July 2016
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Orlando and the endless loop

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Orlando.

If gut-wrenching tragedies could be summed up in just a few words by a common person of no importance, these would be: I am tired. I am tired, because 49 human beings minding their own business were murdered at a nightclub because some disaffected monster wanted to make a point. About something — because he supported the terror cult ISIS, because he was a closet homosexual; pick a theory or blend a few. I am tired, because 53 more people were nearly murdered. And I’m tired, because, as usual, the armchair warriors (and columnists) got busy with absolute declarations.

The only absolute declaration to be made is that 49 people minding their own business were murdered. Beyond that lies a spectrum colored by (at the high end) investigation, action, introspection, and, at the low end, the speculation presented as absolutes.

A sampling:

It’s the mere existence of guns! The NRA has blood on its hands! It happened because we’re too politically correct! It’s “the Muslims,” even though “Muslim” is a religion, not a race or national identity, and the shooter was an American! It’s because club patrons weren’t armed, and if there’s anything that can reduce carnage, it’s people with zero crisis training, possibly with a few drinks in them, terrified and shooting at random inside a dark building in the midst of chaos!

It’s because God was punishing “the gays” for existing! And He is punishing America for finally beginning to recognize civil rights irrespective of sexual orientation! It is because we “took God out of schools” and is the result of a “heart problem, not a gun problem”! You know, Cain did kill Abel with a rock, not a gun! Actually, it was all an elaborate hoax, aided by “crisis actors” under the sway of our alien masters, who with the CIA are conducting mass mind-control experiments via Israel!

The last one isn’t made up. But neither is the contribution from raging homophobes masquerading as Christian pastors, one of whom said he wished more had died. I will take the ludicrous over the monstrous any day.

Another bit of nuttery you wouldn’t think was real: “The president’s reaction proves he is a secret Muslim who wants to destroy America! He can’t even say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism!’ Never mind listening to his entire speech, in which he laid it all out. Let’s focus on the last bit, where he spends about 90 seconds pointing out Donald Trump’s grossness, and label it a tirade.

These statements emerge out of reflexive biases and conditioning as we struggle to understand what happened, and obviously not every theory is created equal.

It is reasonable to assert that these sorts of tragedies are hard to predict and therefore, hard to prevent. We like to think that whether we live or die is something we can fundamentally control. We cannot.

But this can be acknowledged without surrendering to helplessness, hopelessness and inaction on the things that we might control.

And so we come to the endless loop: Guns were used; ban guns! vs. Banning guns won’t stop criminals from getting the guns!

It is true that had assault weapons been banned, murderer Omar Mateen could still have found them, or another weapon, and committed the same act, or worse. It is simply wrong to hang his actions on every gun owner, for the same reason it is wrong to hang his actions on every Muslim.

Also true: No weapon fires itself. A person with his finger on the trigger does. That person makes a choice. That person. Not the gun. Nor — for all of its sins — the gun manufacturers’ lobby.

All the same, greater regulation of “assault weapons” might have brought attempts to obtain them to the attention of authorities before the massacre was committed. At a minimum, greater regulation might have slowed down Mateen’s plot, or exposed it in time. Too, were it not for the gun manufacturers’ lobby, perhaps these sorts of weapons would not be so readily available in the first place. Others have noted that greater controls might reduce the number of such weapons; it is possible they are correct.

After Orlando, America’s umpteenth mass shooting, it is crystal clear action is required. The action thus far: The U.S. Senate voted down four gun-control bills in June — and only troubled to vote at all because Sen. Chris Murphy led a filibuster for several hours. Alive, though feebly as of June 25, was Sen. Susan Collins’ compromise bill to exclude from firearms purchases people who are on no-fly lists.

The problem with such a ban is that a number of people on the no-fly list have been mistakenly or unfairly placed on the list. Opponents are correct that it creates due-process issues. (It’s sure been fascinating to see die-hard conservatives suddenly become advocates for the civil liberties of potential terror suspects. It’s also a bit interesting to see some liberals waver on due-process rights.)

The U.S. House of Representatives attempted to leave the matter with a moment of silence and “thoughts and prayers.” Democrats first walked out of this pander-show, and later staged a sit-in, chanting, “No bill, no break!” to protest the inaction on expanded background checks and prohibiting gun sales to those on the watch list.

They adjourned with nothing. As usual. But their protest does indicate that maybe, just maybe, it won’t be business as usual much longer. If the repeated mass murders committed with guns are not motive enough for law-abiding gun owners (that’s the majority of gun owners, by the way), perhaps the chance to be part of the solution, rather than merely bound by it, will motivate participation in the conversation.

They might consider what Hawaii recently did with its “Rap Back” database law. The database enables the FBI to notify police if a gun owner is arrested. The problem, as one assemblyman noted, is that people who have not broken a law are being placed into a criminal database for exercising a constitutional right. If, like me, gun owners find this troubling, they would do well to hammer out something more palatable, rather than digging in and denying that a conversation needs to take place.

For instance, requiring a background check, including for online purchases —rather than just for purchases made through federally licensed firearms dealers, or gun buys in states with such regulation — simply makes sense. It is not a substantial burden on a constitutional right. (You’re thinking of Texas abortion laws!) It is nothing like a “gun grab.” Keeping guns out of the hands of people on terror watch lists, as long as there are also robust reviews, notifications and appeals processes, might have some merit.

These steps will not prevent people who are determined to commit murder from doing so, but they could make it much harder for them to put their hands on a weapon that can kill 49 people in a matter of minutes.

The tricky part is the human part. Some camps see any regulation as an impermissible breach of a constitutional right. Another camp views as insufficient anything other than a complete ban on firearms. Most of us fall in the middle, and to the middle, the law must appeal. It is time for the middle to talk: about the proliferation of firearms, the grip of the gun lobby, the restrictions on federal research into guns as a public health issue — and the fears that drive both gunrights and gun-control advocates. The talk must also acknowledge that no measure is failsafe, and that the balance of rights vs. restrictions must always tip to the Constitution.

Although my views on guns have over the past 20 years “gone moderate,” I will not call for a repeal of the Second Amendment. But I will say we ought to consider some common-sense regulation, or at least agree to come to the table to discuss what that might look like.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.


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