The news has sucked this week. From the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday, to poison ricin discovered in the President’s mail, and the explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, has any stretch of five days better epitomized life in post 9/11 America? Fear, violence, explosions, and chemicals. As I write this, my Twitter feed buzzes in the background; the city of Boston remains on lockdown as police engage the surviving suspect of the bombing.
Yet as Dennis Lehane wrote in an Op-Ed in The New York Times on Tuesday, we’ll recover from acts of terror like the marathon bombing, our spirits intact. To me, the worst news in this week of bad news was the seemingly soulless failure of U.S. Congress to act on what could have been a preventive measure against acts of domestic terrorism, by failing to pass legislation controlling and limiting the sale of firearms.
On Wednesday, a bill sponsored by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (of West Virginia) and Republican Senator Pat Toomey (of Pennsylvania) which would have required background checks for gun purchases online and through private sales failed to pass the Senate with the required 60 votes. The bill would also have banned military-style assault rifles. While critics have said these measures would do little to impact the threat of violence in schools, the bill saw overwhelming support by the American public, and would have at least been a step toward more comprehensive gun reform.
Why did this happen? How can we, as a society, allow inspectors to scan and rummage through our bags when we board plans, mount surveillance cameras through our cities to monitor criminal activity, and demand that the professionals who work in our children’s schools go through a screening process, yet find discomfort in restricting gun sales and availability?
Obviously because money is at stake — big money from gun manufacturers, supplying the military, and lining the pockets of our legislators. This is the “Iron Triangle” at work, the relationship between the military, the industry that builds tools of war, and the U.S. Congress that empowers both, an idea President Eisenhower spoke about in his farewell address, at the time speaking of Cold War fears. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” Eisenhower said. An influence still at play today in the influential gun lobby and NRA.
But while Cold War fears imagined nuclear death raining from the sky as nations went to war, today’s fears are smaller, more insidious. These acts of terror come without warning from politicians. Instead of heightened rhetoric on the news, there are YouTube videos and Facebook photos we don’t see till after the fact. Forget armies; bombs are laid and triggers pulled by poor men from countries we know little about and might not even be able to pronounce, acting on impulses many of us can’t understand. Or else they are the result of sick individuals, psychologically damaged young adults who literally shoot their anger into the crowd.
The knowledge that our Monday afternoons or Tuesday mornings might be disrupted with extreme acts of violence — shootings in malls, movie theaters, and schools, bombings at public gatherings meant to be celebratory — hangs over our heads everyday. There will always be holes in our defenses for terrorists, whether international or domestic, to take advantage of. Our job is to tighten them as much as we can within reason, and without sacrificing our liberties, and I believe the Manchin-Toomey gun legislation was an entirely reasonable step toward doing so.
As I write this, reports are coming in that at least one of the terrorists in Boston posted photographs of assault rifles online, but whether or not that’s the case, it doesn’t matter. There will be more acts of violence on the horizon, more horror stories for our children to grapple with, more mornings, like this one, where moms and dads find the world crashing in through their radio or television, paralyzing them with the fear that their children are growing up in a country where mass acts of violence have become commonplace, and where they feel helpless when having to explain to their children that destructive people are out there, and they have big guns.
This situation has to change. We have to keep this in mind when the issue comes to the fore again, as President Obama promises it will. We have to keep it mind in the next election cycle, and the cycle following that. Parents need to demand gun reform.
I’ll end with a quote from former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords moving Op-Ed in yesterdays The New York Times: ”Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.”