by Sam Allard
Let’s say knife headlines are everywhere. Let’s say there’s been a notably savage incident in recent weeks, and let’s say it was savage enough to have inspired a political response.
Let’s bear in mind that basically everyone is a knife owner. We’ve all got sharp stuff in our kitchen drawers, right? Steak knives, fish knives, apple peelers. But we all likely meet the expectations for responsible knife-ownership without even thinking about it.
Let’s say, though, that the knives which have been used in knife attacks are of a trademarked and highly suspect ilk. They’ve been dubbed “Assault Knives” by those in the know but in fact they’re more like swords. They’re big, fat, almost industrial pieces of equipment that must be hefted upon one’s back a la Final Fantasy VII. They have zero practical uses. Deployment as cutlery or camping accoutrement would be preposterous even in the realm of practical joke.
In this alternate universe, let’s say the proposed political response is aimed only at these humongo-knives: weapons, recall, which have “Assault” in their official name.
That any American who uses knives every day — to cut her meat, say, or to gamely scrape up the dregs of his strawberry jam — would feel personally affronted by said legislation is absurd.
But the firearm narrative in the actual US of A is nearly identical. This weekend, the online community “Guns Across America” hosted rallies in state capitals. An estimated 900 people turned out in Columbus. The peaceful protests were supposed to be demonstrations against the initiative to reduce gun violence which Obama unveiled last week. But the only thing they demonstrated was a profound misunderstanding of the cause (and “rights”) they theoretically espouse.
The gun argument that resonates with most conscionable folks in principle — even if they don’t agree in practice — is that the actions of fringe citizens shouldn’t dictate the fate of a much larger group. (Children who lose recess privileges because a phantom farter refuses to identify himself can relate with crystalline precision.)
Had Obama unveiled a proposal to revoke all gun ownership or to repeal the second amendment wholesale, protests would have made perfect sense. And not because doing those things is necessarily a bad idea; it’s just that doing those things wouldn’t have been a commensurate reaction to the gun violence we’ve seen lately. It would look a lot more like the “liberal agenda” gun-rights teamsters are saying Obama’s trying to advance.
To a certain extent, embittered protest is the flagship of our partisan democracy, but Obama’s proposal is something everyone really ought to be getting behind.
The congressional action items include things like $30 million in grants to help schools develop emergency response protocol; $20 million to expand a system which tracks violent deaths; programs to train police officers and school officials in the event of armed attack; financing to expand mental health programs for young people.
Even the gun-specific elements seem like no-brainers: A background check requirement on all gun sales; reinstating a ban on assault weapons; banning possession of “armor-piercing bullets” and magazines with 10+ rounds for non-military personnel.
Yet in the thick of all this activity, people have been buying guns like they’re going out of style. Injuries at gun shows in North Carolina, Indiana and Medina, Ohio — the same day as the protests — testify to the absurdity of the craze.
In Medina, a buyer accidentally pulled the trigger on a semiautomatic handgun and injured his friend, a 62-year-old man, who was taken to Cleveland for immediate medical attention. An officer on duty there said the magazine had been removed from the weapon, per regulation, but a single round remained in the chamber.
It’s obvious that for a lot of people there’s something very appealing and self-gratifying about gun ownership. Some of these people want to hunt. Some of them want to blow off steam at the range every once in a while. A lot of them want to protect their families and view a firearm as a sensible means to do so. But very few of them want to hurt people.
And what vocal gun-rights activists haven’t considered — if the signage on Saturday was any reasonable indication — is that Obama’s plan may ennoble their cause by further legitimizing gun ownership and non-violent usage. It’s almost as if these protesters didn’t know what they were protesting.
Without meaning to disparage, my sense is they didn’t. We’re in the unfortunate habit of assuming that people with whom we typically disagree are, by political instinct, out to get us. But in this case, I think it’s safe to say we’re all on the same team.