America’s Unending Penance

High Octane Growler seeks to be a fun place to laugh and enjoy conversation about popular culture and craft beers from around the U.S., but one of the goals of the show and community we’re building is also to bring smart, passionate, well-spoken commentary to the fore.

Whether in the form of multimedia or individual pieces from guest bloggers or Tommy himself, High Octane Growler is not intended to be a one-dimensional, one-trick pony.

We were a little too late to get in on the 2012 election, but that’s over. And there’s only the rest of our lives to come.

Editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin drew this grieving Lincoln Memorial on November 22, 1963, following news of President Kennedy’s murder in Dallas.

“You think Social Security is the third rail of politics? Try guns.” – anonymous Republican strategist

The False God of Gun Culture

by Tommy Hough

In the continuing tragedy of America’s gun worship penance, the mass murder of children and teachers in Connecticut on Friday comes on the heels of Tuesday’s similarly terrifying, random attack on the Clackamas Town Center in suburban Portland.

In both instances, the attacks were carried out by lone gunmen armed with AR-15s, and fueled by a selfish death fetish. The Portland community was still processing and wrapping it’s head around the carnage and shattered lives at Clackamas when news of the calamity in Connecticut arrived Friday morning.

The enormity of the incalculable pools of loss suffered by the community of Newtown, Connecticut is indeed too big, and too tragic, to comprehend: the murders, the victims, the victims’ utter innocence and youth, the endless streams of grief. The Clackamas Town Center attack similarly left two victims dead, in the prime of their lives with families, friends, spouses, and those they loved and cherished.

The attack also left a 15-year old girl shot through the chest, fighting for her young life in a Portland hospital.

Since Friday other assault-rifle attacks and mass killings, albeit less sensational but no less awful, have occurred in Nevada and Alabama, punctuated by a man in Orange County who fired off dozens of rounds from an automatic weapon in a mall parking lot. The sound of America unhinging.

The week’s harvest of American slaughter is reason enough to drop everything, break down, and ask why. It is a wholly normal, human response to look for some scrap of logic or purpose in actions which are cruel and insane. But there are no answers.

Every time there is a mass killing like the ones this week in Connecticut and Oregon, there are the usual platitudes from politicians about the tragedy of the event, and the concern for victims. This is appropriate. This is expected. But for public officials, it’s also often the end of any action or concern on the matter. As one wounded survivor of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting this summer said, “I thought we were going to get somewhere. All we got was silence.”

America’s fetish for needless automatic weapons runs deep.

If terrorism or murder by foreign agents with firearms is not acceptable on American soil, then why is terrorism or murder perpetrated by domestic agents so quickly brushed under the rug by the NRA and Fox News, and by extension, public officials.

The Second Amendment has been warped beyond belief by pro-gun interests, the firearms lobby, and others, who conveniently opt to ignore today’s “well regulated militia” is called the National Guard.

Even at a glance, firearms are not the same as they were in 1789. Even the six-shot revolver was decades away at the time the Constitution was ratified, to say nothing of the instruments of modern death available to any citizen ever since the expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. Looking for a 10-roud clip? A 30-round clip? Remember, ammunition makes great stocking stuffers.

Democrats long ago opted to roll over and ignore the NRA and the growing gun culture in this nation, and they have benefitted politically from their reluctance, even cowardice, to take on the NRA. Democrats need to make use of their political capital now and begin enacting real change and real safeguards to prevent these massacres from occurring. Gun control is a component of those solutions, but it is not the sole answer.

Most Republicans surely know wrong from right, but are unwilling to raise their voice against the NRA for fear of a primary challenge to their right from a Tea Party-aligned, NRA-funded candidate. These public officials need to remember who they working for and what they want their legacy to be.

Sadly, there are many in the Republican camp who choose to spout bellicose, reckless, cruel, ridiculous tones of intolerance for those who don’t own firearms, and who claim more firearms and a greater culture of fear with an armed populace is somehow the answer.

Some are merely Charles Bronson-wannabe bullies, who childishly and provocatively wear holstered handguns around the office or to their local Starbucks, intimidating colleagues and baristas to make a ridiculously regressive point about the Second Amendment while only proving themselves to be assholes and cowards. They are essentially claiming a Wild West mentality, seeing themselves as Wyatt Earp, and seek to build their own pathetic stature as a “self-reliant individual,” when they would likely be the first to scream for police in a real emergency.

God help us if any of these fools were to actually pull their weapon in an emergency, or a perceived emergency. The concealed carry types seem to believe they will always have their back to the sun, will always have the “bad guy” or perpetrator framed just right for a shot, and will magically be free of the completely normal reactions of fear, panic, confusion or terror in the event of actually being present at a moment of gun violence.

Most disconcerting is the belief of these indiviuals their aim in a confused crowd of panicked patrons will be as good as it is on the firing range on their umpteenth try at shooting at a target of Barack Obama.

More than any terrorist caricature the imagination can draw up, the gun-toting, ORV-hunting, Fox News-watching, Sean Hannity-abiding white guys who feel “persecuted,” who long ago ate up Rush Limbaugh’s diatribes as substitutes for responsible public policy, are some of our greatest blowhards about firearms, and some of our greatest impediments in making reasonable changes to the law in accessing firearms.

When anyone can borrow, steal, or have loaned to them a firearm by a friend, parent, spouse, or otherwise, the entire background check process becomes a moot point.

When it comes to weapons and firearms, who checks their mouth and machismo at the door in favor of a cool, quiet professionalism? The legions of trained police officers and military personnel, all of whom understand the irreversible consequences upon flesh and bone when an automatic weapon is used.

It may be hard to believe, but there was once active advocacy in this country against the proliferation of handguns and other firearms, particularly in the wake of John Lennon’s murder in December 1980 and the attempt on President Reagan’s life in March 1981. We need this groundswell again. The NRA is not entitled to a one-sided conversation.

As New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in the wake of the Connecticut massacre, “Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership — not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today.”

Tommy Hough is a professional broadcaster and environmental advocate. He launched High Octane Growler in 2012.

Handgun Control, Inc. print advertisement, circa 1982.


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