Graves Registry: Another American milestone

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What were your thoughts when you heard the first news reports on Sunday morning that 20 people had been shot and killed in a Florida nightclub? It was horrific? Sure it was, but we are used to this sort of thing in America. Did you think that the loss of 20 innocent lives would inspire any action from politicians more focused on protecting their own jobs than in protecting the public? Maybe you did, in a moment of wildly misplaced hope.

This is the same Congress, after all, that is so in thrall to the gun lobby that the massacre of 20 six and seven-year-old children at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newton, Conn. failed to move them. Ninety percent of the American public wanted stricter gun control laws passed after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. The Republican-controlled Congress ignored every plea. Barack Obama still speaks of that period as the nadir of his presidency. It also stands as irrefutable evidence of the erosion of our claim to be a civilized, compassionate nation.

As Sunday morning wore on, however, the death toll in Florida grew. The final tally of victims shot by a lone gunman wielding a pistol and one of those ever-present, ever-available automatic rifles was 103. Fifty of them were dead. It was the worst instance of mass murder in the country's history. Another milestone.

Will it move this Congress to do anything? Don't count on it. There is a lot of money and some archaic principles at stake.

The first order of business after the mass murders at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando seemed to be to assign a motive to the killer. Right away, the word "terrorist" began to seep into the news reports. I think that it is important for politicians to interject that word into discussions as soon as possible because it somehow dilutes their own culpability. The murderer is transformed from being an unhinged person who obtained brutal, battlefield-style weaponry because Congress meekly accedes to every dictate by the NRA to a terrorist, someone we can all comfortably despise.

What difference did motive make to the 20 dead children in Connecticut whose lives are still considered secondary to an unquestioned adherence to a stipulation in a document that was written over 200 years ago? Did discerning the motive of the Sandy Hook killer stop – or even halt -- the epidemic of mass killings? It didn't even move Congress to do anything more than offer some self-serving babble about mental health.

No matter what motive that authorities finally ascribe to the Florida murderer, the root cause of the unending plague of mindless slaughter in America does not lie in the fact that the killer is a terrorist or a homophobe or a bigot or a religious zealot. It lies in the fact that all of these dangerously unhinged people can readily obtain Rambo-style firearms because of the ludicrously lax gun laws in the United States.

President Obama was asked by a gun shop owner why he and Hillary Clinton want to take guns away from "the good guys" at a recent town hall event in Indiana.

Obama responded by telling the man that neither he, nor Mrs. Clinton, who hopefully will assume the presidency in 2017, want to take law-abiding citizens' guns away from them. The question was a calculated distortion of the president's efforts to limit access to automatic weapons and to do more extensive background checks on anyone wanting to purchase firearms. How can we look back on the carnage that we experience week after week in this country and still maintain that Obama's efforts are an assault on anyone's rights? What about the rights of those 20 schoolchildren to a life?

The central point for debate in the gun dealer's question, however, is his reference to "the good guys," as if identifying good people from potentially bad ones in 21st century America is a simple as it was in an old western movie, where the villains all wore black hats. None of us will live to see the day when this country is completely free from the scourge of gun violence. But we must make a start by putting aside simplistic notions of good guys and bad guys and at least make a concerted effort to ban the type of hellish weaponry that now has claimed another 50 lives. We owe that much to the dead.

— Alden Graves is a regular Banner columnist


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