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Guns, Crazy People and a Crazy Culture

Despite a numbing number of mass shootings America over the past two decades there has no been no significant legislation passed to do anything about it. The past weekend’s killing sprees in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, however, seem different.
There is bipartisan support for so called “red flag laws,” which would allow the authorities to seize weapons from people deemed a risk to the public safety, and more than the usual number of Republicans are Congress willing to go along with expanding the background investigations of would-be gun-buyers and perhaps even reinstate a ban on so called “assault rifles.” This time around the public outcry to do something is louder than before, the National Rifle Association is still reeling from various scandals that have cost it membership and clout, and President Donald Trump is keeping his options open while eyeing the public opinion polls.
Even so, there’s still a good chance none of these things will become law, and reason to think it might not make much difference even if any of it did.
Republicans have long relied on the money and votes of the absolutist sorts of gun rights advocates, who reasonably fear that giving an inch on gun control might mean ceding a mile to the absolutist sorts of gun control advocates who want to deny even the most law-abiding gun owners of their right to self-defense, Trump continues to listen attentively to the NRA, and another couple mass shootings won’t change that. Calling semi-automatic rifles of a certain style “assault weapons” doesn’t change the fact that they’re very popular, nor the fact that their owners tend to turn out to vote and are mostly concentrated in the majority of less populous states that usually vote Republican in presidential elections. Most of the laws the Democratic House majority has passed and soon will pass have little chance of even getting a vote in the Senate so long as Republican Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell is the majority leader in the upper chamber.
Even with the tentative endorsement of Trump the “red flag” law will have trouble getting passed in the Senate, and if it does there’s a good chance Trump will have changed his mind a decided to veto it. Should the bill be signed into law, there’s a chance that someone deprived of his Second Amendment rights for a crime he might or might not commit will take his case to the courts Trump has lately packed with strict constitutionalists and have the law overturned.
In any case, nothing being debated in Congress will end mass shootings. Confiscating all the guns in America is as impossible as deporting all the illegal immigrants or ending the practice of abortion or stopping people from smoking marijuana. America could make it harder for the criminally insane to get their hands on high-powered firearms that quickly fire multiple rounds of ammunition, and should seriously consider any possible way of doing so, but aspiring mass murderers will then intensify their efforts.
The fault lies not with the country’s laws, as imperfect as they clearly are, but rather with a sick strain of our popular culture that celebrates violence. That’s coming from Hollywood on the left and the gun fetishists and street brawlers on the right, and goes far back in our frontier history. That can’t be fixed in Washington, D.C., but will require soul-searching and spiritual revival everywhere. In the meantime we’ll have another election, and perhaps the political calculations will change with the culture.

— Bud Norman

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Another Bloody American Weekend

America had another bloody weekend, with a mass shooting on Saturday in El Paso, Texas, and another on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, with a combined death toll of 29 people and scores more seriously injured. The incidents were the 31st and 32nd mass shootings of the year, and the second and third in the past week.
The shootings in Ohio seem to have been the result of a personal grievance the shooter had with at least one of his victims, but the far deadlier spree in Texas is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism by a shooter motivated by hatred of Latino Americans. There have been several mass shootings and single murders in the past three years linked to white supremacist ideology, at synagogues and mosques and mostly black churches, with an American death toll exceeding that of radical islamist terrorism over the same time.
The racial aspect of the El Paso massacre is largely dominating the political debate this time around, of course. Many Democrats have been quick to say that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have emboldened his racist supporters, and although most Republicans have defended Trump they’ve often embarrassed themselves in the effort.
Over at The National Review, which has long been the preeminent journal of intellectual conservatism in America and has lately struggled to stay true to its principles in the age of Trump, the editors opined that white supremacy “deserves to be treated by the authorities in same manner as has been the threat posed by militant Islam.” This strikes us as inarguably true at this point, but many readers took to the comments board to make the most absurd arguments. One common response was to ask what about all the anti-white racism on the left, and why the National Review editors weren’t writing about that instead of the white guy who just shot and killed 20 brown-skinned people at an El Paso Wal-Mart. Others seemed to suggest that if we’d just deport all the brown-skinned people, and stop making all the potentially murderous racists feel so marginalized, there would be no need mass shootings by white supremacists. Even though the editorial made no mention of Trump, several readers objected to what they considered an implied criticism of their dear leader.
Which is not the Republican party or conservative philosophy we signed up for.
There is indeed an anti-white strain of racism in certain corners of the left, but what about it? Just as Hillary Clinton’s alleged and proved misdeeds don’t justify anything Trump has done, the white guilt mongering on the left in no way justifies someone shooting 20 random people at an El Paso Wal-Mart or driving a car into an anti-racism protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Getting rid of all the darker-hued people is not the solution to racism, but rather an extreme act of racism. Trump can’t be held responsible for the act of a deranged racist in Texas, but he doesn’t seem to be helping to counter an increasingly bold and deadly white supremacist ideology the way an American president should.
We freely admit we have no solutions to the peculiarly American epidemic of mass shootings, and wish that both sides of the debate would be as frank. The left’s gun control solutions seem futile and likely to restrict the important right of self defense, but the right’s ideas about institutionalizing the mentally ill also seem far-fetched and likely to deprive entirely innocent and only slightly wacky Americans of their liberty. We think it might help if Hollywood made more movies that weren’t about murder and mayhem, and mass shooting video games were less common, but that’s unlikely to happen and any effort to force it would run into First Amendment problems. A respectful and deliberative discussion might yield some idea that would be helpful, but for the moment neither side seems much interested in that.
Most of these all-too-common mass shootings don’t have a racial aspect, but the ones that do should always be met by widespread condemnation of any racist ideology, and if it’s white supremacy it should be denounced by name, with no moral equivalence talk of what about the other haters. Perhaps Trump will get around to that today, as his daughter and advisors are urging him to do, and perhaps he’ll even start making a less explicitly racist case for some of his more sensible immigration policy ideas, and stop making jokes when his rally-goers shout “shoot ’em” as he talks about immigrants.
We surely hope so, as we’re growing weary of all the hatred and bloodshed that are such a part of American life.

