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  • Writer's pictureRob

What has to happen

The new post was sitting there in my drafts folder, 80% done, needing just a little cleanup and a closing paragraph before I posted it. It was going to be an Onion-style fake news story about private citizens owning nuclear weapons, and an NRA-style organization that defended their right to use them even after many people were killed by them.

Then last week happened.

I'm not going to pretend I'm equipped to untangle the knot of race, history, fear, police militarization, and politics that's led us to where we are on gun control in the United States. But last week has me wondering just what would have to happen to force a critical mass of citizens to get behind changing who we are and what we believe about guns. If Columbine didn't, and Sandy Hook didn't, if Mother Emanuel, Orlando, and fifty other places didn't, clearly there is no act of gun violence that is going to cause things to change in its wake. We are numb to these now.

"The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

It's an appealing thought, in a way. A simple solution: frame the world as an action movie, so problems in the world can be solved like problems in action movies. But as Adam Gopnik noted in line I wish I had written, in Dallas "There were nothing but good guys and they had nothing but guns, and five died anyway, as helpless as the rest of us." The shooter was targeting police officers, and there were armed spectators in the gathering also (this was in Dallas, after all.) Once the shooting started, the presence of multiple gunmen only added to the confusion, and none of them managed to do anything to hinder the assassin, who in the end was killed by a remote controlled bomb. It's a less dramatic and obvious example, but the presence of a "good guy with a gun" did nothing to stop the Orlando shooter, either.

Looking at these situations objectively, it seems clear that just having enough guns in place does very little to provide any kind of protection or deterrent. Nobody can prove that stricter gun control would have stopped the shooter in Dallas from getting their hands on weapons. But we have proved that not having gun control did nothing to stop him from assassinating five police officers.

Maybe it's too soon to tell. Maybe something will change as a result of what happened in Dallas. Maybe some pebbles are already rolling that will start the avalanche, some far-off gears are grinding into motion a giant machine that will eventually create powerful change. But I'm not betting on it.

Because what it comes down to is that for a certain set of American citizens, guns are not just a tool, they are an identity. They are an article of faith, carved in stone into the Constitution by the Founding Fathers on Mt. Sinai. When reality conflicts with the worldview, reality can be altered. The action movie fantasy promises control over an out-of-control world, and its visceral appeal can't be countered by statistics.

What has to happen is this: something has to make gun ownership look like an inadequate solution to the world's problems. I hate to imagine what that will be.

Maybe privately-owned nuclear weapons.


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