If ever there was a time to act on the shocking levels of gun violence in the United States it would be now.
Yesterday two people were shot dead and nine were injured near New York's world famous Empire State Building. Thirty minutes earlier the city's mayor Michael Bloomberg had been on the radio talking about guns. There are too many guns on Americas streets, he claimed. Then he tackled a common bit of sophistry beloved by the far right:
'The argument, 'Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,' is one of the most disingenuous things you can say. It does take a person to pull the trigger,' he told WOR.
'We kill 34 people a day in this country with illegal guns,' he added. 'The costs to society, all of us are paying for this. People don’t understand, because of the police needed and the hospitals and all of this stuff, and people are afraid to go out and shop and everything.'
But it seems that there's no vitally important political issue that can not be demagogued and handily dismissed by the right wing here. They're masters of the art of bait and switch. It doesn't matter how life and death the issue is.
Health Care for the 50.7 million uninsured? Well that's just Barack Obama's fiendish plan to turn the United States into Soviet Russia. Creating a social safety net is simply unpatriotic communism.
Healthy diets, excercise? That's the nanny state come to force you to eat your spinach. That Michelle Obama talking down to you.
Gun control? Well cars kill people regularly, see, so does that mean we should outlaw cars? Take your government hands off my Lexus.
It doesn't matter that these are all false analogies. What matters is that they make you temporarily stupid. You have taken the bait and the argument is switched.
And then a day goes by. And then another.
What helps American conservatives defend the status quo here is the remarkably short term attention span of both the mass media and the public. Goldfish nurse grudges longer, frankly. For an outsider it's hard to say why American's can't seem to maintain their focus on a pressing social issues until it's successfully resolved, but I have my theories.
I suspect that for most Americans the struggle for existence is so hard, so full of anxiety and foreboding, that they simply don't have the time to address the nation's pressing ills. Their daily lives are so stressful, they fear losing their jobs, they fear losing their health care, they fear - as Bloomberg observed - that some nut could shoot them on their way to work. All of the most pressing issues that American citizens confront each day turn out to be so pressing that they don't actually have the time to address them.
The Americans have a saying, you can't get there from here. It could describe their political process too.
Abroad, we don't realize how hard the average American worker actually works. That discovery is a shocking thing to us. America is thought of a nation of wealth and global dominance, but it's secret is that that wealth has been generated by the hardest working people in the history of the world. And they don't see much return for all their toil. They're far behind Canada and Europe in economic mobility. There's no real safety net to speak of. People, on both the right and left, feel angry and exposed, but for different reasons. A resentful stalemate is the result. So they lock their doors and they keep their heads down. The challenges are so big they seem insurmountable. They don't tell you any of that on the tourist brochures.
Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, has all time in the world to reflect on Americas epidemic of gun violence. He co-founded and is co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a growing association of 700 mayors who advocate new gun laws and for stiffer enforcement of existing ones. It has become his signature issue but Washington does't want to know. Bloomberg and those 700 other mayors will have an uphill struggle against the all-powerful gun lobby, who can silence presidents and presidential candidates, after all.
The gun lobby live in an alternate Harry Potter reality where selling AK-47's to the general public is not seen as a problem. In many states assault weapons are just a Google click away if you want to buy one.
Screening out gun buyers with mental health issues is nearly non-existent here. So-called 'private sales' in more than 40 states allow you to buy guns without undergoing any type of screening at all. In 2009, according to the UNODC, 60% of all homicides in the United States were perpetrated using a firearm. No other developed country in the world deals with such depressingly high statistics.
It's not 1776 anymore, but the second amendment permits gun enthusiasts to guard against the tyranny of the government. We all need to gear up to fight the second American Revolution apparently. Hey, it could happen. That's why we should all have access to high powered assault rifles. Here's a typical conservative diatribe in favor of gun rights that I found online (you'll find a ten thousand just like it in two Google clicks):
'To all of you ignorant gun ban pussies. you don't like the second amendment? you don't like people being able to defend themselves? shut your s--t stinking mouths or go find another country to live in. Great Brittan is a pussy country with no guns, so is Australia, among others, pick your place to be vulnerable to crime and go there and die. goodbye and good riddance. "we the people" will never allow our 2nd amendment right to be taken, not ever, even if it means civil war, and it will be the low life liberals like all of you that we will be after. you can count on that. We are taking our country back. this is not your country. oh by the way take your atheist's and homo freaks with you.'
As long as people this extreme set the national agenda, and they currently do, the status quo will go unchallenged.
And then a day goes by. And then another.
Mr. President do your job, stop the cheap racial shots