— Bud Norman

At Least America Isn’t Yet Enured

There was another mass shooting in America on Tuesday, this time in the usually placid town of Thousand Oaks, California, and another out-in-the-open attempt by President Donald Trump to obstruct a duly authorized special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” this time by replacing the recused and thus recently defenestrated Attorney General with a man who has openly stated his desire to shut down the probe. Both of these unsettlingly routine stories somehow made the front pages of the newspapers and the top of the cable news hours, so we were at least heartened to note that America hasn’t yet come to regard them as the new normal.
All the familiar arguments about gun control and mental health care were once again repeated in the wake of the shooting at a popular bar where the many patrons were line-dancing country-and-western music, and as usual none of them changed anybody’s mind, yet it’s good news that the conversation continues.
Perhaps the Democratic majority that was elected to the House of Representatives will pass some crazy gun-grabbing bill, but the slightly padded Republican majority that was returned to the Senate will probably hew to its obstinate opposition even to such minor Second Amendment tweaks as banning the “bump stocks” were used in a even bloodier country-and-western massacre in Las Vegas about a year ago and the extended pistol magazines used at Thursday’s slaughter. It will probably take more American carnage and a couple of extra election cycles before anything  is done, and we have no confidence that either party has any effective solutions to offer, so we’ll take some solace that the country isn’t yet inured to these frequent mass murders.
We’re also pleased to note the mass outrage over Trump’s efforts to install the sort of Roy Cohn pit bull protector that he’s always openly pined for as acting Attorney General. The upcoming Democratic majority in the House and the sizable Democratic minority in the Senate are predictably outraged about itt, and tens of thousands of their voters took to the streets in mosts states to protest Trump’s move, and several prominent congressional Republicans are willing to risk the wrath of Trump’s “tweets” to state their objections, and judging by the many once-Republican House seats now held by Democrats there are a lot of well-educated and white collar suburbanite Republican women out there who are similarly disloyal to their party’s leader.
Trump has convinced most of his party and a big chunk of the country that the special counsel investigation is a “deep state conspiracy” and “witch hunt” led by “angry Democrats” and “globalists” who hate America and don’t want to see it made great again, but it’s a hard sell to the rest of the country. The guy heading the special counsel investigation is an actual Eagle Scout and decorated war hero with many decades of distinguished and scandal-free public service and a lifelong Republican, which is far more than Trump can say, and in his long and heroic career in law enforcement he’s earned bipartisan respect for his character that Trump will never achieve and doesn’t even aspire to have.
There’s also the matter of the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. admittedly arranged with Russian operatives promising dirt on the opposition, the guilty pleas of Trump’s Kremlin-connected former campaign manager and national security advisor on various charges brought by the special counsel, and the many other reasons an objective observer might not regard the investigation as a “witch hunt.” The guy who was promoted over some higher-ranked and Senate-confirmed officials to be acting director of the Justice Department has made quite clear on cable television that without any knowledge of what the special counsel might have learned he’s made up his mind and not at all an objective observer, which is obviously the reason he got the promotion, so that’s also a tough sell for even Trump to make.
A perfectly innocent president would want an Eagle Scout war hero with an unimpeachable bipartisan reputation to conduct an exhaustive investigation to vindicate him, but as always Trump is clearly intent on shutting it down. We have dear friends and family who are part of that most the Republican party and that big chunk of the country outraged that Trump is bedeviled by a witch hunt, but we’re trying our best to be objective observers and are currently sympathetic with all those well-educated suburbanite Republican women and even the angriest Democrats and most of those crucial independents. Our guess is that a slight majority of the country will be outraged if the special counsel’s pursuit of justice is unconstitutionally obstructed, and although we take faint hope in that outrage we figure that no matter how it turns out there will be further days of rage and carnage in our beloved America.
We also have dear friends and family who tell us that our posts lately are rather depressing, and this one’s admittedly glum, but that’s how we see it.

