America’s ranger culture
TOM PLATEIt would not be hard to convince many of us who live in the west coast of the painfully obvious need for severe gun-restrictions laws and attendant gun-control law-enforcement.
We’re easy. California is just that way. Why recently, we actually voted to increase our taxes to support our schools! Imagine.
Call us crazy.
Once upon a time, in fact, California’s leading daily newspaper had the audacity to publish a series of full-page, richly detailed, obnoxiously sweeping editorials demanding national gun-control legislation and enforcement. The bottom line of the prominent daily’s recommendation was that American culture was – frankly – just too immature (adolescent, really) to permit official sanction to firearm licentiousness — and that comprehensive curbs on possession were required to maximize public safety.
This was the “powerful” Los Angeles Times in the early nineties - fully two decades ago. But you can see how un-influential the paper was, on this contentious issue at least! But it said the right thing, and this is what good newspapers with enlightened management should do. No regrets. Today you can expect more newspaper editorials and public gnashing of teeth about our gun-suffused America. You also can ignore their impact. A few months from now it will have faded into the background, as if fallen off a cliff.
That is because the cowboy strain in the American character erects a kind of genetic firewall to the establishment of a more sensible national public policy on gun ownership. Our culture of individualism allows us to believe that significant problems can be solved by resort to the gun and its deadly bullets. So deranged individuals, armed to the teeth, wipe out the evil or the enemy, as it is perceived in the individual eye, all by their Lone-Ranger lonesome.
This is America, I am afraid.
Last week’s massacre in Connecticut – just north of New York — was one of the worst mass executions in the history of our violent culture. But it was not the absolute worst, and it won’t be the last.
The special poignancy here was that so many of the victims were children. The relevance to the gun-control question here was that the singular perpetrator (and his slain mother) was in possession of so many firearms. Had guns not been available to him, but only – say – knives, would as many Connecticut school children have been killed? Of course not. As the police are won’t to say, referring to gang wars made so much more violent by the culture of guns, “there’s no such thing as a drive-by knifing.”
Guns don’t kill people — people kill people. This is the recurring and annoying mantra of the firearms lobby and their in-step followers who just don’t want to give up their guns. But we the people kill more of us every day by using guns that are too easy to acquire, one way or the other — and apparently impossible to regulate adequately.
Worse yet, our apparently dysfunctional democracy is paralyzed into legal system irrelevancy by the Second Amendment to our beloved Constitution. There it says: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” As it turns out, our courts, in their wisdom or not, have determined that this means that every individual has that right to a gun, not just the generic “people” — as in a standing state militia, to guard against overwhelming central power.
And so blocking the way to gun reform, in addition to the deeply embedded American cowboy character, is the ideology of the American Constitution — as if something written so long again can be set in stone against the pressing realities of today’s times. What this means is that - despite the enormity of this Connecticut tragedy - deep gun control, if not abolition outside of law enforcement, is not on the immediate horizon. On the contrary, more people will buy more guns, to protect themselves ... from more people buying … more guns.
Don’t you see? It’s the American tragedy.
Tom Plate was editor of the editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times from 1989 to 1995