Opinion: This is nothing new

Chuck Wickenhofer

Omar Mateen marched into an LGBT club and killed 49 people; according to the New York Times, nearly a third of those in the club were shot.

Other than the setting, this is nothing new.

Adam Lanza marched into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 first graders, along with six teachers.

That was nothing new, other than the ages of those killed.

I could continue the list, bring up Columbine. I could mention Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Dylann Roof, but what does it matter? There is a large and powerful swath of the population that simply doesn’t care.

This is nothing new.

Oh, these people will pretend that they care. You’ll be able to tell because they’ll pray for the victims and their families and grunt about terrorism. There will be much gnashing of teeth and blaming “ineffective leadership,” then they’ll fall back on the tired argument that all of these dance clubbers and first graders would have survived, if only they were strapped to the teeth.

This is what the NRA, the most powerful lobby in the country, wants us to believe. They want us to believe, so that the gun manufacturers may continue to profit, that requiring effective background checks, training, and licensing for potential gun owners somehow violates the Constitution, and that none of it would help anyway.

That, of course, is nonsense, but the NRA’s argument only requires a combination of stupidity, ignorance, and cynicism to invest in. Because we’ve a surplus of all three, we average nearly one mass shooting per day every year.

Let’s first explore stupidity. It’s stupid to believe that if only teachers and first graders and moviegoers and people at work and people doing live newscasts and people in nightclubs only had an arsenal of guns strapped to them at all times, then they could neutralize the threat from the latest maniac who was able to get a gun even though he’s not allowed to fly and never had his background checked, nor was he required to be trained or licensed to own and carry his glock or assault rifle.

First of all, the attacker always has the advantage. He knows he’s ready to kill a lot of people and he has readily available all the tools to do so. First graders and teachers who are engaged in arithmetic lessons, and dancers in clubs during last call generally aren’t expecting to dodge flying shrapnel at any given moment. But let’s say, hypothetically, that an observant gay man at Pulse, who happened to be carrying an assault rifle, noticed a gunman suddenly on the attack.

He begins firing toward the gunman in the dark club, even though there are scores of people between him and the gunman. Now there are two gunmen with a bunch of people between them, firing. A woman at the bar, who also felt the need to come strapped with an assault rifle during a casual night out, begins shooting at one of the two gunmen - maybe both. Now there are three people firing assault rifles, creating chaos and confusion and crossfire and killing a bunch of people, which the lone gunman would have done anyway, since he has access to any assault rifle he wants and didn’t need a background check or training or a license to get it.

James Holmes killed twelve people in a theater in Colorado, and the same concept applies in that case. Holmes exploded tear gas and began mowing people down, and if someone who was watching the opening credits of the movie would have suddenly sprung into heroic action and started shooting at him, he would have been at least as likely to shoot a bunch of civilians, because again:

Everyone is shooting in a dark theater filled with tear gas, and nobody knows who started shooting. Also, since we don’t require people to be licensed or trained before buying a gun, we should have approximately zero expectation that anyone who has a gun has the slightest idea what they’re doing with one.

Here’s a non-hypothetical situation that unfolded during the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. A man named Joe Zamudio was at a store near the shooting, and he was armed, and he was prepared to take out the gunman, Jared Loughner. A perfect situation for an armed hero to become the face for NRA-approved vigilantism. Except, as NBC News reported at the time:

"I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready. I had my hand on my gun,” Zamudio said. “I told him to 'Drop it, drop it!' “

Unfortunately, he was yelling at the man who disarmed Loughner, who then had Loughner’s gun.

Zamudio never actually drew his weapon during the attempted assassination, saying that "he didn't want to be confused as a second gunman."

It takes a good deal of stupidity not to understand that to expect “guy with gun” to save the day is unrealistic and dangerous.

Next, let’s delve into ignorance. Many people seem to think that, despite the actual wording of the Second Amendment, that citizens have, and have always had, free reign to own whatever deadly weapon they choose to own. This despite the actual wording in the Constitution, which goes like this: “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.”

Chopping off the second part of the sentence to create a brand new right, while ignoring the context of a “well-regulated militia” in the first part of the sentence, is not what the founding fathers intended us to do. It is judicial activism, which conservatives have been vociferously opposed to for decades. Yet, in 2008, in a typical 5-4 conservative decision, that’s exactly what Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and other friends of the NRA did.

So, we haven’t always had the right to own whatever arms we fancy; we’ve only had that contrived right since District of Columbia v. Heller was decided in 2008.

And yet, even in the context of that decision, Justice Scalia said this in his majority opinion: “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” This makes sense, as even the First Amendment has limitations. You can be prosecuted for threatening the life of the president, or your ex-wife; you can’t infringe on copyrights or engage in slander or libel. There are a whole slew of things that you can’t legally say or write, even though the First Amendment guarantees free speech.

So even the most influential conservative mind in recent memory rejected the current state of affairs in which rabid ignoramuses with very little idea of the history of the country or the purpose of the Second Amendment somehow have won the argument because of successful lobbying by the NRA. Or maybe Scalia’s majority opinion was just necessary lip service, as the decision opened the floodgates for this new era of irresponsible gun ownership to bloom regardless of the frail admonishments found in his majority opinion. Gun manufacturers keep making a lot of money passed over the bodies of innocent people, after all. Mission accomplished.

Though accusing a large swath of people of incredible stupidity and jaw-dropping ignorance may seem a bit insulting, at least stupidity and ignorance are somewhat understandable. Some people are born stupid and are victims of bad parenting. Public schools are suffering and college is prohibitively expensive for millions and millions of people, thus: ignorance.

What is less forgivable is the brand of cynicism that allows lawmakers to do absolutely nothing after 20 first graders are killed, and for their sycophantic voters to invest in any argument necessary in order to continue to own guns that are suited for military use, not civilian use. We love our toys. The NRA underwrites all of this.

The NRA has convinced us, via our sociopathic members of Congress, that somehow hunters and homeowners would be worse off if simple background checks, training, and licensing were required for gun ownership. Somehow all of this would be un-American, trampling on the newly manufactured right that all of us should be able to own killing machines without the benefit of any training whatsoever.

And maybe they’re right? Maybe it is more American to live in a society in which any gathering of people should be subject to random massacre by anyone with violent tendencies and a Walmart card. It seems to be what we want, because we certainly aren’t doing anything about it.

Well, that’s not true. We are praying for the victims and their families. After all, it’s worked so well.

This is nothing new.