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The Big Truth, Part 9
The Second Amendment vs. the Second Commandment.
About This Series
I am not a Democrat. Haven’t been since 1980. If I had a political affiliation, it would be Despising the GOP, which has become the American Fascist Party. As such, I have, for practical purposes, come to rely on Democratic victories to save the republic from Nazis, demagogues and the Christian Taliban.
Which is why for years I’ve been utterly infuriated by the Democrats’ inability to communicate the stakes (and the truth), while the opposing Party of Lies endlessly dwells in thirst traps of reactionary unreality.
Why the Dems refuse to message systematically until the cusp of Election Day is an ongoing mystery, though they have often claimed the voters care only about pocketbook issues — and now, finally, abortion rights — versus the jagged noise of the 24-hour campaign. There may be truth in that, but the upshot is ceding the Great Political Message Board to the GOP, which beams a steady flow of disinformation into a near-total vacuum of dis-disinformation.
That’s insane. First of all, policy and legislation do not wait for the three months before the polls open every two years. Secondly, while the Democrats sit on their hands, repugnant lies take hold. As we saw in the debt-ceiling clusterfuck, once again the GOP held hostage the full faith and credit of the United States while blaming the administration for the crisis, when objectively the opposite was true.
And so, for what little it matters, I’m stepping in. This will be the last of nine columns examining crucial issues long since clouded by laughably dishonest Republican propaganda in the service of authoritarianism, racism, antisemitism, anti-secularism, nationalism and pandering-to-the-stupidism. My mission: to distill GOP depravity to its essence, one spurious lie at a time.
The Fourth of July has come and gone, and with it an astonishing spectacle of fireworks: 16 mass shootings in 13 states and the District of Columbia killing 15 people and injuring 100.
What could be more American?
The answer follows, beginning on the other side of the world with some
heartbreaking numbers: The suicide rate in Australia is 11.3 per 100,000 population.
Statistically speaking, of the 839,192 attendees at this year’s Australian Open tennis tournament, 95 will eventually take their own lives.
Though the number is by itself shocking, it reflects the average suicide rate in Western industrialized countries. And as such, though no magical metric, it’s a convenient way of evaluating the mental health of a society. In Belgium, the suicide rate is 13.9 per 100,000 population. In Canada, 15.3. Croatia, 11.0. Germany, 12.8. India, 12.9. Japan, 12.2. Norway, 11.8. New Zealand, 10.3. Ukraine, 17.7. These statistics document the ubiquity, in the modern world, of the troubled mind.
Now I shall list the rate of shooting deaths per 100,000 (latest data 2016) for the same 10 countries: Belgium, 1.40. Canada, 1.94. Croatia, 2.83. Germany, 1.04. India, 0.30. Japan, 0.02. Norway, 1.48. New Zealand, 1.24. Ukraine, 1.36. In Australia, the rate is 0.88. In that tennis tournament turnout, seven spectators are statistically expected to die by gunshot. Please note the ratio: 7 is less than 96.
And the United States of America? We have a suicide rate of 14.5 per 100,000 population, and a shooting-death rate of 12.21 per 100,000. Should August’s US Open enjoy the same turnout as Australia, by the same math 102 attendees could be expected to die by firearm. Again, a telling ratio. 102 funerals vs. Australia’s 7. If there were a Japan Open attracting that crowd of nearly a million souls, the gun-death toll would not even be 1.
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I mention this to raise a question: What was Texas Gov. Greg Abbott talking about after the grade school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, that last year claimed 21 lives, 19 of them little children?
We, as a state, we, as a society, need to do a better job with mental health … Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge, period.
What was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talking about?
It seems to me there are two broad categories that underscore the problem, mental illness and school safety.
What was Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally talking about? “The superficial ‘motives’ for these crimes (white nationalism, Islamic Jihadism, vengeance, etc.) are various,” McNally told Axios. “The true common threads are mental illness, social isolation and dissolution of the nuclear family. That is where we must focus.”
And after the deadly mass shooting in February at Michigan State University, what the fuck was Michigan Republican legislator Steve Carra talking about?
Our country has had firearms in the homes of Americans since its inception, but these cowardly acts of violence against unprotected students are a recurring issue in recent history. What has changed recently that has provoked this? Our nation has a mental health crisis, society has become Godless, the traditional family model has been abandoned, and increasing laws meant to protect us from gun violence have only backfired by leaving our children vulnerable.
