-loving, even the media has been intimidated and silenced.
The political pendulum has stopped swinging and has been stuck at one end by these forces. The gun is a totem. The gun question has been settled in the highest court, in the national legislature, and now in the White House too. The only thing left to do is to fear the next massacre, to count the bodies, and to patch up the wounded.
The core reason—radical individualism–for this awful, irrational outcome on the gun issue also explains many of the ills existing in the United States in the first quarter of the twenty-first century: dizzying levels of economic inequality; the political will to increase inequality further by a tax cut for the very rich masquerading as tax reform; the failure by so many to see health care (and not gun ownership) as a human right, and the consequent unwillingness to emulate every other wealthy and wise country in the world in providing health care for all. Finally, radical individualism goes a long way toward explaining the sum of all evils: the madcap ascent of Donald J. Trump to the presidency in 2016.
Back to guns. It is not that, in theory, nothing can be done to control them. You can abolish the Second Amendment, for starters. The amendment has been misinterpreted by a thin majority of the Supreme Court. It is used as a trump card by the gun lobby, gun-huggers, and political demagogues. It is an evident anachronism. But, oh boy, broach the subject of abolishing it and you will wish you had never been born.
What’s left? Here is one malicious idea. Someone with the appropriate credentials could publish an article in a prestigious mass media publication, such as the New York Times Sunday magazine, arguing that gun loving is a symptom of deeply repressed homosexuality. I don’t know that it’s true, but it’s plausible. Because it involves transgressive sex, the story will be picked up by the lower orders of the media food chain and be widely discussed on talk shows and around the office coffee pot. This would be a pebble in the shoe of every gun worshipper who is also a homophobe, an intersection I suspect is substantial. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of folks.