Can anything stop America’s savage gun epidemic?

December 9, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Guns are America’s greatest shame. A numb, unquestioned fetish for ultra-violence combined with a warped conviction that gun ownership somehow equals freedom, or safety, or that it represents a desirable, even honorable form of God-sanctioned patriotism (it is none of those) – this is our greatest sickness.

I’m not saying anything new. You have but to witness, once again, the numbing wave of moral desolation and powerlessness that sweeps over the land as we’re confronted, day in and day out, with evermore murderous, devastating headlines too savage, too inhuman to contemplate – roomfuls of dead schoolchildren, rows of massacred churchgoers, butchered holiday partygoers, dead moviegoers and bloodied college students, countless women (wives and girlfriends and mothers) shot to death by countless wrathful, contorted males.

Still, we panic. Still we conflate safety with violence, peace with paranoia. America enjoyed record gun sales on this past Black Friday; the FBI recorded the single highest number of newly registered firearms, more than 185,000, since records have been kept. There will soon be a 24-hour home shopping TV channel, Gun TV, dedicated solely to direct sales of firearms to Americans. In the days following the massacre of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary, sales of bullets in America skyrocketed. The fire of paranoia and fear is raging, and everyone is buying more gasoline.

Meanwhile, the facts keep ripping us apart, numbing us to the core: 2015 has seen more mass shootings (defined, unofficially, as four or more people shot in any kind of scenario) than we’ve had calendar days. Not good enough? How about this: More people have been killed by guns in America (nearly 1.4 million) than all our wars since 1776, combined.

Stay classy, America

Stay classy, America

Still a few days left in 2015. How many more people will be shot dead by Christmas? How many gun-assisted suicides? How many children, ex-wives, people kneeling in prayer at a mosque, church or temple? Will the shooter be a radical? Just “frustrated? A patriot? Deemed “crazy”? A loner? For the record: Most shooters are not actually crazy, or demented, or monsters. That’s just a convenient excuse; the NRA and Trump love it.

One thing is nearly 100% certain: The next mass shooter will be a male. Probably white. Like Syed Farook, he will have purchased his guns legally, including the semiautomatics. He will have a furious gripe with women, or the government, or liberals, or Islam, or black people. Or perhaps he just wants to be made instantly infamous.

And of course, he has shockingly easy access to all the guns he wants – even if he’s a suspected terrorist. He is part of a culture soaked to the bone with ultra-violent messages, images and fantasies, everywhere he looks; on TV, movies, videogames, Republican political rallies, the media. The fuse is lit. The conclusion is forgone.

They come so fast now, it’s difficult to keep track. How quickly San Bernardino helped us race past Robert Dear, the Christian bigot terrorist who murdered three and wounded nine more at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, a facility where women get screened for everything from breast cancer to UTIs.

Here’s a point: Every single accusation the GOP has leveled at Planned Parenthood has been false, an outright lie, revoltingly so. Republicans do not care that they have painted a world-renowned health organization, one that’s helped millions of women (including, surely, countless Republican women, GOP members’ own wives and daughters), as as merely a “seller of baby parts.” It’s a vicious lie. But Robert Dear, for one, believed them.

It’s all fake, you see. It’s all staged, for effect, to beg for the vote of the GOP’s hateful, but still invaluable, fringe base. In the absence of Obamacare and the gay marriage issue, Planned Parenthood (read: abortion) has merely become the GOP’s go-to issue this time around, for pre-election fear-mongering. In exactly one year PP will no longer be the center of Republicans’ bogus, manufactured, deceitful rage. How many more gun deaths before the 2016 election?

By the way? Here’s the gun lobby, arguing that suspected terrorists should continue to have access to guns in the US, without background checks.

And here’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein, on Thursday and for the third time, offering an amendment requiring that suspected terrorists undergo background checks – something the vast majority of gun owners and even most NRA members (and George W. Bush) supported.

