The first is that our lawmakers are cowards when it comes to guns. They are not cowards about plenty of other things, like the inherent rights of Wall Street to disembowel the world economy now and then, or the rights of oil companies to do absolutely anything to American taxpayers while billing those taxpayers for doing it. But when it comes to curtailing the “right” of Americans to buy and use weapons capable of killing dozens or hundreds—if any given American believes the day has come when they need to do it—politicians still tremble in fear at what the decaying grift factory of the National Rifle Association (NRA) might do to them for having common sense. The Supreme Court has likewise decided to bend to the most-extremist interpretations of phrases a quarter-millennium old, and the Americans most animated in their insistence that they, in particular, be allowed to stockpile enough armament to mount a theoretically (but not really) plausible rebellion against our democratic institutions have only gotten more and more specific in spelling out what current injustices might justify such terrorism.
The second reason is that most people of the United States do not care about American children, are tired of pretending they care about American children, and are increasingly shrill in declaring that anyone who does give a damn about American children is a socialist—if not an outright Marxist. The current moment has enough of a record behind it to be sure this is not a fluke. The murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School resulted in no significant action—but a bounty of advice as to what backpacks children should wear, what hiding places they should choose, and how they should attempt to fight back if and when a mass shooter came to their school as well.
There was little chance that the mass murder of high school students would result in more substantive action, and indeed, much of the “discourse” from the political and punditry classes were bent towards instilling outrage that our schools were still not “hardened” enough, as targets. Not enough metal detectors, not enough fencing, not enough cameras, and too few armed guards.
Perhaps community volunteers could shoulder assault rifles and patrol school perimeters, went one proposition. Perhaps teachers themselves should be forced to carry guns in their classrooms, went another. Again, though, the central premise remains: Whenever Americans face a conflict between their “right” to be armed and the “rights” of their children, they have chosen their guns. Every. Single. Time.
But it’s the pandemic that has perhaps best exposed how much contempt the bulk of the American public has for anything even vaguely resembling safety for its children. A very, very large chunk of the discourse has once again revolved not around how to best keep our own children safe from a deadly threat, but on the socialist audacity of suggestions that we might.
Children are less likely to die of the disease, so what’s the point of protecting them?
Teachers are disposable and mostly valueless, so why are we as a society even tolerating their own pandemic illnesses? Surely those teachers are just trying to trick us into providing marginally better conditions?
It is simply taken as a given, during a deadly pandemic, that a certain percentage of children and those around them will die. And them’s the breaks. Even the notion of wearing masks, the most basic of safety measures, is considered to be an absolute travesty by parents who are far more concerned about the supposedly political implications of taking action than they are about whether their children get infected.
This, too, fits with American parental behaviors we are now extremely accustomed to. The American approach to childrearing remains centered not on welfare, but on power.
Whether a child has enough to eat is seen as secondary to the societal right to deny their parents food if those parents are deemed too lazy to deserve it.
Whether a child learns or does not learn is of secondary importance to the right of parents to embed specific doctrines of bigotry or zealotry—leading to furious protests when parents who have not so much as cracked open their child’s algebra textbooks or seen their teachers’ faces are told by media figures that their children are being exposed to books by Black Americans, or books that suggest LGBTQ students should not, in fact, treat themselves as damaged and sinful goods.
It is not that America can’t keep its children from dying in schools. America has gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure children keep dying in schools at whatever rate will best support adult hobbies, pleasures, and culture wars. If there comes a day when some high-profile blowhard decides that fire extinguishers in schools are socialism, parents across the country will begin demanding that they be stripped out and sold for scrap metal.
American schools will be kill zones, places where our children are taught what sorts of furniture are the best for hiding behind, places where children have drills to teach them how to hide quietly even in crisis situations where their every instinct is to cry out, places with secured perimeters and regular lockdowns when gunshots are heard nearby, until our society values the “right” to kill our neighbors as of less consequence than the “right” of neighbors not to be killed.
If that sounds harsh? Good. It should. It is a repulsive choice to have made, and we are all complicit in allowing it to fester instead of treating those who demanded those trade-offs as degenerates and pariahs.
One of the father-activists who has made his presence most known after the death of his daughter is Fred Guttenberg, who today wrote a long thread on his grief. Another father, Manuel Oliver, hung a banner from a construction crane to demand America respond to its crisis. While politicians bluster with their newest pre-planned hoaxes, this time insisting that the real danger to American children comes from the hundreds of books in libraries that threaten to expose them to crimethink, they dodge and weave and cower from anyone who asks them to keep children from being murdered even if that action might enrage the sort of people who collect guns specifically as tools of assassination.
What a rotten anniversary. What a sad and broken culture.
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