Total Committment

"Mandrake, I suppose it never occurred to you, that while we are chatting here so enjoyably, a decision is being made by the President and the Joint Chiefs in the War Room at the Pentagon. And when they realize that there is absolutely no possibility of being able to recall the Wing, there will be only one course of action open: Total commitment."

On Thursday night I found out that one of the victims in the Clackamas Town Center shooting was a woman who I had known a few years ago. On Friday I found out about the Connecticut massacre five minutes before the company Christmas party and holiday cookie decorating contest. Today I’m lying in bed reading reports of a murder suicide in Vegas, a North Carolina double shooting, simultaneous shootings at both a trailer park and a hospital in Alabama, and a shooting in a mall parking lot here in LA, and I’m giving some thought to buying a gun.

In the rollicking nuclear holocaust comedy Dr. Strangelove, a deranged American general, dissatisfied with the stalemate of the Cold War, orders his bomber wing to advance into Russia and attack several targets with their nuclear payloads. He does this because once the US government realizes that they can’t recall his bombers, their only option will be “total commitment” – ordering a sneak attack against Russian targets to prevent a full scale nuclear war. He’s essentially forcing the government’s hand: Now that some American bombers are going to attack Russia, the only option, as unpleasant as it may be, is for them to order all of their bombers to attack Russia to knock out their nuclear capabilities and protect as many Americans as possible.

There’s a fascinating article by Jeff Goldberg in The Atlantic that I read about a day before I discovered my connection to Clackamas and two days before Connecticut. The gist of the article is that while gun control is great in theory, implementing more restrictive gun control measures now is pointless, as there’s an estimated 300 million guns floating around in a country of 315 million people.

Goldberg points out that violent crime rates in America are at a 40 year low while there are a record number of concealed carry permit holders – eight million, and that’s not counting residents in Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska, Arizona, and parts of Montana who don’t need permits to carry guns. On a state-by-state basis, gun crime holds steady both before and after the passage of concealed carry legislation. On average, concealed carry permit holders commit crimes at a lower rate than the general population. Several near massacres have been averted thanks to other gun owners who killed or incapacitated the attacker.

With nearly a 1:1 ratio of guns to people in this country, we need to come to grips with the fact that anyone who wants a gun can get one and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. 40% of legally purchased firearms are bought at gun shows, where there’s no need for a background check or a waiting period. Or you can buy or steal one from one of the 47% of Americans who own guns.

So we can’t stop crazy people from getting guns. Can we stop crazy people from being crazy?

In all likelihood, no. Due to budget cuts, state-run mental hospitals have been shut down, and America’s three largest treatment centers are in county jails in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. If you’re mentally ill and can’t afford treatment, your best option is prison – and when I say ‘best’, I mean ‘better than murder suicide.’

The answer, of course, is for the government to provide affordable mental health care to citizens, which isn’t going to happen because the people who pitch a hissy fit whenever somebody suggests in any way limiting access to firearms are the same people who pitch a hissy fit whenever somebody suggests in any way increasing access to affordable healthcare.

Americans are more concerned with the ability to own guns than their own physical and mental well being. They’re more concerned with their Second Amendment right to guns than they are with their First Amendment right to free speech – the uproar about Bob Costas’ gun control comments seemed far larger and louder than the one about the National Defense Authorization Act and its provisions for indefinite detention of American citizens.

I wrote about gun control a few massacres ago, in July. At the time, I said, “I have absolutely no desire to own [a gun] myself, because I don’t see the point in owning a gun when crime rates have been in free fall since 1991.”

I’ve changed my mind: I do see the point in owning a gun.

Total commitment.

The government will be unable to pass any meaningful gun control legislation, and even if it does it can’t prevent violence.

The government won’t be able to provide adequate mental healthcare to citizens because the one thing people hate more than dead women and children is paying a marginally higher tax rate to provide social services to the needy, some of whom might not be white.

The media won’t stop saturation-level coverage of massacres, plastering photos of the shooter across the airwaves, reading excerpts from his manifesto, and leading every story with the killer’s name and body count, effectively turning each shooter into a role model for other potentially violent sociopaths with access to guns.

I don’t want to own a gun. I don’t want to carry a gun. But I really don’t want to get shot at the supermarket because of our society’s current combination of media hype, nonexistent mental health services, and easily accessible firearms.

Right now, I feel as though total commitment is our only option.