As I'm sure you know by now, the worst mass shooting since the Newtown school massacre in 2012 took place today in San Bernardino, Calif. Some 14 innocent people were gunned down and at least 17 more were injured, at what reportedly was a holiday party for government employees. The twist in this case is that there appear to be multiple gunmen -- in fact, one suspect was shot and another either dead or arrested. Authorities say they don't believe this is "terrorism," although it sounds pretty terrifying to me.
Today's news is stunning and heartbreaking -- just as it was heartbreaking in Newtown, or just last Friday when three people were murdered in a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, or when our fellow citizens were slain at the movie theater, or in their workplace or college classroom,or place of worship. I pray for the departed and for all of their loved ones.
Beyond that, I don't know what else to say. I really don't. I've written this same damn blog post too many times, and I'm sick of it. How many ways can you say the same thing? This afternoon, I reviewed a decade of Attytood posts about mass shootings. All of what I wrote then is just as valid today:
In just the three days since semi-automatic gunfire shattered their world and ours, there has already been so much debate about whether Loughner and the shooting are products of our toxic environment or just the handiwork of "a lone nut," and whether that means the Pima sheriff was out of line with his pointed and powerful assault on prejudice and bigotry. But is it really necessary to tie Loughner into the broader body politic to prove what we as Americans should already know instinctively: That when eliminationists are targeting members of Congress with rocks and stray bullets and tar and feathers and a minister is praying for the death of the American president and when a state decides as an entity to profile and harass human beings because they have brown skin or because their religion is different, that things have already gone way, way off the tracks. We should have seen this long before 10 a.m. Mountain time, on the fateful morning of Jan. 8, 2011.
I'm not trying to be as cynical as this probably sounds -- I'm sure that Newt Gingrich, Mike Tyson, Sean Hannity, Michael Dell, John McCain, Nick Jonas or whoever else you want to pull out of the endless "thoughts and prayers" queue were coping with the same heartfelt mixture of grief, anguish and anger that you and I first felt. But the repetitive use of the exact same phrase by so many people seemed telling. It meant that this American brand of insanity had happened so many times, with such numbing repetition, that even our leaders no longer know what to say. Or even worse, they've learned that "thoughts and prayers" has become the safe and secure way of responding -- focus-group tested to be gaffe-proof and offend not a single person on either the Right or the Left. Because in our 21st Century political culture, the name of the game is not offending anyone. Actually doing something? That's so far off the radar screen it's not even in the control tower.
President Barack Obama needs to do something. At various points in his political career, the president has supported a number of common-sense measures that would save lives while not stripping Americans of the right to own guns for purposes such as hunting or self-protection -- including closing loopholes regarding sales at gun shows, improved child-safety measures, and, most importantly, restoring the assault-weapon ban that was allowed to expire in 2004. (He supported even more stringent gun-control measures before he became a candidate for president.) Obama needs to start fighting for some of these ideas -- now, not after the election -- and here are three reasons why.
1) Measures that would curb high-powered killing machines or improve our methods of keeping guns away from the mentally disturbed won't end murder, of course, but they should reduce the number of victims, and that is something we must strive for. 2) Taking action -- as opposed to bland utterances about "thoughts and prayers" -- sends the message that as a society we hold these actions to be unacceptable. Doing nothing says the opposite, which is appalling. 3) A successful president is a strong president, and taking positions that would curb gun violence and then refusing to act on them makes Barack Obama look very weak indeed.
The irony is that the leadership of the NRA has grown so extreme that it no longer represents its own members. Most Americans don't even realize that even before Newtown, some 74 percent of NRA members said they support background checks for all weapons purchases, and most support other reasonable regulations. And yet we've allowed the NRA's highly paid cadre of extremist leaders and its most radical supporters, who flood the airways and newspaper comment sections, to control the debate.
Today, in the wake of Newtown, the decent majority Americans will have to reassert themselves. with numbers -- and with dollars. It will be hard work, and time consuming. When the NRA gets its most fanatical 60,000 to show up in Houston in May for its convention, the gun sanity folks should ring the building with 70,000 people. The gun sanity movement should outspend the NRA 25-1 instead of the other way around. And it will mean difficult political choices, backing gun sanity candidates not just against Tea Party Republicans but in primaries against Democratic enablers.
It must have been hard to process mass killings back, say, in 1966, when sniper Charles Whitman climbed the University of Texas bell tower...before Columbine, before Aurora, before Newtown. Today, Mass Murder American Style comes with its own tired rituals and its own warped linguistics -- and occasionally a plot twist. In this case, the sordid racism of the American South. Roof's rampage is an American nightmare -- the dark place where the 16th Street Baptist Church meets Sandy Hook, where the KKK gets admitted to Virginia Tech.
And while we're at...when are going to get real about what is or isn't "terrorism" in America? What happened on Friday -- as a growing mound of evidence makes clear -- was a chilling case of political terrorism, intended to frighten and intimidate women from exercising their constitutionally protected rights to health care including abortion. But then, innocent people have also been slaughtered in Colorado for going to high school, for trying to see a Batman movie on a Friday night, or for riding their bike on an autumn Saturday. Isn't that -- and our utter fear and paralysis to even try to do anything to stop the gun carnage -- a sign that we've already been terrorized in the United States.