Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What Happened in Vegas Will Stay in Vegas

Another mass murder "Groundhog Day" in America,and another fork in the road. Do we make a stand, or do we cower, accept that we are the most violent society in the world, and that we lack the will to change? Steve can usually muster some sliver of optimism, but not this time.

On Monday, stocks in gun manufacturers rose.  One munitions company hit an all-time high.

You would like to believe that after the biggest slaughter of innocent Americans by a crazed gunman in the history of the United States, the financial gurus would assume that the gun industry would be shamed and punished, and that it would be a good time to sell.

Not so.

In America, after one of our now routine mass executions, gun owners grow fearful that the government will finally begin to truly regulate the gun industry, so they run out and buy more guns as quickly as possible. Mass murder, in turns out, triggers market growth.  Massacre is a leading indicator of a bright financial future for the killing sector.

Ironically, the fears of gun owners are unfounded. Congress is going to do nothing about the gun industry. Many of our elected officials hide behind the pretense that they are passionate defenders of Second Amendment rights when in fact they are just cowards who are owned by the gun lobby. You can smell it as they proclaim that it is "too early" to talk about gun legislation "out of respect for the victims." That is a particularly despicable deceit, as they are brazenly invoking the misery of the victims as cover for inaction.

So don’t miss out. The next time a psycho wingnut with a full militia's worth of assault rifles sprays rounds of burning metal into the soft flesh of country western fans, buy stock in Olin, the makers of Winchester ammunition.  It’s pretty much guaranteed that you, too, will make a killing.

Nothing is going to change because of the massacre in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, they weren’t kidding when they said that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Don’t misinterpret: when we say it will stay in Las Vegas, we mean it will stay in Vegas. Forever. It will haunt and terrify the lives of citizens in Las Vegas because they were so intimately inundated with the sounds, images, the video, and the social media as the horror spread from its epicenter.  It will plague their nights and damage their children. It will never go away.

But it won’t leave Vegas, either. For some reason, the impact of these mass murders seems to remain intensely localized, forever traumatizing the geographic epicenter of the carnage, but never causing concentric ripples of sustained outrage beyond city boundaries.

This, too, is part of the now wearying and familiar pattern in our recurring Groundhog Days of mass murder. Las Vegas will be permanently haunted by this tragedy, but as geographic distance increases from Las Vegas, the impact is muffled and the memories are not lasting.  
My exposure to this phenomenon is limited but intense. It happens that I enjoy running in road races, a passion that causes me to drive to small towns all over Connecticut to compete in a local charity’s 5k or 10k race. One 5k brought me to Newtown, Connecticut a few years after the horrific murder of young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.  There, I felt viscerally and vividly saw how that town forever struggles to live in the immense shadow of a single day of horror. Terrifying memories seemed etched in the pavement of that town as surely as the images of incinerated human beings in Hiroshima. 

And yet when a 5k race takes me to another charming New England village not far from Newtown, I see no evidence of collective grief and anguish. Just normal people living pleasant, normal lives.

What happened in Newtown stayed in Newtown.  

It seems that if the carnage did not literally take place in our own backyard, we are able to compartmentalize, elude, hide, move on, do nothing, and ultimately, forget. Over time, Newtown becomes simply a word that is synonymous with horror, taking its place in a long lineage dating back to Columbine and Virginia Tech, and antecedent to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

But if a psychopathic butcher can spray endless rounds of AK-47 fire and murder 20 young old children in Sandy Hook, and nothing happens, what makes anybody think that Las Vegas is going to be the slightest bit different?

Conservative talk show host Alex Jones passionately argues that the Sandy Hook murders never happened and were just as all an elaborate hoax. The Republicans of Alabama just nominated a man to run for the U.S. Senate who thinks that Sandy Hook was God’s punishment for our sins.  Not a single word of legislation was written to change the laws of the United States federal government as a result of Sandy Hook.

The standard line from the Second Amendment people is that the real problem is that there are not enough “good guys with guns” to take the battle to the psychopath.  Not surprisingly, this argument has yet to surface in Las Vegas, as the implication is that if only the 22,000 concert-goers had each been packing heat, they could have all turned around and pumped a fusillade of bullets into the Mandalay Bay Hotel and solved the problem. But, of course, they had no idea where the shots were coming from, and the odds of all 22,000 people being marksman grade are slim. No, if “good guys with guns” had been shooting back, there would simply have been twice as many victims.

