I’ve been trying to decide which master satirist I’d like to resurrect to explore the madness of the gun-control debate. Kurt Vonnegut, maybe? Or Billy Wilder? I’m not sure either one of them would relish the challenge of this particular theatre of the absurd. “No one would believe it,” they’d sigh and escape back to their peaceful rests.
I’m not sure I’m up to the task either, because this week has clearly been sponsored by Planet Crazy. Where even to begin? Perhaps with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden’s press conference on gun control, where he was talking about the bodies of six-year-old Sandy Hook students “riddled” with bullets, when CNN interrupted … to bring us news of another school shooting. We also had the National Rifle Association boasting that it’s signed up 100,000 new members since Sandy Hook, which probably marks the first time in history that the slaughter of children has been used as a marketing tool.
But wait: There’s also the fact that Jan. 19, slightly more than a month after 26 teachers and pupils were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, has been set aside as the first “Gun Appreciation Day.” Its motto: “Hands off our guns.” I think we have a winner, folks!
Yet, in all of this, the thing that unsettled me most was discovering that Gabrielle Giffords still owns a Glock. The former Arizona congresswoman, who was shot in the head two years ago in Tucson during a failed assassination attempt that killed six other people, has made a stunning return to public life. I’ve just read Gabby, the memoir co-written with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, and wanted to hear her speak about her gun-control views: Although a Democrat, she’d never been an advocate before. In fact, just a few months before she was shot, Ms. Giffords told NPR, “In my district and in my state, we have a very strong gun culture. I own a gun, members of my family own guns.”
Indeed, when Diane Sawyer questioned her during an ABC interview this week, Ms. Giffords admitted she still has her Glock pistol. Her husband said he’d recently bought a gun at Wal-Mart (the same chain, incidentally, where Ms. Giffords’ assailant, Jared Loughner, bought his ammunition). A Cornell-educated politician and a space-shuttle commander – one of them nearly killed by gun violence – and they both own guns. It seems absurd.
But it’s not, because their position as gun fans allows them to be a forceful and effective opposition to the NRA. They’re not Brooklyn quinoa-eaters or wet-eyed Hollywood stars. “We’re strong supporters of the Second Amendment,” Mr. Kelly said. Together, they’ve set up a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions, which is essentially a gun control advocacy group for gun owners (it will lobby for stronger background checks and restrictions on ammunition sales). Mr. Kelly said he was particularly motivated by one statistic: 85 per cent of the children killed by guns in the world are American.
Could this finally be a red-meat rival to the powerful gun lobby? The Christian Science Monitor wrote about Giffords, Kelly and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a gun-control “dream team” – tough, pragmatic, experienced, politically moderate, fiscally conservative. The kind of people fence-sitters might listen to.
Maybe it’s the prospect of a powerful opposition (finally) taking shape that’s caused so much hysteria among the pry-my-cold-dead-fingers-off-the-trigger brigade. Talk-show host and conspiracy enthusiast Alex Jones appeared in a showdown of spittle with Piers Morgan on CNN, vowing that the dastardly British and their muskets would never steal Americans’ guns or freedom ever again. And a shooting instructor in Tennessee, James Yeager, seemed in danger of a stroke as he ranted in a YouTube video about the possibility of President Barack Obama using an executive order to push gun control: “I’m not letting my country be ruled by a dictator. I’m not letting anybody take my guns. If it goes one inch further I’m going to start killing people.”
Voices from the fringe, perhaps. The real battle moves to the centre of power this week when Mr. Biden’s task force presents its gun-control recommendations to President Obama. But the President’s got intransigent Republicans to deal with on the economy already. Does he really have the willpower to shove a bill through Congress (where, The Wall Street Journal points out, more than half the members are given a top A grade from the NRA)? Maybe if there are enough powerful, deep-pocketed, arm-twisting allies behind him.
The moment is now, with the American public’s mind still filled with thoughts of Sandy Hook, but is the moment enough? It took 12 years after James Brady was shot during the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan for the Brady handgun bill to become law. Let’s hope Gabby Giffords won’t have to wait as long.