Columnist Joe Gannon: All must protest and listen to the children


Friday, March 09, 2018

The slaughter of innocents goes on, unabated. We feed our children into the fiery mouth of Moloch as a sacrifice to the “God of Guns.” We worship false idols, bow down to graven images in the shape of AR-15s.

We may not all be worshippers in the Church of the Holy Second Amendment, but if we have one state-sanctioned religion that is it, and attendance is mandatory — as least for politicians.

And little or nothing has changed, lo these many years of mass murder. And maybe never will — not unless the national attention span lengthens and remains focused on the last massacre for more than a few news cycles. But if you’re a Trump Twitter junkie (and most are!) you have already moved on.

Because of articulate, fearless BS-calling teenagers who suffered the tragedy, there have been some tiny cracks appearing in the monolithic tombstone that is our national “non-conversation” on the plague of gun violence that America alone in the world suffers. Allows to be suffered.

But as always — after the shock, after the funerals, after the politicians’ platitudes — there is the question: What is to be done?

As the Reds and Blues barely even speak to each other anymore, perhaps the first step is to try and get the terms of debate right.

The conversation is first and foremost not a debate about gun ownership, but gun violence. That seems simplistic, but the National Rifle Association and its minions are the ones who try to falsely frame the discussion as gun ownership.

If liberals and progressives accept these terms, then no movement will ever occur to reduce gun violence. Talk of banning guns, no matter how righteous, will only ever play into the hands of the NRA-istas.

To back this up, consider: Back when the Black Lives Matter movement arose after a string of very public police killings, the debate was also falsely framed as black people versus police. But the issue was about policing — how do we want to police our neighborhoods, especially urban neighborhoods. That debate was lost because it was never framed as about policing, not the police.

But people will debate how we want the police to police our neighborhoods, and people will discuss how to reduce gun violence if we can change the terms from gun ownership to gun violence as the public health issue it is.

These strike me as top priorities, that have a chance to both move the debate, and possibly become law.

Stop saying that the NRA buys politicians. While it does give millions, the NRA’s primary means of controlling politicians is that it can generate more angry phone calls and letters than almost any other political action committee in the country. NRA voters vote as they are told, and politicians know that.

Restore government funding to agencies to study the phenomenon of gun violence. In 1996 a GOP/NRA law cut off exactly that funding so that, say, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not treat gun violence the same it does communicable diseases.

Data on gun violence must be collected as it once was on cigarettes — and used in the same way, to change public perception of the issue. This is one measure they could gain bipartisan support if the Parkland teens can keep the heat on the national debate.

Liability insurance for all gun owners. Cars are made for trips to the store on snowy days, but all cars in use on the road must carry liability insurance because they are capable of causing great damage. You cannot register nor operate a car legally without liability insurance.

The same terms must now come to apply to guns. You may own guns, but you have to carry insurance on them. A national gun liability insurance law would be able to deal with the myriad state and local ordinances on gun ownership.

Consider how much progress would be made on the gun debate it we could merely accept that, like cars, guns can cause great damage and have to be insured in case they do.

These two tactics would not necessarily lower the sheer number of guns, but could begin to change the terms of debate from ownership to public health. The once invincible tobacco industry and its many powerful political allies began to finally lose ground only once the public — despite all propaganda to the contrary — simply accepted that tobacco was dangerous.

If we change the terms of discourse, then perhaps we can create the space for real change by doing things like raising the legal age to 21 to own any firearm, or use it without adult supervision; to  deepen background checks and penalize agencies that don’t submit the data; and to reimpose the ban on assault rifles.

That is a short list, but there is so little we can do otherwise, this pittance — compared to the multitude of dead — might at least tip the country a bit back towards sanity, if we keep the pressure up.

On March 14 there is a nationwide student walkout to remember the victims of the latest massacre and, hopefully, commune to “call BS” on politicians and everyone over 30! If you have school-age children, be in touch with their school leaders to make sure they will participate.

March 24 is a national day of protest, with demonstrations all over the country, including close to home in Boston. You don’t have to say it too often in the Valley, but go!

Let us all go, and listen to the children.

Joe Gannon, novelist and teacher, lives in Northampton. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.