— Bud Norman

Self-Interested Heroes and Bureaucratic Screw-Ups

There was yet another American mass shooting on Sunday, this time at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville where a green-jacketed but otherwise naked man randomly fired shots from a semiautomatic rifle at the staff and customers. Four people were killed and two others were critically injured, but it could have been worse. This mass shooting featured a bona fide hero who limited the carnage, and the flaw in the system that allowed it to happen in the first place was quickly identified and might yet be corrected.
One of the customers was 29-year-old James Shaw Jr., who had passed up a more a crowded Waffle House to get a late-night meal with an old friend after a night of revelry. He instinctively dove for cover at the sound of the first shot fired. but when the shots briefly ceased for what he figured was either a gun jam or reloading some higher instinct caused the unarmed Shaw to leap at the gunman and wrestled the weapon from his hands. The gunman fled as soon as Shaw tossed the weapon behind the restaurant’s counter, with Shaw choosing not to give chase, and although a suspect has been identified he’s still on loose, but there’s no telling how many lives Shaw saved.
As is usually the case with bona fide heroes, Shaw insisted he wasn’t one. Although he was clearly relieved that lives had been spared by his action, he told bluntly told reporters that “I want everybody to know that I did that completely out of a selfish act. I was completely doing it just to save myself. I’m not a hero. I’m just a regular person, and I think anybody could have done what I did if they are pushed into that kind of cage. You have to either react of you’re going to fold, and I chose to react because I didn’t see any other way of living, and that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to live.”
Shaw further explained that “I kind of made up my mind, because there was no way to lock that door, that if it was going to come down to it, he was going to have to work to kill me.” Although he disavowed any heroic intent, he did describe himself as a college-educated AT&T employee and proud father of a four-year-old daughter, and said he considered himself “a pretty cool guy to be around.” He said he had no military or police training, other than his fights to get his daughter to bed on time, and attributed his actions to human nature.
Shaw’s disarming modesty — no pun intended — only enhances his heroism, as far as we’re concerned. The surviving Waffle House patrons have all expressed their heartfelt gratitude, including that longtime friend that Shaw freely admits he checked on only after the naked and unarmed gunman had run into into nearby woods, and the poor fellow will surely be overwhelmed today by the media’s interview requests and the nation’s admiration.
At least he won’t be made a political cause celebre, though, as he doesn’t fit the profile. The right’s argument about a good guy with a gun being the solution to a bad guy with a gun doesn’t apply here, as Shaw didn’t have a gun, yet Shaw’s admittedly self-interested heroism doesn’t fit well with the left’s arguments about anything. President Donald Trump recently boasted that even if unarmed he would have rushed into that mass shooting at a Florida high school that has reignited the gun debate, but it would be awkward for him to share a photo-op with a black man who’s obviously a pretty cool guy to be around and has more modestly demonstrated actual unarmed heroics, and if the left the tries to exploit that we expect this Shaw fellow will continue to insist he was just trying to his save his own black skin and try to get on with the rest of the life he so he richly deserves.
The suspected gunman has been identified as the same nutcase who had been arrested for an attempt last year to climb the White House gates in an attempt to meet with Trump to discuss something or other. The early news reports don’t make clear how those charges turned out, except that they did result in the confiscation of all the suspect’s guns and the revocation of his Illinois firearms license. Somehow or other the guns were eventually returned to the suspect’s father, who apparently returned them to his unlicensed son, and if not for a self-interested hero’s unlikely appearance it would have gone far worse. Another recent mass shooter had convictions for domestic abuse in military that would have prohibited him from owning a weapon if they had been reported to the civilian courts’ registers, and the kid who shot up that high school in Florida had promised to do so on Facebook and pretty much everyone who knew him didn’t doubt he’d actually do it, and that’s an all-too-common occurrence in these mass shootings.
We’re still steadfast defenders of the natural and constitutional right to keep and bear arms, but by now it’s clear that a few of our fellow citizens should be denied that right, just as a few of our fellow citizens are routinely and rightly denied other rights, and by now we’re getting better at identifying them, and we might yet start act accordingly and according to sensible laws.
In the meantime, we doff our caps to the self-interested but undeniably heroic Shaw, and wish the best for him and his four-year-old daughter.

