As news about shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., began to spread last week, I could hear the gun lobby’s spin-masters kicking into high gear.
Don’t “politicize” a tragedy in order to deprive people of their constitutional rights, went the line. Our hands weren’t on those triggers.
Unless politicians summon previously unseen courage to face down the makers of assault rifles and high-powered pistols, 100-round clips and so-called “cop killer” ammo, the weapons industry could receive another free pass.
As Newtown joins Columbine and Aurora and other communities in the unique agony of massacres by guns, the weapons industry will continue to profit handsomely from arming Americans intent on murdering their families, their neighbors, strangers at malls and theaters, college students and little children — not to mention rival gang members, store owners, police officers, and politicians.
The commercializing of misery in America has gone beyond belief. This week it was another gun-toting loner on a rampage. Not long ago, it was the legalization of marijuana, a devastating drug that cripples the lives of users and leads them to worse drugs.
Also profiting are those who fuel the disease of alcoholism, causing billions of dollars of lost work time, medical expense, driving accidents, ruined pregnancies, and shattered families.
Plus the states that balance their budgets by pushing lotteries.
Plus food manufacturers who knowingly lead schoolchildren into obesity and adults into heart disease.
Plus the ever-resilient tobacco industry, which takes its lumps in court and then continues to sell addictive cancer sticks to fellow Americans.
Plus mortgage lenders and credit card issuers who prey on naivete and desperation.
Plus electronic game makers who teach children to consider anger and violence as normal responses to adversity.
Misery attracts commercial predators as carrion attracts vultures and vulnerability attracts coyotes.
Yes, people are weak, people make poor decisions, people loathe their neighbors and themselves. But why do we give a free pass to those who exploit this misery and to politicians who provide them legal cover in exchange for campaign contributions?
A society that should be protecting its weak instead unleashes waves of predators against them. Those who should know better remain silent. Better, it seems, to perpetuate nonsensical propositions like arming schoolteachers. Better to teach children fear and violence than to nurture a just society. Better to imagine Jesus as a gun-toting avenger than to see him as the man of peace that he was.
Politicians aren’t even subtle about where their loyalties lie. Although President Obama seems to be rousing to action on gun control, it’s a big leap to the “meaningful action” he has promised. You know nobody in Congress has the courage to take on the weapons industry.
In the hunt for campaign cash, their motto is: Be kind to predators. Coddle those who exploit the vulnerable. Let the commercializing of misery flow freely. Don’t think of helping the at-risk find jobs, or regulating destructive commerce. Protect hunters against some imagined assault on the Second Amendment, but ignore the pleas of police officers, merchants and children, who are the ones getting shot.
At some point, we have to ask what sort of nation will be kind to predators while ignoring their prey, all the while claiming to be a moral exemplar.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)
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