Rampant gun culture aided by cowardice

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This is not the column I wanted to write. This is not the column you wanted to read. But a grim vision, the residue of dread left by a terrible day at a Connecticut elementary school, seizes the imagination.

In the mind's eye, it conjures up children's stockings and those of six brave adults, hung with care but robbed now of their Christmas joy before cold family hearths

But what is the right way to honor the needlessly dead? Not with merriment and laughter, not today. Perhaps the only way is a humble offering of a few home truths, so obvious that they are not universally grasped, so truthful that many people cannot bring themselves to believe them. As the old saying has it, none so blind as those who cannot see.

The obvious starts, as it always does, with the one-word question: Why? The strange aspect of this question is that most people already instinctively know the answer. Of course, nobody knows the exact mind or motive of the shooter in Connecticut and maybe never will. But that is the least part implied by the question.

Why? Because this is America, one of the most heavily armed nations in the world. In America, guns have their venerated place next to Mom and apple pie. They have been placed on a constitutional pedestal as being indispensable to liberty itself, although people in other civilized, democratic counties are living proof that this isn't true.

Where guns are so readily available, where custom and laws insist that the gun culture is supreme, supposedly rare massacres of the innocent become both inevitable and commonplace. Every so often, a troubled person will pick up a gun and kill. That's why.

Why ask why? Do workers who slosh around in petroleum up to their knees and smoke cigarettes ask why fires start? Do lifeguards at beaches with treacherous undertows ask why swimmers drown?

We know why. It's the guns, and not just any guns but guns that fire more rounds in quicker time than the musket-toting Founding Fathers ever dreamed of when writing the Second Amendment.

Do we think that the writers of the Constitution, if they knew what we now know, would have proceeded as they did? And if we do think so, what do we really believe about those wise gentlemen -- that they lacked compassion or brains?

Yet some Americans say that the answer to gun violence is more guns, as if the answer to petroleum fires is more petroleum and more smoking. They would take America back to the Wild West, everyone armed from Miss Kitty to Marshal Dillon, the schoolmarm and her pupils, with the local undertaker doing a roaring business amid the clouds of gun smoke, and all in the name of safety.

This is nuts, but it is also ignorant of human nature. It assumes that everybody can be turned into effective killers just by giving them guns. Most people, even when threatened in an emergency, could not be depended upon to take someone's else's life -- and thank God for our natures.

This is why the military puts its recruits through weeks of rigourous boot camp, not just to make them fit and familiar with weapons, but to break down the fundamental human inhibitions against killing. Psychopaths find killing easy, normal people have to be trained how to overcome their normal social impulses.

Americans may be stuck with the Second Amendment as a permanent artifact of history, but there's much we could do to read it sensibly and enforce it wisely.

The Second Amendment is not absolute; no amendment is, including the First Amendment. The reach of all amendments stretches no farther than the point where they intrude on other rights. All the child and adult victims in Newtown were criminally deprived of all their constitutional rights because of one, the Second Amendment, which made high-powered guns available for the slaughter. That is just wrong. That is just stupid.

The American people find themselves doomed to relive a tale from Greek mythology, the one in which the Athenians periodically send seven boys and seven girls as tribute to a Cretan king. There they are fed to the minotaur, a half-bull, half-man monster, who lives in a labyrinth. Finally, the hero Theseus slays the beast in its lair.

We are not at that part of the story yet, just the part where we regularly sacrifice our youth in a labyrinth of excuses. Where is our hero among coward politician kings and their unthinking supporters?

Every time someone says that we don't need more gun laws but we need more guns, the minotaur grows stronger. Why? In God's name, why?


Reg Henry: rhenry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1668.


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