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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 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

Bartender Blues

The big headline on the Drudge Report was “Plot to Poison Boehner,” and we couldn’t wait to find out whodunnit. Speaker of the House John Boehner is loathed by the lunatic left for his partisan obstruction of President Barack Obama’s agenda, and reviled by the radical right for his capitulations to that very same agenda, so suspects abound. It turned out to be the apolitical sort of of nutcase that is usually involved in these sorts of the stories, but it still makes for an interesting tale.
The alleged would-be assassin was the bartender at Boehner’s country club, and given that Boehner is desired by both the right and the left as a “Country Club Republican” even the most imaginative mystery writer would be hard-pressed to top that stereotypical detail. He was reportedly known to his customers as “Bartender Mike,” nomenclature usually found only in the most old-fashioned hard-boiled dime novels, and he reportedly told the arresting officers that he was Jesus Christ and blamed Boehner for being rude and causing the Ebola virus endemic, which adds a rather modern twist. The suspect also claims that the devil’s voice came over the radio to warn of Boehner’s evil, and the evidence reportedly includes a lengthy e-mail sent by the suspect to his father, a neighbor, and ex-girlfriend. There’s a history of mental illness, unsurprisingly, and thus far nothing to tie him to any political movement.
The lack of a political motivation will disappoint the more liberal portions of the press, which have been itching for some “tea party” type to try something newsworthy. There was a large batch of weaponry and ammunition found at the suspect’s home, which is something the press can go on, but then again the New Black Panther Party and Obama’s pal Bill Ayers and his Weather Underground had that stuff as well. Some will no doubt suspect that the satanic voice the suspect heard on the radio was Rush Limbaugh or some other right-wing talk radio host, and one might conclude from their broadcasts that Boehner is evil, but even his most vociferous broadcast critics never claim Boehner was responsible for the Ebola virus. Neither is there any reason to suspect a left-wing sort of extremism, and that part about claiming to be Jesus Christ pretty much rules out the possibility, so at least the press won’t have to deal with that. There is apparently no need to concoct any creative reasons that it has nothing to do Islam, too, so the press can be doubly thankful and let the story drop.
Some attention should be paid, though, because for all its bizarre details the story is a reminder that public officials of every political persuasion assume risks to the personal safety. America’s history is rife with assassinations and assassination attempts, and in most cases they have had little to do with politics and more to do with mental illness. It worth noting that most on the right and left will pursue their causes with resort to violence, a commendable state of affairs, but one should also keep in mind that there are a lot of crazy people out there. At the very least, we expect that John Boehner’s country club will begin more thorough checks on its bartenders.

— Bud Norman

A Cautionary Christmas Story

You might have heard the heart-warming story about the New York City policeman who bought a pair of boots for a homeless man who had been wandering the frigid streets on bare feet. A tourist happened to witness the act of kindness, the inevitable video wound up going “viral” on the internet, and countless human interest stories followed.
The denouement of this tale has not been as widely reported, but then again, it’s not nearly so heart-warming. Apparently the homeless man is still wandering the frigid streets on bare feet, preferring to keep the new boots hidden in some secret location, and has lately been babbling to reporters about the unnamed people who want to kill him for his famous footwear. We’d love to tell a happier ending to the story, especially during the holiday season, but we are stuck with the facts.
This unpleasant plot twist is not, alas, at all surprising. Although the popular press typically portrays the homeless as innocent victims of impersonal economic forces, at least when there’s a Republican in the White House, our experience suggests that most of them are on the streets because they suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or a mental illness such as seems to afflict the barefoot vagrant. Which is not to say that the homeless are any less worthy of the public’s concern, even when there’s a Democrat in the White House, only that solutions other than hand-outs are required.
The officer in the story deserves all the praise he’s received for his generosity, as his act was clearly well intended, but we hope he now realizes that the $100 he reportedly spent on the boots would have been better spent elsewhere. Although it’s not clear what he could have done to provide more meaningful help for the homeless man, a question that has vexed more sophisticated policy-makers throughout the millennia in which there have been homeless people, it seems likely that officer would have done better by arresting the homeless man on a vagrancy charge and thereby at least providing him with a few days and nights of nourishment and warm shelter.
Good intentions wreak untold damage on society. A high-minded desire to provide homes for those with low credit scores created the subprime mortgage fiasco, the Great Society programs that waged war on poverty wrecked families and created long-term welfare dependence, and Rachel Carson’s altruistic environmentalism caused millions of malaria deaths. The kindly cop’s act of generosity did no harm, except for the loss of $100 to some charity that might have actually done some good with it, but it still provides an example of the road that is paved with good intentions.

— Bud Norman