I think you’re getting the gist. Over the bloody decades, and after every spasm of mass gun murder, the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association have offered many specious arguments against gun control. Second Amendment rights. Outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns. The best defense against bad guys with guns is good guys with guns. You can’t legislate against evil. Gun rights are our best protection against government tyranny.
You know the litany. But lately the Republicans are leaning especially on one talking point: gun violence isn’t a gun problem; it’s a mental health problem.
No. Not only not true, but — as the above gun-death statistics dramatize — vastly, obscenely not true.
“Mental illness does not drive gun violence,” April Zeoli, associate professor of health management policy at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, told the Michigan Advance. “People often look at shooters who commit these horrific acts and assume that they were not in their right mind because they committed these horrific acts and that is simply not based on evidence.”
The evidence, according to research published in the Annals of Epidemiology: “Mental Illness and Reduction of Gun Violence and Suicide: bringing epidemiologic research to policy,” is that 96% of gun violence is not the product of mental disturbance.
What it is the product of, Gov. Abbott, is the United States — one country out of the world’s 195 — possessing more than 393 million guns, representing fully one half of the firearms on Earth. (As you put it, “Period.”) That’s why we have 50,000 gun deaths per year. That’s why 5,000 of the victims are children. That’s why, as of July 4th, there have been 351 mass shootings already this year.
That unfathomable carnage is also the product of sleazy, lying, greedy, manipulative, cynical, reactionary, opportunistic and ultimately murderous politicians doing everything in their power to prevent any gun-control (i.e., public health and safety) measures of any kind, no matter how obvious and reasonable and no matter how many bodies pile up. And when I say “sleazy,” in this case I mean ostentatiously and hypocritically invoking mental health while leading the state with the highest per capita gun ownership but lowest access to mental-health care in the United States. Greg Abbott, I'm looking at you, asshole. In fact, as NBC reported a month before Uvalde, Abbott cut more than $200 million from the Texas state mental health budget. And this was the guy who in 2015 tweeted:
I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans. @NRA
He didn't seem so embarrassed in 2018, when a 17-year-old entered Santa Fe (Tx) High School and shot 10 people to death. Or in 2019, when a self-described white nationalist killed 23 at a Texas Walmart with a WASR-10 assault rifle. Or two weeks later when a fired worker went on a shooting rampage with an AR–15 assault rifle and murdered 7 human beings in Midland and Odessa.
In the wake of those shootings, Abbott and the Republican state house passed not one single gun restriction into state law. Just a lot of thoughts and prayers — oh, and one urgent piece of legislation permitting adults to carry guns, including assault rifles, in public without a permit. The next year saw the bloodbath at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School: 21 dead by gunfire from an assault rifle.
Which is why the 2nd Amendment movement is so often called a death cult. But what makes it stand apart from, say, Jonestown, Guyana and Heaven’s Gate, is that this one is unwaveringly embraced by the Republican Party.
MISSOURI: This year, House Republicans blocked a bill that would have revised a 2017 law permitting minors to openly carry guns on public land without adult supervision. The same law — which also permits concealed carry without a permit, safety training or background check — had originally been vetoed by then Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. But House Republicans quickly overrode his veto. The proposed amendment would have simply mandated adult-supervision for an AR-15 toting 12-year-old, but had the support of only one Republican in the House. The other 110 didn’t want the tyrannical government to oppress Missouri citizens. As state Rep. Bill Hardwick told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I just have a different approach for addressing public safety that doesn’t deprive people, who have done nothing to any other person, who will commit no violence, from their freedom.”
WISCONSIN: House Republicans gutted gun-safety measures from the budget proposed by Democratic Governor Tony Evers. No wonder. It was filled with draconian impositions on Wisconsin patriots, such as universal background checks, extreme-risk protection orders (so-called “red flags”), grants for suicide and violence prevention and tax exemptions for gun locks and safes. Gestapo stuff, basically.
To gun lobbyist Nik Clark, president of Wisconsin Carry, such basic safety measures are silly. “You won't reduce crime taking away the rights of, and long-standing due-process constitutional protections for, the law-abiding citizens,” he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal. “Felons caught with guns should go to prison. That would be a deterrence.”
