As Congress dithers and mayhem goads certain state legislatures into meaningful action, it has become quite clear that only a national reckoning as wrenching as the one that eventually ended legal segregation can drive reasonable and effective legal curbs on gun abuse.
Sometimes it really is best to look at the facts, not theories, much less polemics, and New York Times columnist Joe Nocera has been running a frequent gun report that reads as follows. It doesn't take long to read this and send to gun-loving friends and relatives, but doing so may take courage, because this truth really hurts.
Here's the first part of the most recent "Weekend Gun Report" that Nocera posted. You really ought to make yourself read the rest.
A 50-year-old man is suspected of shooting and killing two of his neighbors in his backyard in Cabarrus County, N.C., before killing himself Friday afternoon. Two men were critically wounded Friday afternoon in a shooting on the South Side of Chicago. A possible drug-related shooting Friday left one man dead inside a car at a Harris County, Tex., shopping center. A woman is accused of shooting and killing her husband, a pharmacist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., Thursday morning.
A 14-year-old boy allegedly shot another man while he was riding his bicycle in South Miami, Fla. A 14-year-old boy was shot and killed in south Bakersfield, Calif., around midnight Friday. A man shot two other men in the Tremont section of the Bronx Thursday night before fleeing. A man was shot in a road rage incident on U.S.1 south of St. Augustine, Fla., Friday night. Two men were shot in the Mattapan section of Boston Thursday evening, one of whom has life-threatening injuries.
The documentary filmmaker and humanitarian John Upton was shot and killed in Encinitas, Calif., Thursday morning by a neighbor after the two got into an argument about tree-trimming. An alleged gang member, 23, was shot and killed and another man was injured Friday evening....
And so on. When you come to interpreting this, please consider that while current interpretations of the Second Amendment must be tackled and tamed, that amendment isn't what's actually driving people to buy and use guns in the ways Nocera describes.
To find the real cause, look at how we interpret the First Amendment to protect motivators of gun abuse that aren't human beings but the mindless demi-urges that we call publicly traded business corporations. These are driven - by forces that we legislate and adjudicate and, in a free country, should radically alter -- to boost the bottom line using whatever means of groping and goosing will get a rise out of potential customers.
Ads and "entertainment" with only that purpose in mind are the result. Out of one side of their mouths, the makers tell advertisers that the more often you repeat a message, the more effective it is. Out of the other side of their mouths, they tell Congress that repeating mindless violence doesn't "cause" any harm.
But proving a direct "cause" isn't remotely necessary, and there's no reason for the First Amendment to protect, as "speakers," arrangements that produce that groping and goosing.
Every one of us is divided between anti-social impulses and sociable ones, and any good entertainment recognizes and engages this truth. But healthy cultures' myths, narratives, and public story lines, embodied in our best leaders and actors, work on that division in the human heart. Ultimately they reinforce one side or the other.
Our society has lost its capacity to "work on" that division in a constructive, humanizing way because we extend First Amendment protections to entities driven algorithmically to produce whatever their sensors tell them they can prod enough of is into buying - in the case of guns, by spreading self-fulfilling prophecies of violent hatred, armed home invasion, government conspiracy, etc. The danger isn't government censors; it's corporate sensors, ever more intrusive and intimate in their come-ons to impressionable people.
The only way to get a grip on this is to understand the First Amendment as a protection for citizens voicing opinions on a level playing field. There they can say whatever they want -- including that we should all buy guns and prepare to kill each other -- and they can be effectively challenged to answer for their view by explaining what they mean in response to others' questions and claims.
I don't particularly like Michael Bloomberg's spending $12 million to assail politicians who vote against gun control, but he's only leveling the playing field against the NRA, which is much more lavishly funded by gun merchants who buy the politicians. If I were Bloomberg, I'd spend five times as much to put Nocera's gun report in front of every American every week
I've made some of these points in this NPR interview on Brian Lehrer's WNYC radio show, which was prompted by an Atlantic online essay co-authored with law professor Daniel J.H. Greenwood. I've re-stated it in other ways in the Philadelphia Inquirer and in several columns here in HuffPost including my open letter to a Marine who wrote Sen. Dianne Feinstein that he would obey any gun laws she passes.
But don't listen to me. Okay, please do listen, but then just look, if you have courage, at the rest of Nocera's gun report on the consequences of our staying on present course. And please share it around.