Why Have We Stopped Talking about Guns?
Bt Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
You know by now that in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, an elderly white supremacist and anti-Semite named James W. von Brunn allegedly walked into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with a .22-caliber rifle and killed a security guard before being brought down himself. He's 88 years old, with a long record of hatred and paranoid fantasies about the Illuminati and a Global Zionist state. How bitter the bile that has curdled for so many decades.
You will know, too, of the recent killing, while ushering at his local church, of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country still performing late term abortions. Sadly, this case was proof that fatal violence works. His family has announced that his Wichita, Kansas, clinic will not be reopened.
You may be less familiar with the June 1st shootings in an army recruiting office in Little Rock that killed one soldier and wounded another. The suspect in question is an African-American Muslim convert who says he acted in retaliation for US military activity in the Middle East.
Soon, however, these terrible deeds will be forgotten, as are already the three policemen killed by an assault weapon in Pittsburgh; the four policemen killed in Oakland, California; the 13 people gunned down in Binghamton, New York; the 10 in an Alabama shooting spree; five in Santa Clara, California; the eight dead in a North Carolina, nursing home. All during this year alone.
There is much talk about hate talk; hate crimes against blacks, whites, immigrants, Muslims, Jews; about violence committed in the name of bigotry or religion. But why don't we talk about guns?
We're arming ourselves to death. Even as gunshots ricocheted around the country, an amendment allowing concealed weapons in national parks snuck into the popular credit card reform bill. Another victory for the gun lobby, to sounds of silence from the White House.
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, wrote - just days before the Holocaust Museum incident - that "rather than propose concrete action that makes it harder for dangerous people to get firearms - while still respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners - all Washington can seem to muster after high-profile shootings are 'thoughts and prayers' for the victims and their families.
"For his part, the President has also included sincere expressions of 'deep sadness' at these tragic losses - though without any call to change any of our policies to prevent those losses."
Yet, as a presidential candidate, Obama pledged "our determination to do whatever it takes to eradicate this violence from our streets, from our schools, from our neighborhoods and our cities. That is our duty as Americans."
The fact is, neither party will stand up to the National Rifle Association, the best known front group for the arms merchants. In Virginia, just across the Potomac River from the Holocaust Museum, this week's Democratic primary for governor was won by state legislator R. Creigh Deeds, a man who supports allowing concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol and opposes limiting handgun purchases to one a month.
After Wednesday's shooting, a conservative organization immediately offered those of us in the media a chance to interview the founder of "Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership," whose expertise, it was said, is in helping people understand why gun control doesn't belong in a civilized society.
The e-mail went on to say, "Your audience will appreciate [his] non nonsense common sense talk that will make them wonder why anyone wants to ban guns in the first place."
Thanks, but no thanks. And no thanks to his counterparts among Christians and Muslims who use every violent shedding of blood to try to promote the worship of guns. Guns don't kill people, they say. People kill people. True. People kill people - with guns.
So let the faithful of every persuasion keep their guns for hunting and skeet, for trap and target practice, for collecting. They can even have a permit for a gun to protect their business or home, even though it's 22 times more likely to shoot a member of the family (including suicides) than an intruder.
But please, there are already some 200 million, privately owned firearms in America. Every year there are 30,000 gun deaths and in some years more than 400,000 non-fatal, gun-related assaults. The next time someone wades through a pool of blood to sidle up and champion the preservation of firearms, can't we just say, no thanks?
Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.