We are not ordinarily pessimistic.

But when we watch what Congress is playing at re the fiscal cliff, and we once more we hear the NRA say “Now is not the time for legislation but for grieving,” we can begin to see the future.

This week we watched the House of Representatives in Washington fail at leadership. The house is unable to address the financial realities the rest of the country faces. It is uncertain whether at a later time they will find the courage to do so.

Then we watched and listened to the National Rifle Association’s effort at soothing national horror at the killings in Newtown, Connecticut. The NRA had announced it wanted to play an active part in solving recurring life-threatening situations, especially in our schools.

So — what is the NRA offering? In all seriousness, the NRA wants to be a bigger player in the world of unscheduled violence and in the governing of our weak-kneed country —after all, who was blamed for the Newtown massacre but film makers, video game makers, and most especially the media?

What the NRA wants is a role that would instantaneously arm more people with more guns all for the sake of safety.

In fact, the number of times the words “guns” or “firearms” was mentioned from its podium was very few and by indirection only. Far from accepting any responsibility for allowing three hundred million weapons to exist in the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, not to mention those who know how to use them responsibly, the NRA wants “good guys” with guns in every school in the nation. Further, the NRA offered to pay for their training as well as for planning with communities and school boards and local governments to bring all this wonderment to fruition, stopping short only of wanting (at least out loud) to arm every teacher in America.

In effect, the NRA wants to fashion itself into a fifth arm of the national government and thereby increase, not diminish, the numbers of weapons that can be used tragically throughout the country.

The tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut, has given us a blessing, in one terrible way.

Finally we have a chance to discover what matters to our country: guns, or life.

For forty years the National Rifle Association has had members of Congress in its pocket. Representatives and Senators alike have been fearful of opposing any gun control measure lest they be targeted for removal at the ballot box. Worse, this week, when asked for their thoughts about what happened in Newtown, Republican legislators refused to answer press questions until after the NRA had spoken. Talk about admitting in whose pocket you are!

After each national shoot-em-up, guns sales sky-rocket, ammunition sales explode. And the NRA, somberly, tells us it is too soon after the awful event to discuss changing anything.

What twenty dead babies have given us is the time to think about a million unrelated ideas.

In a way, the timing of this tragedy may be providential. After a summer of other incidents in which innocents of all ages were slaughtered and maimed, this back-to-school event takes us over the top.

Can we look at ourselves in a mirror and say, “It was ever so, and will ever be so?”

Are we so sure that the gun lobby is unassailable?

We hear, read and listen to commentators telling us that the country is divided between city mice and country mice. That in cities, for example, police may be called and are expected to arrive at a crime scene within minutes. In rural areas, however, as much as half an hour may elapse before the 911 call brings responders.

Therefore, for the sake of families, the elderly, and single women living in the country, to be armed is a natural way of life. To have a closet arsenal just makes good sense.

Whether or not one shoots for pleasure, for targets, for hunting, a family in the country just feels safer knowing they are prepared for the worst eventuality they can imagine.

One question now is, is there any middle-ground between country and city mice? If Charlton Heston had to have his gun pried from his cold dead hands, doesn’t that indicate a philosophical line that cannot be crossed by common sense?

Oddly, the most vivid defense we’re heard personally about the necessity for “packing heat” comes from a New York City dentist whose practice is centered around Columbia University. In his neighborhood, he shouts, he’d be a fool not to carry! Because those of us around the table do not have the same experience, we demur.

Commentators are searching for a gun advocate who can say with a straight face that he or she needs an assault rifle for target shooting or hunting. Our guess is that this person will be found, soon.

People with whom we’ve spoken in these past few days seem to agree that assault rifles should be banned, and multiple ammunition clips – say more than ten — should also be banned.

Here’s a question that begs to be answered although it’s likely never to be addressed: if an assault weapon ban is passed, what happens to the already 3 million assault rifles in the hands of our fellow citizens? Are they, and their ammunition, to be collected and confiscated? Unlikely. Would their owners be happy with a buy-back program, money that would reimburse them for their purchases at full price?  Dream on.

Sooner or later, and we think sooner, we’re going to hear the familiar cry from the NRA that any legislation that threatens the freedom of citizens to take advantage of the Second Amendment for their own protection is tyranny.

So what we may be facing is a question of freedom or death. Put another way, guns or life.

The president’s new commission under the aegis of the vice-president is a great start in a general discussion. Whether this can lead to concrete legislation that lessens the number of gun-related deaths in this country is another matter. While Mr. Biden has experience at just this kind of deal-making within Congress, can he transfer that skill to those not in Congress, i.e., gun-owners around the countryside who believe their personal rights are being assaulted?

What this face-to-face confrontation resembles more than anything at the moment is the dickering over whether families with incomes above a million dollars per year should be taxed at a slightly higher rate than others. That debate has come down to a pissing contest, which is exactly what the NRA has espoused as well. You know the line: “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Unless the American public, understanding the comparison between gun control and higher taxes, being argued at the same volume with the same amount of likelihood at being solved, decides it has had enough –not only of deadly inaction but of this Congress as well. And if the debate runs as it will into the next year, of that Congress, too.

Say one thing for the NRA’s press conference, to millions around the country every word made sense.

Congress is not noted for brave, idealistic members who are willing to fight for something in which they believe regardless of whether their careers end with this battle.

The president can, however, fill that slot. And it it he who can best deflect what sounded so rational coming from the NRA. Mr. Obama has an opportunity to save thousands of lives by sticking to his guns and demanding progress, real meaningful solutions.

The big question is simple: will he?


8 thoughts on “GUNS, OR LIFE?

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