— Bud Norman

Youthful Idealism and Its Inevitable Woes

At the risk of sounding even older and more cynical than we are, which is admittedly rather old and cynical, we must say we don’t care much for youthful idealism. In fact, we’ve long regarded youthful idealism as one of history’s most destructive forces.
This has been our firmly held opinion since back in our high school days, when we couldn’t help but notice what a poorly educated lot our classmates were, and we continued to think so as we watched high school students here in Wichita and around the country staging walk-out protests on Wednesday against the country’s ongoing epidemic of mass shootings.
Not that we’re at all in favor of mass shootings, of course, and we can well understand why high school students would be especially anxious and opinionated about this peculiarly American problem. Nor do we disagree with more thorough background checks for gun purchases and a ban on “bump stocks” and certain other proposals the protest movement seems to be advocating. In any case, we steadfastly uphold the right of even the most ill-educated youngsters to express their opinions in a public forum.
America’s mass shooting problem is damned complicated, however, and won’t likely be solved by a high school level of analysis. Many of the students involved in the protests seem to favor a complete ban on private gun ownership, which is at least as futile as a ban on abortion or marijuana or illegal immigration or any other number pf bans they would instinctively reject. Others are merely advocating a ban on the semi-automatic rifles they imprecisely call “assault weapons,” which is somewhat less futile but still a pretty damned complicated matter with some valid if subtle arguments on the other side. Even the most reasonable demands about background checks and bump stocks and such are couched in youthfully idealist language that tends to demonize law-abiding gun owners and their constitutional rights.
Constitutional rights have survived countless challenges from youthful idealism, though, and we expect that trend to continue. The current children’s crusade is getting a lot of supportive press, and some of the high schoolers from the latest shot-up high school are so very well-spoken and telegenically sympathetic that the right-wing conspiracy theorists are plausibly theorizing they’re from central casting, and some big corporations have already stopping selling so-called “assault weapons” and offering discounts to members of the demonized National Rifle Association, but it will be hard to sustain.
The kids are competing for column inches and air time with the even more telegenic movie star babes protesting sexual harassment, that “Black Lives Matter” thing still lingers, all of the letters in the “LGBTQ” coalition continue to press their respective grievances, not to mention all the rest of the left’s constant carping about President Donald Trump. They all have their very valid arguments, of course, but they tend to get lost in the noise, and as always they also generate an equal and opposite amount of noise from the right, some of which also has some valid arguments.
Youth movements are hard to sustain, too, and often go awry. Our high school days came a few years after those halcyon days when high schoolers were walking out of class to protest the Vietnam War, which had come to a desultory end partly as a result, and many of our classmates were envious of the frisson of moral superiority they’d experienced, but they were relegated to staging walk-outs over such mundane matters as school dress codes. The opportunity to skip an algebra class always fueled the walkouts, but at our high school the dress codes were so permissive and the truancy rules so laxly enforced that it never came up.
Our guess is that a lot of high schoolers in America have parents who own firearms, including semi-automatic rifles, and well understand the valid reasons, and we note that the vast majority of high schoolers here in Wichita and around the country didn’t walk out. We’ll also guess that some of those walked out did so because it sounded like more fun than chemistry class.
Still, we wish the young punks luck in solving that damned complicated and peculiarly American problem of mass shootings. and hope they’ll nudge their presumably more wised-up elders to some sort of reasonable solution.