IOWA: In April, the Republican majority — fresh off of three 2022 mass shootings, including ones claiming the lives of high school and college students — passed a bill allowing guns in vehicles on school grounds.
U.S. CONGRESS: A year ago, in the wake of massacres in Uvalde and Buffalo, NY, Congress miraculously passed what Forbes called “the most significant gun legislation Congress has passed in decades.” Significant? Yeah, everything’s relative.
The biggest provision was $11 billion for, of course, mental health programs (see above). The bill was stripped of a mandate for people to be at least 21 to buy an assault rifle. It was stripped of mandatory waiting periods for gun purchases. It was stripped of a provision to ban high-capacity magazines on semi-automatic rifles, like the AR-15. The NRA declared it just more “interference with our constitutional freedoms.” Donald Trump said any Republican vote for the bill would be “career ending.” Of them, 242 paid heed. In the Senate, 14 Republican senators voted for the bill, 34 against. Among 222 House Republicans, only 14 voted for the bill.
Perhaps shamed, like Gov. Abbott, before the pitiless gaze of the gun-cult deities, House Republicans rushed right back into action to overturn a Biden Administration regulation tightening rules on pistol braces, which are attachments that effectively turn a semi-automatic pistol into a rifle. One was used by the alleged shooter in the 2021 killing of 10 shoppers at the King Sooper food market in Boulder, Colorado. The Senate, with its thin Democratic majority, did manage to block the Pistol Brace Protection Act.
But, if we’re looking for the creamy center of Republican sentiment, let’s face it, that legislative-obstruction stuff is pretty arcane. The A+ ratings from the NRA are nice and all, too, but some Republicans want to put a more relatable face on their craven disregard for human life. Such as choosing the birthday of Jesus Christ to reaffirm their faith in firearms. Last year, Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn) posted a Christmas photo of his family brandishing assault rifles, much like the one used by his constituent in gunning down three children and three adults in a Nashville Christian school.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky) did, too, tweeting: “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo!” Evidently, Santa Claus did just that — for Connor Sturgeon, a 25-year-old who in April opened fire at his Kentucky workplace, killing 5 and wounding another 8.
And then there was the enchanting Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo), posing with her small children, each armed to the teeth. Her state is the proud home of 11 mass shootings since 1993, including the infamous 1999 Columbine H.S. massacre. The death toll there was 15, which once upon a time was the bloodiest school shooting in U.S. history. Since then, there have been 386 American school shootings and it is now merely in fifth place. Mom of the year, that lady.
Much of this has to do with simple bribery. The NRA has for decades spent millions financing Republican candidates. As tracked by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the payoffs are astronomical: Mitt Romney (R-Utah) $13.7 million; Richard Burr (R-NC) $7 million; Roy Blount (R-MO) $4.6 million; Thom Till (R-NC) $4.4 million; Marco Rubio (R-FL) $3.3 million; Joni Ernst (R-IA) $3.1 million. I myself, while spending the day in January 1995 with brand-new U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono, met an NRA lobbyist eager to have a word with him. The man did not even flinch when I asked him why he was present in Bono’s office before the freshman was even sworn in. “Just wanted to remind the congressman who put him here, and what his responsibilities are,” he said.
But then there is the matter of pure political pandering. Whether they have been inculcated by decades of rhetoric, or are simply natively irrational, rank-and-file GOP voters are the beating heart of the cult. In a 2021 study, the Pew Research Center found that Republicans are twice as likely to own a gun than Democrats, and that they broadly support the expansion of concealed carry, of arming school teachers and staff and of shortening waiting periods for gun purchases. They overwhelmingly oppose banning assault weapons, or even a ban on high-capacity magazines. Mind you, consider the cohort. According to polls, 70% of Republicans believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. And the Public Religion Research Institute found that 25% of them agree with the following statement:
Satan-worshipping pedophiles running a global sex-trafficking operation control the U.S. government, media and financial institutions. A storm is coming to sweep away the elites and restore the rightful leader of the country. And things are so off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save the country.
