The always estimable Charles Pierce got to the heart of the matter about the Newtown Massacre today:
That's why gun laws may not change as much as we want them to. That's why video games and movies will not change (at all) no matter how much Joe Klein wants them to change. Too many people make too much money on guns and ammo. Too many people make too much money on video games and on the movies. That's what we want them to do. On most days, which means on those days when young schoolchildren are not slaughtered, we celebrate the pursuit of profit. Profit is what gives the NRA its real power; it lobbies less for the rights of its membership than for the right of weapons manufacturers to make a pile. We lecture ourselves interminably, at least on those days when a disturbed young man doesn't shoot up a school, that profit essentially exists outside conventional morality and obsolete ethics.
You want to eliminate the guns? Take the profit out of them. Take the fight to the people who make the weapons, not to the people who sell them or the people who buy the politicians so that selling them will be easier. Take the fight to the huge media conglomerates that profit from what you perceive to be dehumanizing media spectaculars. Make guns — or bullets, as Chris Rock once argued — so expensive that people simply stop buying them. Haul the CEOs of the gun companies in front of Congress and the odd grand jury. Make the game not worth quite so much of the candle.
We have bought with our entire national soul the notion that the sale of anything legal in this country exists in a morality-free zone that protects the product from the consequences of its use. But that formulation broke down on tobacco. It can break down on guns. Too much of our entire national economy is based on violence — physical violence, emotional violence, environmental violence, economic violence — and there is too much profit to be made out of the production of violence. You want the violence to stop, break the people who are getting rich off it. Break their fortunes and you can break their power. The money comes first. It always does.
While tens of thousands of keys have been struck in the past few days trying to make sense of the incomprehensible, few of them matched these keystrokes in their insight and in their wisdom. As I read this piece, I immediately thought about comments that my political hero made in a highly similar vein during his ultimately tragic 1968 presidential campaign:
But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.That excerpt of that speech remains my favorite quote from RFK. In fact, it remains one of my favorite snippets from any public figure. That child of wealth and of privilege better understood our core national disease better than any other national figure of his time--or of any subsequent time.
Sadly, the spiritual poverty that the senator described over 44 years ago is far worse now than it was then. The very idea of a major figure in either party today giving a similar speech is simply unthinkable. Like it or not (and I don't), the Gospel According to Gekko (greed is good) is widely worshipped. One could, in fact, argue that it has been our defining national creed for the past 3 decades.
Given recent events, it is fascinating to note that RFK specifically mentioned the Texas Tower sniper, Charles Whitman. At the time, the concept that a disaffected young man would take out his frustrations by shooting large numbers of other people was still relatively new. Sadly, Kennedy could list a long litany of similarly disaffected young men today.
As a long-time gun control advocate, I would like to see the assault weapons ban reinstated tomorrow, I would like to see the gun show loophole closed the next day, and I would like to see a requirement that all gun owners carry insurance the day after that. I know that, at best, 1 of those 3 wishes might be fulfilled one of these days. I know even more that the vast profits that arms and ammunition sales generate is the primary reason why. I don't know what it will take for a broad swath of our population to understand the self-evident truths uttered by Pierce and by RFK.