In the midst of the shock and horror of yet another mass shooting, I learned that this time, the alleged perpetrator had a Muslim name. And I knew immediately that we were not going to have a discussion about why there are so many guns on the streets (and how easy it is for bad guys to get them); or why average citizens, rather than police officers or members of the military, need access to assault-style weapons. No, we were going to have a conversation about "Muslim terrorists." And sure enough, the political attacks from the Republican presidential candidates started almost as soon as that information came out. Meanwhile, as if we were in two parallel universes, as Republicans were talking about Muslims, the Democratic candidates were once again talking about the need for reform of gun laws. Two very predictable conversations, neither of which ever seems to result in anything positive.
All the facts about the perpetrator have not come out yet, so despite rampant speculation on blogs and talk shows, we don't really know when or where he became radicalized: he was born and raised in the US, (his parents were from Pakistan), and by all accounts, he seldom if ever mentioned his religion at work. It may turn out that we need to look further into how an educated American Muslim who seemed to be successful in his career, who was married and had a six-month-old child, could suddenly transform into the kind of monster who would kill fourteen innocent people at a holiday party.
But while I agree that this particular Muslim may indeed turn out to be a terrorist, I'm not persuaded that ramping up the right-wing verbal attacks on every Muslim everywhere will solve the problem of mass shootings in America. For one thing, the outrage about yesterday's mass shooting is highly selective. Just last week, in Colorado Springs CO, a white Christian man shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people, including a police officer, and wounding nine others. I was disappointed, but not surprised, when most Republicans said nothing; and those who did say something seemed to blame the victims. Both Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina suggested that while the shooter was a criminal, such visceral dislike of Planned Parenthood is understandable because of the allegedly horrible things that this organization does. (Most Americans disagree: in survey after survey, Planned Parenthood is viewed very favorably, despite repeated conservative efforts to demonize and distort its work. But that is a story for another day.) Only Mike Huckabee called it what it really was: domestic terrorism-- and even he framed it in the context of how Planned Parenthood isn't especially deserving of our sympathies.
When Adam Lanza (another angry white guy) shot up a school in Newtown CT, killing twenty children and six adults, the dominant meme was that he was mentally ill. The same was said about James Holmes, when he massacred twelve people and wounded seventy more in a movie theater in Aurora CO. In fact, whenever the shooter in white, it seems the dominant discourse is that he is "troubled" or "a loner" or "suffering from mental illness." All of that may be true, but whether the violence occurs at a school, or a theater, or a women's health clinic, rarely is the dominant discourse that the person who committed the murders is a domestic terrorist, or any kind of a terrorist at all. But now that the perpetrator is Muslim, well, it's definitely terrorism.
My point is not to make this about race or religion. My point is to ask why we can't have a serious conversation about guns in America without it deteriorating into side issues like whether the perpetrator was tied to Muslim terrorism, or even whether the person was mentally ill. I'm more interested in why we can't honestly discuss the documented fact that there are too many guns on the streets, or that too many of the wrong people can easily get them; we can't even debate whether anyone other than law enforcement or the military needs to have assault weapons.
And for those who hope for some legislative fixes to loopholes in current laws, congress seems powerless to take any action, afraid to stand up to the money and power of the NRA. Whenever I ask on social media about what I believe are sensible modifications of our gun laws, I often get angry responses-- folks who call me anti-gun or accuse me of being a liberal who hates the second amendment. But name-calling isn't helpful either. For the record, I am not anti-gun: I respect those who hunt or engage in sport shooting, and both of my step-daughters served in the military (and my father, of blessed memory, was a decorated combat veteran in World War II). And while I am indeed a liberal on some issues, my main problem with the 2nd amendment is how conservatives and lobbyists have reinterpreted it in a way that I believe the Founding Fathers never intended.
So, no I do not want to ban all guns. But I do wish I could see a return to sanity about gun policies: in 2004, congress allowed the ban on assault weapons to lapse. Contrary to the folks at the NRA, I remain unconvinced that assault weapons should be in every home-- and if you ask the majority of police officers, they agree with me. Yet we can't seem to budge on closing the gun show loophole or making it harder for folks to buy weapons online. We can't seem to make it harder for people on the Terrorism Watch List to get weapons-- I mean, politicians want to demagogue about "radical Muslim terrorists," yet today again, the day after this latest mass shooting, congress refused to close the loophole that allows people on the terrorism watch list to purchase weapons. But then, we can't even agree on whether convicted domestic abusers should be allowed to get their guns back.
As I see it, congress is being held hostage by 2nd amendment absolutists, folks who believe there should be NO restrictions on gun ownership. As a result, even common-sense suggestions are immediately rejected by the same politicians who will go before the nearest microphone and claim they want to keep us safe. It seems what they really want is to stay in power: going up against the NRA these days means the public will be told you are a "gun grabber," and voters will support your opponent. But even though in reality, nobody's guns are being grabbed, any time even a small limitation on gun ownership is proposed, the NRA immediately stokes the fears of its members, insisting the next step will be a total ban... a nonsensical claim, but one that seems to be widely believed by a small but very influential group of gun owners and the lobbyists who represent them.
But who represents the rest of us? With each mass shooting, we hear the same platitudes, the same comments about thoughts and prayers going out to the victims, the same insistence that there's nothing we can do to change any of this. Things did not used to be this way when I was growing up-- 2nd amendment absolutism was considered a fringe view, and even NRA members supported common-sense gun regulations. It's a different world now, and the answer from the usual suspects is that we need more guns-- good guys with guns will allegedly be able to stop bad guys with guns. Umm, that may be true in the movies. But in real life, too many innocent people are being murdered, and until we can sit down and begin a serious conversation about sensible solutions, it seems that every week, another tragedy will occur, and then another, and another. I fully expect this blog post will bring out the folks who generally call me names. But what I hope will happen is that, instead of the usual polarized reactions, some people on both sides will look at where we are now, decide it's just not working, and demand that some changes be made. It's a conversation we need to have... before even more people are killed.