Now is Not the Time for Your Tears

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. nnThe city, when It created what would become an iconic ad slogan, was focused on a capitalist version of hedonism. Come here. Let loose. Have fun. No one needs to know.

What city officials probably never considered was that Las Vegas might become the backdrop for one of the largest gun massacres in recent American history — and that nothing would be done in response.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

After Stephen C. Paddock, a relatively wealthy white Nevadan, opened fire on a country music festival, ripping off dozens of rounds from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Casino, killing 59 and wounding more than 500, there was a public outpouring of concern.

President Trump, for instance, offers “warmest condolences” in a tweet, and then issued the standard statement of support and prayer:

“In moments of tragedy and horror, America comes together as one. And it always has,” Mr. Trump said. “We call upon the bonds that unite us, our faith, our family, and our shared values. We call upon the bonds of citizenship, the ties of community, and the comfort of our common humanity.”

The rest of the political world followed suit, offering their thoughts and prayers. Gun-rights advocates and most conservatives were quick to do the same, adding that the nation needed time to heal and that discussing possible causes or prevention efforts in the immediate aftermath was just crass politics. Let the victims and the nation heal. There would be plenty of time later to focus on policy.

This, of course, was a crass political move of its own — a delaying tactic on a par with Dean Smith’s four-corner offense. If not now, as Hillel the Elder said, when?

The point is, we are told not to politicize tragedies, but that of course is a way of pressing a political point. What we really mean is “hold off on the critiques, allow the status quo to stand.” As of this writing, we still don’t know exactly how and why the Vegas massacre occurred. But we know the shooter had an arsenal in his hotel room. We know the concert-goers were sitting ducks and that this kind of carnage, to borrow a word Trump has made part of the political lexicon, happens far too frequently.

We are a violent society — our national religion is football, a sport that demands violence. Our mythology is one of conquest and gunslingers. We idolize firearms — this is true not only of the NRA, but of the American entertainment industry, which fetishizes firearm use. And we’ve allowed far too many to proliferate throughout our culture.

This is what we should be talking about. The NRA and gun-rights supporters prefer that we don’t, and they want us to believe that any gun regulation is an infringement on their rights. But what they fail to understand is that no right is absolute. All rights are balanced against other rights, and we have to prioritize and draw lines based on questions of safety and public interest. For instance, our first amendment speech rights end at the point where speech incites violence — which in itself is in dispute. When it comes to guns and firearms, we already draw lines. Bazookas and missile launchers are not legal, and there are few who would advocate eliminating those bans. We accept that those armaments are off limits, because they pose too great a threat to the public.

So, the debate is not really about taking away Americans’ firearms — that’s a straw man that the NRA drags out to gin up outrage. The debate we need to have is far more nuanced and needs to focus on where to draw the line between which guns should be allowed and which guns an elected government might have an interest in regulating or keeping off the streets.

A solid plan, to me, would include more comprehensive and better background checks and licensing, liability insurance modeled on what we do with automobiles, a ban on military-style weapons, tighter regulation of interstate sales, an end to any reciprocity across state lines, and severe restrictions on online purchases. It also would close the gun-show loophole and limit what can be produced by gun manufacturers.

This isn’t going to happen, however, until the broader cultural debate shifts. While polls show the vast majority of the public supporting restrictions of various types, our entertainments are awash in firearms. There is a culture-wide glorification of firearms, even a fetishization in some quarters. They are ever present on TV and in the movies, and we are unlikely to move in the direction of England or Canada until there is a cultural shift.

That will take time and significant effort and goes beyond just changing the party that runs Washington or the state capitals.

In the meantime, we have to make sure the politicians know we are angry — at Paddock, at the legal and black market gun dealers, at the manufacturers, at the NRA, but most of all at the politicians themselves who enable the gun culture to proliferate.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email,; blog,; Twitter, @newspoet41 and @kaletjournalism; Facebook,; Instagram, @kaletwrites.

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2017

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