One of my new favorite bands was in town for a concert at the Murat Theatre Tuesday night. And The Decemberists killed it. There were two encores, which always leads to question: “what do you think they will play?” One of my favorite songs of theirs is “This Is Why We Fight.” It’s also one of their biggest hits. I insisted this would be the grand finale. I was wrong. They didn’t play it at all.
It turns out the group from Oregon has a long list of songs to choose from, and a fight song just didn’t make the list. Of course, how would they have known that two days later, their home state would be the host of the latest mass school shooting spree. The song, which talks about all the certainty of hell that comes with any war, seems fitting in Oregon this week. And everywhere else in America for that matter.
I was doing research on the topic of urban versus rural politics when the news of the latest mass murder broke. In the context of American urban/rural disagreement, there are plenty of issues where the difference in perspective makes predictable sense. My downtown Indianapolis neighborhood is so different from my Vincennes, Indiana hometown, that the politics look simply unfamiliar to people from either place.
And this is why we fight.
In response to this week’s mass shooting, President Obama angrily spoke of how “routine” these things are becoming and how “numb” we appear to be. I agree with him. Although I would expand his descriptive from “numb” to “paralyzed.” He knows the kinds of things he would do if he could. But he needs help from a Congress that apparently believes nothing should be done at all.
In America, inaction is a passive endorsement of the status quo. This inaction is becoming ingrained in us on this issue. The “routine” that is protecting the status quo works like this: horrific mass shooting, followed by gun control advocates speaking up, followed by NRA types explaining why all of those ideas are “stupid” or “illogical,” followed by uncomfortable silence, and then back to the beginning again.
Those who support the arming of America get noticeably and understandably nervous for a day or two every time this happens. But this anxiety never results in an idea, a commitment, a concession or at a minimum an acknowledgment that something is wrong here. Even those who like to bang the “mental health” drum, scatter when that discussion inevitably leads to its price tag.
President Obama said this week that our thoughts and prayers aren’t good enough any more. He’s right. Seriously, how do we as a nation look those families in Oregon in the eye and try to convince them we care? What the President wants to do won’t work for the Republican Congress. And no one in Congress or even our own Statehouse is anywhere near jeopardy of losing an election for any individual act of kicking the can down the road. At the same time, there is no jeopardy looming for any of them who choose to act either.
But still this is why we fight.
What happened in Roseburg, Oregon this week was a catastrophe. Roseburg is almost identical in size to Vincennes. I can only imagine my hometown’s reaction to something like this happening there. But getting back to perspective, this event of the century in that small town is the kind of shooting action that happens in an average American city like Indianapolis every month. The only difference is a negligible amount of time that it takes to accomplish it. And therein lies my point for the week.
Roseburg, Newtown, Columbine, Blacksburg and Vincennes are far less different from my city than we think. And mark my words, this mass shooting madness will come to an end someday. The only question I have is who will convince the gun people to take a step away from their own self interests to get momentum moving toward a more peaceful future.
I will never own a gun. I write that knowing that I have been in many situations in which having one would have made me, and me alone, safer. I am willing to live unarmed and influence as many people as possible to do the same so that maybe on my deathbed, things will be slightly better. And then my kids and theirs can take it from there.
This problem is unique to America among industrialized countries. It is unique, and uniquely horrible. No one knows that an Obama-type solution will or won’t improve things. What we all do know is that the status quo is killing us. I want to spend more time debating which solution to choose instead of whether we need to do something or not. And I feel true sorrow for those who feel that doing nothing is an intelligent or compassionate option.
Nicholas Kristof wrote in his column for the New York Times this weekend “a poll this year of even gun owners showed a majority supported universal background checks; tighter regulation of gun dealers; safe storage requirements in homes; and a 10 year prohibition on possessing guns by anyone convicted of domestic violence, assault or similar offenses.” The poll can be found at www.sciencedirect.com. So what are we waiting for? We are waiting for our congressman and legislators from the areas that don’t need to do anything for political purposes to do it anyway.
I just finished reading a column on the topic in the National Review that is pure fiction. It discusses how the 1996 Australia National Agreement on Firearms didn’t work there and an American version of it couldn’t work here. Nineteen years after that landmark law was enacted, Americans who are so scared their guns will be confiscated are coming up with new versions of what has actually happened there. Why? Is it because they don’t think it will help, or because they don’t want anything to help?
These people are fellow Americans. And their opposition to any attempt to do anything is shamefully unAmerican. Some of those people are readers of mine and they will explode over this column. From the bottom of my heart, I absolutely do not care. It is way past time to do something.
And this is why we fight.