Gunning For Change
Things I desperately do not want for Christmas:
1. A gun.
3. Another mass murder of innocent Americans.
4. More guns.
5. A gun.
I acknowledge and respect that I'm smack dab in the red-state, red-blooded center of God 'n Guns Texas, where we're brainwashed from birth into thinking you're only a macho man's man if you drive a pickup equipped with a gun rack. But if last Friday's mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut isn't the tipping point for – at the very least – a legit, open-minded referendum on gun control in America then I cringe at what it will take.
Twenty children, ages 6-7, gunned down in their Sandy Hook Elementary school classroom. Kindergarten kids. Blasted and bloodied and literally blown apart by multiple gunshot wounds. Not grisly enough of an image to get us to ponder altering the precious Second Amendment? Okay, how about 200 kids? What'll take, perhaps 2,000? Because, you and I both know, it will happen again. Be honest, are we so perversely ingrained to associate gun ownership with freedom that we're stubborn and irrational enough to shrug off senseless mass killing and merely mumble "shit happens"?
Seriously, if we can't protect our innocent, vulnerable children at school then we need to look in the mirror and ask "What the what?!" are we really doing.
It may sound insensitive, but prayers and candlelight vigils and makeshift memorials adorned with stuffed animals and hugging your kids isn't going to change a damn thing or save a future life. As President Obama so eloquently stated in the wake of our latest bloodshed, it's going to take "meaningful action … regardless of the politics."
"We can't tolerate this anymore," the President reiterated Sunday. "These tragedies must end, and to end them we must change."
In other words, the U.S. – somehow, some way – has to get control of its guns.
Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs. A gunman at an Oregon mall. Sandy Hook. The shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July and the one in San Antonio Sunday night. Two cops shot in Kansas on Monday. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Shoot, someone even fired a couple bullets into our CBS Radio building a three Fridays ago. According to the FBI, in 2010 there were 12,996 murders in the U.S. Of those about 70 percent (8,775) were caused by firearms. Again, digest that: Knives, bats, fists, etc. – combined – only accounted for 4,221 murders, less than half of the intentional deaths caused by guns.
Will humans always get mad? Yep. Will violent murders always occur? Of course. Will some of the bad guys find a black-market avenue to get guns? Probably. But it's simple: Reduce the overwhelming weapon of choice and, voila, you reduce the number of casualties.
Crazy people will still want to kill lots of people at once. But make them wait longer to get a gun. Or arm them with only a slingshot. Eventually our country will be a better, safer place.
Like, say, Australia.
From the '70s to mid-'90s, the country down under suffered – like the U.S. today – multiple mass shootings. After a horrible incident in Port Arthur in '96 in which a gunman killed 35, new Prime Minister John Howard had the balls to say "enough is enough." He immediately instituted a severe crackdown in gun ownership. His legislation included a rigorous application process, highlighted by detailed documentation of why prospective owners needed a gun in their possession. He also introduced an aggressive and extensive "buyback" program, enabling citizens to sell their guns to the government for cash. The process to apply for and eventually own a gun now takes more than a year. Presto, less guns and fewer gun-related deaths. How obstinate are we not to recognize – and duplicate – that simple formula?
Bottom line: It's working. In Australia there hasn't been a single shooting since '96 in which 3 or more people have been killed.
But when this sort of legislation is even whispered in America, gun owners – despite the Connecticut guns still smoking – wrap their arms around their weapons and defiantly start rattling off the National Rifle Association's warped rhetoric and tired, old talking points:
*Guns don't kill people; People kill people.
*Josh Brent got drunk and drove and had an accident that killed his Cowboys' teammate Jerry Brown, so are we going to ban alcohol too?
*Crazy people are going to kill. If not guns, they'll use whatever weapon is available.
*More people are protected by guns than killed by them.
