And we have had the ridiculous debate about when the right time is to talk about the American gun fetish and how to help prevent future attacks.
I call this part ridiculous because there is not another word for it. What does it mean to say “Don’t politicize the shooting”? Politics is why there has been no substantial federal movement on gun control in recent decades. Politics is why the National Rifle Association greases palms and raps knuckles. Politics is why we are here. Everything in America is political.
Also, anytime an American uses a gun to kill another American, that is precisely the right time to talk about how to prevent that from happening again.
Indeed, as The New York Times pointed out this week, in the 477 days from June 1, 2016, to Oct. 1, 2017, there were 521 mass shootings. Finding a long enough lull to discuss this issue is almost impossible. There will always soon be another shooting.
Whether we talk about it now or later, there is little to no hope for federal action on gun control. The modern gun debate, as it has been argued for decades, is dead.
When we learned, to our great horror, that Adam Lanza had slaughtered 20 6- and 7-year-olds in their school in Newtown, Conn., along with teachers, teachers’ aides, a school psychologist and the principal — and Congress did nothing — the modern gun debate moved irreversibly toward its death.
When we learned, to our great horror, that Dylann Roof, after strolling into a South Carolina Bible study and being welcomed by strangers, waited for them to close their eyes for the benediction before unloading his Glock .45-caliber until nine of the worshipers were dead — and Congress did nothing — the modern gun debate moved further toward its death.
When we learned, to our great horror, that Omar Mateen had walked into a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando and massacred 49 people (wounding 53 others) — and we did nothing — the modern gun debate finally died.
These were all U.S.-born American citizens who acquired their weapons and ammunition in America and used their instruments of death to lay waste to other Americans.
And yet somehow, the people with the power to do something about this have made the decision to do nothing. They have calculated that the blood running through our streets is an acceptable level of collateral damage to secure and maintain an increasingly unfettered right to bear arms.
For better — or probably worse — politicians who maintain a do-nothing position on gun control assume a military silence in the wake of these tragedies. But the Republican Party’s propagandists become afflicted with logorrhea.
The disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly posted on his website about the killing field on the Las Vegas Strip:
“This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are. The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.”
The increasingly incoherent televangelist Pat Robertson went so far as to blame the Las Vegas shooting on a culture of disrespect, including “profound disrespect of our president” and “disrespect, now, for our national anthem.”
So, let me get this straight: Because Americans refuse to respect a bigoted, white supremacist, misogynist, transphobic bully with fascist leanings and Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem to quietly protest racial injustice and police violence, Paddock shot up a country music festival? Ummm, yeah, right.
But in a way, the gun-control debate had been dying all along.
It died a little bit when much of America simply accepted that we have at least as many guns as people. It died a little when Americans accepted that over 30,000 people a year die of gun injuries in this country. It died a little bit when every American didn’t see as an untenable perversion the fact that in the wake of mass shootings, gun sales and gun stocks rise instead of fall. It died a little when Americans began to accept as normal something that is absolutely not normal.
America is an anomaly. We stand alone. When it comes to this particular kind and scale of gun violence, America is exceptional.
And yet, the fact here is that the N.R.A., the gun lobby and their congressional co-conspirators have, unfortunately, won this round. They have proved that the fear of infringement is thicker than the blood of children.
That is why we have to construct a postmodern gun debate, one that recognizes that America is sodden with weaponry, much of it military grade, and that those weapons already in circulation will have a long shelf life even if the sale of new ones is banned.
We have to develop language for having a conversation that centers on the deconstruction of fear and the elevation of public health and safety, rather than solely on the right to purchase and possess particular kinds of weapons.
Many people who buy guns are simply racked with an irrational fear, one of several concocted and promoted by the N.R.A.: fear of crime or fear of government. Either way, the logical conclusion of these fears is apocalyptic. Crime is simply not as pervasive as people think; weapons are harder to get and properly use in response to crime than people think, and the government is neither nearing tyranny and totalitarianism (although I sometimes think it would be if this administration had its druthers) nor plotting confiscations.
It took us some time to get to this place, and it will take us some time to walk back from it, but we have to start somewhere, even somewhere small, to get over the fear, to wind people down from the anxiety they have been trained to nurse.
Republicans made a blood pact with the N.R.A., and that has prevented us from making any progress. Individual Americans are going to have to awaken to the reality that our gun hoarding has become a hysteria and we are actually safer as a country with fewer weapons, rather than with more of them.