Now we’ll reopen the banal gun argument for a few days. Passion will rage. Fear will abound. Reason will fade. Gun sales will rise. Gun prices will spike.
I know what you’re going to say and you know what I’m going to say. We’ve said it all before.
I’ll understand part of your position and you’ll make no effort to understand any of mine, because the NRA wouldn’t like it, and, anyway, as you see it, the Second Amendment specifically guarantees a right to murder rapidly from a great distance.
Then we’ll do nothing, except that maybe the Republicans in Congress will relax regulations on silencers to protect hunters’ hearing and permit rapid distant sniping without the warning of sound.
The band will play on. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. A primitive and violent culture will remain accepted as a worsening American constant.
If we were going to ban so-called assault weapons that fire semi-automatically and accept large magazines and can be modified to become nearly automatic weapons, then we’d have done so around Christmas in 2012. That was when 20 little first-graders and second-graders in Connecticut got slaughtered rat-a-tat in their classrooms.
If the case couldn’t be made then — the case that a crazed monster couldn’t have killed quite so many precious innocent children if limited to a perfectly lethal weapon firing less rapidly and with less capacity — then it’s not going to be made now after a creep perched in a high-rise hotel killed 60 or so and injured more than 500 at an outdoor country music festival.
Let’s have the banal argument right here and get it over with.
First, you’ll say it is crass politicization to talk about gun laws after such a tragedy. I’ll say it’s not a matter of politicization, but principle brought by a tragic event into sharper focus.
Here’s your side, by which I mean a composite of the viewpoint prevalent in Arkansas: We’re not going to get rid of these kinds of guns by making a law against them. This is different from, say, speeding on the highway. We make a law against speeding, and people violate it, and it’s the driver’s fault, not the car’s, but public safety remains generally enhanced by the wide acceptance of a public policy setting a maximum speed. But if you make a law against a gun, bad people will violate it and good people will die, and public safety won’t be enhanced, and, as with the car and the driver, the fault will lie with the shooter, not the gun.
Here’s my position: Public policy expresses the public’s moral will. Thus, it represents the best in us. Thus, it matters even in impracticality and imperfection. A public policy that would make it less convenient for a madman to assemble an assault-weapon arsenal for mass killing is a public policy worth having, even if the weapons will remain in existence and mad killers will use them. People have a perfect and indeed compelling right to own and use guns for hunting and personal protection. But they don’t have an absolute right to a bazooka or a flame-thrower or a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile or a souped-up war weapon making it easier to kill more near-babies and more country music fans more quickly.
We banned assault weapons by law in 1994, in an era of broader sanity. Bill Clinton was president. Two former Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, endorsed the ban. Republicans weren’t as angry then … or as scared of the NRA.
The ban did not stop gun violence. It expressed the public’s moral will. It might have made more of a difference over time. But, to pass it, Clinton and Congress had been forced to limit the law to 10 years.
During that decade the NRA grew stronger, though not nearly to its current tyranny, and, in 2004, we lacked the moral will to re-up the ban.
You can be pro-gun and pro-gun rights without accepting every manner of gun. You can be pro-gun and pro-gun rights and harbor the thought that a background check for a gun-buyer at a gun show is a fair precaution.
But you can’t be a Republican and give an inch if the menacing NRA lobbyist is in the gallery, as he was during the Arkansas legislative session earlier this year.
His position? It was that, if Gov. Asa Hutchinson was going to hold out for perfunctory training for people to carry guns on college campuses, then there’d have to be a tradeoff, by golly, and the tradeoff would have to be that the perfunctory training would authorize people to carry guns anywhere they wanted.
The NRA prevailed, of course, except that — in a major upset — the Razorbacks did manage to get their games exempted. But that was only because the Southeastern Conference didn’t like the precedent.
But the SEC can save us only at its sanctioned games. It can’t save us from ourselves.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.