Gun control legislation had to stutter and even fall at some point. The signs were already showing last Sunday when the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms announced it would withdraw support for the Manchin-Toomey bill. The argument of members was that the original bill had retained, among others, an amendment on rights restoration. The split in the pro-gun lobby camp was evidently not wide enough.
Crafted by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the bill would have insisted on background checks and made it more challenging for the mentally unfit to have access to various heavy weapons. It failed to get the supermajority needed to pass, stumbling because of a handful of Democrats and 40 Republicans. The defeat seemed to give the demonstrable middle finger to Americans who had agreed that the pile of corpses had risen high enough from gun shootings.
What proved astonishing in this debate was the mildness of the reform. There were no suggestions of massive prohibitions or confiscation. Limits were not excessive. The country would have still remain awash with murderous weapons. Even had it passed, the very assumption of having background checks is no guarantee of preventing killing. Faith in the reasonableness of one’s fellow human tends to be just that. As U.S. Senators often lack any faith except in occasional fits of moral outrage, the vote was always going to be difficult.
Far from being a vote of conscience and courage, suggested Brett Joshpe in Politico, this was a capitulation to “a menacing lobby group” that trumped any sensible debate on the issue. “There is no principle in fabricating constitutional rights out of thin air, conflating ‘the right to bear arms’ with the right of anyone, anywhere, anytime to purchase a weapon without public safety protections involved.” President Barack Obama called it a “shameful day for Washington.” Patricia Maisch, one of the pro-gun control activists and responsible for having prevented Jared Loughner’s spree from being deadlier, considered it a frightful embarrassment. As for Senator Jeff Flake, who voted in the negative, he was best described as “a flaky flake.”
When Thursday was done, what should have been the most broad ranging package of reforms to the nation’s gun laws in two decades yielded only two amendments: one touching on mental health care, the other penalizing states revealing information about gun owners except in certain circumstances (a criminal investigation being one such example). Gun control effectively moved to a regime of greater non-control.
The poetry, and the banality, of rights in the United States can be vicious and self-consuming. The obsession to bear arms makes no assumptions about what happens to other people. It is an act of macho narcissism. The narcissist’s remit on whether one should have a weapon negates the community expectation for safety. A contradiction surfaces on this individualism. Often, it is consumed by party politics and factional interests corrupted by capital. Religion also adds the glue – communities otherwise obsessed by individual rights are brought into line by a fear of God. Mammon, God and the gun have the force of a holy trinity.
This is very well reflected by the role the National Rifle Association has played in the debate. It is an unelected body, a beast that is in politics as well as being outside it. Members see themselves as defending rights both recreational and constitutional. The organisation does, however, claim to respect the rights of individuals. Naturally, they don’t tend to be interested in the ones who are shot so much as the ones doing the shooting (what is being shot is less significant than the infantile entitlement to pepper something with ordinance).
It takes much to speak out on this. Anger can be misspent, ill directed against the object of its removal. In the United States, one would think that the survivors have the currency of moral worth. But that currency is being driven out of circulation by the stale discussion of entitlements – that to be able to hold a weapon of monstrously murderous quality is better than to be without one.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and what better than from someone who received bullets to her head in a mass shooting to supply the supper. For Tucson shooting survivor and former House member Gabrielle Giffords, “These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.” She suggests that such cowardly senators be blackballed by constituents.
It is with a degree of loathing and disgust that the events now unfolding in Boston will titillate the cause against gun control even further. This is a country in crisis, and a country in crisis loves violence as a digestive, with casual cruelties as a sedative. “For better or worse, the pro-gun side thrives on heightened anxiety,” writes Paul M. Barrett for Bloomberg Businessweek.
For someone like the NRA’s executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, paranoia is a necessary buzz for the constituency. “After Hurricane Sandy,” he explained in the all too imaginative Daily Caller in yet another rambling meditation about the anti-patriotic ills of gun control, “we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia.” The utopia of looters, muggers, and murderers. All a fabulously accurate description of LaPierre’s own comfortable paradise, one he is helping foist upon the United States.