Two years ago this month, I wrote a column after a mass shooting — the one that happened in Tucson — predicting that nothing would change. Arizona gun stores were already reporting record sales of the firearms and large-capacity magazines used in the attack, because gun-worshippers were afraid that government tyrants would rip those products from the shelves. They needn't have worried, I wrote:
"The Tree of Liberty won't be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It will be watered — over and over — with the blood of police officers, public officials and 9-year-old girls."
As it turns out, that was too optimistic. Of the 20 children gunned down in Newtown, Conn., last month, none was older than 7. And maybe this horror is too great for the status quo to remain unchallenged.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey — hardly a profile in courage where guns are concerned — says his wife has convinced him to do something about the availability of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Gov. Tom Corbett, echoing other Republicans, said such shootings were a "mental-health issue" — a remarkable concession, considering his 2012 budget proposal sought to cut more than $100 million in mental-health spending.
But leave it to National Rifle Association Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre to lay the hammer down. On the one hand, LaPierre said in a Dec. 21 speech, killers such as Adam Lanza were "so ... driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them." Then LaPierre purported to do just that, blaming "a national media machine that rewards [killers] with ... wall-to-wall attention." He also faulted video games and violent movies like Natural Born Killers — products of what he called a "corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people."
This from an organization whose "celebrity spokesperson" is Chuck Norris, whose cinematic heroics have included firing a grenade launcher into another man's torso. But OK: Let's demand some answers from those who promote a dystopian, ultraviolent vision of society. Right after we hear from Hollywood, we can seek testimony from Fox News and the gun lobby. Their influence, I'm willing to bet, is at least as powerful as that of Killers, which was released in 1994, when Newtown shooter Adam Lanza was still in diapers.
Lanza got his weapons from his mother (and first victim) Nancy; according to her sister, Nancy Lanza stockpiled firearms because she was a "prepper" — part of a movement that stockpiles supplies to prepare for the collapse of society. Jeffrey Lee Michael, the Central Pennsylvania man who gunned down three people on the very day LaPierre gave his press conference, was reportedly "obsessed" with prophecies predicting the end of the world. Richard Poplawski, who shot and killed three Pittsburgh police officers back in 2009, was a devotee of Glenn Beck; a friend told journalist Will Bunch that "Poplawski had been obsessed with ... the need to stockpile food and even toilet paper for a societal breakdown."
Is it fair to blame doomsday prophets for the acts of isolated madmen? Probably about as fair as blaming Grand Theft Auto. After all, people in lots of countries have guns and violent video games. But how many have a mainstream political movement that sees tyranny everywhere — in health-care reform, gay marriage and efforts to restore the tax code to what it was 15 years ago? These are people who warn about the collapse of society ... while laying in the supplies to help bring it about.
LaPierre's response to the Newtown shootings — more armed guards in schools! — is a case in point. LaPierre has referred to law enforcement as "jack-booted thugs" ... and now he wants them patrolling the halls. Right-wingers already accuse public schools of being brain-washing centers for government oppression — arming the educators likely won't assuage their fears. In trying to stave off one nightmare, school officials will be fulfilling another.
I actually don't think right-wing rhetoric causes mass shootings; it just prevents us from talking about them, or anything else, sanely. And that's really what we're up against, here at the start of 2013. In last year's election, we rejected the ultraconservatives' vision for our country. This year, we'll have to confront the nightmare they're causing instead.