It’s beginning to feel like we’re living in a darkly satirical novel about the near future, when mass shootings have become so frequent that they’ve become part of the daily routine, one more unpleasant but unavoidable thing to worry about like traffic jams or thunderstorms. Every week or two, there’s another slaughter — sometimes more than one on the same day — after which we just repeat our preferred responses, then prepare to do it all again, and again, and again.
The latest massacre — 7 dead and nearly two dozen injured in Texas — is the latest in a long list from that state alone. In that state, the governor encourages people to buy more guns and a new set of laws now allow you to take your gun to church and prohibit landlords from banning guns in rental properties. I’m sure Texans feel safer already.
For those of us who try to argue for change in our country’s laws to somehow slow this parade of torn flesh and stolen lives, the debate itself has a maddening quality to it. Most of the arguments gun advocates make are so disingenuous, so divorced from the facts, so downright ludicrous that it’s simply impossible to believe that they themselves believe them.
So imagine if you could administer truth serum to the gun advocates whose desires have shaped our gun laws, to force them to tell the truth about guns. What would they say?
The first thing they’d say: The rote response we give after every mass shooting is just playacting. President Trump will say, “We’re looking at a lot of different things. We’re looking at a lot of different bills, ideas, concepts,” but he’s not going to do anything. He’ll claim that he’s going to stand up to the National Rifle Association, but then he’ll cave. Republicans in Congress will make sure no bill offering even the mildest controls on gun ownership will pass, even if it’s supported by 93 percent of the public. We may offer up our “thoughts and prayers,” but our main thought is “Can’t we talk about something else?” and our prayer is that voters don’t decide to change the situation we’re in.
They’d also say, When we argue “We have a mental illness problem, not a gun problem,” we cringe a little at how dishonest we’re being. We know there are people who struggle with mental illness in every country on Earth, just as there are men prone to violence against their wives, and men who get fired from their jobs, and men with hate in their hearts. We know that what makes America different is all the guns.
The next thing they’d say: We know that more guns don’t equal less crime. Because if that were true, then not only would America have the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world (which we don’t), but also the places with the most guns would be the safest places (which they aren’t).
And then: We know that the “good guy with a gun” taking out a mass shooter is a fantasy. It’s something that rarely happens despite all the millions of people walking around with guns. But we love that fantasy. It’s a big part of the attraction of guns. Just thinking about it makes us feel strong and capable and manly, as though we could turn into action heroes at a moment’s notice, exchanging fire with a terrorist strike team or saving a bunch of innocent kids from a mad killer.
And: We know that guns are not the only protection against tyranny, no matter how many times we say otherwise. The very idea is absurd. If it were true, there would have been authoritarian takeovers in recent years in Britain, and France, and Sweden, and Norway, and … you get the idea.
Finally, here’s the most fundamental truth of all the gun advocates would admit if you forced them to:
All this death and misery? The thousands of gun homicides and gun suicides and mass shootings? We don’t like it, sure. But it’s a price we’re willing to pay. We love our guns so much that we think all that horror is something the rest of you should just have to put up with. Maybe there’s some amount of gun deaths that would make us say “I’m willing to accept some inconvenience and limits on my gun rights to do something about this.” Would 100,000 dead Americans a year be enough? Five hundred thousand? We don’t really know. But whatever that number might be, nearly 40,000 per year, what we currently experience, isn’t enough. One mass shooting after another after another isn’t enough.
That’s what the gun advocates would say if you gave them truth serum. And there might even be one or two things advocates of more restrictions would have to admit if you did the same to them, such as Yes, I actually would like to ban guns, even if I know it’s not going to happen.
But there’s no doubt which side is being dishonest in this debate. Maybe they have to be, since they created the insanely horrific situation we now endure, in which going to a public place with lots of your fellow citizens immediately makes you think about the possibility of a mass shooting and parents are forced to wonder whether keeping their children safe requires the purchase of a bulletproof backpack.
The rest of us, however, no longer need to take the gun advocates’ arguments seriously. They should be treated with the contempt they deserve. And if we want to make any progress toward a future less soaked in blood and governed by fear, they’ll just have to be defeated.