One more chance to play dumb on guns
We have actively chosen to accept and thus condone the levels of gun violence, gun injuries and gun deaths that have existed here for decades.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The metastatic spread of “alternative facts” in the Trump era has provoked great anxiety and frustration, all of it justified. But the idea that “alternative facts” — a.k.a. propaganda, fake news, newspeak, disinformation, agitprop — are something new to American politics is itself an alternative fact.
No battlefield of law, morality and policy has been more perverted by alternative facts than gun violence and gun fatalities. This week’s shootings at a baseball practice for House Republicans will prompt a new quick and futile cycle through familiar fables and fictions.
Gun rights supporters will use the ugly episode to argue once again that the best defense against gun violence is more guns and more shooters. Imagine, they are saying, how many people might have died if the murderer had not been stopped by armed Capitol Police. That is almost certainly true.
Gun control advocates will point out that even with highly trained and well-armed professionals on the scene, a lone, untrained lunatic shooter still shot five people.
This exposes the absurdity of thinking that arming more untrained civilians would deter gun murders. If three members of the U.S. Capitol Police force on bodyguard duty couldn’t stop five shootings, do you really expect a 24-year-old elementary school teacher to break up a school shooting? Is arming a hard-drinking partier at a disco or cowboy at a beer hall really a strategy? There were right-to-carry boosters at that practice: Did any of them have firearms in the their gym bags? Did they save any lives?
Where are the facts about guns preventing gun crimes and deaths?
Ah, the facts.
When it comes to guns, everyone has their own facts — their alternative facts, the ones they choose to believe in. They are facts that live in the category of statistics, facts that can be massaged, twisted, distorted and wholly invented. It would, for example, take less than 10 minutes of web research to launch an armada of factoids proving beyond doubt that gun violence is very rarely prevented by quick-acting gun owners.
But when was the last time a person was convinced to change their views about guns by facts and statistics?
There is, dare I say, one fact about deaths caused by firearms in America that isn’t in great dispute. Fatalities arise not just from murders but also from accidents and suicides. Doesn’t it follow that more guns will mean more accidents and more suicides? Logic and common sense be damned, whip out your alternative facts and have at it, people.
This baseball practice incident will spawn another fable — the fantasy that “maybe this will finally inspire some kind of action or change.” It won’t. Even President Reagan’s near assassination spawned only a mild new law. If Sandy Hook wasn’t enough, what could be?
It is indeed a fact that a modern Supreme Court ruled that individuals possess a constitutional right to bear arms.
But that is an interpretation of the Constitution and only an interpretation of the Second Amendment. The notion that there is a factual and undisputable answer to what the Second Amendment means — and what the Founders intended — is a charade on both sides.
The constitutional and democratic way to settle the argument about the individual right to bears arms is not through historical debate or judicial review; it should come through the democratic process of amending the Constitution to clarify the matter once and for all. That is what the amendment process is for. That will not happen in our lifetimes.
Even in the hours after the shooting, Washington avoided talking about guns, gun laws and mental illness, preferring to pluck platitudes about the need for more civil political discourse. The idea that nicer cable news and talk radio could reduce gang murders in Chicago, robberies in Omaha or mass shootings in San Francisco could only float in the alternative universe of today’s Washington.
But ignoring gun fatalities, not seeing or hearing them, being numb to them, is normal everywhere in America. There are more than 90 every day, on average. Only a few make the news and are noticed by anyone but cops, victims and killers.
There is one fact about guns that is blindingly obvious but that few American wish to accept. Collectively, we have actively chosen to accept and thus condone the levels of gun violence, gun injuries and gun deaths that have existed here for decades. We are OK with it. We do not want any change.
That is not any kind of alternative fact. But we are living in some kind of sick alternative reality — by choice.