On Tuesday retired Republican representative Jason Chaffetz appeared on Fox News today and proclaimed that there is simply “nothing that could have been done” to prevent this particular shooting.

There's a problem, folks. When a man who served in our Congress concludes that there is no way of  predicting mass murder from a man who owns 42 guns, you realize that the simple epic stupidity of some of our  government officials may be a major factor in our collective failure to act.

Spare me all the hypocritical legislators who call for moments of silence and prayer.  Their silence is the essence of the problem.  And it’s all well and good to ask for God’s help in prayer, but as John F. Kennedy noted, “here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

The most articulate, reasoned, and results-oriented reflections on Las Vegas that I heard in the 24 hours following the Las Vegas massacre came from late night hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert. If you are looking for strong, grounded, and yet inspiring moral leadership, find their words on YouTube.  And yes, it is the full measure of the disease in our society that the most profound invocations of moral aspiration come from the comedians and we are left to laugh -- or cry -- at the weakness, ineffectuality, and moral bankruptcy of our elected leaders. 

Colbert and Kimmel each in their own way tried to plead, beg, and even shame the United States government to do somethinganything – to address our country’s horrific gun epidemic.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the past 48 hours has been the news media’s desperate obsession with trying to determine the motive behind this latest mass murder. It is as if the determination of a motive will somehow lull us and comfort us in the belief that a crazed man acted alone out of deviant psychotic impulses and that we therefore can return to our comfortable lives, secure in the knowledge that this one crazed madman is dead.

The appalling mass murders on Sunday night happened to be in Las Vegas, Nevada. The horrific murder of children in 2012 happened to be in Newtown, Connecticut. The killing spree in the Pulse night club happened to be in Orlando, Florida. 

The generalization to be made is painful: mass murders happened constantly in America, and we rely on the change of location and killer to delude ourselves that each incident is somehow new, unprecedented, and unpreventable.  We have an epidemic of mass murders. Compared to any country on earth, we stand alone in the astonishing frequency and scale of gun violence.

We must accept that there is a particular chemistry in the United States that breeds mass violence. It is a unique combination of inattention to mental disorders, radical access to weapons of mass carnage, and the influence of big money in politics that prevents any attempt to study, to analyze, and to act.  It is not just the killers who are psychotic. An unending epidemic of mass murder requires consenting adults. It is fueled by a society of enablers, co-conspirators, and a nation of bystanders who slow down just long enough to get a good, close look at the horrible collision in the other lane before they speed away.

If we think it is a problem for Las Vegas, Nevada, then yes… what happened in Vegas is going to stay in Vegas. 

In the end, this, like so many of our problems, traces back to a broken contract between government and the governed, and yet a lack of will on the part of the governed to do anything about it.

Over 90% of Americans favor expanded background checks for gun ownership. If 90% of Americans want a simple change and their government refuses to provide it, then the problem is actually not the gun dealers, the Second Amendment activists, or the National Rifle Association.

It is the government of the United States of America, and the lethargy of a population that is too lazy and content in their own bubble to do anything about it.

In a recent column, we wrote of the desperate need to develop a new set of amendments to the U.S. Constitution – a modern “bill of rights” -- to correct some of the egregious flaws in the structure of our government that allow gerrymandering, big money, and unregulated media to undermine the fundamental notion of majority rule and the rule of law.

On Sunday night in Las Vegas, we saw murderous rage, appalling suffering, and the essential goodness of the human spirit in countless acts of courage and caring on the part of individual human beings.

But if we looked more closely – through the images of flashing lights, ambulances, terrified human beings, and motionless bodies -- we saw a government that no longer is able to act on the will of the people it is supposed to be serving.

We see a government that is hiding from hard issues, and a people who allow it to do so.

We see a government that is populated by self-serving cowards, and a people who will wait to act until the psycho with the AK-47 shows up and wreaks his hellish carnage in their own home town. 
Indeed -- and as hard as this may be to believe -- there is actually a bill currently being advanced by Republicans in Congress that seeks to ease gun restrictions and makes it easier to acquire gun silencers. Perhaps now would be the time, and this would be the occasion, for every person in that 90% to actually pick up the phone, call their Congressional representatives, and tell them that it is finally time, once and truly for all, to end the madness.

Until we recognize that gun violence is now one of the issues that defines America to the world, that illustrates our broken government, and reveals our lack of will as a people, then yes... what happened in Vegas will stay in Vegas.

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