Learning Nothing?

12.14.14 11:45 AM ET

The Gun Battle Since Newtown

The gun rights people may be better armed, but those demanding common sense laws and no more massacres of children have the arc of justice on their side.

Two years ago today, while 20 children along with six teachers and administration members were being mass-murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., I was on a radio show (The Majority Report with Sam Seder), discussing the scourge of gun violence in this country. I suspect, like with 9/11 or JFK’s assassination, many people remember where they were when they heard about this unspeakable tragedy—one that was entirely predictable and we allowed to happen.

There’s no doubt that horrible day was a tipping point that had been building like a tidal wave: a mass-shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (and the killing of others with her in Tucson, Ariz.) and many other incidents, whose names you don’t remember, in the two years leading up to Newtown. But I’ve been writing and talking about this issue for over a decade, tracking how we’ve let the equivalent of those who think there should be no drunk driving laws decide which laws should regulate guns. Before Newtown, it was a lonely beat. No longer.

Change never comes easy, which is why Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Clearly, we still have a long, long way to go before we even have even the most basic sanity in our gun laws on the national level. But from public perception to the numerous defeats suffered by the ignominious sand-pounders known as the National Rifle Association in recent elections, the arc has begun to pick up the pace.

This is by no means to imply that manic, fluoride-phobic, tri-corner hatted half-wits are not still trying to dragoon the United States of America into governing via armed warlord. They control way too many state legislatures—which just got worse with the 2014 election—and have applied their usual lack of critical thinking and rain dancing to how we handle guns in many states. They continue to find willing recruits among an aging white working class that’s seen its domination over women, people of color and other “others” decline, and that needs to embrace some symbol of power. 

For example, in the state I live in, Ohio, the right-wing Republican-controlled state legislature—which in no way represents the will of the people who have twice elected Sherrod Brown to the Senate and likewise twice voted for Barack Obama—has just passed a bill to allow reciprocal agreement with other states’ concealed carry laws. Considering that in some states like Utah and Texas, where certain house pets can probably qualify, it’s an amazingly stupid idea. So is a “Stand Your Ground” bill they’re discussing, because clearly, there hasn’t been enough evidence that shooting first with impunity is a license to kill for racist sociopaths. Your move, supposedly not Tea-Party-fevered Governor John Kasich.

How the polling firms and the media adjust to new realities also seems to be a rather long arc. Many news outlets breathlessly reported a new Pew poll finding that “gun rights” were more popular than “gun control,” as if that means anything. The right has turned the latter phrase into a synonym for taking everyone’s guns, so the fact that 46 percent support “gun control” while only 52 percent are for “gun rights” should scare the gunnies. 

Additionally, what is clear is that if you talk about certain measures—for example universal background checks—and not the overall term “gun control,” there is overwhelming support. You can trust the many polls saying this, but only if you’re in the reality-based community. If you’re not, then perhaps the actual vote in Washington State to institute background checks might convince you to return to this galaxy. In a state with a heavily white midterm electorate, another gun initiative on the ballot to confuse voters and where the NRA spent more money than any other, 60 percent of the voters approved the measure.

I could spend the rest of this column debunking other gun extremist talking points, but I’ve already done that in the past. What’s new this year is that the NRA hung Democrats who supported its noxious agenda out to dry, which has led many of these once gun-fondler supporters to embrace common sense, such as supporting Vivek Murthy for Surgeon General. The NRA opposes him because he referred to gun violence as a “public-health crisis.” Also, your nose is in front of your face and the sun will come up tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a new grassroots coalition of state legislators (including Republicans) has joined mayors, moms, pediatricians, gun owners, prosecutors, and other groups dedicated to sane gun laws. A petition has been delivered in Nevada that will put a similar measure to the one in Washington on the ballot in 2016. It had more petition signatures than any previous Nevada ballot initiative. Ever. Oregon, Arizona and Maine may join the parade. The energy is clearly growing to rid this country of the fear-based rule of obtuse, aged white men. We’re becoming a more forward thinking, more multi-ethnic country where Gen X and Millennials are stepping into leadership roles.

There’s still a long way to go, however. This past week, America was once again horrifyingly reminded of who the most extreme gun nuts behind the open carry movement really are, the ones who feel a need to arm for battle when going to the local store to pick up diapers and 7-Up. In Texas, where this is a fetish, Veronica Dunnachie, one of the most high profile members of Open Carry Texas and Open Carry Tarrant County (you know, double the gun groups, double the pleasure), is in custody for shooting her husband and step-daughter to death, and then driving herself to a mental hospital. Because these kinds of things just happen in countries with common sense laws and “peaceful” protesters who feel a need to need to carry a Kalashnikov in public. 

So while the arc is indeed bending, it often feels eternal. In the two years since Newtown, for students attending Apostolic Revival Center Christian School, Taft Union High School, Stevens Institute of Business & Art, Hazard Community and Technical College, Chicago State University, Lone Star College North Harris Campus, Price Middle School, Morehouse College, Indian River St. College, Hillside Elementary School, Henry W. Grady HS, University of Central Florida, Davidson Middle School, New River Community College, Elizabeth City State University, Grambling State University, La Salle High School, Santa Monica College, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Northwest High School, Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, Westside Elementary School, North Palona High School, Carver High School, Savannah State University, New Gloucester High School, Agape Christian Academy, Lanier High School, Sparks Middle School, Algona High/Middle School, North Carolina A & T University, Stephenson High School, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, West Orange High School Arapahoe High School, Edison High School, Liberty Technology Magnet HS, Berrendo Middle School, Martin Luther King Jr. ES, Delaware Valley Charter School, Widener University, Purdue University, South Carolina State University, Tennessee State University, Grambling State University, Cesar Chavez High School, North High School, Bend High School, Salisbury High School, Brush High School, Union University, Raytown Success Academy, McDaniel College, Madison High School, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, University of Delaware, Kent State University, East English Village Preparatory Academy, Stillman College, St. Mary Catholic School, Provo High School, Iowa Western Community College, Marquette University, Horizon Elementary School, Paine College, Georgetown College, Georgia Gwinnett College, Clark Street School, Seattle Pacific University, Reynolds High School, Kelly High School, University of Miami, Heather Ridge High School, Saunders Elementary, Idaho State University, Westbrook Elementary School, Joel C. Harris Academy, Indiana State University, Albermarle High School, Fern High School, Langston Hughes High School, Elizabeth City State University, Langston University, A. Maceo Walker Middle School, Marysville Pilchuck High School, Delaware State University, Florida State University, St. Johns College and Rogers State University, whatever we do won’t be soon enough. 

But to honor them, our values, the will of the majority, and to protect future potential victims at schools or anywhere else in our society, it’s up to all of us who believe in this country to fight for it. To not give in to profiteers, paid-off politicians and an extreme minority who hate its government and way of life.