Couple things. Yes, people kill people. But the guns help. A lot. Haven't seen many deaths from really pissed-off guys walking up to another person, making a finger gun and yelling "bang!" And again, referencing the stats from the FBI, murderers may well kill via alternative weapons, but I'd much rather be attacked via knife than gun. You?
In fact, a lunatic in China on Friday injured 22 children in a knife attack. So, yeah, it happens. Difference? In the knife attack: 0 deaths. In the Connecticut gun attack: 26 deaths.
Regarding Brent and drunk driving, surely you see the stark contrast and undeniable difference between an accident caused by a bad decision and a murder enacted with an evil plan. Brent never intended to kill his best friend. Adam Lanza absolutely intended to kill those schoolchildren. And Belcher intentionally shot his girlfriend, leaving his 3-month-old, Zoey, an orphan.
After shooting Kasandra Perkins nine times, Belcher leaned over her body, kissed her forehead and sobbed, "I'm sorry." Here's guessing he wished he would've just hit her with his hand, instead of shooting her with his gun. Broken bones and busted lips heal; Bullet holes mostly do not.
And what did the NRA have to say hours after the Sandy Hook shooting? "Until the facts are thoroughly known, NRA will not have any comment."
In other words, ignore it and hopefully it will go away. What a horrible and disgusting and shameful plan. What is the NRA really saying? "Sorry, but we cherish our personal freedom more than the safety of other people's kids." And I'm giving them the benefit on the doubt in including "Sorry."
Problem is we're not learning. We're actually getting more numb and dumb with each shooting. In the wake of the latest round of murders, it feels like we're closer to "More guns!" than "No guns." Doing nothing feels criminal, almost as though we're all accessories to future mass murders. If you keep on doing what you've been doing, you're going to keep on getting what you've been getting.
How's that sound right about now: Status woe?
Steve Barton was shot in the face in the Aurora theater episode. He also grew up 15 minutes from Newtown, Connecticut.
"I thought we were going to get somewhere after what happened in Aurora and frankly, all we got was silence," he said in an interview with Huffington Post this weekend. "It's unbelievable for me to imagine a world where 20 children have been killed and we're not going to have any conversation at all about the tool that was used to kill them."
Time to recognize that the "right to bear arms …" Second Amendment was crafted 223 years ago by James Madison, a man who wore a powder wig, wrote with a feather, owned slaves and aimed at protecting citizens who at the time feared the rising of a tyrannical and oppressive government that would beat their doors down and physically yank away their freedoms. That moaning is the former 4th President, turning over in his grave at the catastrophic culture his historic handiwork has spawned.
Getting rid of America's 300 million guns altogether? Illogical if not logistically impossible. But, like Australia, small steps eventually lead to big changes. It won't get fixed overnight. But it won't get fixed at all if we don't first admit it's broken.
From Marvin Gaye to JFK to MLK to John Lennon to Dimebag Darrell to Phil Hartman to Jam Master Jay to Abraham Lincoln to Tupac to Gianni Versace to Malcolm X to Ghandi to Notorious BIG to Larry Flynt to Junior Seau to Mike Flanagan to Lorenzen Wright to Sean Taylor to Darrent Williams to Fred Lane to … 26 innocent people in Connecticut, yes guns do kill people.
I realize that we have an established, flourishing gun culture. We glorify guns in movies and videos and, yes, there once was something charming about little Ralphie getting a Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle in A Christmas Story. But not anymore. Now it's time for change. Time to at least have a national conversation on the importance of our freedom to possess guns vs. the safety of our children at school and our citizens at the movies.
The Mayans predict that on December 21 the world is going to come to an end. At this rate – stubbornly and sadistically clinging to our coveted personal armories – Americans won't be around to see it. Unless, that is, we change.
Last Friday 105.3 The Fan suspended all gun-related commercials from its airwaves. And today Dick's Sporting Goods discontinued the sale of semi-automatic rifles. Small steps on a long journey toward the right direction.
Things I desperately do want for Christmas:
To ring in 2013 … without a bang.
(© Copyright 2012 CBS Local Media a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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