— Bud Norman

Conservatism in the Age of Trumpism

Way back in late February of 2011, the reality show star Donald Trump was roundly booed during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference’s annual convention. Trump declined his next invitation to CPAC’s 2016 convention during the Republican presidential primaries, which is something Republican presidential hopefuls normally don’t dare, but was nonetheless roundly booed when then conservative hero Sen. Ted Cruz derisively mentioned his name.
President Trump was greeted as a conquering hero at the 2017 CPAC confab, however, and is expected to as rapturously received when he returns today. This raises question of whether it’s Trump or conservatism that has changed over the past six or seven years.
There’s a strong case to be made that Trump has been transformed. Back in ’11 he was still flaunting his friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, writing checks to all the New York and Florida Democrats he relied on for favors, and was still on the record in favor of banning “assault rifles” and allowing unrestricted access to abortion, among his other many heretical opinions. By 2016 he’d been a leading proponent of the “birther” theory that President Barack Obama was not and American citizen, was saying the nastiest things anyone had to say about the Clintons, promising to get tougher on illegal and legal immigration than anyone else dared, all in the snarling rhetorical style of talk radio, but his conservative credentials were still in doubt.
By the time he made his triumphant return to CPAC last year as the Republican party’s very own president, having triumphed over such well-credentialed conservatives as the aforementioned Cruz, Trump was clearly not the New York City liberal he had once claimed to be. When he takes to the stage today he’ll be able to wave a big tax cut bill that he signed into law, point to all the burdensome regulations he’s eliminated, brag about the strict constructionist he appointed the Supreme Court, and rightly claim that although he didn’t repeal and replace Obamacare his tax cut bill at least rescinded the hated individual mandate. So far he hasn’t caved on promises to kick out all those illegal yet sympathetic “dreamers” who were brought here as children, or his promises to deliver the favors the National Rifle Association paid him for, and although he’s sounded kind of wobbly on both lately his conservative credentials probably won’t be checked at CPAC’s door.
Still, we can’t quite shake a sad feeling that this is not the conservatism we signed up for so long ago. In our idealistic youth, which occurred during one of those occasional epochs of cataclysmic cultural change, we embraced a Burkean conservatism that sought to maintain the best of what our culture had established over the generations, to move cautiously toward its highest and most time-tested ideals, and resist the worst of all the craziness coming from the left. This led us to certain conclusions about the government that governs best being the one that governs least, the enduring wisdom of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the many ways that humans gotten it wrong, not letting petty disputes devolve into warfare, and the importance of eventually balancing the books.
For the most part the Republican party has imperfectly followed these general principles for most of our lives, but these days it seems to have made a predictably bad deal with the guy who had “The Art of the Deal” ghost-written for him. The craziness coming from the left is crazier than ever, and we feel it must be resisted, so it’s especially sad to realize that’s about all we have left in common with the right these days.
The conservative cheers for Trump won’t be for the enduring wisdom of Judeo-Christian tradition, as anybody understands it, and the mention of any institutions that have been painstakingly established over the generations to resist his worst impulses will surely be met with talk of “deep state” “silent coups” by “enemies of the people” and chants of “Burn it down!” The CPAC crowds have already indulged themselves with the ritual chant of “Lock her up” at the mention of vanquished Democrat foe Hillary Clinton’s name, just like the crowds at the Ukrainian strongman’s rallies arranged by Trump’s former and now-indicted campaign manager, which did result in the losing opponent going to jail, which actually outraged most conservatives way back then.
These days too many self-described conservatives seem to like that strong man style of governance, even as they insist they’re freedom-loving small government types. They still insist they’re against annual deficits and multi-trillion dollar debts, but don’t seem to mind that all of Trump’s budgets lead to a bigger-than-Obama hole. They still insist they’re the party of family values, but they’ll give a Trump a pass on his extramarital flings with porn stars and Playboy centerfolds. They still want to lock Clinton up for mishandling classified information, but they’re perfectly fine with alleged-wives beaters and a suspicious-as-hell son-in-laws and dozens of other uncleared staffers getting daily access to top security intelligence briefings.
At least he’s not Hillary, the CPAC conventioneers will surely say, and we have to admit they’ve got a point. The CPAC convention has always drawn almost every sort of self-described contrastive, but mostly the types who take it far too seriously, so it’s always been a bit of a freak show. When Trump was booed back in ’11 it was because he disparaged far-libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, who had easily won the convention’s primary straw poll over eventual nominee Mitt Romney, and this time around it featured the last French election’s nominee from the National Front, a far-right nationalist party with fascist roots whose campaign also received cyber support from the Russian government, and she was more warmly received than Trump was back in ’11. As bad as that sounds, though, we’re quite sure the next big liberal confab, full of people who also take this stuff far too seriously, will have something just as bad. The CPAC convention’s one saving grace has always been that it united all those factions in their opposition to the worst of all that leftwing craziness, and for now Trump is the only champion to rally around in that righteous cause.
If conservatism is thus defined as rallying around Trump, though, it’s in worse trouble than anybody at CPAC seems to realize.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Children’s Crusade

