Another gun massacre in America and what happens? People spring into action, buying up guns and ammo in case Congress gets any smart ideas about imposing new limits on building up a personal arsenal. The gun rush is a case of mass paranoia since there is about a zero chance of lawmakers reacting with a raft of new gun control measures, except possibly to shield themselves. Republican Rep. Peter King of New York intends to sponsor a bill to bar people from carrying guns near a lawmaker or other high-profile government official. But tough luck for the rest of us, unless we are able to stay within 1,000 feet of a congressman at all times.
The National Rifle Association likes to portray itself as under attack — it's good for fundraising and member recruitment. But the cold-dead-hands lobby is the most successful political advocacy group since General Motors helped found the American Highway Users Alliance to push for federal highway construction. It faces no opposition beyond the halting efforts of a handful of Democrats in safe congressional seats. Congress won't even limit gun sales to terror suspects on the government's watch list out of fear of NRA ire.
Gun purchases soared after Barack Obama was elected president over fears that the Democrat would take away the guns. It didn't happen. Though renewing the assault weapons ban had been a campaign promise, Obama didn't really push for it once in office. His aides claimed there weren't the votes for passage. Yet, as we've since learned, had that law been on the books, Jared Loughner, the alleged Tucson gunman, would not have had access to the high-capacity magazines that mowed down so many victims.
Meanwhile the Republican Party is so pro-gun that owning guns is a qualification for party leadership. "How many guns do you own?" was a question posed by conservative guru Grover Norquist at a recent debate for the leadership of the Republican National Committee.
Former Bush administration official Maria Cino answered "none," followed by the same response from then-Chairman Michael Steele. These answers elicited no response by the audience. But when Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, declared that he had five, the crowd broke into a loud, boisterous applause. Then, he was quickly upstaged by Ann Wagner, former Missouri GOP chief, who said excitedly: "I may surprise y'all, but we just got a new gun safe for Christmas, and I think there are about 16 in there — everything from pistols and a Glock to shotguns, rifles. And my son, who's on the combat team at West Point, has an all-out assault rifle." And finally, with the contest for biggest, baddest collection of weapons already lost, former Michigan GOP chair Saul Anuzis said somewhat dejectedly: "I'm very inadequate at four." Friday, the gun-owning Priebus beat out the bereft Steele to win the RNC chairmanship.
Now let us compare that display to the attitude toward guns reflected by Swiss army soldiers in a recent BBC news report about the future of the country's compulsory military service. New inductees told the camera bluntly how opposed they were to war and weapons. "I don't see a war for Switzerland, I don't like all this stuff, all this shooting, I don't think Switzerland needs an army," said one.
"I don't like the gun," added another. "I don't think I'll ever shoot anyone, and if someone told me to do that I would run, and throw my gun away."
Can you imagine the uproar had these young men been American? There would have been calls by high-ranking politicians for their court-martial. Their pacifism would have been loudly and viciously condemned, potentially putting their careers and personal safety at risk.
In America, peace lovers are considered dangerous and detestable, while those who stockpile arms tout it as a credential to lead a major political party. Maybe if we reflected more on that backward bias, 97,000 people wouldn't be shot every year — most of whom are not federal officials.