A few days ago, I'd had enough of the extreme gun-rights activists—their fact-free rhetoric and violent language—and so I started reading George Orwell, who dealt with extremists of all stripes and understood their deep-water operations. How they trigger primal responses in us, instinctual really, that link up with aggression and anger. I was feeling down.
In his essay, "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell confesses that while he was a "sub-divisional police officer" in Burma, he shot an elephant that he did not want to shoot. He killed the poor animal, who was causing trouble in the village, because the Burmese villagers—over 2000 of them—wanted him to kill it.
Orwell concludes: "The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly . . . I was only an absurd puppet, pushed to and fro. . . ."
In the current gun debate, I sometimes feel like Orwell, pushed around, trying to respond with reason, logic, and equanimity to the bullying, ill-informed, and unreasonable judgments made by the radical Second Amendment advocates. This happens continually on Twitter and other online forums where zealots, as Lydia Kiesling writes, "refresh their comments until their eyes bleed and yak and brag and constantly remind one another that they don't know shit about shit."
A democracy of voices, it turns out, is depressing. Why? Because all opinions are not created equal, and Twitter gives equal time to the smart, to the not-so-smart, to the sensitive, and to the bullies.
Besides, it's tiring, and it's pointless, and it's frustrating, and your eyes bleed when you spend your time online with someone who proclaims himself a Molon-Labe-Constitution-Defender-Jeffersonian-Don't-Tread-On-Me-Patriot.
Just say no. You will never make progress in this discussion because you're talking to an ideologue.
Ideologues make the trains run on time, of course—see Mussolini—and ideologues carry their assault rifles into coffee shops because the Second Amendment gives them the right to defend themselves wherever they please from whatever attack they imagine is imminent in the middle-class coffee shop in their local strip mall. The right to play army. Or cowboys. And if they can't do that, their rights have been infringed.
Question this, and you will get vapid 140-character lectures on the difference between rights and laws and privileges and god-given scriptures and Jefferson (dangerous though it is to mention Jefferson and god in the same tweet) and the Constitution, which they claim proudly to have read. And then more Jefferson.
It's just wierd.
So that's how I felt yesterday when my wife sent me Eddie Vedder's quick-take on gun-violence in America and a world that's gone "absolutely crazy, fucking mad. . . ." (At the time of this writing, the full segment was viewable here, and contains more of Vedder's views on gun-violence. But the segment has disappeared from the official YouTube site, and from this site as well.)
I recognized Vedder's reaction to the gun problem immediately. He's angry. It's a pure anger, and one that that we all shared when we first became involved in the gun debate. It's fueled by the fact that our country has been hijacked by the radical gun lobby, that 90% of us want sensible gun laws, and that innocent citizens of all ages are being shot and killed because too many unstable or careless people have too many guns, and apparently don't know how to use them.
Congress, as always, is irrelevant, as it cowers in the long shadow of the NRA.
I live with Vedder's purifying anger every day, as all of us do, but I have tried to put it aside reasonably to "discuss" the issues with the radical gun advocates.
To no avail, of course.
Vedder's anger reminded me that people who aren't openly engaged in the gun debates, like Vedder, need only be made aware of the numbers, the sheer depth and breadth of gun-violence in our country, and they find those numbers inexcusable, horrific, and epidemic.
It's not just about high-profile rock stars. If, for example, you work at a trauma center or an emergency room, as Dr. Katie Bakes does, you've been feeling this for a long time now. And you're angry too.
My point is this. The numbers speak for themselves. The broken families, the dead children, the lives lost to a culture soaked in guns . . . when the community becomes aware of the numbers, the community organizes.
And the community will not tolerate the gun lobby's diversions, nor even participate in them: the debates on clip size, on assault-weapon definition, on the preamble to the Second Amendment, on tactical training and state militia.
That's a bait and switch. Instead of needless slaughter, which doesn't matter, let's talk about clip size, which matters.
When the numbers are made clear—the great fear of the gun lobbies: clear numbers—the community organizes to do something about those numbers. Because, like a budget, the numbers that chart gun violence in this country are a moral document.
And so we organize to write a moral document that we can respect and leave as a model for our children.
That is happening now. We don't have to be constitutional scholars, or debate champions, and we don't even need to read Jefferson's voluminous correspondence and wonder what Jefferson would do.
Only the numbers. That's my mantra now.
By making them available, and by finding effective ways of delivering those numbers, the community will gradually cease to tolerate the culture that produces those numbers. Gandhi knew this, King knew this, Suu Kyi knows this.
But we do have to raise public awareness, and there are many organizations, some of whom, like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, have been doing the essential work for a very long time. And others, like Moms Demand Action, have entered the debate after Newtown and have already created a formidable and defining presence.
I salute these organizations every day for their endurance, their commitment, and their willingness to debate the issues in every forum.
After Newtown, of course, many amateurs like myself have entered this struggle, for both local and national reasons. But I became involved partly because I couldn't explain the numbers. For the civilized country I once imagined America to be, they didn't add up.
And because I have neither the resources, nor the time, nor the simple psychic energy to live in the trenches of this vital debate, where I am told, in effect, to back down because the trains run on time, I have chosen to focus on raising awareness. Because the trains aren't running on time.
Only the numbers. And Vedder's anger, and Dr. Bakes' too.
And Gandhi, who said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win."
They are fighting us now. Which is a good thing because it means that more and more Americans are becoming aware of the appaling numbers, and we are moving closer and closer toward sensible gun legislation.
And then we win.