Point Austin: Guns 'R' Us
Change our gun laws, change ourselves
I hadn't intended to write yet another somber reflection on America's gun madness in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre, figuring most of what needs to be said was already reverberating in the air. Then my elected Texas representatives begin pontificating on the subject, and it occurred to me if these guys are opening their big mouths, the rest of us ought to try to get a word in edgewise.
There's a reflexive theme among our state public officials: The answer to our epidemic levels of gun murders is – you guessed it – more guns. First there was U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, a couple of days after the shootings, telling Fox-TV, "I wish to God [the principal] had had an M4 in her office locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids." That's a useful recommendation for elementary school educators – when you're not buying school supplies on your own dime, chaperoning field trips, or hosting bake sales, get combat training with military assault weapons.
Gohmert spewed the same nonsense after the Colorado movie theatre shooting, summoning an imaginary counterattack of armed patrons, in the dark, engaging in crossfire. In the past, Gohmert's distinguished himself by sponsoring anti-Obama "birther" legislation and claiming that pregnant Middle Eastern women are traveling to the U.S. on tourist visas to deliver "terror babies" to return as U.S. citizens decades later to engage in terrorist acts. More recently, he was the sole House vote against removing the pejorative word "lunatic" from the U.S. legal code – as even Gohmert's GOP colleagues must have realized, the jokes just write themselves.
It didn't take long for Land Commissioner (and Lite Guv candidate) Jerry Patterson to weigh in; Patterson owes much of his career to his sponsorship of the Texas concealed carry law. Patterson mused on the "target-rich environments" offered by schools and campuses (where he believes concealed carry should also prevail) – although to his credit, he doesn't think it's a great idea to arm all the teachers in public schools. A designated weapons-trained administrator or security guard should do the trick, Patterson said – yet another step forward for public education in Texas.
Lege to the Rescue
Gov. Rick "Death to Coyotes" Perry soon joined the chorus, telling a North Texas Tea Party group, "In the state of Texas, if you go through the process, have been trained, and you are a handgun-licensed individual, you should be able to carry a gun anywhere in the state," although he added that school districts should be able to exercise "local options" on the matter. It's refreshing to know our state leadership has so much to offer in addressing the problems of public education – although it never includes equitable funding for teachers, or facilities, or materials, or even student population growth.
Lest you think I'm exaggerating, consider the legislation already proposed for the upcoming 83rd session. Filed by Canton GOP Rep. Dan Flynn are a couple of bills that would make it easier to earn or reapply for a concealed carry permit – Flynn would cut the onerous 10 hours of safety training to four. Newly elected Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba grabbed some post-Newtown headlines by announcing he would file a "Protection of Texas Children Act," authorizing teachers to carry concealed weapons and designating from among them a "school marshal" specifically trained and authorized to use "lethal force" on campus.
And inevitably, Texarkana Republican Rep. George Lavender will refile his previously failed "open carry" bill that would convert the half-million Texans already holding concealed carry licenses into public vigilantes – a long-held dream of the gun-crazed, who think of themselves as worthy successors to the supposedly "polite" gun culture of the Old West.
They've seen the movies, where the (white) guys in the white hats always win.
The Country in the Mirror
I certainly hope this latest murderous outrage begins tilting the balance toward rational gun regulation, but there's little reason for optimism, at least in the short term. If the fate of Nancy Lanza doesn't persuade people that stockpiling weaponry in your home is an invitation to disaster, little else will. Banning assault weapons (though it will be met with screams from the loony right) should be obvious. Closely tracking gun sales and requiring background checks should be similarly reflexive, but the chances of either happening – without a massive cultural shift toward civility and sanity in public life – seem terribly remote.
That is to say, the problem is not just guns or gun laws. Though it hasn't seemed so lately, gun massacres are relatively rare; gun murders are instead a daily, ordinary mayhem, comprising roughly two-thirds of the 12,600 or so U.S. homicides in 2011. That pattern reflects the larger taste for depersonalized violence in the whole culture – combat TV, films, video games, law enforcement, and of course the military. We've come to barely notice the impersonal slaughters that continue in our names on the edges of the empire, where other people's children remain forever nameless.
Out of all of this mental mayhem grows the reflexive yearning for imaginary, righteous "self-defense" – pandered to the voters by our public officials, most clumsily expressed by Louie Gohmert's ludicrous fantasy of a school principal bursting from her office, automatic weapon on her hip, mowing down the heavily armed invader before he can do his worst.
Gohmert's indeed a lunatic – but he thinks like, and speaks for, far too many of us.