It failed, again, 44-55. Because the GOP are moral cowards, on the NRA dole. Because even the moderates among them are terrified, and white, and male and hey it wasn’t their kids, their wives, their loved ones who were shot to death in that clinic, that schoolroom, that church or movie theater or holiday party or military base. And as everyone knows, gun lobby endorsements (and cash) are far more important than countless dead.

There’s a now-famous tweet, from the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges, about how the gun debate officially ended when America decided it was fine with all those dead children.


Perfect, and brutal… but is it true? The tortured pleas and public outcries following each new shooting seem to indicate otherwise, that the country is not OK with this, that the majority of Americans, could we all vote tomorrow, might very well support not only far more rigorous restrictions on guns, but an outright repeal/revision of the aggressively misinterpreted, and increasingly outdated, Second Amendment.

Sadly, it’s not true just yet. Hodges appears to be correct; no matter the level of carnage, polls still indicate that a majority of Americans oppose stricter gun laws. Paranoia and miseducation run deep, you see. It’s bizarre and morally heartbreaking, but also sort of understandable. For one primary reason.

Here we get to the core of it, of what is perhaps the most disturbing sickness in America today. As The Nation points out, there is really only one overarching reason there will be no major changes to America’s gun fetishism (or climate laws, or health care reform, et al): the paranoid radical Right.

The fringe. The GOP base. The zealots. The fundamentalists, the uneducated and the distrustful and the hyper-religious. The crazy ones.

Let me say this clearly as possible: The paranoid right-wing fringe right do not enjoy a majority in America. They do not reflect the country’s foundational beliefs. They have proven, time and again, they do have the intellectual or moral capacity to understand what those even are.

What they have, is power. They have been gifted a highly volatile, barely tenable ability, heavily subsidized by certain well-established, for-profit channels of hate and trolling – Fox News, the Koch brothers, the NRA, Heritage Foundation – to distort the truth so violently, so viciously, they can destroy careers, hurt families, roll back real progress (Hobby Lobby, Citizens United), and of course, induce more violence.

Let me say that again: The right-wing fringe are not more popular, or more true to America’s ideological core. They are simply more dangerous – and well-funded – in their ignorance and their moral violence, than any other group in America. They can do real harm, to real people, in very real ways, simply by sheer force of riotous hate speech and outright lying – and the media is often too stupefied, and too caught up in the lies itself, to call them on it. They are the domestic terrorists of America’s conscience.

No one knows this better, and has leveraged it to better effect, than the current GOP frontrunner.

The more hurtful, racist and belligerent Donald Trump gets, the more his followers eat it up, become even more apoplectic, ready to “defend” America from all kinds of make-believe demons, as they arm themselves to the teeth, aiming to shut down, barricade again, round up all the immigrants and Muslims, feminists and gays, abortion doctors and hoody-wearing black males.


It’s not exactly a new tactic. Politicians have been pandering to the basest elements of human nature and turning fear into votes since the dawn of politics.

What’s new is how far Trump has gotten with it. What’s new is how poisoned by this fringe rage the national debate has become. What’s new is Trump is closer – though as Nate Silver points out, still nowhere near – to the GOP nomination than even ISIS itself could have wet dreamed.

You don’t think ISIS is praying mightily that Trump (or Ted Cruz, or Ben Carson) wins the US presidency? You don’t believe Trump’s sleazy antagonism and racist demagoguery would go a long way toward fulfilling Islamic terrorists’ most devout wish: to ignite a global holy war, leading to the apocalypse? Trump is an ISIS dream candidate.

At the center of it all lies the great American icon of fear, death and paranoia: guns. Our elevation of the cowardly personal firearm to near-mythical status, to beloved, righteous symbol freedom and security – despite how it does nothing but destroy and terrorize both – is unique in the world.

The gun remains the only freely available precision tool we’ve invented that has a single purpose, eminently and passionately fulfilled, every day in America: death. It is designed, built, marketed and sold for nothing else. Its inherent destiny is our inherent destiny. It is our most distorted heart. It is our national disgrace.

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Mark Morford

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