Shots fired, courage absent
Within hours of the unspeakable massacre of twenty first graders and six teachers and staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday, December 14th, bookers for the television networks’ Sunday-morning political talk shows hit the phones, trolling for guests. They were seeking, among others, politicians, public officials, and prominent citizens willing to defend the proposition that military-style munitions—high-powered semiautomatic assault rifles and pistols that can fire a round every second, use magazines holding as many as a hundred bullets of a type specially engineered to liquefy the insides of human beings, and be outfitted with accessories like grenade launchers, flash suppressors, bayonet lugs, pistol grips, and collapsible stocks—should continue to be readily available to all comers, with or without minimal background checks or waiting periods. The bookers came up empty.
“We reached out to all thirty-one pro-gun-rights senators in the new Congress to invite them on the program to share their views on this subject this morning,” David Gregory, of NBC, told his “Meet the Press” audience. “We had no takers.” The National Rifle Association, which had instantly deactivated its Facebook page and silenced its Twitter feed, refused all interview invitations and issued a statement explaining—admitting?—that it was shutting its big mouth “as a matter of common decency.” When it finally opened that mouth, a week later, out came a demand for N.R.A.-trained guards in every single American school: a hundred thousand schools, a hundred thousand guards, a hundred thousand guns, a hundred million dollars in new business for the N.R.A.’s “corporate partners” in the gun industry.
It was hard, in the massacre’s immediate aftermath, to find a presentable advocate for the view that the No. 1 cause of gun violence is a shortage of guns. (The No. 2 cause, presumably, is a surplus of people, since people, not guns, kill people.) “Fox News Sunday” and its host, Chris Wallace, had to settle for Representative Louie Gohmert, of Texas. Representative Gohmert, a birther and a climate-change denier, is normally dismissible as an amusing eccentric, a self-lampooning clown. Not this time. His chilling advice for Sandy Hook’s murdered principal—“I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up, so when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off, before he can kill those precious kids”—has been widely quoted and widely deplored. What Gohmert said next has received less notice. Wallace pressed him further on why he thinks civilians should possess weapons like the M-4 (the Congressman’s choice) and the AR-15 (the school shooter’s choice and the top-selling rifle in the nation, notably in the past two weeks). “Well,” Gohmert replied,
for the reason George Washington said: a free people should be an armed people. It insures against the tyranny of the government. If they know that the biggest army is the American people, then you don’t have the tyranny that came from King George. That is why it was put in there. That’s why, once you start drawing the line, where do you stop?
After Sandy Hook, as after the Columbine horror, in 1999, and the dozens of mass shootings since, many Americans, gun owners among them, wondered why any sane person would require a rapid-fire killing machine with a foot-long banana clip to feel safe in his or her home or person, let alone to take target practice, shoot skeet, or hunt rabbits. But, for Hobbesian gun nuts of Gohmert’s ilk, the essence of the Second Amendment, when all is said and done, is not about any of that. Its real, irreducible purpose is to enable some self-designated fraction of the American people, in a pinch, to make war against the American government—to overthrow it by force and violence, if that is deemed necessary. If that’s the line you draw, then where, logically, do you stop? In Georgian times, when the amendment was ratified, the most fearsome weapon anyone, soldier or civilian, could carry was a single-shot musket. And today? “Shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles don’t shoot down black helicopters, people with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles shoot down black helicopters”? Gohmert is a fringe figure, but the fringe is as long as an AR-15’s barrel. His seditious fantasies of freelance insurrection are shared by a nontrivial portion of the N.R.A. membership and board, by the N.R.A.’s feral kid brother, the Gun Owners of America, and by a gaggle of locked-and-loaded politicians who, not long ago, were threatening “Second Amendment remedies” for policy offenses like the Affordable Care Act. . .