Alexander Jones: A gun safety immune response?
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 22, 2022
or years, the United States has been divided into two nations, with one of them smaller than, but dominant over, the other. Nowhere has this imbalance been on clearer display than in the area of gun policy. Tragedy after tragedy has transpired without government action to prevent future mass-murders by firearm. But in the wake of the Uvalde atrocity, the silent majority for gun safety is finally applying the force of its influence.
To illustrate the extraordinary inequality in power between pro-gun absolutists and their large bloc of critics, consider public opinion. Surveys have demonstrated that over 90% of Americans support requiring background checks for all gun sales. The other big agenda items, an assault weapons ban and red-flag laws, command similar levels of support. It’s the intense opposition of those who do not just value, but downright fetishize, guns, deployed consistently and with single-minded determination, that has kept these measures or anything like them from becoming law. As is increasingly the case in our politics, an extremist minority is thwarting the safety-minded majority’s will again and again.
But for how much longer? In the wake of two tragedies in two weeks with 29 deaths between them, Congress seems, at long last, shamed into action. It’s no longer tenable even for Republicans to kowtow to the gun absolutists now that the horrors of an unregulated gun culture are on such conspicuous display. The consensus majority in favor of gun safety — always present, but until now focused on higher priorities — are now achieving serious traction for the first time in a quarter-century. Meanwhile, the gun absolutists morally tarnish their macabre movement with rhetoric like Mark Robinson’s in his recent threat to kill government workers with his newly purchased AR-15. (One feels sorry for his mailman.)
One must not understate the momentous significance of Republicans coming around to support gun-safety initiatives, even extremely modest ones. Up until a few weeks ago, the gun lobby seemed to have a tighter grip on the Republican Party than ever before. Guns were — and are — the ultimate symbol of conservative white-male authority, and that privilege is what Trump’s GOP stands for above all else. Now, a significant portion of the Republican U.S. Senate Conference, and even Mitch McConnell himself, have signaled the slightest willingness to defy the gun absolutists in the name of life and peace.
Perhaps, we dare to hope, not all is wrong in America’s soul. A country that would permit people — children most of all — to be slaughtered again and again from Columbine to Uvalde without intervention to stop the carnage has much to answer for in the universe’s moral logic. But an immune response to this moral virus, albeit tepid, seems to be emerging from somewhere in the national character. There are limits, apparently, to how many times a country so long infatuated with the gun is willing to watch its people die. Lincoln called this aspect of the American soul “the better angels of our nature.” On guns, those angels are gradually becoming a chorus that Americans badly need to hear.
Alexander H. Jones is a policy analyst with Carolina Forward. He lives in Chapel Hill. Have feedback? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.