Giving the devil a pass

This is going to be a story about guns, politics and common sense — three things that almost never go together in today’s America (and a topic on which I realize even some progressives differ).  So fair warning: If you’re someone who believes that the Second Amendment grants every school girl the right to go to class with a Browning BAR hanging over her shoulder or a Beretta semi-automatic pistol shoved in her Barbie purse, read no further: This will only piss you off.

Besides, you wouldn’t like it at The Last Chance Democracy Café anyway: We have a strict no guns allowed policy.  Hell, wild throws by the darts players after they’ve had a few beers are scary enough; the last thing we need is more firepower.

The Last Chance Democracy Cafe
Episode 59: Giving the devil a pass
by Steven C. Day

About three weeks have passed since one mentally disturbed young man, armed to the teeth with some of the best compact killing gadgetry yet created by the fruit of human intelligence, slaughtered 32 of his fellow human beings at Virginia Tech.  Most of them had done him no personal offense.  He just felt a need to kill people.  They just happened to be there to be killed.

Immediately after the killings our national leaders — including the congressional Democratic leadership — started parroting the same talking point.  It was as though they were reading from the same script: I almost wonder: is there a giant vault hidden somewhere in the capital where pre-written talking points are stored for just such occasions?  You know, cheat sheets for “times of national tragedy,” so that politicians can recite their “grief,” rather than having to ad-lib.  

The approved talking point for this particular drama, of course, is that it would be wrong for anyone to use the tragedy to push a political agenda (in other words, to push for sensible gun control legislation).  This is, instead, we are duly advised, the time to rally to the aid of the families of the victims — to support them in their grief. 

Odd isn’t it, how reminiscent this language is of what Bush says when he urges us to rally around his Iraq policy, suggesting that by doing so we support the troops.  In DC speak, it would seem, “rallying around” and “supporting” people means being all warm and fuzzy with them while you continue to get them (or their loved ones) killed.

Strange — I had somehow gotten the impression that citizens were supposed to use democracy to try to solve problems.

Clearly, though, I was mistaken, no doubt led astray by the delusions of some overwrought civics teacher, since it is now obvious that the real job of our elected representatives, when faced with potentially preventable tragedies, such as school shootings, is to tritely share our pain, while otherwise sitting on their butts and doing nothing.  Then, of course, when the next school shooting occurs, they can once again tell us how wrong it would be for anyone to try to push a political agenda in the wake of such a tragedy, and how, instead, we should all concentrate on supporting the families of those lost in their grief.  And so on down the long bloody trail we go.

Ain’t democracy grand!

*  *  *

Molly, who was dropping off a fresh round of drinks at the large round table, had been trying to pick a “fight” with Winston, usually something exceedingly easy to do.  

“Hey, I like your shirt,” she said theatrically.  “Was it passed down from your grandfather?”

Winston, of course, isn’t the sort of person to take that sort of slam lying down.  But this time he just grumbled and looked away, staring at the candle flickering in the Paul Wellstone Memorial Candleholder at the center of the table.

Molly gave me an “I tried” shrug and moved on to the next table.  Winston had been in a foul mood all evening; he hadn’t been unpleasant or rude, just quiet and sullen.  We were all trying to snap him out of it.  He didn’t seem to want to be snapped.

So Horace took the direct approach.  “What’s bothering you, Winston?” he asked in a matter of fact way.

Winston took a slow sip of his bourbon, setting the glass down very gingerly, almost like he was afraid of breaking it.  This was, of course, also very uncharacteristic of Winston, a man who was born to be the biggest bull in whatever china shop he happens to be in.  Winston ignored Horace and, instead, looked straight at Zach and said, “I guess we’ve turned you into a political junkie, huh?”

Zach, as regulars here know, was an apolitical pre-dental student when he first dropped into the café.  As I’ve mentioned before, we get lots of college kids who drop in for a little while on Wednesday evenings just to watch Horace, Tom and Winston (The Three Wise Men as I call them) in action.  They’ve become something of an urban legend on campus — three old-timers who love to pontificate on politics and democracy, often in very amusing ways — as their blood alcohol levels slowly rise.

The kids usually enter the lounge looking slightly uncomfortable and out of place, find a perch at the bar or at one of the other tables, drink a beer or two and watch “the action.”  Then, almost without fail, within an hour or two they get bored and head out in search of less geriatric forms of entertainment.

The thing about Zach, of course, is that he didn’t leave with his friends.  He stayed and joined in the conversation.  And very quickly he became a part of the group.  Hell, why not just say it?  He became part of our family.

“Yeah, I guess you have turned me into a political junkie,” he replied to Winston with a small smile.

“And worse than that, I suppose, we’ve turned you into a liberal . . . the most accursed of all political partisans.  Just ask the mainstream media.”

“Guilty as charged.”

Winston’s face became coldly serious.  “Well, be careful about one thing: don’t put to much faith in progressive politicians,” he said, “because they always let you down in the end.”

Horace broke in.  “Whoa.  You are in one hell of a foul mood.”  He wasn’t chastising Winston.  His tone of voice was like what you might expect from someone telling a friend at the beach that she was getting a doozy of a sunburn — more of an observation. 

Winston nodded slowly.  “I suppose I am in a bad mood.”

“So what’s up?”

“It’s my own damn fault for getting my hopes up too high.”  Then he half laughed.  “Who’d of believed it?  Me, of all people, thinking like an optimist?”

“If it makes you feel any better, none of the rest of us noticed it,” smiled Horace.


