If this seems blindingly obvious to me, I know that in publishing these words I will likely receive letters from people who disagree and accuse me of being a “gun grabber.” It’s happened before when I’ve written about gun control. I am proudly, and solidly, in the camp of those who simply can’t understand why it is easier, in this country, to buy a gun than it is to get a driver’s license.
Why wasn’t Cho Seung-Hui prevented from buying deadly arms?
Democrats have concluded that the issue of gun control has cost them elections. A lot of Americans in important swing districts believe they have a constitutional right, perhaps a God-given right, to bear arms, and if a candidate favors any restrictions at all on gun ownership, they’re against him or her. The National Rifle Association, according to The New York Times, has built its fearsome reputation by demonstrating conclusively that it can defeat candidates it targets. Boom!
Any restriction on gun ownership, many Americans believe, is improper, even if easy access to guns makes it all-but-inevitable that there will be incidents like the massacre at Virginia Tech. To those who believe in the right to bear arms, it’s a price worth paying, I suppose.
But I just don’t get it.
How untimely that the Virginia Tech incident comes just when there are some signs that the Culture Wars are abating. Guns, God and gays: these are the issues where Americans simply can’t find common ground. I am one of these Americans. I just don’t understand why anyone thinks it’s a good thing that Cho Seung-Hui was able to purchase weapons. And I don’t get why anyone thinks it’s a bad thing if gays wish to marry. Or why Christianity has anything at all to do with government. But I recognize that those on the other side of the great cultural divide don’t get what I don’t get. To them it’s equally obvious that gays are immoral, and that gun ownership is a fundamental human right, and that America is a Christian nation, whatever that means.
I’ve given up hope that we’ll ever have effective gun control in this country. Someday my child, or yours, could be a victim of random gun violence. We carry on only by accepting the ubiquity of firearms as a fact of American life, like lightning that could strike us or someone we love, at any time.
How did this happen? the 24-hour new channels ask, over and over and over, consulting experts in psychiatry and crime in their endless coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre. Why did this happen? they ask the killer’s former roommates.
But isn’t it obvious? I want to shout back at the TV. The guy was psychotic! How complicated is that?
It’s all just a distraction from the real public policy issue of gun control, a subject that is off the table, undiscussable. From a psychological perspective this is nothing more than denial. No, no, the issue is not guns, our pundits and politicians would have us believe, it’s something mysterious, something inaccessible, something worthy of hours and hours and hours of talk. Let’s not think about guns and our society’s inability to control them. Let’s talk instead about the nature of evil. Now that will get us somewhere!
It’s enough to make you think that the real psychosis at the root of the problem was not Cho Seung-Hui’s. It’s much worse: a social psychosis. We Americans just can’t get real about guns.