May 22, 2013
The Gag Rule on Guns
Posted on Jul 20, 2012
WASHINGTON—For all the dysfunction in our political system, a healthy pattern usually takes hold when a terrible tragedy seizes the nation’s attention.
Normally, we engage in a searching conversation over what rational steps can be taken by individuals, communities and various levels of government to make the recurrence of a comparable tragedy less likely. Sometimes we act, sometimes we don’t, but at least we explore sensible solutions.
Unless the tragedy involves guns. Then our whole public reasoning process goes haywire. Anyone who dares to say that an event such as the massacre at a Colorado movie theater early Friday morning demands that we rethink our approach to the regulation of firearms is accused of “exploiting” the deaths of innocent people.
This is part of the gun lobby’s rote response, and the rest of us allow it to work every time. Their goal is to block any conversation about how our nation’s gun laws, the most permissive in the industrialized world, increase the likelihood of mass killings of this sort.
First, the gun lobby goes straight to the exploitation argument—which is, of course, a big lie. You can see this because we never allow an assertion of this kind to stop conversation on other issues.
No, it’s only where a gun massacre is concerned that an absolute and total gag rule is imposed on any thinking beyond the immediate circumstances of the catastrophe. God forbid that we question even a single tenet of the theology of firearms.
The lobby then goes to its backup moves. The problem, it insists, lies in the failure to enforce existing laws—conveniently ignoring that the NRA’s whole purpose is to weaken the gun statutes we already have.
Oh, yes, and then there is their trump card: We’d all be safer, says the gun lobby, if every last one of us owned a gun.
Sure, there are some dissenters. Many of the nation’s mayors, led by Mike Bloomberg of New York and Tom Menino of Boston, have tried to organize a push for carefully tailored laws aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands. But they are the exceptions. President Obama has done little to challenge the NRA, and yet it attacks him anyway.
There are many reasons for this politics of timidity, not the least being a United States Senate that vastly overrepresents rural voters relative to suburban and urban voters. (The Electoral College overrepresents rural voters, too.) Add to this a Republican Party that will bow low before any anti-government argument that comes along, and a Democratic Party petrified of losing more rural support—and without any confidence that advocates of tougher gun laws will cast ballots on the basis of this issue.
So let’s ask ourselves: Aren’t we all in danger of being complicit in throwing up our hands and allowing the gun lobby to write our gun laws? Awful things happen, we mourn them, and then we shrug. And that’s why they keep happening.
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