Easy Chair — From the March 2013 issue

Blood Sport

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For a time in December, it looked as though the nation was finally ready to take on the gun culture. Perhaps you recall the moment: twenty grade-schoolers, along with their teachers and their principal, had been added to the roster of 30,000 people killed by guns in America each year. The details of the massacre were at once terrible and familiar — indeed, you could have guessed them as soon as you heard the first sketchy news bulletins. A murderer lost in some sanguinary fantasy. High-capacity magazines. In the starring role, one of our society’s prized slaughtering machines: an AR-15 assault rifle. And for the families of the six- and seven-year-olds whose bodies were blown apart, there would be teddy bears, support groups, wooden messages from the secretary of education.

On December 21, a week after the shooting, began the second obligatory chapter in this oft-told tale. Wayne LaPierre, the lavishly compensated face of the National Rifle Association, stepped up to a podium at the Willard Hotel in Washington and twisted his features into an expression meant to indicate sorrow. What came gurgling from LaPierre’s throat, though, was righteous accusation mixed with a heavy dollop of class resentment. It was the assembled men and women of the press who were somehow to blame, droned this million-dollar-a-year man who had apparently not bothered to read his script in advance. Gun owners were victims, you see, who had been demonized by the media and the “political class here in Washington.” Oh, pity the man with a MAC-10!

Next came the other parts of the traditional catechism. America’s leaders were soft on crime, unwilling “to prosecute dangerous criminals.” They gave too much money away in foreign aid. They miscategorized certain weapons as Thing A when they were obviously Thing B. Each of these grievances you could have heard, almost word for word, back in the 1970s. They are specimens of a chronic paranoia that never dissipates, no matter how many millions we imprison or how respectfully journalists learn to speak of the M16 and the sexy SIG Sauer.

But this time around, these bullet points were missing something. Matters had gone too far, and the NRA was desperate to escape the blame. But how? Well, if you are a prominent conservative lobbyist and one day there’s a catastrophe that stems pretty directly from your cherished policy initiatives, what do you do? You insist that the world hasn’t gone far enough in implementing your demands. So the solution to the massacre culture must obviously be more guns in more places than ever before: universities, churches, strip clubs, hospitals, tanning salons, bowling alleys.

And should something go wrong in this weapon-saturated world — for example, should someone use one of those weapons in precisely the way it was designed to be used — we may seek answers only within the narrow parameters of the ideologically permissible. Which is to say: We must meet every fresh mass murder with the conclusion that the United States, already home to some 300 million firearms, isn’t weapon-saturated enough. The task before us is to arm not only the guards in our elementary schools but also the teachers, the custodians, the cafeteria workers, the hall monitors. And on and on until the arms race is the preeminent logic of civilian life. Only then will the streets of Dodge City be safe.

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December 2018


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