Monday, October 29, 2018

Intolerable Inaction

My feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration at this nation for allowing violent acts to continue leaves me numbed by each new atrocity.  Numb enough to be once again pushed into a paroxysm of grief and anger.  But not numb enough to be silent. 

First, let’s get something clear:  The U.S. has never been a safe place for people of color or for people of different faiths.  From the witch trials of the north, to the klan night riders in the south, and to the abuse and mistreatment of first peoples from 1492 onward, the history is unambiguous.  So please don’t be shocked that there are people in this country who hate enough to harm others and to do that without provocation.  

It may be hard to acknowledge, but hate-fueled action has been a consistent feature of every era.  Just ask the Jews who were attacked by the mobs incited by Father Charles Coughlin in the New York of the 1930s.  Or the victims of “race riots” where White mobs attacked Black communities with impunity from the mid-1800s into the 1940s.  And it’s not just faith that people use to attack others.  Let’s not forget the killings of Matthew Shepherd or Harvey Milk.  Violence toward people who are different has been our history.  Let’s own that.  And let’s keep working to confront and eradicate it. 

What’s definitely gotten worse is the means by which people who hate can carry out their acts.  The evil attack at Charleston’s Emanuel AME and the one recently at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life were carried out by men who were able to transfer their hate into the trigger and magazine of an assault-style weapon.  Access to such weapons means that a lone actor can inflict significantly more damage than in past generations.  Through the 2008 Supreme Court Columbia v. Heller decision that overturned 200 years of precedent, the nation has accepted a revised understanding of the Second Amendment to mean something that the authors of the Second Amendment never intended.  And here we are again.

So maybe we can’t soon change the minds of people intent on hate – at least I’m convinced that we can’t do it quickly enough to prevent the next tragedy.  But we can, as other civilized nations have, limit access to a weapon of war that even military professionals can’t touch until they complete extensive training.  So as we’re countering the debased public ramblings and veiled hate speech from a president who should be leading us, let’s also stop putting weapons of war into the hands of people who hate enough to use them.  By all measures, when the nation banned assault weapons for a decade, the number and scope of mass assaults was reduced.  It’s time to demand that these weapons are once again banned.