Editorial: Two minus one equals zero

It’s been a terrible week for civilized society. The heinous bombing of Israeli citizens traveling in Bulgaria, coupled with the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., demonstrate how low human beings can stoop, when acting out of hate, fear, despair and psychosis.

The results in both instances were the same — deaths to wholly innocent human beings. One tragedy resulted from weaponry that is illegal virtually everywhere in this country, whereas the other, in a Colorado movie theater, was conducted with guns and bullets that are freely available.

It is apparently OK with our state legislators to own assault rifles in our state as long as a federal permit is obtained. It is apparently OK to have no limit on the number of rounds of ammunition that can be purchased by mail order for one’s assault rifle.

Wait, it gets worse. As we held out (false) hope that our legislature might solve real economic issues in the recent session, a state representative chose to introduce a bill to prevent hiring discrimination against anyone who uses firearms lawfully or has a conceal/carry endorsement — even though there’s been no evidence that anyone has ever been discriminated against in such a fashion.

What the heck is going on?

We have lost our way to a herd of bullies who have no interest in good public policy, compromise or reasoned debate; it’s their way or the highway. They want to blame the government for intrusions into their lives but have no problem whatsoever with the anarchy of vigilante justice. (There were even voices this week saying that an armed moviegoer could have prevented the catastrophe in Colorado; can you imagine someone with a handgun trying to take out a guy in body armor in the dark in a crowded movie theater?)

We keep hearing platitudes about who the “real” Americans are, what the “real” American considers near and dear to his or her heart. We have moved from a public debate on the facts to deliberate obfuscation where the truth isn’t relevant and the ends not only justify, but apparently mandate, the means.

The National Rifle Association lies about President Barack Obama “coming after our guns,” even though Obama has essentially chosen to ignore gun control during his first term and gets the lowest ratings from gun control advocates. A Texas congressman blames the Aurora tragedy on an apparent erosion of Judeo-Christian beliefs. And not one cogent voice on the pro-gun side makes the case that there’s need for a private citizen to be able to order thousands of rounds for his assault rifle (let alone having an assault rifle!) by mail order with no scrutiny whatsoever.

Public debate on this issue is at its lowest level in, well, in perhaps forever. Some want to create a fiction that it’s all “both sides,” that any suggestion to the contrary is biased. Sure, there are folks who want no guns in the world, but comparing them to the well-oiled machinery of the NRA and its friends is absurd.

Basically, the Second Amendment has trumped the First. Those who want to fiercely grip their guns in the name of basic protection seek to suppress any reasonable and civil discourse about how far their right goes.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court, in upholding a personal right to bear arms under the Second Amendment in the 2008 Heller case, made clear the right was not absolute. In fact, a review of the many federal appellate court cases during the past four years on the heels of Heller demonstrate that courts are wrestling with, and in many cases upholding, restrictions on gun ownership and use that are reasonable in support of an effective public policy.

The attempt to literally blast public debate about guns off the radar is the worst kind of smokescreen. It is not a case of fair and reasonable debate. It is a case of folks with a very militant agenda seizing the advantage in two ways. First, by building a frenetic, visceral, irrational approach that plays on fear and takes advantage of those in the electorate who are uneducated on the issues. Second, by throwing unlimited money at their agenda, thanks in part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s very poor decision in Citizens United, equating artificial entities with real people in determining free speech rights.

We see nothing wrong with informed and aggressive debate on all sides of all issues. But in a week of national and international tragedy, it is sad to be reminded over and over that the good of all is trumped by the good of those who want nothing more than to club public policy over the head and drag it back to the cave. Oh, wait. They would just shoot it.

The only thing worse than bullies who won’t have a respectful dialogue is bullies with guns who cow people into not having a respectful dialogue. This is no way to run a civilized society.