America’s permissive-by-global-standards gun laws and social attitudes have survived all the political outcries that followed more mass shootings than we can remember in the past many years, but the latest tragedy seems different.
The St. Valentine’s Day massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and faculty dead and more than a dozen others injured, was no bloodier than usual but has somehow set off a nationwide youth movement protesting for stricter gun control. Students have staged walk-out protests at high schools around the country, shown up en masse at boisterous protests at the White House and the Florida statehouse, and started the effective sorts of social media networks you’d expect of today’s young people. All the politicians have taken notice, and even President Donald Trump found himself in a “listening session” on Wednesday.
Perhaps it’s just been one mass shooting too many, but important another reason this time is different is that the students at affluent and usually placid Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are a telegenically sympathetic and uncannily eloquent bunch of teenagers.
We know this because all but one of the cable news networks have lately made reality stars out of them, which puts the more rightward media in a tough spot. There are cold and dispassionate and harshly logical reasons for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, but they’re hard to make in the hot media of television, as Marshall McCluhan famously described it, especially when it has such telegenically sympathetic and well-spoken stars on hand.
A few of the rightmost media have conjectured that these kids are just a bit too-uncannily well spoken for teenagers, and must have been hired from central casting by George Soros or some other left-wing conspirator, and that the kid with the former FBI father is especially suspicious given the bureau’s insidious role in the “deep state” plot against Trump. These conjectures have been passed along on social media by a couple of obscure Republican politicos and the president’s namesake son, but for the most part it’s been a futile gesture. The more respectable rightward media take care to be respectful of the terror and loss these telegenic kids have suffered, though, and even such a politically incorrect president as Trump wound up enduring their sob stories with an appropriately somber face during Wednesday’s “listening session.”
One of The Washington’s Post fancy-schmantzy high-resolution digital cameras took a picture of the talking points memo Trump was holding in his normal-sized hands, and it’s clearly discernible that fifth on the list was a needed reminder to say “I hear you.” That was about all Trump had to say to the mass-shooting survivors he’d convened, and although he’d been careful not to invite any of the kids from Douglas High, many of whom had already said they’d decline the invitation, the people Trump and the rest of the country were listening to were also remarkably sympathetic and well-spoken. Trump spoke at a relatively modest length about his campaign promise to arm all the teachers in America, admitting that most of them would probably prove quite ineffectual but holding out hope that a certain number of them would be bad-assed enough to take care of the situation, but mostly he responded to every tear-jerking story by saying “I hear you.”
There’s still a cold and dispassionate and harshly logical argument for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, and much of what these telegenically sympathetic and remarkably well-spoken high school students are proposing is easily refuted bunk, even if we can’t bring ourselves to blame their youthful selves for that, but Trump and his most rightward media apologists don’t seem up to making that complex case. This time around the high school kids and gun-grabbing crazies on the seem more careful to mostly propose more modest proposals about more careful background checks, fixing the bureaucratic glitches that kept federal and local enforcement from acting on numerous tips and intervening with the crazy mixed-up kid who shot up that upper-class Parkland high school, and other non-controversial solutions.
Not so long before he became a Republican candidate for the presidency Trump was yet another Democratic New Yorker who endorsed the easily refuted bunk about banning semi-automatic long guns, and although he’s since promised the gun rights absolutists that he’ll never let them down and his elephant-hunting namesake son has “tweeted” his urgings not to give an inch, we don’t expect him to start “tweeting” taunts about high school kids and holding the line. Some modest measures will likely be passed, the kids will forever remember that glorious day they walked out of algebra class, and the the political ramifications won’t be felt until all those high schools become eligible to vote.

— Bud Norman

Another St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

The horrific mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, which left at least 17 dead and at least another score injured, was the 18th school shooting in America in this young year by the American Broadcasting Company’s count. The Cable News Network counts it as only the 12th mass school shooting in the past month-and-a-half, but everyone seems to have lost count of how many there have been in the past few decades, not to mention all the mass shootings at gay night clubs and country-and-western concerts and post-game celebrations and other non-school events, and by now it’s almost numbingly routine.
Respectful mention must always be made, but it’s increasingly hard to think of anything new to say. At this point most of the media don’t bother to rerun all the familiar arguments for and against further gun control measures, or the similarly complicated arguments about dealing with the apparent pandemic of mental illness in America. One of the right wing talk radio talkers took a day off from blaming the “deep state” Democrats and Republicans for the whole “Russia thing” and instead railed against the bleeding heart public education types who don’t post armed guards in every school, which we have to admit is a reasonable suggestion, but the rest of the media coverage had a depressing feel of deja vu.
We have nothing new to say, just the same old heartfelt offer of thoughts and prayers. We well understand how insufficient and stale that sounds to an impatient secular society, but note that our impatient secular society has nothing more fresh and satisfying to offer. As long as we’re all at least talking about it, though, we’ll hold out prayerful hope that the conversation might lead us to some mutually agreed upon and at least slightly ameliorative solution to what everyone agrees is an intolerable problem.
The important thing is that we not come to regard it as normal and therefor tolerable. Human beings in general and Americans in particular have that unfortunate tendency. The left did it to the point that President Donald Trump was elected, now the the right is just as busily devoted to defining deviancy down, and the cynical center is more convinced than ever that both sides were a scam all along and there’s nothing to be done about it.. Which makes it hard to confront the uncomfortable but undeniable fact that an extraordinary and heartbreaking number of our nation’s  children get shot down in their schools by mid-February.

