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Craig Frucht | Axes to grind

A national pastime

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 02:02

 

For as long as we could remember, both political parties had maintained a deafening silence on the issue of gun violence. Throughout the entire 2012 presidential campaign, the subject came up exactly once, in a question from an audience member during the second debate. Both candidates ducked the question.

Everything changed on Dec. 14. It was impossible for it not to. When a gunman uses an assault rifle to shoot his way into an elementary school and murder 20 first-graders and six educators, it is impossible to stay silent about such an obvious national failing: We have too many guns, and there are too many ways for people to get their hands on them.

The immediate response from the gun lobby was predictable: Don’t politicize a tragedy. That’s a self-evidently terrible argument. Politics, far more than it is about feuds and sex scandals and gamesmanship, is about making laws that improve American lives. The question of how to spare innocent children from being shot to death, like it or not, is something that must be taken up in the political arena. Saying not to politicize a problem is essentially demanding that people refrain from proposing solutions to it.

Yet too often, liberals who have so often spoken up for much more radical-sounding causes — granting amnesty to illegal immigrants, allowing men to marry men — have let fears of being seen as “political” cow them into silence over common-sense gun regulations. The aftermath of these mass shootings has always unfolded the same way: The idea, “gun control,” gets broached, but then gun activists play the victim, politicians get panicky and public discourse shifts to something else.

In the wake of the Columbine High School shooting, Americans focused on bullying. After Tucson, we endlessly debated violent political rhetoric. Last summer’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., perhaps because it occurred during the heat of election season, was hardly talked about at all.

That hasn’t been the case with Sandy Hook. The facts this time are so inexpressibly horrific that it’s impossible not to search for answers, and so unambiguous that to focus on anything other than guns feels like an obvious misdirection.

So gun control is on the docket now. And the response from gun activists has been a spectacle to behold. Dozens of sheriffs have signed statements promising to ignore any federal gun control legislation that they feel “violates the Constitution” — a completely unconstitutional position in its own right. Radio host Alex Jones threatened on live television that “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms.” Phrases like “tyranny,” “Hitler,” and “Communism” are being thrown around so much they’ve lost all meaning.

That should remind us that firearms have a long, romantic history in the United States. Guns are objects of a beloved tradition that dates back to the Revolutionary War. That fact in itself doesn’t mean we should keep guns around — far from it — but it sure as hell makes them hard to get rid of.

President Obama took the commendable — if not especially courageous, considering he will never face another election — step of calling for sweeping gun control regulations. He enacted a few nominal changes through executive order, but the heart of his proposed package — mandatory background rechecks, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and a crackdown on gun traffickers — must get through Congress.

Support for gun control legislation is at an all-time high. That means little, however, for the congressmen who must be willing to antagonize the all-powerful National Rifle Association if anything is to get done. But if ever they needed motivation for looking beyond their next campaign, they’ve got it now.

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Craig Frucht is a senior majoring in political science and psychology. He can be reached at Craig.Frucht@tufts.edu

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