OVER THE LAST couple of weeks, I had a most enjoyable family vacation to San Francisco and the California coast. I just might write something about that trip soon.
But not today. First I wanted to write about something much less familiar to me -- by intention.
While I was away, the awful news broke about the movie theater massacre in Colorado. I saw something about it on Facebook and immediately made the decision to leave the story for later. I just couldn't deal with it at the time.
To be perfectly candid, we were having too much fun on vacation to want to know more about it. And -- also to be frank -- there's always something horrible like this happening somewhere, it seems. You can't let it rule your life.
So with the advantage of a certain amount of self-imposed aloofness -- difficult to achieve in this time of instant feedback, solicited or unsolicited -- I was able to discern how wrong both sides can be in their initial kneejerk reactions to events like these.
See, from my distant perch I also learned, however briefly, about another massacre that happened that went nearly unnoticed.
A week after James Holmes shot and killed 12 people in that theater in suburban Denver, nearly the same number -- 7 -- were shot and killed in five incidents in a single 24-hour period in New Orleans.
For obvious reasons, Holmes's attack garnered by far the most attention. It was more random, it was more viscerally horrifying, it was committed by just a single killer, it was more, well, like something out of a movie.
But nearly as many gunned down in the streets? Not so big a deal, apparently. And that's where all the analysis breaks down.
Predictably as a storm on a steamy summer afternoon, after every one of these surreally violent mass shootings people and politicians vocally insist "it's finally time for some real gun control" -- as if horrific gun violence is episodic in nature, rather than a permanent staple of U.S. society which we seem perfectly OK with as long as it comes in drips and drabs rather than in one massive incident.
(Ironically -- or fittingly? -- President Obama issued a renewed call for gun control after the Colorado shooting -- during a speech in New Orleans!)
Gun control advocates like to blame the nation's sprees of hyper-violence less on the people pulling the actual triggers than on National Rifle Association lobbyists pulling the strings of power in Washington. That's a strange outlook, considering that the profile of the typical homicide perpetrator in the U.S. rarely fits the description of a middle-aged, dues-paying NRA member with a mortgage and an SUV.
The other side of course is just as predictable, both in its calls for renewed vigilance over gun rights (already Facebook is buzzing with the usual poppycock theories that these incidents are engineered to pave the way for a government confiscation of guns) as well as in its stubborn and misguided insistence that expanded gun rights have nothing to do with gun violence.
Just as the easy availability of drugs has something to do with the number of drug offenses, clearly the easy availability of guns has something to do with mass shootings like the one in Colorado.
(In my mind the issue is less one of guns than of ammunition; I'm all for responsible gun ownership but there's little to no sense in the idea of ordinary citizens having access to military-style high-volume magazines.)
While I generally fall on the side of gun rights rather than gun control, I do have one question for the more vociferous gun rights advocates which I have yet to have answered:
If the solution to gun violence is for everyone to pack heat openly, how do I know that the next person I see with a gun on his belt won't pull it out and start shooting everyone?
Clearly, I would have no way of knowing! Neither would you.
Just as clearly, that road leads to a sort of arms race where the only way to be "safe" is to carry a gun yourself -- and I don't think most people are comfortable with that idea.
That's why, sympathetic as I am to gun rights in general, I don't see open-carry as any more of an all-purpose answer than increased gun control. (And don't get me started on air marshals. Bullets and thin-skinned airplane fuselages are a bad combination. Bad idea.)
I'm not a sociologist, but I bet one day enough studies will have been done -- perhaps they've already been done? -- to determine that one cause of gun violence is due to mental health issues, specifically the dramatic decline in the availability of mental health care since those budgets began being cut in the 1980s.
I would also bet that the great unwritten story in most of these incidents is the abuse of Big Pharma prescription drugs somewhere along the line. (Talk about a powerful lobby!)
Situations like these cry out for a multi-pronged approach rather than two competing ideologies screaming nonsense at each other. The likely solution to extreme gun violence, if there is one, lies in seeing all sides of the issue rather than just two.
In the meantime, like any other American I reserve the right to look away from disturbing facts while I'm on vacation!
And I see no problem with me carrying my own gun around, but I don't really want you or anyone else to carry your guns around.
Maybe that attitude is the real American problem...