— Bud Norman

“Bump Stocks” Take a Dive

Every mass shooting incident is inevitably followed by a renewed push for stricter gun control laws, but so far none of them have brought about any significant policy changes. Sunday’s record-setting massacre in Las Vegas, though, seems likely to result in some sort of ban on something called a “bump stock.”
Despite the public’s natural instinct to do something to after a mass shooting, gun control advocates have been unable to come up with anything short of a total ban on private ownership that would have averted or mitigated the tragedy. A total  ban on private gun ownership would require two-thirds of the states ratifying a constitutional amendment to repeal the Second Amendment, which isn’t going to happen in any living American’s lifetime, followed by a nationwide confiscation program, and you don’t have to be paranoid about your gun-owning neighbors to foresee how that would wind up with a lot of guns being pried out of a lot of cold, dead fingers, so the proposals have mostly been limited to background checks and waiting periods and limits on the number of bullets in a magazine and bans on certain types of guns, along with other assorted tweaks. Background checks and waiting periods are already law, though, magazines can be so quickly replaced that limits are ineffective, and the deadliest firearms have been banned for decades.
Partly because gun control advocates are proud they know nothing about guns, and gun enthusiasts pride themselves on knowing everything about them, the Second Amendment has largely survived all the debates, even when the Democrats were in charge. The longstanding attempts to re-ban “assault weapons” have faltered when the gun enthusiasts rightly noted that it’s a meaningless term, sometimes used to describe rifles that are no more deadly than your pop’s hunting rifle but have certain scary-and-military looking features, and the gun control advocates seemed not understand the difference between the now-common semi-automatic weapons and the long-banned fully automatic ones.
“Bump stocks” blur that distinction in a deadly way, though, and both sides of the debate seem to understand that. It’s news to us, as well as to many far more enthusiastic gun owners than ourselves, but a “bump stock” is a gizmo that allows one to alter a perfectly legal semi-automatic rifle so that with one pull of the trigger it fires bullets as rapidly one of those long-banned fully automatic rifles. As of now the sale and purchase of these gizmos is legal, and although actually using one is a felony the fellow who killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 others in Las Vegas also decided to break that law. Such a deranged person would have broken any gun law you might have passed with any guns he could have gotten his hands on, of course, but it seems certain that he wouldn’t have killed and wounded quite so many people if a law had deterred someone from selling him those gizmos that he used on his armory of legally-acquired weapons.
The Democratic Party in general and its gun control advocates in particular sense a rare winning issue, and the Republican Party in general and its gun enthusiasts in particular don’t seem eager to fight this battle. The Speaker of the House has signaled his willingness to ban “bump stocks,” and even the National Rifle Association has agreed the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco and Firearms should tweak their interpretations of existing law to stop people from selling the gizmos. In the past they’ve taken a never-give-an-inch stance on any gun control regulation, with a plausible argument that it might wind up with a police state confiscating guns from cold, dead fingers, but the starting point on slippery slope has been a ban on fully automatic weapons ever since they were first banned in the 1930[s after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and were more fully banned during the Reagan years, so they’re not giving much ground this time around.
Those sorts of gun enthusiasts who are preparing for a revolution against the better-armed “deep state” or the Zionist Occupying Government or a mass shooting on some public square will object that their Second Amendment rights are being violated, but we’d like to think that the vast majority of our gun-owning neighbors have no need for a “bump stock.” No one uses them for hunting, our more knowledgable gun-owning friends tell us that home defense is probably best handled with a semi-automatic hand gun with a full magazine, and for now we’re not ready to foment any armed revolution in the country. Let the gun-grabbers win this battle, as far as we’re concerned, and let a reasonably-interpreted Second Amendment win the war.

— Bud Norman

On the Murders Sunday in Las Vegas, Lawrence, and Elsewhere in the United States of America

