The roulette wheel of gun violence
Some advice to clear up any confusion you might have over recent events in the land of the red, white and blue: Assume that everyone is armed and dangerous.
That includes my furtive neighbors, the grumpy mail carrier, the impatient patrons in the queue at Walmart and the overworked clerks, the road rage guy tailgating me on the freeway and, last but not least, the 6-year-old hanging on the monkey bars at my nearby elementary school.
Fortunately, I have only been shot at once. One would think that it would have occurred on the South Side of Chicago, where I grew up, but my American rite of passage happened in the mountains of southwestern Colorado. A drunk cowboy was crouched behind a pickup truck with his equally inebriated girlfriend. He took a couple of shots with his rifle in my direction, although he might have been shooting at my dog. Thankfully, his aim was off. For a moment my anger at someone trying to kill my dog overcame my survival instinct. I began running toward him screaming my favorite obscenities, but then I thought better of it. He eventually drove off. I never saw him again.
When my adrenaline subsided, I could hardly stop shaking. What just happened?
That was decades ago, before assault-style weapons became the weapon du jour of my fellow countrymen thanks to the efforts of the National Rifle Association, the lobbyist for the weapons industry and supplier of blood money for our spineless lawmakers.
The aftermath of the recent mass shooting in Monterey Park, Calif., in which 11 innocents died, follows the usual pattern of “thoughts and prayers,” pleas for common-sense gun laws and the usual pretzel logic of why those laws would unfairly infringe on our Second Amendment right to own military-style, human-killing machines.
Hold on, friends. Breaking news! Another mass shooting in California! Seven people gunned down in San Mateo County! Suspect in custody.
California state Rep. Marc Berman immediately tweeted the following: “Two hours ago I joined my colleagues on the Capitol steps for a vigil for the victims of the shooting in Monterey Park. Before we’ve even had a chance to mourn them, there is yet another mass shooting — this time in Half Moon Bay. In my district.”
Who can keep up? The new year is only a month old, and already we have had 55 mass shootings and 84 deaths, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.
The search for motives is cold comfort for the victims and their families. Known motives do not stop the next guy with a grudge and a gun from walking into his neighborhood Rural King and legally purchasing, say, a Sig Sauer M400 TREAD AR-15 rifle. This human-hunting weapon comes, according to Rural King’s website, “standard with a 16-inch stainless steel barrel which provides incredible shot to shot consistency and tight groupings.” Built right here in the good ol’ USA.
Incredible shot to shot consistency? What does that mean? A better kill rate? More bang for your buck?
As for the 6-year-olds in your life, for only 20 bucks Amazon offers the 21-inch AK-47 Kids Toy Machine with flashing lights, shooting sounds and vibration.
“Pull the trigger and watch the rifle light up with flashing LED lights throughout. While trigger is held down, the gun will continue to make exciting shooting sounds. … Perfect for pretend play and a great accessory for military cosplay. Ages 3 and up,” the product description reads.
Do those exciting shooting sounds include the screams of victims?
The roulette wheel of gun violence keeps on rolling, and all of us gathered around the table continue to lose. The house always wins. Awash in military-style weaponry, we nervously await the venue for the next massacre: school, church, mall, hospital, sporting arena, nursing home?
Nowhere is safe. Not even an airliner. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration confiscated more than 6,540 guns from passengers, a 10% increase from the previous year, and 83% of those guns were loaded. But be reassured. The TSA increased the maximum fine for a firearms violation to $14,950 from $13,910.
But that’s not all. If caught with a gun, you could even lose your TSA Precheck eligibility for at least five years.
I must say that with the kinds of harsh deterrents now in place, I feel as safe as I ever have. In other words, not at all.
This column appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of five books of essays and journalism, including “Going Driftless” and “West of East.”