Politicians toe the party line and guns continue to kill

Michael W. Howard, Contributor

Latest shooting underscores futility of modern politics

If one wishes to observe the ever-shrinking limits of constructive political discourse in this country, one need look no further than news coverage of last Thursday’s massacre at Umpqua Community College.

In what has become an absurdly familiar narrative, a demented classmate who was attracted by the fleeting infamy accorded to mass murderers killed nine college students. (The killer is reported to have expressed admiration for Vester Flanagan who, before committing suicide, shot dead two reporters on live television this past August.)

I suspect that the rest of the world receives news of these atrocities in much the same way we receive news of the latest suicide bombing in the war-torn Middle East: what a mess.

What a mess. How did we get here? How has our culture become one in which the gunning down of a dozen college students is somewhat normal?

These are complicated questions, but part of the answer can be gleaned from each atrocity’s aftermath. Typically, there is shock and horror at the crime’s senselessness, followed by a heated and totally futile debate about guns and their accessibility, and then the grudging détente— an abrupt return to business as usual.

Until the next time.

There will be a next time, as we all know (and accept with disturbing equanimity). One reason being that any discourse engendered by these mass shootings is divided along party lines, and is thus entirely useless. It becomes the gun lobby (and its mostly right-wing allies) versus the “political left.”

This, first of all, is not exactly a fair fight. All the power resides on one side of the debate. The gun lobby happens to wield a tremendous amount of influence over the legislative branch of our government (especially now, with the GOP controlling Congress). Ever wonder why every last Republican politician flat out rejects any notion of gun regulation, however small?

They’re not just pandering to their voter base. They’re either: (1) looking to curry favor with the gun lobby or, (2) paying their dues to them. Much like the Israel lobby, the gun lobby, headed by the NRA, does whatever it can to fill congressional seats with people who share their priorities.

This usually involves direct campaign donations, as well as smear campaigns against a favored candidate’s opponent.

But more importantly, since the antipathy between political parties is so firmly entrenched, and the gulf dividing them is so wide, any discourse regarding mass shootings and gun regulation necessarily devolves into a cacophony of political watchwords and irrelevant accusations. Cries for gun control are met with allegations of cynical exploitation. The left is using the atrocity to push its anti-gun agenda, the gun lobby insists.

What they fail to acknowledge, of course, is that said agenda would not exist without exorbitant levels of gun violence. If there were no gun-related murders in this country, it seems unlikely that we would hear from gun control advocates. But, this is what the conversation becomes: a blame game.

Consequently, instead of engaging in meaningful discussion, we are left puzzling over whether a meaningful discussion is even possible.

Moreover, the people whose voices rise above the clamor (e.g. presidential candidates) are not giving us their honest opinions, they are toeing the party line.

We already know, for instance, that Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz refuse to consider the argument that guns are too easily obtained in this country. They don’t need to say it. They have an R next to their name. Their position on gun control is implied, along with their position on abortion and healthcare.

It is not the their job to think deeply and independently about serious issues. It is their job to reinforce, through mindless rhetoric, long-established Republican principles—one of which holds that the Second Amendment must not, under any circumstances, be subject to modification.

It is ironic that, when it comes to gun control, people like the ones referenced above become steadfast guardians of constitutional rights. These are the same people who have no qualms about trampling on our Constitution with regard to government mass surveillance programs (notice they are also suddenly in favor of big government).

Apparently the Fourth Amendment was made to be abrogated, but not the Second. That’s the serious one. (Forget that it was written with the express purpose of allowing people to organize “well-regulated” militias, because the American people still organize those all the time.)

But of course, very few people are calling for the Second Amendment to be revoked in full (a measure that would set a dangerous precedent). Rather, most are merely calling for regulations to be put in place, so that assault weapons are not easier to acquire than a library card. Is this a controversial request? Apparently so.

This same atmosphere – in which meaningful discourse is rendered impossible – can be observed in other areas of the political arena. Planned Parenthood is currently the subject of an all out war, not only between political parties, but also within them.

John Boehner, a staunchly pro-life Republican, was recently forced out of his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives by his own party. The proximate cause? He was unwilling to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood. In other words, he wasn’t radical enough–he was too practical.

It doesn’t bode well for our country when politicians are penalized for exercising common sense. And it is stories like Boehner’s that go some way in explaining why so many political elites forbid common sense from intruding on the gun control debate. They have evidently decided that their careers matter more than the safety of the population.

email: [email protected]