Cross-posted from Esquire.
Our national debate about guns is over. It ended in a dark movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. It ended in a first grade classroom in Connecticut and at a high school in Florida. It ended a thousand times on the streets of Chicago, or Baltimore, or Memphis, with a thousand grieving mothers who never got invited to come onto cable television.
It ended the last time a child found his daddy’s gun and killed his sister in their living room. It ended the last time a person in crisis found a handgun. It ended when a bunch of high school students, who didn’t know any better, decided that they could no longer trust the adults to protect them. It ended on a day in March when millions of ordinary Americans, angry and frustrated and mourning, took to their streets to declare it over.
There is no going back from what happened this weekend. There is only the question of how far and how fast the change will come. If the people who marched on Saturday vote—and why wouldn’t they—the National Rifle Association and its lackeys in Congress and state legislatures around the country have no chance this November and beyond.
For those craven politicians, elected and re-elected on the blood of innocents, beholden to an organization that long ago betrayed its founding principles, forever contorting law and logic to justify assault rifles for teenagers and peanuts for gun research, the game is over, the bluff’s been called. You can only fool so many people for so long.
Saturday was about passion and about the expression of grief, but the movement right now, the latest iteration of it, is about the numbers as much as anything. The gun lobby is losing whatever real constituency it ever had, one act of gun violence at a time. In the past 20 years alone, hundreds of thousands of teenagers and young adults have had direct experiences with school shootings and they are refusing to allow their own children to be as traumatized as they were.
Add to this constituency the families ripped apart by individual acts of gun violence, the poor mothers and fathers who lose their kids in stories that never get told, and you see how the tide has turned. Not just in the poll numbers, which show declining support for the NRA and growing support for gun restrictions, but in real life.
Robert Kennedy gave us his “ripples of hope” speech in South Africa 52 years ago, and it resonates here with a twist. We saw in America Saturday the impact of ripples of grief. Each instance of gun violence ripples out to a family, a clan, a neighborhood, a community, a village, until, as we saw this weekend, “crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
The ripples abound now. The current has arrived. The oppression and the resistance of the gun lobby and its allies in political office will not survive it.
After the crowds had dissipated in one city and town after another, and the talking heads took back the stage, they hedged: What if the protesters don’t vote? What if all the glory and the grit is for naught? Please. They already are voting. And registering, too. The constituency that changed American life in the face of drunk driving deaths is changing it again in the face of unremitting gun violence. Thank God for them.
So long as Donald Trump and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell continue to bow down to the gun lobby, they’ll remember. How could they forget? Every day brings a new tragedy and so all these brave, determined mothers and sisters and daughters and aunts and grandmothers will be reminded every day from now until November what’s at stake: the lives of their children. In the 37 days since the Parkland massacre 73 more teens have been shot to death.
The reason the conversation is over, the reason that so many millions of people have had enough with gun violence, the reason you saw so many Republicans on the streets with signs this weekend, is that the relentless misery guns bring into our lives is something we all can see, and feel, while the dark conspiracies and “toxic masculinity” peddled by the NRA and its tribunes sound more deranged by the day.
Did you catch the NRA “hot take” on Saturday? The trolling of the brave Parkland students? How “no one would know their names” if their classmates had not been gunned down by a mentally ill teenager who had easy access to a weapon of war? That’s how you know the conversation is over. One side finally is willing to trust what it sees with its own eyes. The other side mocks the teenage survivors of a gun massacre.
The conversation’s over because at some point there’s no use talking any longer. I know plenty of people who want reasonable gun reform, including many gun owners. I bet you do, too. They see, like most rational people see, that there is no good reason on God’s green earth to hand out assault rifles to children.
But I don’t know a single person who wants to take a shotgun or a rifle from the hands of a hunter or a handgun away from a sane homeowner who wants to feel protected in her own home. And I bet you don’t, either. Who’s coming for their guns? No one. How many more children have to die before they are convinced? None. Because the protesters no longer are interested in trying to convince them.
The goal of the movement is much more modest than the gun lobby can admit, which accounts both for the growing popularity of the activists and the despair on the part of the NRA. The debate today is not over core gun rights. It’s over gun restrictions that are well within the parameters of the precedent that Justice Antonin Scalia, the charlatan of the Second Amendment, had to agree to in his landmark gun-rights ruling in 2008 that first recognized a personal right to bear arms.
In the decade since that ruling, the Supreme Court has signaled over and over again that it is comfortable with gun restrictions. Just ask Justice Clarence Thomas, the NRA’s man at the Court, who has repeatedly expressed frustration with the limitations his colleagues have accepted about the scope of the Second Amendment.
Here’s an idea. How about we implement the gun restrictions and reforms most commonly discussed? How about we invest at last in federal gun research to better understand what we are up against? (Congress took a step toward this last week.) How about we deny assault weapons for anyone under the age of 21—or, better yet, under the age of 25? How about we give teeth, at last, to universal background checks? How about we make sure the mentally ill cannot get their hands on weapons? How about we treat gun manufacturers the way we do every other company and strip from them the extra immunity Congress gave them in 2005? How about we crack down on gun sales in states like Indiana, where gun trafficking spreads onto the streets of Chicago? How about we ban bump stocks?
How about we try all these things and save countless American lives each year and then have a conversation about the Second Amendment? How about we slide just far enough down that slippery slope so we can stop the bleeding, literally, and then see where we are as a country? How about we try for a few years to allow hundreds of thousands more of our fellow citizens to live or avoid being wounded and see what that feels like?