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Thoughts and Prayers

Apparently the New York Times was relying on interns to handle headline writing duties over the Labor Day weekend.  Surely only an over-enthusiastic youngster fresh out of journalism school could have written, with a straight face, "Texas Shooting Brings New Urgency to Gun Debate in Congress."  

But no, I shouldn't poke fun at the hapless headline wrangler.  The writer of the piece has been at the NYT for 20 years, on a variety of beats, now covering Congress.  In her first paragraph she says the latest spree (latest as of last Sunday; there may be another by the time I get this posted) "has intensified pressure on congressional Republicans ... giving fresh urgency to [the] debate..."  Really?  You'd think she'd know better.

By mid-week it was clear that the Republicans were barricading themselves behind the mental health misdirection and the only urgency the President was feeling was to convince people that Alabama was too in the path of the hurricane.  Just look at this official map I have right here...

That left it to the CEO of Walmart to take a few tentative steps towards possibly reducing the odds of future massacres on his turf.  I particularly like the part about, "Would you please not be waving your gun around while you're shopping in our stores?  It makes the other customers nervous."  It's hard to tell the good guy with the gun from the bad guy with the gun until the shooting starts.

As a country, we decided after Sandy Hook that between the consequences of doing something substantive and the consequences of doing nothing, the murder of twenty children was the more bearable.  If the latest deaths are creating any urgency among the majority of Congresspeople it's for how quickly they can get the issue to recede once again.

Beto O'Rourke has been refreshingly forthright about what needs to be done -- when a reporter asked how he would address fears about the government banning and confiscating assault weapons he said, "I want to be very clear, that that's exactly what we're going to do."  But this is an America that considers the murder of children by assault weapon to be an acceptable price for...  for what, exactly?

That's what's hard for me to figure out.  What is being protected by squelching any moves towards background checks or bans on particularly brutal weapons?  What is so sacred here that we just have to put up with all these murders?  It can't just be "protecting the 2nd amendment."  Even the Supreme Court decision upholding the individual right to a handgun admits that gun ownership can be regulated.  And even the most conservative of legislators will opine that they could support reasonable and sensible regulations.  It's just every actual draft of proposed legislation that they feel compelled to oppose.  Something more visceral and alogical is at work here.

In These Truths Jill Lepore makes the brilliant point that gun control and abortion have become the signature issues of our time.  One of them represents freedom and one of them represents murder.  Which is which depends on which end of the political spectrum you occupy.

Sure, the NRA money neatly massages the cravenness and personal ambition of politicians.  But the emotional uproar around the issue is much bigger than that.  Maybe Congressman Crenshaw is being cynical and disingenuous when he says he's opposed to universal background checks because they would prevent him from lending his handgun to a friend who wanted to borrow it for protection while traveling.  But for plenty of his constituents he's speaking their truth.

"Fresh urgency?"  Hardly.  A mere seven more Texas funerals isn't going to change a thing.