(Once more with feeling: Because of the syndication deal, this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)
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NATIONAL GRACE AND DISGRACE
BY BOB FRANKEN
I have been trying to get my thoughts and emotions around what the Aurora, Colo., massacre says about the United States. Thinking, for me, is always an ongoing struggle, but here goes: First off, a great part of the response demonstrates how largely we can be “united.” The sympathy from most of us, manifested in the individual kindnesses and memorials, shows us off at our best as we come together in collective mourning.
President Barack Obama reflected all that is good about his fellow citizens by traveling to Aurora to meet with the families and act once again, in the face of all-too-frequent national horror, as “consoler in chief.” And so did Mitt Romney, who took just the right tone in supporting the president’s trip as “the right thing” to do. Their actions and words showed that even a brutal campaign can be set aside briefly for gentle dignity and simple humanity.
Sad to say, these tragedies can bring out the worst in some of those who have managed to occupy an undeserved spot on the public stage. Congressman Louie Gohmert comes to mind. The man is an embarrassment even in the world of politics, getting elected from an East Texas district where a majority apparently celebrates his moronic extremism.
It’s on display constantly. Gohmert was one of the Republican House members who joined Michele Bachmann to send a letter accusing Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of having ties to a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the government. And just a day or two later, there he was, attributing the movie house slaughter to “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs,” pandering to the harshest theocrats. Even worse, he went on to wonder: “With all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying? That could have stopped this guy more quickly.”
What is scary about that was not just the possibility a shootout could have added to the carnage. What is really frightening is that millions of Americans agree with Gohmert.
They buy into a tradition of guns that stains our history. It extends to weapons that are built for warfare. We cannot even pass restrictions that keep firepower for mass extermination out of the hands of the depraved and insane.
Why are lobbying organizations like the National Rifle Association so able to intimidate our supposed leaders? Why are both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney so timid that they are unwilling to take on this insanity, even after an explosion of deadly violence? Is Aurora meaningless when it comes to politics? The Gabby Giffords attacks? Columbine?
The national paranoia that fuels such an attachment to personal lethal protection also is reflected in so-called Stand Your Ground laws that were so gruesomely exhibited at the time of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. It is the same state that refuses to come up with prohibitions on concealed weapons for those around the Republican Convention in Tampa, where feelings run so high. The city is concocting some severe restrictions on protesters in the name of security, but packing heat won’t be covered for those with permits. That will be allowed. That’s crazy.
It is true, as the NRA says ad nauseum, that “guns don’t kill, people do,” but guns, even those with such devastating power, are too easily available to anyone, no matter how evil and/or psychopathic.
They are terrorists, and we allow them to legally arm themselves. It is not enough that we can mobilize to pay tribute after a senseless tragedy and show our best. Refusing to address our laws that provide minimal protection is equally senseless. Rallying around to pay tribute to victims displays our finest instincts. Our attachment to guns reflects our worst instincts.
© 2012 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.