No More Silence
As we approach the one–year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, there is no point pretending this has been an easy twelve months in American culture and politics. A horrendous act of unspeakable proportions, the killing of twenty 1st graders and six teachers initially served as a wake-up call, an opportunity for the USA to follow the example of its fellow “western” counterparts, the United Kingdom and Australia, who responded to similar massacres by passing legislation to prevent future such tragedies. (Such legislation has proven highly successful.) In the weeks and early months that followed the Newtown atrocity, a vast number of people called out to Demand Action of their elected leaders to make their country safer, knowing that Adam Lanza’s crime was but the most visible of a gun violence epidemic that claims the lives of 30,000+ Americans a year. (This number does include suicides – which is a vital part of the conversation about our violent culture and the easy access to guns.) Sadly, despite some progress at State level – though in which direction depends on which State you live in, and how you define “progress” – our Nation appear impotent in acting to protect its residents.
Every credible poll continues to show that the vast majority of Americans support common sense gun legislation, and the majority of the Senate earlier this year did indeed vote for expanded background checks, a modest action that would nonetheless have helped save lives. Sadly, the Republican minority in the Senate once again used the filibuster (the requirement of a 60% super majority) to kill the bill, while the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has flatly refused to as much as discuss the matter. When I went to my Republican Congressman, in person, armed with factual evidence that I handed over to him so that he knew I was not being merely anecdotal, he dismissed the entire issue by saying, “I can’t see anything out there that will work.” As far as he seemed concerned, that was the end of the story.
But it’s not. Sandy Hook served as the impetus for a number of grass roots organizations, dedicated to fostering a more peaceful American society by reducing our dependence on guns. Perversely, Sandy Hook also served as the impetus for a number of grass roots organizations to emerge, dedicated to fostering a more violent American society, not merely by increasing our dependence on guns but by their rhetoric. The battle over the issue – and I hate to use that word, but it’s necessary here – is being played out in large part in public where, for example, a small group from Moms Demand Action who had made the “mistake” of announcing a public strategy meeting at a Dallas-area diner in Texas, found themselves combatted by a group of mainly men, but also women and children, exercising their legal (in Texas) ‘Open Carry’ right by brazenly displaying about two-dozen semi-automatic rifles, outside in the parking lot. It’s a battle of intimidation also being played out on the Internet and, specifically, on social media, where what have come to be known as Gun Huggers and Gun Bullies spend large parts of their day either responding aggressively to Tweets that use recognizable hashtags like #GunSense or #DemandAction or by visiting “opposing” Facebook pages to share their own perspective.
These #GunBullies clearly had their marching orders long before Sandy Hook. Why else, on December 14 last year, did someone completely unconnected to my Facebook page, someone who had never shown up before and fortunately, did not show up again, interrupt our collective mourning to talk about incontrovertible Second Amendment rights and how, what with murder being a crime in Connecticut and all, surely we already had all the laws we needed?
Since then, I’ve studied these peoples’ tactics and noticed that they follow a clear pattern: They begin by ignoring the empirical evidence presented in a post or article or study, though sometimes the less disciplined acknowledge it by simply saying they don’t believe it (God Forbid you should use a study quoted by the “liberal media” like CBS or NBC or CNN, let alone the New York Times or the Guardian); they quickly try and shift the conversation to one they can control, usually by offering a statistic or anecdote of their own, one that frequently doesn’t stand up to fact-checking; they try and employ a sympathetic moral equivalence in the hope of portraying themselves as ultimately like-minded (a current favorite is comparing attempts at common sense gun legislation with racially-motivated voter suppression); and when all else fails, they can all too often be found shouting, perhaps threatening, and certainly mischief-making.
Examples? A grand one would have been, earlier this year, when WNYC host Brian Lehrer was, rarely for him, caught out by the President of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the NY equivalent of the NRA, who employed every single one of these tactics to great effect, leaving the fact-checking of his own strong assertions about non-existent studies to a follow-up show. On a more comedic level, this past Friday, the opening response to a Tweet I shared about gun manufacturers seeing a 2/3 increase in profits since Sandy Hook used the wonderfully elementary (aged) assertion “You Started It!” And the previous day, a Facebook group entitled Revolution New York (not to be confused with the New England MLS team of a similar name) took a break from calling President Obama a Muslim, a Communist AND a Nazi, by falsely announcing that our school district had sent home a ‘Gun Ownership Survey.’ I can’t think why they picked on us, though a single phone call or e-mail to check as much would have saved many other people a lot of mis-spent time and energy.
Read this article in the New Republic, and you’ll understand why those who believe in having a national conversation about this epidemic, who support common sense gun legislation, who want to save lives – including those of the 9 women a week shot and killed by an intimate partner, often with guns purchased on the pretext of protection against burglars; including those of small children who too easily find loaded guns lying around the house and inadvertently and accidentally kill their siblings, play friends and even their parents; including those of inner-city children and adults caught in the cross-fire of drug wars; and so on – have become a sadly silent majority. If you’re a simple working mother, trying to practice good in the world, trying to get on with people, trying to keep your children up to date with their homework and their sleep and their food and their various extra-curricular activities, why would you want to step into the mine-field that is the gun debate, knowing that you’ll very likely end up being abused for your opinion, and quite possibly threatened as well?
Fortunately, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense In America will not be intimidated any further. Nor will Moms Rising, Newtown Action, the Sandy Hook Promise, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Campaign to Unload, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, nor the many other groups who are frequently provoked by open hostility. Newtown Action is launching a week-long “Acts of Kindness” today. And the brave women behind Moms Demand Action have chosen to commemorate the first Anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre with the campaign slogan No More Silence. I stand with them. I hope you will too.