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A Nation in Denial

When Is the Right Time to Discuss Gun Control?

On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump once again echoed an NRA talking point, saying that now wasn't the appropriate time to discuss gun control. If America doesn't face up to some inconvenient truths, that time will never come.

A Commentary by in New York

AFP

When is the right time to discuss America's obsession with weapons?

Thursday, 10/5/2017   10:18 AM

The White House called it the "heroes meet and greet." U.S. President Donald Trump spent just short of four hours in Las Vegas on Wednesday to pay his respects to the victims of Sunday's massacre. He visited with the wounded in a hospital, met with first responders and vowed that "you never want to see it again, that I can tell you."

When asked about gun control, though, he merely replied: "We're not going to talk about that today."

But when will that conversation take place? After the dead have been buried? Following the next mass shooting? When the horrors of Las Vegas have been forgotten? What moves you to collective action if not the senseless deaths of dozens of fellow human beings? When is the appropriate time? Sadly, the answer is: In the U.S., that time might never come.

Twenty children and seven teachers were killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Nothing changed. Forty-nine revelers, many of them gays and lesbians, died last year at the Latino nightclub Pulse in Orlando. Nothing changed. Six people were shot at a Congressional baseball practice this June, among them Representative Steve Scalise. Nothing changed.

That stasis, that lack of change in the face of horrific mass shootings, will continue for as long as people refuse to recognize the dishonesty of the entire gun debate in America.

"The answers do not come easy," Trump said. Yet they are perfectly obvious. The U.S. has seen 313,000 gun fatalities in 10 years, with more than 1,500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook alone. The country has the most lenient gun ownership laws in the Western world. No other country exhibits such statistics. And no other country could change things more easily.

Some Inconvenient Truths

Instead, the same rituals are trotted out each time: flags at half-mast, vigils, moments of silence and skyscrapers darkened "in solidarity." The life stories of the victims are told and the heroism of the rescuers lauded, dutifully recounted by the media to sad stock music.

These brief moments may temporarily unite the country in pain. But that unity is fleeting - and it most certainly does not extend to the debate over gun control. That issue cannot be discussed. It is instead automatically reduced to ideological reflexes that smother any true conversation: pro versus contra, Republicans versus Democrats, gun lovers versus gun haters. Those seeking political benefit simply pour fuel on the fire. On the campaign trail, Trump frequently repeated the lie that Hillary Clinton "wants to take your guns away." His supporters would chant back: "Lock her up! Lock her up!"

The issue is much too complex for such a simplistic approach. But to tackle it successfully, the U.S. must first admit some inconvenient truths:

First: The gun debate is shaped by racism. Guns were long considered an element of white privilege. The Ku Klux Klan arose from posses who took guns away from African-Americans. The National Rifle Association (NRA), America's extremely powerful gun lobby, has a majority white membership. If whites invoke the Second Amendment, they are considered patriots while if blacks do so, they're thugs. If whites commit mass murder, they're "lone wolves." If non-whites do so, they're terrorists.

Second: Statistically, Christian Americans present a greater threat to average Americans than Islamist fanatics. But rather than addressing this - often right-wing extremist - domestic terrorism or even calling it by name, the president prefers to issue travel bans for Muslim-majority countries.

Third: The NRA - which donated more than $30 million to Trump's presidential campaign - is not a citizens' group, it is the gun industry's lobby. Its henchmen are conservative politicians who keep the laws lax in exchange for campaign donations. This week, they had planned to debate a bill to ease regulations on gun silencers - out of concern for the hearing of gun owners. The debate had originally been scheduled for June 14, but it was postponed after the baseball shooting, arguably to wait for the return of Steve Scalise, who limped back into Congress for the first time on Thursday. It has now been postponed again - presumably to wait for national ADD to return.

Fourth: Stricter laws alone won't do it. But addressing the intricate causes of gun violence - including terrorism, mental-health issues, dysfunctional families, America's class system, growing hatred on all sides and others - continues to be taboo. So, too, are imaginative solutions such as "smart guns," which include biometric "safeties" to ensure that only the weapon's owner can fire them. Congress long ago canceled funding for such research anyway.

Fifth: The Democrats don't do enough either. They bemoan the status quo but don't find the courage to speak out clearly. Even in Las Vegas, some politely stuck to platitudes. "Las Vegas is a safe place to visit," proclaimed Steve Sisolak, chairman of the Clark County Commission and Democratic candidate for mayor of Nevada, hours after the attack. "We encourage everybody to come here."

Among those visitors will be the attendees of several gun shows scheduled for the near future. In two weeks, for instance, the Cashman Field Center, an exhibition complex just north of downtown Las Vegas, will host the Crossroads of the West Gun Show. Two days of shotguns, handguns, knives and other weapons for an entry fee of only $14 per person. Children under 12 get in for free.

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