We’re many days past our latest slaughter. The pitch of rage and rhetoric remains high, and all the usual talking points have been and are still being bleated from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Lots of thoughts and prayers, countless moments of silence; prodigious political patronizing and words of solace, but for those who’ve lived through too many of these — and those whose loved ones have died in them — the roar of political apathy and intransigence is deafening.
We have a government whose president and Congress appear hamstrung, gagged, manipulated, and purchased by the NRA, the National Rifle Association, that “nonprofit” lobbying cabal that ensures that NOTHING ever gets done — and NOTHING ever changes — on the issue of guns. We are meant to sit in quiet acquiescence to the 2nd Amendment, at least until the next slaughter — which always comes — then we’re meant to haul out our “thoughts and prayers” as gun stocks skyrocket and gun manufacturers rake in the bucks.
“This is not what America is about... not the America I know!”
Texted by a friend, those words echo protestations that arise after every egregious American sin: the Muslim travel ban, the trans military ban, the DACA rescission; the Puerto Rico response; the rescission of women’s right to birth control; the reaction to Charlottesville; the denigration of protesting athletes, corrupt spending of taxpayer dollars; the many and countless atrocities that have been flung from this White House like so many paper towels. It’s understandable, that cry, it’s deeply felt, and I agree, but as I sit watching the news, listening to the chatter, exchanging dialogue on social media, assessing the outrage and despair felt by so many, I keep thinking:
But this is what America is about. We have exactly the America we elected.
Because every act of this president and his cabinet; every law, bill, confirmation, and vote by every senator or representative in Congress; every adjudication by a Supreme Court justice appointed and confirmed, is a direct consequence of our votes. Your vote. My vote. The non-votes of Americans who didn’t bother to vote. The “protest votes” of Americans who fell for Russian-disinformation. The “write-in votes” of hardcore partisans who refused to see the bigger picture. The low-information votes of tunnel-visioned red-hatters. The “wasted votes” of zealots shilling for marginal candidates they knew couldn’t win.
Together, and over the years, our votes and non-votes have created, molded, designed the America we have now. What we call “the government” is a collection of people we put there, either by our support, our inactivism, or our abdication (and, as it turns out in Election 2016, assistance from Russia).
Simply put, if we want different leaders with different ideals, different attitudes, different ethics, morality, compassion and integrity; if we want leaders with different responses, different philosophies, different worldviews, different policy platforms, WE HAVE TO ELECT DIFFERENT KINDS OF PEOPLE.
Certainly on the specific topic of guns, gun control, gun laws, the 2nd Amendment, we have to elect people who are NOT in the pocket of the NRA, who ARE willing to reach across the aisle to discuss sane, logical, doable improvements to laws designed to safeguard not only people’s rights, but people’s lives.
That may seem impossible at this point — certainly, and sadly, nothing in recent history suggests it can be done — but let’s consider this: the NRA gives an astonishing bulk of their donations to Republicans, far less to Democrats by comparison. There’s a starting point: vote Democrat! But seriously, if the issue of gun safety, gun control, etc., is a priority to you, make a candidate’s willingness to pocket NRA money be a decider. Vote for candidates who don’t take money from the NRA.
Make it part of your electoral due diligence to suss out exactly which ones those are; how they feel about legislating and implementing safe and sane gun laws. Do your homework. Ask questions. If you don’t agree with all their policies, decide if their pro-active views on guns and gun control are enough to transcend other issues with which you may differ. If there’s enough intersection, get involved.
And get involved from the bottom up, not just for presidential elections or congressional races in your own state. Every major election in every state ultimately impacts you: every state’s senators and representatives vote on laws, and confirm appointees, that impact the entire country, so it behooves every voter to pay attention even outside their home territory. Identify who you want to see elected in that state; disseminate their information, campaign online for them if you can’t get there locally. Donate money. Share about them on social media. Do everything you can to help raise their profile.
When it comes to your own state, don’t wait for the senate and house elections; go earlier, to city council candidates, judges, school board presidents, mayors, etc. Learn everything you can about the people you’re inclined to vote for and make sure they support the issues and ideals you support. This is a big one, because too many people vote blindly. They don’t know who the candidates really are and “those big booklets they send out are too damn hard to read,” as one person told me. Those booklets can be daunting, but they’re also filled with useful information needed to make an educated vote. Sometimes you can do that simply by seeing who else is for that person. Or against. Want to know a candidate’s specific stance on something? Google it: put in their name and the issue you’re curious about and see what comes up. Educate yourself before you vote... you’re building your government, your America, with each filled-in bubble. Build it with intelligence, and by electing leaders who reject interference from lobbyists to fight for ideals and causes that align with your beliefs.
When it comes to electing a president... well, a whole new primer is needed there, isn’t it? We have never been made more aware of how much damage one person can do to that vaunted position, and with it, than we have with Trump. He’s there because of a confluence of voter misguidance and outside malfeasance. Between Russian “troll farms” disguised as Bernie supporters, and phony Facebook groups propagating fake news and incendiary lies; between alt-left and alt-right zealots toxifying the “free and fair election” motif; between Russian and Wikileaks hacking, unvarnished sexism, and disinformation gullibility, we watched as American citizens turned into Children of the Corn and that cannot happen again. We had better rise above that insanity or we will never recover from the damage wrought by this most virulent of elections.
As for the “gun conversation,” if you want to change the narrative, you have to elect people who want to change the narrative. Do not accept that it’s either/or, that there’s no middle ground; that caring people with wise minds can’t cross aisles to configure safe and sane changes to our existing laws, to idolatry of the 2nd Amendment. Don’t believe all gun owners are spittle-flying “cold dead hands” lunatics, or that those who want to see sanity injected into the gun debate are “just out to get all our guns.” There are zealots, to be sure, but in fact, most people exist somewhere in the middle, where intelligent, life-preserving compromises can be found, something evidenced by findings like this — Gun Owners Overwhelmingly Support Background Checks, See NRA as Out of Touch, New Poll Finds, — and words like these below, shared with me by a Facebook poster:
“I am a lifelong hunter. I have a concealed handgun permit and I carry almost every day. I own a number of guns. I have been vetted by the Virginia State Police and more recently the FBI to sell weapons in my job. Having said all that, I see no reason for the citizenry to need or own battlefield weapons. I wish when Congress had the decision to make they would have chosen to renew the assault weapons ban. My guess is they bowed to the pressure and money of the NRA.
“I wish we could ban them again, confiscate them and dump them all to the bottom of the ocean. The genie is out of the bottle, unfortunately, and the government would play hell getting them. This is the hell the gun lobby has helped create here in the United States. The NRA is not the defender of your rights, they are a special interest group who, along with gun manufacturers, want to make more and more money any way they can, even at the expense of hundreds and thousands of innocent lives. Anyone that sees them any differently is naive.”
He’s right. It’s difficult to dispel a myth built on terror, but let’s not be naive. As long as the NRA terrorizes people into believing the only way to stay safe from “others” is to be armed without limitation, the myth of guns=safety will endure, despite staggering documentation to the contrary.
So PLEASE, use your rage, your sorrow, your anger to reject old ideas and weary mantras; things can change. You can help create that change. If you want a different America, elect different leaders who subscribe to your vision. If you want a country where going to a street festival, going to school, going to a movie, is not a high-risk activity, seek out candidates who believe that goal is worth fighting for, despite intransigence and resistance. Be aware of their affiliation to the NRA, their accepting of money from the NRA; their willingness, or unwillingness, to bring sensible legislation to the table. Then make all that a litmus test for your support.
It will be for mine.
Photo by Jose Moreno @ Unsplash