Both Eyes Blind

In the wake of the deadliest mass killing in U.S. history in which more than 50 innocent people died, in the aftermath of the terrible carnage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, you would think, or at least hope, that the country could come together.  But you would be wrong.  If anything, the slaughter exposes a country more fractured than ever.

At one point on the political spectrum, the attack is presented as all about guns and gun control.  At another point, it’s all about radical Islam.  But the two sides don’t connect.

pulse-orlando-shooting-001_custom-afcf8cd831a4547d9b4465462bcea412bd660ffd-s1100-c15The people who blame the NRA and gun manufacturers are seemingly unwilling to even acknowledge that there is a radical strain of Islam that not only has fomented the hate-filled, misogynistic world of ISIS, but also violently opposes the western world and the tolerant values we embody and is looking to bring the fight to our shores.  The people who focus solely on radical Islam, on the other hand, won’t concede that something is wrong when one man whose behavior has become increasingly troubling, and who was targeted in several terrorist investigations, can somehow acquire a gun that allows him, with a few squeezes of a trigger, to send out a fusillade of bullets that can kill and injure few more than 100 people in a few bloody minutes.

There’s a middle ground here, but no one seems interested in finding it.

On one side, people need to acknowledge that certain strains of radical Islam present a real problem that needs to be addressed.  If we allow concerns about political correctness to prevent us from even talking directly about the issue, if we couch our discussions in oblique terms about what “we” need to do as a society rather than focusing on the specific problem, how can we ever hope to develop a solution?  Emoticons and lighting candles aren’t going to change the paradigm.  And we need to recognize that the shackles imposed by our zeal to achieve maximal inoffensiveness come at a cost — in the form of Donald Trump, whose appeal for many is due in part to his willingness to break through the PC barriers.  Trump’s unseemly and ignorant self-congratulation in the wake of the Pulse massacre was a vintage example of his colossal ego and intrinsic bad taste, but his followers undoubtedly are nodding at the fact that their candidate at least is talking about the issue, whereas other leaders seem to be living in a kind of PC fantasy world.

On the other side, the gun ownership advocates need to acknowledge that we’ve moved beyond the self-protection and sportsman’s paradise rationales for American gun ownership, and technology has pushed the envelope even farther.  With guns available that allow a lone killer to shoot down dozens of innocent people in an incredibly short period of time — before even the speediest law enforcement agency could possibly hope to respond and intervene — the stakes for some kind of meaningful and rational approach to gun ownership are higher than ever.  No family looking to defend their home against an intruder, and no hunter out looking to take down a deer, needs to acquire a weapon that allows them to fire off dozens of shots in the space of a few blinks of an eye.

The Pulse massacre teaches us that we need to work on both of these issues — but first the two sides need to recognize that the two issues actually exist.  Don’t hold your breath.

Why Are Gun Sales Surging?

By all accounts, Americans are buying guns in record numbers.  Why?

Bloomberg says that gun sales are increasing by significant amounts.  Gun purchases increased 54 percent from 2008 to 2012, and publicly traded gun manufacturers are reporting more than 40 percent increases in sales in 2013.  Demand is so great that manufacturers are competing for market share in the expanding gun market by introducing new products, which is driving a sharp increase in gun-related patents.  The Washington Post reports that Virginia set a record for Black Friday gun sales.  Isn’t it curious that people would think of buying weapons on the day after Thanksgiving?

Many of the new gun purchasers are women and the elderly; gun ownership in both demographics is rising.  Indeed, one report estimates that 25 percent of all women own a gun.

Why this sudden surge in gun sales?  In recent years, some people have speculated that the increases were due to concerns that governmental entities would restrict gun ownership and a desire to load up before any limitations take effect — but that rationale doesn’t make much sense now, with no meaningful effort underway to regulate gun ownership at the federal level and many states loosening their restrictions on carrying firearms.  The normal reason to buy a gun would be to feel more personally secure, but there hasn’t been any apparent, noticeable increase in criminal activity that would motivate people to buy a gun now, as opposed to last year or five years ago.  So why the sudden burst of gun-buying activity?

It’s a bit unsettling that so many people in this country feel the need to be amply armed, in their homes and in their daily lives.  It’s as if they are expecting a breakdown in law and order and envisioning a dog-eat-dog world.  It’s strange to live in a world where so many people apparently think we are on the brink of apocalypse.