Friday, August 03, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #67 - Part 1

Outrage of the Week: US and guns

The Outrage of the Week this week involves multiple outrages, so many that I couldn't pick just one. I'm going to start with something you already know about.

On Friday, July 20, 24-year-old James Holmes went into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and started shooting. When it was over, 12 people were dead and 58 more were injured, a few in the general chaos but most by being shot. So the first outrage, the first moral outrage, is the incident itself.

When he went on his rampage, Holmes was wearing a ballistic helmet, a gas mask, a throat-protector, plus tactical vest and pants. It was such complete protective gear that responding officers almost thought he was a member of their SWAT team. He threw tear gas into the crowd before he started shooting. He was armed with two handguns and an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle modified with a high-powered 100-round drum magazine. Holmes also had a shotgun which he left in his car. He had amassed over 6000 rounds of ammunition, including 300 for the shotgun.

And everything - every bit of that of that armory, the ammunition, the guns, the clothing, the tear gas, all of it - he obtained entirely legally. Not only legally, but without even raising any red flags anywhere. As one writer put it, "an unregulated online marketplace allows consumers to acquire some of the tools of modern warfare as if they were pieces of a new wardrobe."

Which raises the second outrage: What are we going to do about this? The answer is, absolutely nothing. We're not going to do one single damn thing.

In fact, both the AR-15 and the 100-round drum had been illegal under the federal assault weapons ban passed in 1994. But that expired in 2004 with no effort then or anytime since to renew it. And nothing will be done now.

Oh, President Hopey-Changey went on about how "saddened" he was and Witless Romney joined right in and the House of Representatives even adopted a resolution honoring the victims of the massacre - isn't that precious - but not one of them proposes to actually do anything to reduce the chance of this happening again.

In 2007 we had the Virginia Tech massacre: 32 dead, 12 injured. Nothing was done. In 2011 we had the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson: six dead, 13 injured. Nothing was done. Now we have Aurora. And again, nothing will be done.

In his first official response to Aurora, Obama emphasized how he intends to safeguard the Second Amendment - like it was actually under some kind of threat - and praised "the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation" as part of "a cherished national heritage." The White House later added that Obama will work "within existing law." That is, he won't do a damn thing.

As for House Speaker John Boner, he said "I agree" with Obama: We must have no new laws.

What makes this even worse is that it's not just Aurora. That's the kind of thing that gets our attention - but the fact is, the US sees two Auroras every single day. On average, about 25 Americans are killed by guns every single day. That's upwards of 9000 a year - and that doesn't include accidents or suicides. Include those and you're talking about over 25,000 guns deaths a year.

That means the United States accounts for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest nations of the world combined. But actually do something to stop the carnage? Do something to limit the amount of sheer firepower that is out there that wipes out the equivalent of the entire population of Carver every six months? We can't do that. Because, apparently, 9000 murders and 16,000 more gun deaths every year is part of our "cherished national heritage."

Now, we all know that the real reason for this "can't do" attitude is spelled N-R-A and actually has far more to do with political cowardice than with any "heritage" - except a heritage of political cowardice.

That cowardice, by the way, is not limited to the federal level by any means. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper - who is a Democrat, by the way - dodged a question about gun control, saying of Holmes "Even if he didn’t have access to guns, this guy was diabolical. He would have found explosives. He would have found something.” Yeah, maybe he might have gone into that theater and, I dunno, thrown lawn furniture at people. Or maybe it would have been "Omigosh, look out! He's got a backpack full of frisbees and he's not afraid to use them!"

Meanwhile, Colorado State Rep. Mark Waller cautioned against trying to limit purchases of ammunition -the purchase of which, except for armor-piercing and hollow-headed rounds, is essentially totally unregulated in the United States - saying the 300 shotgun rounds Holmes had was just everyday stuff.

And the mayor of Aurora, Steve Hogan, who you would think would be particularly concerned, appearing with Hickenlooper, contented himself with saying of Holmes "there was something wrong with this individual" while ignoring the weapons involved completely.

In fairness, I have to note that not every voice was one of cowardice: Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed "I'm not really a progressive but I play one on MSNBC" Rendell said "Everyone is scared of the NRA," but added
There are some things worth losing for in politics and to be able to prevent carnage like this is worth losing for.
And New York City Mayor Micheal "I'm just an average, everyday billionaire tool of Wall Street" Bloomberg said
Soothing words are nice, but maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be President of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it.
Unfortunately, Mr. Mayor, we already know the answer. They are going to do precisely nothing.

