Our “Peculiar Institution”

I’ve been writing these NTD News essays for a number of years and I’m sorry to say that I’ve written about today’s subject far too many times already. Once again, it’s guns. 

It’s been just a few days since the horrific slaughter of human beings in El Paso and Dayton. But in those few days we’ve heard pleas for action from the families of the shooting victims, followed by dozens of opinions from the right and left declaring what needs to happen next. 

The general consensus among those willing to support new gun laws is that universal background checks and “red flag” laws would each make a difference. I’m sure they’re right, and it now seems likely that such reforms have a good chance of being adopted.  

Gun bills passed by the Democrat-controlled House include such modest measures. Unfortunately, that legislation has been blocked for months by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his reasoning being President Trump would veto it anyway. However, these two most recent massacres, in states Republicans need to hold in 2020, could revise that position. And the fact is, polls show that a large majority of America’s gun owners favor substantive and sensible steps such as background checks.  

But still, a disgusting number of legislators (mostly Republicans) and the Trump White House remain reluctant to support any approach that might raise the campaign financing hackles of the National Rifle Association. So, this week they’ve come up with diversionary language that cites too many mentally ill Americans and violent video games as two causes of our frequent mass shootings. Both claims are false. 

To be fair, I would guess that even the most cowardly or closed minded Republican (unless he/she is psychologically incapable of empathy) does want to see the probability of future mass shootings reduced. But when it comes to taking a virtuous stand that could prevent future tragedy for hundreds, but might also endanger future reelection, those Republicans seem to be falling back on that legendary prayer: “Please God, make me good, but not just yet” 

It is also interesting that with this most recent pair of American mass murders, one right wing suggestion for combating crowd shooters has pretty much been missing: the idea that good people with guns stop bad people with guns. Although, I actually did hear one Republican politician spout that simplistic solution.  

The realities in both El Paso and Dayton clearly reveal that the above-mentioned politician is an idiot. The El Paso shootings occurred in a state that has some of the most permissive gun carry laws in America (and they are about to get even looser). So the odds are that several people in that Walmart had handguns. All any of them had to do was simply stop, aim and fire their handgun while the shooter sprayed the crowd with his AK 47 style rifle. — Would you? 

And in Dayton the fallacy of guns carriers countering a shooter was made even clearer. Within 30 seconds of the first bullet fired, the Dayton shooter, Connor Betts, was shot dead by off-duty officers — good people with guns. However, during the 30 seconds before Betts was killed, he got off enough shots to end the lives of nine people and wound 27 others.  

Betts had a .223 caliber high capacity military style automatic rifle with a 100 round drum magazine, and he had more magazines with him ready to use. According to the NRA and their gun manufacturer sponsors, this is weaponry that every American with “a clean record” has the right to purchase.  

How is such an insane situation allowed to continue? — The NRA and the people behind them want it that way. 

The NRA was created in the post-Civil War years to improve the marksmanship skills of Americans – especially northerners. They’ve sure come a long way since then. Over the years they successfully built the image that they exist to protect the gun rights of hunters, marksmen, freedom loving Americans. Meanwhile, they’ve become the politically savvy lobbying arm of the manufacturers of guns. 

At the most basic business level, gun manufacturers are no different from makers of bowling balls, bicycles or brassieres. Manufacturers exist to sell their products and gun manufacturers make weapons. They cannot remain viable without new sales and profits every year. Year after year. 

The NRA and their gun-maker overlords do not want to have another national discussion about whether assault weapons or high capacity gun magazines should be banned. If they can keep the range of reforms down to procedural changes and new layers of paperwork, I suspect they can live with it. – Besides, they know that procedures will be handled with different degrees of difficulty in different states. The subject of how many people can be killed in seconds by their products is a discussion they’d like to avoid. 

The NRA and the politicians they control do not want the public and their legislators going directly after the real problem in America — the proliferation of high-powered weaponry in the hands of tens of millions of people.  

In the years before the Civil War, a former South Carolina congressman and U.S. vice president referred to slavery as “The peculiar institution.” Those benign words labeled a terrible aspect of American life.  

With an estimated 393 million guns circulating in our nation of 330 million people, it may be time to start referring to guns as 21st Century America’s “Peculiar institution.” This is definitely not our finest hour.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973