January 19, 2011

Gun Play: An American Tragedy, in Three Acts

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What is the issue?

Act I.

Broadway and 103 rd Street. New York” (1955)
Copyright William Klein, all rights reserved.

A week after Jared Lee Loughneraccused multiple murderer and, in the words of The New York Times, “curious teenager and talented saxophonist”went on one of those shooting sprees that Americans seem to regard as the price we pay for our god-given right to an armamentarium straight out of the NRA-wet-dream gun showroom in The Matrix, it was business as usual at the Crossroads of the West gun show at the Pima County Fairgrounds.

The seat of Pima County, as irony would have it, is Tucson, where Loughner emptied 31 rounds from his Glock semiautomatic pistol into a crowd at a political event, wounding 14 and killing six, a nine-year-old girl among them. At Crossroads of the West, 40-round magazines for AK-47s could be had for the recession-friendly sum of $19.99, because…because why?

Because our founding myth of rugged individualism demands it. As does the rough-justice ethos of our frontier heritage. And the Don’t-Tread-on-Me anti-federalism of our racist past. And the deepening distrust of Big Government, ginned up by Reagan and taken to its logical extreme by the militia movement of the ’90s and today’s Tea Partiers.

What few mainstream pundits seem willing to discuss is the role, in America’s gun violence, of the radically deregulated capitalism championed for decades by neo-liberal economists and conservative ideologues. What Ayn Rand would call the “virtuous selfishness” of winner-take-all capitalism insists on profit maximization at any cost. What better explanation for the millions the gun industry spends in lobbying, campaign contributions, and issue ads to thwart gun control in any form, from the right to own assault weapons to background checks? Isn’t it all about selling more guns in a nation where the ratio of guns to people already stands at about 85 guns for every 100 Americans?

Of course, the paranoid style in American politics is part of the psychotic equation of gun culture, too: these days, too many Tea Partiers, Palinistas, and dug-in survivalists see themselves as Armies of Onelone-man militias standing between angry white Middle America and the zombie apocalypse of Obamaniac socialism. And as everyone in Palin’s “Real America” knows, “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Did I mention that anti-Obama bumper stickers were on sale at Crossroads of the West?

Point taken that the coat-hanger antennae on Loughner’s tinfoil helmet were not, in all likelihood, receiving transmissions from some ideological NORAD in Roger Ailes’s basement. The accumulating evidence suggests the shooter was crazier than a pair of waltzing mice. A Crossroads of the West attendee was thoughtful on that point, citing scripturethe gun lobby’s bumper-sticker refrainto argue his case: “It’s not guns that kill people,” said a 58-year-old mental health worker, “People kill people.”

Which would explain why America leads the industrialized world in gun violence, and why American children are 11 times more likely than children in other developed countries to die in a gun accident. Only a card-carrying libtard would link such stats to the fact that our gun laws are obscenely lax, as opposed to, say, Japan, whose gun laws are among the world’s strictest and whose rate of gun-related fatalities, incalculably, is among the world’s lowest: one death for every two million people, versus our 14.24 gun deaths for every 100,000.

But if it’s people who kill people, not guns, then our off-the-charts gun violence would seem to indicate that a disproportionate percentage of the planet’s people-killing people are Americans. What to do about it? The spin-alley response, in some corners of our great republic, is to lay the blame for the Tucson bloodbath on our mental-healthcare industry. Curiously, some of those eager to deflect attention away from gun regulation and onto society’s neglect of the mentally ill were decrying, not long ago, universal healthcare as a budget-busting indulgence of the Nanny State or a federalist plot to Kevork the elderly (death panels!).

Some of their number continue to insist, in a nation whose citizens are the world’s most statistically likely people to kill people, that every American should nonetheless have the right to buy an AK-47 with a 40-round magazinepreferably, without that affront to personal liberty known as a background check. You know, the bureaucratic hoop that Loughner probably would’ve failed, if he’d had to jump through it.*

After all, the Tree of Insanity must must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of innocent bystanders.

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