David Olmsted: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
A major flood is expected in town. Evacuation orders are issued, and police drive the streets in vans, warning residents. A middle-aged man, let’s call him Larry, thanks the officers but says he believes God will protect him and refuses to leave. A wall of water sweeps into town, and Larry has to ascend to the second floor of his small home. Within minutes the police are back in a boat, urging the few holdouts to climb in. Larry leans out a window, again thanks the officers and reaffirms his faith. By nightfall the only dry spot on Larry’s house is the roof, and as darkness descends the police helicopter hovers over him.
“Come on, Larry,” they urge as they drop a rope. “It’s your last chance.”
But again Larry ignores their pleas. “God will protect me,” he repeats. Within hours Larry is swept away.
As he steps up to face God in heaven, he is incredulous that he is there. “God, how could you let this happen? I’ve devoted my life to you. I’ve worshipped and proselytized and lived a devout life. Why did you take me?”
God shakes his head in disgust. “I sent you a van, a boat and a helicopter. What more do you want from me?”
Eighty-two innocent people have been shot and killed in unprovoked rampages in the United States in 2012; the last 20 were children, children huddled in unimaginable horror in two Connecticut classrooms where they were shot, one by one, multiple times, at close range. The shooter had three semiautomatic weapons with him, three of the nearly 310 million guns in private ownership in the U.S. We have more guns per capita than all but one other country, Yemen. More than Somalia, more than Mexico, more than Syria. There is a multiple-victim shooting in the U.S. every 5.9 days.
Each time one of these tragedies occurs, there is a muffled murmur from Washington about opening a dialogue over gun ownership and violence. It’s like the endless quibbling about seating arrangements that precedes every attempt at Israel-Palestinian peace talks just before the discussions dissolve in ennui. The murmurs gradually fade to whispers and then to shrugs. The only tangible result of these episodes is that gun purchases go up. After the Aurora murders, private gun-ownership applications rose 41 percent in the state.
The “brain trust” behind Gun Owners of America issued a statement Friday afternoon that spread the blood of the Connecticut victims over the hands of gun-control supporters, repeating the threadbare refrain that if only the teachers and administrators in Newtown had been packing, this rampage could have been avoided. Yet we’ve yet to hear a single teacher or administrator from Sandy Hook Elementary School express a wish that they’d been armed Friday morning. Presumably, Gun Owners of America would add combat-firearms training to teaching-certificate curriculums. All in favor, raise your hands.
The empty suits at the National Rifle Association have declined to wade in on the Newtown shootings “until the facts are thoroughly known.” We know the facts because we’ve already seen the movie. A “disturbed,” intelligent, young, white male (it’s almost always a young, white male) took out his frustration at life on innocent victims because he had easy access to semiautomatic weapons. And we know what the NRA will call for, once it knows the facts, because the NRA is very good at doing what it does: easier access to guns for all so that the “right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The NRA doesn’t talk much about the “well regulated” part of the Second Amendment because it doesn’t mesh with its opposition to the tightening of background checks, the prohibition of gun ownership by convicted felons and mental-health patients or a limitation on extended-capacity clips. What the NRA and the Gun Owners of America apparently envision for the next Sandy Hook is a well-armed faculty shooting it out with the next nut job. Hopefully, the children will be trained to duck.
The other nostrum from gun-control opponents is that guns are safe in the hands of law-abiding citizens with proper safety training. That’s wishful nonsense. A one-armed monkey can learn which hole to put the bullet in and how to pull the trigger. As any law enforcement professional would tell us, the hard and most important part about using a weapon is having the judgment to know when to use it. George Zimmerman may very well have been proficient on a firing range, but without the gun, his confrontation with Trayvon Martin would have been a fistfight with bloodied lips. Zimmerman was a neighborhood watcher, not a neighborhood shooter, and had no business with a weapon. Martin was the victim of the testosterone rush that comes with a 30-round clip on one’s hip.
Responsibility for the Newtown killings, and every one of the other senseless gun-related murders, can be spread around. Judicial “strict constructionists” who blithely interpret the Second Amendment in it’s most literal sense apparently believe that if Thomas Jefferson had not intended unfettered access to weapons, the Constitution would have explicitly banned assault rifles and high-capacity clips. Or maybe the framers had stock in Glock and Sig Sauer.
Talk-radio loudmouths warn that our America, the real America, is being taken from us by socialists. The House speaker told us the passage of health care reform would be Armageddon, that it would be the last straw in
“ruining our country.” A tea party favorite warned that Teach for America is a government cover operation to retrain young minds in the ways of European socialism. A recently ousted Florida congressman announced that he had evidence of 82 current members of Congress being “card-carrying” Communists. Sure, it’s amusing hyperbole to most of us, but to those too many “disturbed” among us whose psyches are not glued down tightly, those monologues are calls to violent action.
Well-meaning politicians on the other side of the gun-ownership issue have been inexcusably feckless. President Obama’s tearful address in the immediate wake of Friday’s tragedy, as well as his equally heartfelt oration in Newtown over the weekend, was inspiring but familiar. In Washington, he observed that “we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics.” Indeed. And in Newtown he asked, “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” Though he admitted the answer is “no,” the very question was rhetorical.
The president promised that in the “coming weeks” he would begin the dialogue. But as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg justly observed, Obama’s heart might be in the right place, but he has done nothing to address the problem in his first term except to sign orders allowing weapons to be carried in national parks and on Amtrak trains. Despite the NRA’s despicable and disingenuous exhortation to voters that if Obama was re-elected, he would outlaw all private ownership of guns, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has given this administration an “F” for its efforts, or lack of efforts, to address the issue.
I’m not devout. Sadly, no god has ever spoken directly to me, though I wait. I’m not convinced that he, or she, sends hurricanes or floods to punish homosexuality or helps the victims of natural disasters rebuild. What I do believe is that God gives us brains and a moral compass and expects us to figure things out in a reasonable, rational process. And I also believe events sometimes occur that we ought to take as signs, divine or otherwise, that we’re on the wrong track. I believe we ought to think carefully about getting on that helicopter when it hovers over us. For now, I believe the president needs to nut up.
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Aspen City Council’s recent actions are proof that you get what you pay for, argues Elizabeth Milias in her Red Ant column this week.