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News » Deep End

Bang, Bang

America tries to figure out gun-control issue



Stay out of coffee shops. That’s my Christmas message this year, inspired by the recent report that a fumble-fingered customer at a local coffee emporium was showing off his handgun to a companion when he dropped it to the floor where it promptly discharged, the errant bullet ricocheting playfully around the shop.

Such is the ubiquity of Glocks, Sig Sauers and Bushmasters, concealed or otherwise, in God-fearing and firearm-worshipping Utah that the majority of coffee aficionados probably just continued sipping their skinny lattes. A few might have been blasted out of their laptop trances long enough to look around to see who had been shot. One or two may have run for their lives, leaving their caramel macchiato cooling on the sticky, crumb-scattered tabletop.

In recent years, schools have become favored venues of assault-weapon-wielding wackos, though theaters enjoyed an upsurge for a while for gunmen to fine-tune their shooting skills by targeting movie-goers crouching under their seats or fleeing for the poorly lit exits. A couple of weeks ago, the slaughter of small children and their teachers at an elementary school in Connecticut got everyone’s attention for a more sustained period of time than is customary in instances of this sort.

So unspeakable was this latest slaughter—six adults and 20 first graders (12 girls, eight boys)—that for a brief moment it seemed that even Second Amendment-spouting gun lovers might wake up and evaluate the necessity of packing heat and purchasing still more devices designed to efficiently, albeit violently, separate the souls of God’s various creatures from their fleshly tabernacles. That moment has passed, and once again, we’re reduced to futile expostulations about “mental health issues” and “our culture of violence,” etc., etc.

No surprise to see our own Jason Chaffetz, the former football kicker and conscientious objector to airport body scans of private parts, talking to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC about our violent culture and mental-health issues. Like patriots everywhere, Representative Chaffetz argued that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The cherub-faced Chaffetz bragged about his big Glock, and for one alarming moment I thought he might expose his proud weapon to the defenseless Ms. Mitchell.

I wholeheartedly agree with one thing the congressman said: We have to make sure we ascertain the “mental capacity” of individuals before we let them carry a gun. I say, start with the Glock-waving Mr. Chaffetz himself.

No one would deny that our society needs to devote more resources to mental health. The plight of the mentally ill in our country is a disgrace. But in the gun debate, mental health has become a red herring. Even the best diagnosis can not predict who will pick up an assault weapon and massacre unarmed civilians in a shopping mall, movie theater or school room. To hear some of the Second Amendment supporters, you’d think all we need to do is lock up all the loonies and have done with it. (We’d have better luck by putting the supporters behind bars—at least they wouldn’t be dropping their guns in coffee shops, or killing their brothers “accidentally” around the campfire or even shooting themselves in the head to prove that their gun isn’t loaded.)

As far as addressing our “culture of violence” goes, the best way to do something about that is to remove from the arena the instruments of our culture of violence, i.e., the guns themselves. But there is a strange taboo in America against questioning the need for guns. There has been much hand-wringing in the media about the need to do something to stop the slaughter. Inevitably, the commentator will make clear that he or she of course doesn’t want to do away with the Second Amendment—hey, the commentator will say, “I own a gun myself, and enjoy killing clueless animals in the woods with a high-powered rifle.” I have yet to read, however, a column or editorial or op-ed in the past two weeks that poses the question: Do we really need the Second Amendment?

Our society is well past the need for a “well-regulated militia.” (Interesting that gun patriots ignore the obviously inconvenient “regulated” part of the Second Amendment.) The day after the slaughter at Sandy Hook, President Obama should have gotten on TV and asked Americans to turn in their guns. The pleasure of a big Glock in your pants is not worth the death of even one of those children waiting for class to start.