Craziness. Literal insanity. Those words easily come to mind when faced with people who meticulously plan and carry out systematic mass murder. People like former North Carolina resident and white supremacist Wade Page in Milwaukee, Jared Loughner in Tucson, Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech, James Holmes in Aurora, Col., and whoever will be next in our national parade of violent psychotics. Craziness also describes our mainstream frame of mind these days — an essentially dysfunctional one that accepts the inevitability of heavily armed nutcases slaughtering people at will and refuses to even consider keeping guns out of the hands of homicidal maniacs.
Talk about crazy, no sooner does someone propose making it harder for the seriously cracked among us to buy powerful firearms than National Rifle Association supporters scream that what we really need are more guns in public places. I can't count how many times I've heard some delusional soul spout that if only a few people in that Aurora theater were packing heat, they could've taken care of Holmes and his modified, 100-round, AR-15 semi-automatic.
To put it mildly, a Wild West shootout isn't a vision of American life many of us share or want to be part of. Yet the NRA's death grip on discussions of gun violence is such that no one really expects our supposed leaders to do a damned thing to curb crazies' ability to buy powerful weapons. This horrific, mind-boggling state of affairs is a direct result of our so-called "representatives of the people" and their craven spinelessness. Although poll after poll, including last week's CNN/ORC poll, shows that nine out of ten Americans are in favor of laws preventing people with mental problems from owning guns, the NRA's money and lobbyists will kill any attempts to do anything so sensible. Of all the cowardly decisions made by political leaders of both parties, the failure to defy the honchos of the NRA and enact restrictions on gun ownership may be the most destructive.
Believe me when I say that I'm not writing this as a "gun hater." I grew up around guns. My grandfather hung a shotgun over the door between his living room and kitchen; my father liked to target practice with his .32 handgun. And as I've written before, two of my uncles were great examples of sensible gun owners. They only used their rifles and shotguns for hunting and kept them locked up during off-season. Target practice for them was a rarity ("Why waste ammo? Either you can shoot or you can't," Uncle Will would say). Of course, these were country men, comfortable with themselves, part-time farmers who built barns and could repair anything in sight. They didn't need their guns around to feel "manly."
Unlike some liberal friends, I don't assume that everyone who owns and shoots guns is a Neanderthal savage. But to be frank, there are such things as "gun nuts," and the most uncompromising gun aficionados have seemed increasingly unhinged lately. Their torqued-up paranoia is a match for the wild rhetoric coming from Wayne LaPierre, honcho of the NRA, which at one time was a sane gun collectors' organization but slipped off the rails a couple of decades ago.
Gun collecting, hunting and the aesthetics of firearms are part of America's culture, whether anyone likes it or not. Even though I don't share the fascination, I'm fine with that. But let's at least be honest about guns. Most firearms owners are responsible people, but it's just plain goofy to assume all of them are. No one needs a damned assault rifle besides soldiers, and you certainly don't want crazy bastards like James Holmes to have access to them — or any firearms for that matter, much less being able to effortlessly buy them online, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition.
What's needed is courageous, sane leadership, something we're not getting from elected officials these days. After the Colorado killings, and again after the Sikh temple murders, President Obama essentially said the same thing: This is sad, terrible and tragic, and we need to do some soul-searching to find ways to reduce violence. That may be, Mr. Prez, but we also need to see some real leadership on gun violence from you and the rest of the D.C. crew.
As always, it's up to you and me — you know, "the people" — to tell our supposed representatives that "soul-searching" isn't a solution to the madness America finds itself in. Call them up, email them, put the pressure on lawmakers, and remind them that they're servants of all the people, not just of NRA lobbyists. Anything less than a frontal attack on this issue by the American public is just crazy.