Three people were killed and two others were injured early Sunday morning when at least 20 gunshots were fired on a crowded downtown street in Lawrence, Kansas, but you probably didn’t hear about it. Later that same day a shooter in Las Vegas killed at least 59 people and injured another 500 or so, setting a new American record, so that understandably took up almost all of Monday’s news.
By now mass shootings are almost numbingly routine, and despite the outrage and heartbreak they always provoke most Americans would be hard pressed to recall any details of the last one or the one before that, but this time might prove more memorable. There’s the record-setting death toll, the apparent use of a fully automatic weapon, the much older than usual age of the shooter, and an especially frustrating lack of any plausible explanation.
There’s never an adequate explanation for these slaughters, of course, but usually there’s some detail or two in the initial stories that gives some clue what going on the deranged mind of the shooter. Sometimes they’re named Mohammad and shout “Alahu Akbar” and had posted Islamic screeds on their Facebook pages, other times they’re white guys with haircuts and Facebook postings that announce their racial grievances, the guy who shot up the a Washington, D.C., softball field and wounded a Republican congressman had a deep-seated hatred of Republicans, and the guy shot up a political rally in Arizona and wounded Democratic congresswoman apparently did so because she had failed to an incomprehensible question he’d asked at a town hall, and usually they turn out to be kind of crazy that family and friends and neighbors had long noticed but never knew quite what to do about it.
None of that amounts to an adequate explanation, but it’s something to cling to as we humans instinctively search for some reassuring reason when tragedy occurs.
This time around the Islamic State terror gang claimed the shooter was a recent convert who had heeded their call to jihad, but they always they do that whenever someone kills random people, and it’s quite unusual for recent converts to any religion to keep quiet about it and so far everyone who knew the shooter says he never expressed any religious opinions at all. The target of the shooting was an outdoor country music festival, so there was immediate internet speculation that the shooter was someone who wanted to killed a lot of Republicans, which quickly led to some irresponsible right-wing sites fingering an innocent fellow with a lot of pro-Democratic Facebook postings, but apparently this shooter never expressed any political opinions of any sort, and was said to be a country music fan himself. According to everyone the armies of reporters have rounded up to interview, the shooter was an undeniably odd duck but not in a way that made you think he’d spray automatic rounds at a crowd of random strangers.
According to the neighbors he mostly kept to himself in his comfortable gated over-50 community in rural Nevada, and was often away from home for long periods of time during high-stakes gambling binges in Las Vegas. He’d apparently done well as an accountant and made some savvy real estate investments, and without any children to worry about he could afford the indulgence and still lavish gifts on his mother, so neither the neighbors nor his family found it worrisome. His brother gave a lengthy interview to a cluster of news cameras and microphones that was clearly too distraught to be at all disingenuous, and he was clearly surprised to learn that shooter had acquired a veritable armory or deadly weapons.
The usual post-mass-shooting debates about gun control are already underway, but this time around they’re all the more complicated for both sides. Apparently all of those weapons had been acquired legally, with the shooter’s previously pristine legal record and lack of any noticed mental health problems carrying him through all the required background checks, and automatic weapons have long been illegal, it’s too late to charge the now-dead-by-self-inflicted-gunshot shooter with the apparent crime of altering his semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic, and it’s hard to think of anything that would have stopped this guy without imposing onerous restrictions of the rights of the vast majority of peaceable gun owners. Those peaceable gun owners have long made the reasonable argument that if there’s some crazy guy shooting up a crowd you don’t want him to be the only one there with a gun, but in this case he was shooting from 400 yards away where none of those of presumably gun-toting country music fans would have known where to shoot, and if any of them had drawn their weapons during the panic the police and security on hand would have been well within their rights to shoot them.
The same dreary arguments will continue, nonetheless, along with the ancillary debates about why so many Americans wind up getting shot to death every year. Across most of America the murder rate has happily declined over the past few decades, those mass shootings and the daily carnage in Chicago and a couple of other cities notwithstanding, but the numbers are still high by first-world standards and merit national concern. Those mass shootings are by now a longstanding problem, too, dating back at least to a sniper attack from the University of Texas’ landmark tower in Austin in 1966, and back in ’76 a guy started shooting from the balcony of what was then the tallest building in our hometown of Wichita, and there was a kid shot up his junior high school in a nearby suburb back in ’85, and when we think about we can recall the schoolyard in Connecticut and the homosexual nightclub in Orlando and far too many details of other mass shootings.
An autopsy showed that the Texas shooter had brain disease, that guy in Wichita had just been jilted by his girlfriend, the junior high kid in the nearby suburb had endured the usual junior high bullying, the Connecticut shooter was so clearly crazy his mom had been warning the cops about him, the homosexual nightclub was another one of those “Alahu Akbar” incidents, and when we think about we can recall some semblance of a reason for all those other mass shootings. According to the police in the normally placid university town of Lawrence those three victims who died there early Sunday morning weren’t random targets, and that the violence was the result of some beef between low-lifes who have always used guns to settle their differences, and we note that the incident followed a rap concert at the school’s arena, so we’ll make the same stereotypical assumptions that some people make about country music concerts, and hope it’s all enough to satisfy our all too human need for some reason that tragedies occur.
None of it amounts to an adequate explanation, though, and we hope that America in its extraordinary greatness will take time out from the usual political to ponder why it has such a persistent and extraordinary problem with Americans getting shot to death, and how it might be addressed without stripping the vast majority of cherished rights.

— Bud Norman