I like shooting guns.
I was a kid, maybe 10 years old, watching and waiting as my grandfather tossed glass jugs upstream into the St. Francis River near Lennoxville. I’d shoot and I’d miss. No matter: I felt the rifle flinch against my shoulder, hear the clap of the .22 bullet exploding out of the barrel, the smell of gunpowder in my nostrils all at once. The day I actually hit one of those jugs, watching something smash from afar and knowing I did it, was pure bliss.
Twenty-five years later, Las Vegas. I was at an off-strip shooting range, an AR-15—the same gun used in the Newtown massacre—against the same shoulder. Bigger gun, bigger high: it was a boom, not a clap, and the spent shells peeling out of the chamber were about the size of my ring finger. The bullets I fired ripped through a paper Osama target at the other end of the gun range. In Las Vegas, a city that lives on the promise of narco-pleasure, this was as close to a sure thing as you can get: for a nominal fee, put very real bullets into a fake Osama, over and over, as fast as your trigger finger could manage.
Only after did it occur to me that maybe no one should be able to possess such a thing unless they were a cop, or a soldier—someone who might actually point it at a real Osama, if you will. But that was much later, in a cab back to the strip, when the euphoria had drained off.
So when second amendment rights types talk passionately about their guns, up to and in the wake of the dozens of America’s many mass killings, I get it. I get the obsession over fire and noise, the feeling of something very powerful in your hands, the giddy, gleeful sense you get from obliterating whatever it is you are aiming at. I get it that gun owners don’t only like firing their weapons, but talking about them, touching them, handling them, modifying them as well, with the same nerdy gusto of your average car enthusiast. Consider this Guns & Ammo blurb about a modified AR-15:
The boys at Moss Pawn and Ga., took a Smith & Wesson Muns in Jonesboro, G&P15 and pimped the ever-loving crap out of it, fitting the carbine with nine 30-round magazines — seven on the bottom, two on the side for storage — three lasers, three red-dot sights, a magnifier, four flashlights and a contour camera. All together, this behemoth weighs in at 23 pounds fully loaded. Hefty, sure, but it gets they [sic] job done.
And this is the greatest feat of America’s gun lobby. It isn’t its ability, against all credible evidence, to manipulate government into maintaining or loosening liberal gun laws. It isn’t its ability to play victim every time another mass shooting rolls around, or to pass the blame to something else—video games, immigrants, the lack of prayer in classrooms.
No, its real feat has been to take what is intrinsically amazing about guns, the power they give coupled with the dizzying euphoria of making something go kaboom from afar, draping it in the American flag and selling it to the country as something far nobler—a nod to the country’s bullet-ridden history, its rugged individualism, its wariness of authority of any kind. And the lobby has gone even further, convincing its members that government wants to get in the way of their precious little fantasies, and not because government might want to prevent its citizens from killing one another. No, it’s because government is tyranny, pure and simple.
Writing about July’s “Dark Knight” shooting in Aurora, Colorado, Guns Magazine’s David Codrea wrote how “enemies of the Second Amendment sense an opportunity to buck political timidity preceding the November elections, and to strike a crippling blow to the right to keep and bear arms.” Thankfully for gunowners, this paranoia is self-serving, because the natural solution to such a threat is to buy more guns. And buy they will: as Guns & Ammo recently trumpeted, gun sales reached a new high in November, following the U.S. presidential election.
This paranoia has also made for boffo political capital. According to opensecrets.org, the (very flush) National Rifle Association has outspent gun control lobbies by more than 10 times, including nearly $18 million during the 2012 election cycle. That 89 per cent of the NRA’s money went to Republicans in gun-happy states isn’t much of a surprise; what really speaks to the NRA’s lobbying chops was what the group managed to get done thanks to those who didn’t get any money.
President Obama didn’t get a cent from the NRA in 2012. In fact, the group gave nearly $9 million to anti-Obama groups. Despite this, and despite the fact many in the gun-rights movement consider him to be some sort of Kenyan-born antichrist/Muslim, Obama has “signed into law more repeals of federal gun policies than in President George W. Bush’s eight years in office,” according to Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
And as the New York Times recently reported, the Justice Department shelved background-check initiatives drawn up in the wake of the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. About the only gun-related legislation passed in the wake of a congresswoman getting shot in the head was by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who in May 2011 made the Colt Single Action Army Revolver the official gun of the Grand Canyon State.
Here’s a prediction. After its self-imposed blackout, the gun lobby (the NRA, especially) will be back as always, as it was in Columbine, as it was in Aurora, as it was after Virginia Tech, as it was after Giffords. And it will peddle the same formula of “more guns and fewer background checks,” along with the usual spiel about the necessity of a firearm on every belt. And as a result a nation will hesitate before it does the right thing—if it does anything at all. That’s pretty impressive for a movement founded on the power and sheer pleasure that comes with making stuff go kaboom. Pretty bloody, too.