Was the killer of a 9-year old honor student, a judge and many others, "of the right" or "of the left?" Did he shoot a congresswoman because of his anti-government ideology? Or was he just nuts? Those questions may never be resolved. But one thing is certain: the killer used a weapon that no American should ever have the right to carry in public outside of law enforcement, and no American with even a hint of mental problems should ever be allowed to buy a weapon like that either.
There is one group of activists who have made sure reasonable Americans -- of both parties -- have no voice when it comes to guns.
I own two guns; a single shot ten gauge shot gun and a single shot .22. Both are used from time to time (rarely) re woodchucks decimating my garden. My son became a Marine, scored "expert" in his rifle qualification on Parris Island, fought in Afghanistan and came home. I'm proud of him. I'm not anti-gun. Some of my books are used as text books by our military.
I'm a gun owner but not a supporter of the NRA, let alone of the gun lobby.
To me the word freedom means freedom to go to church or not where I want, freedom to educate myself and my family, freedom to vote, freedom to have access to my elected representatives, freedom to speak my mind. It does not mean freedom to own, use, collect and play with the sorts of weapons that only make sense in the hands of Marines like my son when they are at war, but no sense whatsoever in the hands of civilians.
One point: whoever is to "blame" other than the shooter -- if anyone -- the right and only the right has steadily supported is America's insanely permissive gun "laws." The right owns them.
One truth no one can deny: the Second Amendment indeed guarantees our right to own weapons, but nowhere does it guarantee the right to own, carry and use what in the modern era of semi-automatic multiple shot weapons are exclusively weapons of mass destruction.
Who in their right mind thinks it's a good idea to allow someone to carry a handgun with a 30 round clip in public, anywhere, ever? Who in their right mind wants a young man like the alleged shooter Jared Loughner that the Army wouldn't take and a school kicked out for trouble making having access to such weapons?
Whoever the killer was motivated by, right, left, Fox, News, the Village Voice or Vogue Magazine, whatever, (or just "voices") why did he have that kind of weapon?
Answer: the NRA.
Who let the NRA succeed in intimidating America into accepting the "fact" of such guns in the hands of killers as somehow inevitable let alone "constitutional?"
Answer: The NRA's base.
Who is that "base"?
In that sense the right owns this tragedy. In that sense all the political leaders telling us they are praying for the victims yet who received high marks from the NRA for their voting records on guns are complicit.
I own a guns. I don't carry my guns to political rallies to make a "point," as did some Tea Party folks last summer. I don't wave a "Don't tread On Me" banner in one hand and a gun in the other. I don't carry a firearm to presidential rallies and wear a T-shirt with the same words Timothy McVeigh proudly wore the day he blew up the Oklahoma government offices. But there are people who do. And the weapons they carry are a lot more like what my son was using to shoot our enemies than anything any Founding Father ever owned!
I don't think I should have the "right" to carry a handgun in public, as one can in Arizona and a host of other NRA-influenced (dominated?) states spiraling into insanity. And I don't think guns are cute or fun. And nor does my Marine son, who won't even own one as a civilian given his wartime experiences. As he said to me after returning for multiple deployments: "Dad, I've seen enough guns to last me a lifetime."
As (political psychologist and neuroscientist) Drew Westen brilliantly put it:
Whether they are owned and operated by the NRA, too cowardly to take on the NRA for fear of being defeated in the next election, or misled into believing that the average American is as psychotic as the man who opened fire in Tucson (i.e., that most Americans can't tell the difference between hunting deer and hunting people, or between a hunting rifle and a semi-automatic), our leaders have either faithfully served the interest of Smith and Wesson and the gun lobby or failed to oppose them. The result is that the country has shifted to the right on gun safety, which is what naturally happens when the right is vocal and the left is frightened and silent.
But even today, if you simply speak to ordinary Americans in plain English, they do not believe in the NRA's interpretation of the Second Amendment...
Consider a message colleagues and I tested with two large national samples of registered voters, which beat a tough conservative anti-regulation message on guns by 20 points with both the general electorate and swing voters:
Every law-abiding citizen has the right to bear arms to hunt and protect his family. But that right doesn't extend to criminals, terrorists, and the dangerously mentally ill... We need to use some common sense in deciding what kind of weapons we want on the streets. I don't know any hunters who keep stockpiles of munitions in their basements, and I don't think the Founding Fathers had AK-47s in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.
Another message beat the conservative message by 40 points with Independent voters, by beginning with a simple statement of principle with which voters across the political spectrum agree if they simply hear it enunciated:
My view on guns reflects one simple principle: that our gun laws should guarantee the rights and freedoms of all law-abiding Americans. That's why I stand with the majority who believe in the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns to hunt and protect their families. And that's why I also stand with the majority who believe they have the right to send their kids to school in the morning and have them come home safely.
Or consider yet another message, which began as follows:
Every law-abiding American has the right to own a gun to hunt and protect his family... But you don't need an assault weapon to hunt deer, and if you do, you shouldn't be anywhere near a gun.
Americans get it, if you just speak to them like adults.
None of these messages is a "hard left" message on guns -- a message that might better fit the sensibilities of (and be more appropriate for) New York City, Connecticut, Massachusetts, or much of the West Coast. But these are messages that win all over the heartland -- and even win in some unlikely places, like the Deep South and the West -- because they aren't about taking away the rights of law-abiding gun owners. They are about protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens, whether they own a gun or not...
If our elected officials are in the pockets of those who would allow the shooting of their colleagues with semi-automatic weapons with no legitimate civilian uses -- while mouthing platitudes about their concern for their colleagues -- it's time to call their bluff.
Guns don't kill people. Cowards and lobbyists do.
I don't feel my freedom depends on the right to own a semi-automatic weapon with a 30 round clip. I don't think gun shows, gun dealers, or people who own combat weapons are protecting me or my country. In fact I know my real freedom is curtailed by the fools who have empowered the NRA and the weapons companies they shill for and the political "leaders" who pimp for them all.
Forget the left/right politics for a moment. Forget Sarah Palin's "cross hairs" and Fox News anti-government crusade. Whoever our latest mass murderer was or is or turns out to be: Gun laws in America are off the rails. Want to blame someone for that? Blame the NRA.
How about freedom from the sorts of weapons that no one hunts with, that you don't need for home protection, and that are only "good" for one thing: murder? How about freedom to own guns in a reasonable manner and from the NRA?
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of the forthcoming Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway