Pointing a gun at every problem
President Barack Obama addresses the country tonight on how we’ll deal with the emerging Islamic State. This is why he gets paid the big bucks, although admittedly not as many big bucks as the Koch brothers get paid for their mission to destroy the country. But the Islamic State is Obama’s problem, and he has to set not only the policy, but the tone.
And he’ll be speaking to a tone-deaf country.
Consider Ferguson, Mo. The testimony of witnesses says a police officer got out of his car and murdered an unarmed 18-year-old black kid who had his hands in the air. Protests ensued – we seem to be in the midst of an epidemic of police-on-black violence – and the official response was to call in more cops. No, not just cops. Cyborgs from a sci-fi film. Cops in military gear, riding through the streets in armored vehicles, beating up people, arresting journalists, menacingly pointing guns at their fellow citizens. You’re outraged because some fools turned the protest into a riot, even firing guns? Then why weren’t you outraged when a bunch of redneck militia wannabees turned guns on Federal agents at Cliven Bundy’s Arizona ranch earlier this year, when the government was trying to collect back taxes owed by the cranky old racist scofflaw?
Consider White Plains, Ariz. Two weeks ago, a 9-year-old girl from New Jersey on vacation was being given a lesson on how to handle an AK-47 at a shooting range, lost control of the weapon and killed her instructor. What kind of craziness is it to allow a 9-year-old kid to shoot a military weapon at a paper target of a human being? It’ll be another 12 years before she can legally drink a beer. Less than two days after that accident, the National Rifle Association posted a Tweet, “7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range,” that linked to a story about how kids can be entertained by firing at targets that look like zombies.
Consider the supermarket. Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain, is the new battleground. The Open Carry people have declared it is your right to protect yourself while shopping for healthy vegetables. Kroger has said fine, if your gun complies with state and local laws. Packing heat on a trip to the coffee shop is the pro-gun crowd’s declaration that guns are a normal part of life. Sure it is, if 20 children and six teachers and administrators shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School is your normal world.
This is the tone-deaf country that Obama will be addressing tonight. ISIS is a serious threat, beheading American journalists and killing its way to conquest in Syria and Iraq. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has a plan. “What we ought to have is a direct, concerted, overwhelming air campaign to take them out.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney has a plan. He spoke to Republican Congressmen Tuesday, using the example of the 9/11 terror attacks – which in 2003 he falsely linked to Saddam Hussein as justification for the invasion of Iraq – to call for action against terrorist groups such as ISIS. Rep. Tom Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, summed up Cheney’s philosophy: “His advice was mainly to spend more money on the military.”
And I need to consider what’s happening in my own community this week. A city emotionally deflated by the news of a well-liked businessman and his wife, two important people to the future here, lost when their private plane crashed into the ocean. And this morning, from a fourth-floor office window, I watched the funeral of the first Rochester police officer to be killed in the line of duty since 1959. A flag-draped coffin carried into the front doors of a hockey arena, the only building in town big enough to handle the crowd that came to grieve. The family, friends, thousands of uniformed law enforcement people. It was a heavy sight. I went outside and stood on the sidewalk, watching. The streets were closed off. It felt as though all of the air had been sucked out of downtown.
All agree that the killer, a convicted felon, should never have had a gun. But he did. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is fond of saying, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” Well, officer Daryl Pierson was a good guy. And he had a gun.
Here’s the problem, from ISIS to Ferguson: We can win battles, but wars are no longer won. The United States did not win the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. After decades of effort, we have not won the wars on drugs or poverty. We can’t turn the police into a paramilitary force that creates animosity where there should be trust.
The world is full of evil. A lot of villains out there count on that. But on this planet of 8 billion people, I have to believe we have them outnumbered. It’s likely too late for our generation. But we can start making things a little better by rejecting the idea that the answer to every problem is to point a gun at it.