Everyone wants to make a mark in America, but few actually get the chance. Yet we’re still the land of opportunity: if you shoot everyone within sight, you’ve got a decent chance of making a front-page exit.
There used to be just one or two insane mass shootings a year. Now they’re every few days. The one that stuck most in my consciousness was at a McDonalds in San Ysidro, California in July 1984. Twenty-two were slaughtered by a loser named James Huberty. He had eaten there earlier in the day with his family, and no doubt decided it would be a great place to go out in a blaze of glory.
The country was shocked; front-page coverage went on for days. McDonalds tore the restaurant down. There were documentaries made about Huberty’s demons.
There have been so many shootings since then that I can only remember locales: churches, nursing homes, schools, etc, The jumping-off point was probably a couple of years after the San Ysidro shooting. A part-time letter carrier named Patrick Sherrill killed 14 of his co-workers in rural Oklahoma. Sherrill’s act inspired the term “going postal.” When it became a joke, people told themselves they no longer needed to pay attention.
For last week’s mayhem in Binghampton, N.Y., the New York Times published a tremendous headline: “13 Shot Dead During a Class on Citizenship.” It’s the Gray Lady’s version of “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.” Welcome to America; prepare to die.
Certainly no one is paying attention to the fact that anybody who is angry or sick enough to see other human beings as mere objects can obtain a gun far easier than counseling. Angry high school students? Columbine. Angry college students? Virginia Tech. Angry politicians? Dick Cheney. Angry immigrants? Binghampton. Hell, an 8-year-old in Arizona killed his father and a neighbor a couple of months ago. He was probably curious to see what would happen when he pulled the trigger.
Yet anytime someone who actually doesn’t need a gun to command attention mentions this insanity, the other set of angry objectifiers who run the National Rifle Association begin their banshee wails about their rights. The day after the Binghampton shooting, the ticker on the NRA Website had the following headline: “Gun control advocates misfire with statistics.” Did some newspaper misreport how many people were killed? No, one of the nation’s most politically powerful lobbies felt it appropriate to put up a link to Rob Port, a far-right blogger whose home page says his favorite television show is “The Sporanos” (sic). I should get Tivo.
Certainly by this point the two or three sports hunters and cops who might stumble across this are rolling their eyes. Another schmuck who wants to take away something he’s never owned himself! Well then. I had my first rifle when I was 6. I scored my first bullseye on a firing range when I was 7. I loved the Beretta .380 I owned in early adulthood not because I could actually hit a target with it, but someone as clumsy as myself could take it apart and reassemble it in only a minute or two. I could have probably been an Army sharpshooter if I had any respect for authority, or bagged a helluva lot of deer if I had less respect for life.
I only gave up guns when my I moved in with my now-wife, a sort of hammer-and-sickle type who didn’t want anything to do with them. In the mayhem of early ‘90s L.A., it was position that was difficult to argue with. I haven’t owned a gun for nearly 20 years now, and I don’t miss them.
Most gun owners are responsible. Yet 30,000 people in the U.S. lose their lives every year to gunfire. That’s still about 15,000 less than what’s claimed by automobile crashes, but close enough to consider regulating them in the same manner. I’m definitely up for it now given that gun sales have soared some 40% since Obama was elected.
So, here’s what I’m proposing:
• Licensure, including physical and written tests, to own a gun. Annual testing if you’re over the age of 70. A point-based disciplinary system. Score three points in a year, you lose your license. Cheney’s no doubt would have at least been suspended.
• Mandatory annual registration fees, set by each state Legislature. In California, it costs a minimum $150 a year to register a car; if you’re a gun nut, it would really cost you.
• Mandatory insurance for every legally-owned firearm. A minimum of $300,000 liability, medical and property damage coverage required. No insurance, you lose your license.
We all hate the cost of car ownership – I probably spend close to $10,000 a year on my vehicles, and I own them outright. But those costs – and the fear of what would happen to my insurance premiums – make me think twice before I consider doing something stupid with them.
My proposal would also create a job bonanza for both state governments and the insurance industry. But no doubt the open-minded souls at the NRA would shoot this down before it even got debated. The only thing that might open them up to debate is if one of those nutcases opened fire at an NRA chapter meeting (or better yet, the national convention). An odd wish, but I’m an odd man. Thank your stars I don’t own a gun.