If there is any kind of silver lining lurking in yesterday's horror show at Sandy Hook Elementary, it is this: The national conversation on guns is sharply changing. Perhaps that's because, as Charlie Pierce observes, this bell has been tolling long and loud -- and now we realize that it tolls for us.
It's a reflection of the depraved state of our national conversation that it took a parade of massacres culminating in a schoolhouse full of murdered 5-year-olds to awaken that realization in us. But that's where we are. The question now is how to get out of it.
Particularly because the other half of the conversation -- the gun-rights absolutists who increasingly retreat into paranoid conspiracy theories to justify their worldviews, as well as an insurrectionist interpretation of the Second Amendment asserting that the real purpose of gun ownership is to enable the overthrow of a tyrannical government -- is just plain ol' bug-eyed crazy. Not to mention psychopathically insensate, exemplified by the Brian Fischers and Mike Huckabees out there blaming liberals for the murders.
How exactly are we supposed to conduct a conversation with people who cling insistently to irrational nonsense?
And what is nearly certain to happen next is going to make the conundrum inescapable.
It's clear, both from his remarks yesterday and his radio address today, that President Obama has now screwed up the political courage to try to tackle the matter of the mass proliferation of guns in American society. And that, as it happens, will fall in line with the paranoid predictions of the gun nuts before the election.
You remember what they were saying:
"[The Obama campaign] will say gun owners -- they'll say they left them alone," LaPierre told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday. "In public, he'll remind us that he's put off calls from his party to renew the Clinton [assault weapons] ban, he hasn't pushed for new gun control laws. ... The president will offer the Second Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he's actually been good for the Second Amendment."
"But it's a big fat stinking lie!" the NRA leader exclaimed. "It's all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and destroy the Second Amendment in our country."
How was the conspiracy to take shape? By the following steps:
1. Neutralize gun owners and NRA voters as a political force in national elections, and thereby:
2. Win re-election to a second term in the White House, where they then will be immune to the will of voters and free to continue consolidating and misusing their ever-increasing power to:
3. Prosecute a full-scale, sustained, all-out campaign to excise the Second Amendment from our Bill of Rights through legislation, litigation, regulation, executive orders, judicial fiat, international treaties—in short, all the levers of power of all three branches of government.
The result, predictably, has been a saturating boom in gun sales around the country:
"He's never been pro-gun," says Cris Parsons of President Obama. Parsons, 31, owns a Texas gun purveyor called the Houston Armory. So far, Parsons insists, Obama has been "pretty coy" about his antipathy toward guns--and he likely will remain so during the campaign. To do otherwise would "upset a lot of people."
But if Obama wins a second term, he'll have "nothing to lose," says Parsons.
Alan Korwin, author of nine books on gun laws, including "Gun Laws of America," says gun owners are worried that the president, as a lame duck, will clamp down as never before on gun ownership.
Parsons says about 40 percent of Armory customers cite this fear as their reason for stocking up on guns and ammo now, before the election.
And so with the President actually picking up the issue of gun violence now, these people will believe their worst fears are in the process of being realized.
Many of the "Patriot Porn" books I've been reading -- you know, apocalyptic "novels" for "preppers" about hardy bands of survivors making America safe for Patriots again after the depredations of Obama and the liberals who destroy America -- feature scenarios along these lines. Most of them depict Obama or his stand-in using various "crises", including school massacres secretly conducted by nefarious government agents out to create popular support while blaming fabricated scapegoats and ultimately gun owners themselves for the problem, to provide the pretext for destroying the Constitution and instituting the "Islamic Republic of America" or some similar "liberal" entity.
As I've observed before: These gun-rights absolutists thrive on the paranoia they engender, and the rest of us eventually pay the price for it.