Universal shock and grief over a single cataclysm like the mass slaughter of tiny children and their teachers would have been enough for most of our history to move a stubborn government to fix an evident and growing danger to society.
But no longer, and especially not when the object is guns.
The circulation of the weapons of war among the general population has been going on for 30 years with a rising toll of innocent lives year after year, but the opposition to doing anything to curb it has not subsided but grown more virulent. That is why President Obama, who had promised in 2008 to take steps to curb gun violence, did nothing for four years — long years punctuated regularly by demented or zealous men killing people randomly or by design in schools, churches, shopping malls and workplaces with weapons of slaughter that were made for and once confined to the battlefield.
Nothing that Obama conceivably could have proposed had the slightest chance of passing either house of Congress, but that was not the only reason for his silence. It was the realization that for a sizable population who saw gun regulation as the end game for America or civilization he had become the emblem of Armageddon. All you have to do is read the preachings of any of the many right-wing, paramilitary, white-supremacy or anti-Muslim groups about Obama's plan to take away people's guns and install a dictatorship. For that matter, follow the National Rifle Association.
Wayne LaPierre, its executive vice president, told cheering delegates to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington (shortly before Mike Huckabee had them cheering more anti-Obama ravings) that Obama had to be stopped because if he were re-elected he would abolish the Second Amendment and confiscate everyone's guns. The Obama confiscation is supposed to set the table for his establishing a dictatorship and bringing in UN troops to keep order and swarms of Muslims to run the country.
Who wants to do anything to excite those people when it would go nowhere anyway? No one can wonder why the president flies over certain parts of the country, like Arkansas. Remember Huckabee's joke at an NRA convention? When his speech was interrupted by a loud clatter in the rear he joked that it was Barack Obama diving to the floor to avoid a bullet from a gun owner in the crowd. What a card.
Sales of guns and ammunition soared after the 2008 election and they must be spiking again this fall. Across the Arkansas countryside, people are stockpiling ammunition for Armageddon. It didn't make the news down here, but the day before Adam Lanza killed his mother and 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook, Ct., police arrested a young man in Bartlesville, Okla., who had stockpiled ammunition and was plotting a mass killing at his high school, and the day after Sandy Hook police found 47 guns and $100,000 worth of ammunition in the home of a 60-year-old Indiana man who threatened to kill his wife and exterminate children in a nearby school.
This week there is new talk about standing up to the NRA, the Patriot groups and survivalists and enacting gun controls for the first time since Bill Clinton's brief and ineffectually written ban in 1994 on the sale of assault weapons, which lasted 10 years. Opponents will argue, successfully, that prohibiting the sale of AR-15 type weapons and bullets won't stop killings, although some history suggests that it could. When a gunman killed 35 people and wounded 23 others in Australia in 1996, the conservative government passed a law forbidding the sale of semi-automatic shotguns and rifles and bought back 600,000 guns. In the next 10 years, mass murders fell from 11 the previous decade to none, and homicides by guns fell by 59 percent and suicides by guns by 65 percent.
But not even the image of a first-grader riddled by 11 bullets from an AR-15 can provoke the government so hated by the right to do anything so radical as disappointing gun collectors and makers. Too many prefer Mike Huckabee's explanation for Sandy Hook: God let those children and teachers be killed because He was mad they weren't praying or else because America was tolerating homosexual lifestyles. He hasn't explained God's rationale for sanctioning all the slaughters in religious schools and houses of worship.
The right-wingers on the U.S. Supreme Court who said the Second Amendment gave people the right to own a gun also said the government was expected to regulate weapons for public safety, as the Second Amendment says and as the government set out to do from the very first, so the legal avenue is wide open when there is sufficient motive to act.
The founding fathers enacted tough gun laws, barring them to slaves and free blacks and to white men who did not swear loyalty to the American revolution. Until fairly recently, the NRA was the country's leading champion of gun regulation, though that was when the chief fear was radical blacks like the Black Panthers, who toted weapons openly and confronted the police and lawmakers in California with weapons at their sides. A worried Gov. Ronald Reagan demanded gun control.
After the Civil War, Southern states adopted Black Codes, which, among other things, forbade blacks to own guns.
Come to think of it, in the gun belt, a good black scare (where is Huey Newton when we need him?) could be the ticket to gun reform again.