NO MOMENT FOR SILENCE
★ ★ ★ ★
By M.L. Long
Fifty-nine dead, more than 520 injured. The last thing we need is a moment of silence.
As I write this, we don’t know much about the man who committed the mass shooting with the most carnage in recent American history. But we know the most important thing: That man owned 42 guns, and last weekend he brought 23 of them—including the deadliest ones, weapons of war designed for maximal killing power—to a Las Vegas hotel room so he could mow down hundreds of people gathered for a country music festival.
The shooter’s actions (I won’t elevate his existence by using his name) were pathological and merciless. You know what else is insane? The fact that much of the media doesn’t even whisper the phrase “gun control” during their 24/7 coverage of the Las Vegas mass shooting.
Instead, they stuck to safer subjects. (As if anything is safe in a country where the moment we step out the door any of us—quite possibly many of us—might be obliterated by an onslaught of gunfire.) On MSNBC, there was discussion of whether tourism in Las Vegas will be hurt. On CNN, a well-coiffed talking head asked a doctor how the staff at the Las Vegas hospitals could cope with the wartime conditions they faced. That doctor, a veteran of battlefield medical units, corrected the reporter: The staff in those Las Vegas hospitals were grappling with worse than wartime conditions. After a battle, medics might have to do triage on, say, 10 or 15 wounded combatants. The trauma units in Vegas had to do that with hundreds of civilians.
Worse than wartime conditions cannot become America’s new normal.
Yes, most of the reporters and commentators featured in the U.S. media strenuously avoid mentioning gun control, but they’re happy to talk about guns. Many have wondered about how the shooter carried 23 of them—including hard-to-conceal long rifles—into his room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Others spent considerable time debating the question of whether the merciless, seemingly unceasing hail of bullets that tore apart hundreds of bodies was produced by modified semi-automatic weapons or full-on automatic weapons.
Who the hell cares? If someone is coming at you with a carving knife, you don’t want to know if it’s a Henckels or a Victorinox.
But guns, it seems, have an almost sexual allure for some. That fetish is not just revolting; it’s dangerous. Some reports from Las Vegas could double as tutorials for America’s next mass shooter. The breathless description of caliber and modifications. The reenactments of the scene, including the line-of-fire advantages of shooting from above.
Morally Dead Moralizers
The most despicable media reps are the morally dead moralizers who profess outrage that anyone would try to “politicize” the Las Vegas massacre. (If I had the stomach, I’d be looking at you, Sean Hannity of Fox News.) Predictably, many politicians are feigning the same misplaced outrage. Texas Senator John Cornyn remarked, “Politicizing this terrible tragedy is, I think, beyond disgusting.”
Know what’s really beyond disgusting? Texas Senator John Cornyn. He and his fellow Republicans like to call themselves the Party of Lincoln, but of course, the Republican Party stood for very different things back in the 19th century. Though in one sense the nickname still fits, since Lincoln was killed by an assassin’s bullet.
Earlier this year, yet another well-armed solo shooter took aim at a group of Republican congressmen during a baseball practice. One of the players, Congressman Steve Scalise, nearly lost his life. Before that shooting, Scalise had an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). And after this week’s mass shooting, he announced that the experience of being shot only “fortified” his pro-gun stance. Guess that gives him an A++.
The latest Republican gun obscenity is a bill that loosens restrictions on silencers. That vote was supposed to happen this week, but it was delayed due to the post-Vegas optics. Though it’s likely to pass before long. Because as long as U.S. politicians are under the heel of the NRA, America is not a sane country.
Gunning America Down
The NRA is a relatively small group with disproportionately massive clout due to the relentlessness and rabidity of its membership. (If you doubt that, check out the comments section of any online article that mentions the possibility of even minimal gun control.) Besides money—and the NRA has loads of that—the other things U.S. legislators tend to pay attention to are squeaky wheels. And gun folk tend to be louder than their automatic weapons. That’s why, in the perverted thinking of the legislators that the NRA has bought or bullied, the right not to be torn asunder in a hail of bullets comes second to some yahoo’s right to strap on a loaded AR-15.
I think there’s another reason more legislators, journalists, and regular citizens aren’t standing up to end the gun madness. To put it simply, we’re scared. Because many so-called “gun-rights” proponents relish making the threat explicit: If we come for their guns, they’ll come for us.
Yes, the refrain “They’re coming for our guns” gins up resentment, fury, and arms-buying sprees among America’s gun-toting minority. But with increasing frequency and urgency, an even more chilling thought sometimes occurs to the rest of us: “They’re coming for us with guns.”
It may seem like all of this has been set in stone since the Second Amendment was penned back in 1791, yet it wasn’t until 2008 when the Supreme Court narrowly ruled that the right to bear arms applies to individuals, not just the “well-regulated militias” spelled out in the Second Amendment. That 5-4 court decision was an incredible disaster for our country. But in this age when gun advocates act like their “right” to own and openly carry guns is sacrosanct and unassailable, it’s hopeful to remind ourselves that a mere nine years ago, that position was very much in doubt.
Given the gargantuan heights that gun violence has reached in America, politicize we must. Because if our gun problem is solvable, it can only be solved through politics.
If the American political system truly reflected the will of the people, that wouldn’t be much of a problem. Depending on the study you go by, about 65 to 80 percent of American adults do not own a gun. Opinion polls vary as well—in part based on how the question is phrased—but somewhere between 70 to more than 90 percent of Americans believe the country’s current toothless gun-control policies should be expanded.
Why isn’t that happening? Because many politicians consider their NRA ranking to be a stronger determinant of their reelection chances than the opinions of their constituents. Those constituents, after all, care about a diffuse range of issues, and most of them don’t engender all that much passion. But the NRA is laser-focused. It pours unbelievable amounts of money, manpower, and energy into fighting even the most common-sense gun legislation. Earlier this year, they successfully lobbied to end the Obama-era ban that restricted mentally ill individuals from obtaining firearms. With blinding cynicism, Republicans co-opted a liberal argument to do so: opposing discrimination on the basis of disability.
There aren’t many brave members of the U.S. congress, but Senator Chris Murphy is one of them. Some of that backbone may stem from the fact that he represents Connecticut, which five years ago was rocked by a sole gunman’s execution of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the aftermath of this week’s mass shooting, Murphy said this: “My colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.”
I hope they do. But I’m not optimistic. Few of Murphy’s fellow legislators are as outspoken and principled as he is.
The common phrase goes “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” That might be fine for gambling binges and bachelorette parties, but we can’t gloss over this tragedy with the same glibness. I hope that finally, finally—finally—this latest mass shooting sparks the outrage that leads to action.
At this point in the Trump administration, many of us are pretty damn exhausted. But we can’t afford the luxury. We need to be as loud and relentless as the NRA. We need to organize, protest, write letters to the editor, and demand that our legislators take steps to stem the gun madness. We need to let them know that if they don’t, we will vote them out of office.
The last thing we need is a moment of silence. Now is the time for outcry.
M.L. Long is a journalist and essayist from New York. Portions of this piece were repurposed from a 2016 article, “The Lethal Laws That Keep America Killing”—which sadly, is even more pertinent today.