Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Before Americans can talk gun control they have to have empathy

     Hiking is fun. It's exercise amid nature, among trees and birds.
     There is also the sense of being far from civilization. Though that was blunted Saturday at Starved Rock State Park, where there is a problem with visitors blundering off cliffs. So many boardwalks and railings have gone up that I felt, at times, not so much like a pioneer striding through virgin forest as a cow being herded through a chute into a slaughterhouse.
     As we walked, talk turned to the constant staccato pops drifting from across the Illinois River. "What is that?" a trail mate wondered. Small explosions in a quarry, maybe? he ventured.
     "Gunfire," I replied. "Some big gun range with people blazing away at old refrigerators." Bingo, I later discovered, online. The Buffalo Range Shooting Park in Ottawa, with rifle and pistol ranges, skeet and trap, and a shooting pit.
     Also fun. Though it was eerie Monday to hear that exact sound — the stutter of automatic weapons — on the videotapes from Las Vegas, where a deranged man fired on a country music festival, killing 59 and wounding 525, the worst mass shooting in modern American history.
     Facebook immediately lit up with people wondering whether this latest horror is enough to nudge us, finally, toward meaningful gun control. It was all I could do not to start time-wasting Facebook spats by jumping in with, "No, of course not."
     Why? Well, it never is — not in recent years — though sensible gun laws would still be useful, and sponsors of a bill loosening restrictions on silencers pulled it, for now. I'd like to imagine restricting high-capacity magazines might come next, but I doubt it. It's imaginable.      While firing streams of bullets at old washing machines is certainly fun, balancing that fun against increasingly common slaughters, a unified and rational country might come to that decision, the way we decided to require seat belts even though, at the time, men complained they rumpled their suits. I don't like the chutes at Starved Rock, but I understand their purpose.

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You can hear me talk about this column with WGN's Justin Kaufman here.


  1. It should be apparent even to the nuttiest of gun nuts that the proliferation of guns in America makes a police state more likely than the prospect of liberals invoking the U.N. to swoop down and wrest every last firearm from the "cold fingers" of their owners. For the last few years, "security" has tightened in every public place and at every public event. After the Las Vegas slaughter, I'm sure we'll see greater and greater police presence everywhere, denying protesters and even ordinary citizens meaningful access to see and be heard. I'm sure the day will come when you can't even get home if you don't have special papers with you. Sound familiar?


  2. In a Simpsons episode, after Bart inadvertently moons the flag, an outraged Texan in Stetson hat roars, "How dare he! That's the flag mah great-grandpappy rebelled against!"

    Consistency has never been a priority with these folks.

  3. Excellent article, as always. I kayak on the Illinois River just upstream from the Starved Rock lock and dam and have heard the incessant gunfire along the river for years. Not the sound you hope to hear in a nature reverie, but the right to enjoy solitude is always trumped by the rights of people with loud hobbies. Maybe it's my Scotch blood, but the endless sound of automatic weapon fire always makes me wonder how they justify the substantial cost of endlessly spraying bullets into whatever they are shooting. Ammunition isn't cheap. I sit in my kayak, getting exercise and trying to enjoy nature, and wonder why they couldn't take up a less dangerous, more constructive hobby. Then there is the regular concern about ricochets. A bullet can travel a long distance. You don't want your tombstone to reference refrigerators and stray bullets.

    Something I rarely see addressed is how so many people have hardened hatred for folks who, in the wake of seeing 600 of their friends and neighbors butchered, suggest some sensible gun control is in order. In the wake of a much smaller mass shooting in Australia, the majority of the country supported taking battlefield weaponry off the streets. We somehow are different. Why are many Americans outraged at the mere suggestion that guns should be restricted after 600 people are butchered like animals?

    The answer is simple. Limbaugh, Fox News, Breitbart, Alex Jones, the NRA and other right wing mouthpieces long ago went from promoting a "conservative" philosophy, to demonizing anyone who doesn't regurgitate "conservative" memes. If you are liberal you aren't just wrong, you have mental and moral defects. After decades of hearing these demented memes a critical mass of Americans have embraced the hatred, embraced blaming the "others" and react to inhuman butchery by repeating the "conservative" talking points.

    It is societal madness.

    The terrible irony is that the "conservative" philosophy they promote with a drumbeat of endless demented memes is merely a way to get GOP candidates in office. The GOP once had the facade of a host of beliefs promoting a conservative agenda, but it turns out there are only two real agendas. Less taxes on the wealthy, and less regulations on the wealthy's businesses. Everything else, all of the spittle soaked ranting about God and patriotism and guns and abortion, is a means to an end - to get candidates in office who will lower taxes on the rich and remove regulations from the businesses of the rich.

    They have divided our country and diminished our ideals, just to get the most favored people in the history of the planet more of what they already have.

    One more time - 600 people butchered in the streets by one man who legally bought his weaponry - and conservatives are raving about liberals being shameless opportunists for suggesting this is madness.

  4. But Jesus loves guns. I think the best we can do is send some paper towels to wipe up the blood.

  5. "The NRA has trained them to view any commonsense gun regulation — few of which would have mattered Sunday..."

    Sorry to disagree, but isn't that kinda conceding the field to the gun lobby, Neil? This guy evidently bought his weapons legally. If ownership of semi-automatic guns was illegal, as in Australia, it *may* have mattered. Sure, he might have obtained them illegally, but we don't know. Regulation of magazine size *may* have mattered. Might not have stopped him, but could have limited the extent of the carnage.

    What gets me is the "if these guns are against the law, only outlaws will have these guns" mentality. In what other instance, other than one lobbied relentlessly by the NRA, does the fact of criminals breaking the law, anyway, determine which regulations should even be considered? Who knows how many fewer deaths there would be "if only criminals had access to semi-automatic weapons?" One thing's for sure, in this instance -- no "good guy with a gun" could have conceivably prevented this atrocity before a lot of damage had been done.

  6. A few years back I had a letter published in the paper supporting the assault rifle ban and was admonished by various gun enthusiasts for my lack of knowledge about guns. An AR-15 is just an ordinary rifle with a pistol grip, not fully automatic, like the military version. That was, of course, well before we all learned how little it costs to convert them into something just as deadly. Google "bumpstock," which I recommend, and you will be treated to advertising copy like this: "a bumbstock stock is just the ticket to get machine gun fun out of your AR-15 without breaking the law."

    Concerning my deficit of gun knowledge, I did fire various small arms over the course of my 34 years, active and reserve, of military service. Never saw the attraction. I guess I missed out on the fun.



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