It is a sickness, often a mortal one, spread by the deluded faithful of a perverse ideology — from state legislators to Fox News Channel to the United States Supreme Court. The Republican dominated SCOTUS — not content to merely unwind civil rights law, erode the separation of church and state, overturn Roe v. Wade and permit dark money to flood into political campaigns — has also given us Heller v. District of Columbia, which interprets the Sacred 2nd Amendment as empowering any citizen to own any gun for any reason. No “well regulated militia” necessary. Because, like “clairvoyant” con-artists running the seance grift, they somehow read the minds of our long-dead founders. But assuming they did not, in fact, possess the psychic power to divine past thought, they certainly should have seen the inevitable future.
Subsequently, neo-Nazi Dylann Roof stormed the Charleston, SC Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and murdered 8 Black neighbors at their bible study group. White nationalist Payton Gendron, armed with a Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle, mowed down 10 Black shoppers in Buffalo, NY’s Tops Friendly Market. Patrick Crusias entered an El Paso Walmart with his WASR-10 and murdered 23 people in order to stop the “hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Sorry, Governor Abbott, stigmatizing the 20% of Americans with mental-health disorders does not address your party’s growing racist-piece-of-shit problem. Or your growing shot-to-death-Texans problem. As previously addressed in this series, people murdered by gunfire disproportionately live in states where the cult is strongest. Now I know Republicans are incapable of acknowledging actual data (see “climate change” and, once again, “mental health,” above), but the numbers don’t lie: these loathsome political opportunists are killing their own constituents. Of the highest 15 per capita death tolls by gunshot, 13 are in red states. Of the 15 lowest per capita death tolls, 13 are in blue states. The pattern holds for gunshot deaths of children and teenagers. In the year 2017, 12 of the 15 most lethal states for child victims were red, and 9 of the 15 safest were blue.
One does not use the term “death cult” indiscriminately. Not only will these evil motherfuckers not address gun violence, they refuse — after every single bloodbath — to even acknowledge the connection between the epidemic of gun violence and, you know, guns. And should anybody be so obnoxiously rational as to do so, and to demand accountability from gun-fetishizing politicians, comes the most infuriating rhetoric of all. Even after Sandy Hook, the slaughter of toddlers in a Connecticut elementary school, rightwing radio demagogue Rush Limbaugh tried to preempt righteous horror and basic reason.
“As we sit here at this very moment, you know it and I know it — there are liberals trying to find a way to blame this on conservatives or Republicans,” he told his millions of listeners. “It may sound a little hard-edged to say that, but I’ve lived through these things for 25 plus years.” Exactly, denying the obvious pathology the entire time, bloviating most lucratively instead about defending true patriots from tyrannical government. This for 25 years, as children in schools and in households across the country dropped like flies.
Before the mental-health canard took hold, that same rhetorical tactic had become a Republican reflex, most especially for Ted Cruz. After Uvalde, the school massacre in his own state, he declared, “as sure as night follows day, you can bet there are going to be Democrat politicians looking to advance their own political agenda, rather than to work to stop this kind of horrific violence and to keep everyone safe.”
To deconstruct all the levels of hypocrisy, dishonesty and misdirection in that depraved sophistry tempts you almost to admire the evil genius behind it. But then you remember the stakes: the blood, the heartbreak, the lost lives, the multiplier effect of ruined ones — and, most of all, the encouragement that this twisted, idolatrous creed offers to the masses of the deluded. The Big Lie floats like a raft of callous indifference downstream on a river of blood.
Of course, not all the rhetoric in favor of gun culture is disingenuous. Some people say the quiet part out loud, like anti-Semitic, anti-“Deep State”, anti-liberal podcaster Michael Scheuer, as he interviewed Fox host Jeanine Pirro: “I praise God every night that the Second Amendment remains in the Constitution because I don't know how else to take care of these vermin.”
He is not alone. On Fourth of July weekend, in Philadelphia, where exactly 247 years earlier the nation was born, a man whose social media posts expressed fear of losing our cherished 2nd Amendment rights exercised his own by murdering five people with his assault rifle. He told police he acted to rid the city of gun violence, because “all these guys are out there killing people.” The irony apparently eluded him.
The greater irony, however — the colossal and absurd and tragic irony — is that this is the party that claims superior values, Christianity, Godliness. Yet they so devoutly bow before their holy guns, and so sanctify the 2nd Amendment, that they utterly forsake the 2nd Commandment, forbidding the worship of false idols.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image — any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
There is no punishment on earth equal to their iniquity. Fuck them, forever and ever, and may their memory be an eternal shame.