Standing with Erik Loomis

Like a lot of people, when Erik Loomis heard about the massacre in Newtown, he was angry. Angry at the proliferation of guns in America, at the frequency of mass shootings, at the power of the gun lobby of the NRA and weapons manufacturers. In expressing that anger, he stated:

I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.

It’s a common phrase that everyone understands as hyperbole. I want LaPierre to be held responsible too. But the Right has taken the statement literally and is outraged.

Remember, these are the type of people who tend to carry signs that say things like this and this and this and this.

Regardless of the obvious irony, conservatives have formed an all-out push for Loomis’ head on a stick, calling for his ouster from his current position at the University of Rhode Island. It’s absurd that an institution of higher learning would leave a faculty member vulnerable like URI has, choosing to issue an apology rather than defend his right to use rhetorical devices. But since conservatives are forming ranks to call for him to be fired, and his university seems slow to the defense, it deserves to be said: I stand with Loomis, and you should too.

Please go add your name to this post at Crooked Timber in support of Loomis.

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What Can We Do?

Yesterday, in light of recent events, my friend Adam and I engaged in a thorough conversation over what the next step is in changing the national discourse on gun control. The truth is that I have no idea. I figured I’d lead with that before writing this post. I’ve never worked on any gun control issue, and I’m not even that well-read on the issue. But I have a lot of thoughts on it, because it’s something that enters my thoughts pretty often.

When looking at the recent history of gun violence and massacres in the United States, it’s hard to parse out a strategy or narrative that’s deals solely with guns. The perceived importance of guns is tied up with our Constitution’s Second Amendment, and any conversation about preventing such tragic events must include talk of access to, funding for, and reduced stigma of mental healthcare and increased support for victims of domestic violence. And when you talk about political or legal solutions to gun proliferation, you involve the political system, the powerful gun lobby, and the ideologues of the Republican Party along with unequal state laws, a Supreme Court that strikes down bans, and a Democratic Party scared to use its strength.

So, eschewing the question of when it’s right to talk about gun control, I ask: what will be done? We can’t really accept that nothing will be done, even though a lot of us have reluctantly muttered the question “how many more times will this have to happen before we do something about it?” at least a few times in the past week, month, year, or decade. But if we refuse the idea that nothing will be done, if we decide that something will be done, what will that something be?

A relative of mine recently tried to take advantage of some gun sales at a hunting store in Arizona, and the guns had all sold out almost immediately. When my dad asked him why, the relative reiterated the fear that Obama will be banning all guns any day now, so a lot of Republicans are getting them while they can. Nevermind the fact that Obama hasn’t had the gumption to do anything when it comes to gun violence, and has actually helped facilitate the militarizing of a host of countries around the world. What do we do about gun control when people are already hoarding weaponry to face both the apocalypse and the specter of a government crackdown on guns, both of which are completely unfounded?

It will be a long and arduous campaign to shift the cultural mindset. The NRA and similar organizations have always had a tight grip on the lawmakers of this country, and they have also fostered a deep love for guns among the citizenry. The recent radical turn of the Republican Party has only exacerbated this as more and more people feel tied to their right to bear arms. There’s no easy way to reverse this trend, but a long and committed campaign could slowly chip away at the power of firearms.

It is, of course, my dream that I could live in an America where there is either a full gun ban or something close.  But that’s all it is. It’s a dream, and it will remain that way. After all, yesterday’s tragedy, and many gun-related tragedies, was carried out by legal weapons. But there has to be some argument that, if killing sprees and this easy while ostensibly following the law, maybe we should change the law. The fight against gun violence and mass killings needs to start locally, and it needs to start with conversation.

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