I will in the future be talking more about this, about the politics of guns, about the role of money and the power of the NRA. I'll also be talking about our "gun culture," so aptly summarized by Dudley Brown, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, who said in the wake of the shootings that Holmes' collection of guns was "the average male in Colorado" and that "If I only had 6,000 rounds for my AR-15s, I'd literally feel naked," a statement I think rather more revealing than he intended.

I'll be looking, that is, at why we are so much more violent than other nations, the reasons for which clearly include the hundreds of millions of guns out there but actually are not limited to that.

But right now I want to address something else: The despicable, inhuman, subhuman responses from the wackos and wingnuts that populate the right side of the American political spectrum. That they respond the same way to every such bloodbath makes it no less contemptible.

There was, for example, Sarah Failin', who inanely blathered on about how “The bad guys don’t follow laws and restricting more of America’s freedoms when it comes to self-defense isn’t the answer." Because, again "Bad guys don’t follow laws.” Which may well be true. On the other hand, maybe the owners of the gun shops and the gun show dealers and the rest of those who supply the guns to "the bad guys" would follow the law.

Then there are always those ready to blame the victims, those such as former Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of the state's infamous "papers please" anti-immigrant law. The day after the tragedy, he wondered online why none were “brave” enough to stop it.

“Where were the men of flight 93?" he bloviated. "All that was needed is one Courages [sic] man prepared mentally or otherwise to stop this it could have been done.”

After the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix New Times reported his remarks, Pearce got all huffy and insisted he was being "mischaracterized.” He wasn't blaming the victims, oh no, perish the thought even though that's exactly what he had just done. No, he insisted, he was actually blaming gun control, because it left so many people disarmed and vulnerable "when the only real effect is to disarm everyone who could have saved lives.”

That was echoed by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who said the slaughter proved "one of the rationales behind conceal and carry, where criminals actually have to be concerned that somebody could stop them. That somebody, a responsible individual had been carrying a weapon, maybe they could have prevented the death and injuries."

What's the argument here? It's that there aren't enough guns out there. That there aren't enough people walking around carrying concealed loaded weapons. Because by god if there only had been a bunch of people in that theater packing heat, then amid the darkness of the theater and the tear gas and smoke so thick that one survivor described seeing Holmes only as a silhouette, amid the noise and the people running and screaming, amid the tumult and chaos, that if only other people had been shooting off guns so that no one could even tell who was the original shooter, all trying to hit a target they couldn't really see - and who was wearing body armor - oh yeah, you farina-for-brains jackasses, that would have made it all better.

And of course we have the conspiracy nuts like talk radio guy Alex Jones. If you don't know who he is, count your blessings. It's estimated that listening to one half-hour of Alex Jones can cost you more brain cells than the entire decade of the '60s.

He claims that the Aurora theater Shooting was a “staged event” designed to generate support for (gasp) taking away our guns, leaving us defenseless against the New World Order, black helicopters optional. According to Jones, the person who did the shooting was some “black-op” masked operator and Holmes was a “patsy” who was drugged with “amnesiacs” and duped into taking the fall. Who it was that received the dozens of shipments of ammunition, body armor, and explosive materials delivered to Holmes' apartment and to his place at school goes unexplained.

And finally we come to the religious fanatics of the right. They know who is to blame for this! There is no question! It's liberalism and secularism!

Fred Jackson, head of the American Family Association blamed Hollywood movies, "what we see on the Internets" (Just how many Internets do these people think there are?), liberal bias in the media, "politicians changing public policy," and - get this now - "churches leaving the authority of Scripture."

Jerry Newcombe, a spokesperson for Truth In Action Ministries, blamed the shooting on the separation of church and state - which he apparently thinks is a brand-new thing. That separation, he said, has "chased away any fear of God in the hearts of millions." And in case you didn't get his point about the "fear of god," he declared that any among the dead who were really really Christian, well, for them to die wasn't so tragic because "they are going to a wonderful place" - but those who weren't Christian enough for him, they went straight to hell.

If I believed in hell, I'd have to believe there would be a special place in it for despicable scum like Jerry Newcombe and Fred Jackson - right along with the right-wing wackos and the whole mass of political cowards who mouth platitudes that turn to dust in the air because they are more interested in kissing the butt of the NRA than in protecting the lives and safety of their constituents.

Again, I will have more to say about this at some point. but for right now, all I can say is - it is an outrage.


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