For some reason Adam Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and governor wannabe, felt compelled to hold a press conference last week to boast about the number of concealed-carry weapons license holders in the state. That number will top 1 million this week, doubling in just five years.
The millionth permit will be handed out the same week that we will witness the memorial service for the 27 victims, 20 of them children no older than 7, of the Newtown school massacre, one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in this country’s history. The act was perpetrated with America’s most common, most worshipped and most protected weapon of mass destruction: the firearm.
Putnam just showed us how common and protected it is, and to what lengths politicians go to enable the arsenal of terrorism. This is one of the ways you make a name for yourself as a politician in Florida: you brandish your gun fetishism and praise its disciples. It is also what lays bare this state’s—this country’s—infantile attitude about guns, whose prevalence (300 million firearms in circulation in the United States) is inversely proportionate to mockeries that pass for gun regulation.
Floridians, Putnam wanted us to know in triumphalist language as he described what he called the “success” of the program, are pulling these permits at the fastest pace in the nation. He brought a chart with him showing the graph line of permits zooming up. I’m glad the line was drawn in red, though I doubt Putnam got the irony, particularly in light of the language he used. “Only” 7,244 licenses have been revoked in the 25-year history of Florida’s concealed-carry program, he said. Only 7,244 licenses were awarded people who abused them or shouldn’t have had them.
Here’s a less triumphal look behind that “only.” Florida has the 15th-highest homicide rate in the nation, with guns accounting for the overwhelming majority of the killings. Duval County alone, which will end the year with more than 100 homicides, has more murders by firearm in a year than in all of Britain, a nation of 63 million. Florida also has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, thanks to firearms, which accounted for 64 percent of the carnage in 2011 (according to Florida’s Vital Statistics Annual Report).
Florida, whose enabling laws go as far as concealing the identity of conceal-carry permit holders, is part of the South’s lethal romance for guns, where trigger-happy gun laws concentrate the nation’s gun violence. But it’s a national disease amplified by a national obsession that doesn’t hesitate to lock and load the words “gun” and “hobby” in the same chamber while vilifying those who’d imply a connection with the consequences: Ten times as many Americans die of firearms, each year, as did on 9/11.
We have a number of gun epidemics in this country. Mass murder is merely the worst of them. Those mass murders—the movie theater massacre in Aurora, the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the factory in Minneapolis, the mall in Oregon, just this year—do not happen except with guns. And it’s the guns—the guns, not the men wielding them—that make massacres on that scale possible, refuting one of the most cynically idiotic one-liners of the gun fetishist: that people, not guns, kill.
Another miserable one-liner seeks to segregate the problem to law-breaking nut-cases while absolving all law-abiding gun owners, though most killings, including Newtown, are enabled by legally obtained guns. And even as guns claim a life every 20 minutes in this country, state and federal governments continue to let National Rifle Association propaganda derail sensible discussions about guns, let alone sensible gun regulations. As Putnam’s spectacle illustrated so mindlessly, no other civilized country has the variety of laws that treat guns as entitlements.
Or the variety of alternately vile, absurd or survivalist arguments debilitating most discussions about guns. I still sympathize with Edward Abbey’s argument that “the tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state-controlled police and military are the weapons of dictatorship,” but not that “the rifle is the weapon of democracy.” He’s right to be suspicious of any government that would deny guns to its citizens. But that’s never been the issue here, not even down the imaginary slippery slopes of NRA fantasist. The issue is strict regulation in proportion to the lethality of the objects in question. Firearms have one function, and one function only: to kill. You can dress it up all you like as hunting or target practice or testosterone therapy. It doesn’t change a firearm’s purpose. As Nicholas Kristof notes, ladders, which kill 300 people a year, are more regulated than firearms, while it’s harder to adopt a pet than buy a gun.
On the absurdist side, there’s the invented claim that liberals who’d never tolerate limits on the First Amendment would dance on the grave of the Second. Put aside the fact that slander and libel laws, speech codes, regulations and corporate controls would actually be an excellent model for the way to treat the Second: the fact remains that a word has never killed. Ever. In all of recorded history. And never will. A gun will kill sometime in the minutes before and after you read this piece. The First Amendment is overregulated. The Second is the one dancing on the graves of its victims.
And on the vile side, there’s the insult to humanity we hear after every school massacre: that such things wouldn’t happen if prayer hadn’t been taken out of schools. It is of course an outright lie that prayer has been taken out of school: no child, no individual, is ever denied the right to pray or worship in school. Yet the suggestion that prayer can in any way affect these outcomes is deranged. Perhaps the victims of Hiroshima, Rwanda, 9/11 and Auschwitz should have prayed a little harder, too? If that’s the case—and if anyone can still say that after learning of the manner in which Adam Lanza executed the 6- and 7-year-old children at Sandy Hook Elementary, shooting some of them up to 11 times at point-blank range in his little holocaust—then for god’s own sake, I hope he doesn’t exist, because if it takes praying to such a god to avert these tragedies, it is god himself who deserves the first bullet.
But an epidemic depends on a rich and resilient virus to live on, and gun worship is among the best of them, tallying up a death count in the United States at twice the rate of AIDS. It would make a graphic addition to Putnam’s little chart. That epidemic would not be sustainable without the social and political accomplices of a violent, weapons-solve-all mentality. Nor would it be sustainable without the weapons-worshiping apologists who hide behind Second Amendment dogmas while America’s soft-core terrorism, as apple pie as the munitions next door, kills on.