“But seriously: With everything that’s going on, global warming, the killing fields in Iraq and all . . . what in the world made you, of all people, choose now to become an optimist?”

Winston took another slow sip of bourbon.  “It’s the Democrats.  I guess I’d gotten myself convinced that they’d finally grown some balls.”

“And they have,” said Tom in an upbeat voice.  “Harry Reid’s been giving Bush hell on Iraq.”

“That isn’t guts.  Given that the vast majority of Americans have turned against the war, fighting Bush on Iraq is just good politics.  Besides, it remains to be seen what they’ll do now that Bush has vetoed the war funding bill with the timetables.”

“Okay.  But what about all of the congressional investigations into . . . ?”

“Again, that’s great and all that, but going after the Bush Administration for corruption is also good politics right now.  It’s a good thing to do, but it doesn’t take guts.  Guts is being willing to stick your neck out even though doing so may hurt you politically, the way the people who voted against authorizing the war in the first place did . . . back when all of the bright boys and girls insisted that doing so was political suicide.  Now, that’s guts.  Still, the way the Democrats in Congress have been acting lately, taking Bush on the way they have, I have to admit that they’d about made a believer out of me . . .  Then the Virginia Tech shootings happened and before long it was obvious that they’re the same gutless wonders they’ve always been.”

“So this is about guns,” said Horace in the voice of someone who has just solved a puzzle.

“No, it’s about gutless politicians who won’t do anything about guns.  And it’s about people getting killed because of it.”

*  *  *

I was 8 when a crazy person blew a hole in John Kennedy’s head, 13 when a crazy person shot and killed Martin Luther King, Jr., still 13 when another crazy person shot down Robert Kennedy, 17 when a crazy person shot George Wallace and 25 when a crazy person used a gun to kill John Lennon and another crazy person put bullets into Ronald Reagan and Jim Brady.

And, of course, thousands upon thousands of non-celebrities have also been killed by firearms in America along the way.

In fact, lately crazy people seem to have become less interested in celebrity assassinations and more interested in slaughtering large numbers of non-celebrities in one sitting.  Schools, of course, have been especially popular targets.

And although I haven’t done a statistical analysis on this, it sure seems like the number of people being killed in these attacks is going up.  It also seems that the kill-to-injury ratio in these shootings is going up, with more body bags and less successful ambulance trips.  It would seem, in other words, that the continuing quest of the weapons industry — a group that makes Big Tobacco look like the Red Cross — to make and sell ever deadlier weapons, as well as weapons capable of expelling an ever increasing number of projectiles without reloading, is driving up the kill rate.

How do the leaders of the weapons-political-industrial complex respond to this: why the answer to gun violence, they assure us, isn’t to have fewer guns in fewer people’s hands, but to have even more guns in even more people’s hands.  And they say this with a straight face.  Really, they do.  I’ve seen it myself.

And these are the people the current leadership of BOTH major political parties seem to be taking dictation from on the issue of gun control.

*  *  *

Zach waded into the conversation.  “You’re talking about the Democrats reducing their support for gun control, right?”

Horace nodded.  “In years bygone, most Democratic politicians were supporters of common sense gun control measures: things like working to keep semi-automatic weapons and cop killing bullets off the streets, establishing waiting periods and background checks for gun purchases . . . things like that.”

Tom added, “And according to opinion polls most Americans favor such measures.”

Winston was looking a little less down in the dumps.  I guess getting his feelings out had helped.  He said, “The problem is that most Americans who favor gun control don’t decide who to vote for based on that issue, while many of those who oppose gun control do.  And this has made the gun lobby incredibly powerful.”

“He’s right,” said Tom.  “In state after state things like concealed carry laws that allow people to walk among us with concealed firearms are being adopted . . . despite the fact that in many of those places a majority of people oppose them.”

“Then after the election in 2004, the conventional wisdom became that John Kerry was hurt by his support for gun control,” added Horace.  “Personally, I think they took the wrong message from the election, but that’s the view that took hold.”

Winston shook his head again, this time looking more sad than angry.  “So the Democrats just gave up.  They got out of the gun control business.  And guess what, recent polls show support for gun control falling.  What do you think?  Could the fact that few of our leaders are still pushing the issue have anything to do with that?”

“I heard something about that on the news,” said Zach.  “Aren’t Democrats backing away from gun control because they think supporting it will hurt them in the more rural areas they’ve been targeting.”

“Sure that’s part of it,” Winston agreed.  “And, by the way, I have no problem with the big tent.  I’m not saying we should have some sort of gun control loyalty test for Democrats.  It’s perfectly fine with me to have gun nut Democrats representing gun nut areas of the country, but that doesn’t mean the whole party has to take a blood oath to support the NRA, for Christ’s sake!”  Winston was almost shouting now.  “For the love of God, kids are getting killed!  And it’s happening again and again!  And anyone with the slightest hint of intellectual honesty has to admit that at least part of the problem rests with this nation’s gun culture.”

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” said Tom sarcastically. 

“Yeah, like with the assassination of JFK,” added Horace, his voice also deep with sarcasm.  “I’m sure that if Lee Harvey Oswald hadn’t had a rifle he would have taken Kennedy out with long distance knife throwing or something like that.  I mean that’s the kind of logic these people are trying to sell.”

“Trying?” smirked Tom.  “Hell, they’ve been doing a hell of a lot more than trying to sell this crap.  They’ve been turning it into political gold.”

“That’s what makes me so angry,” sighed Winston.  “Most of the leaders in the Democratic Party know sensible gun control is needed.  And they know it would save lives.  But for political reasons they’ve decided to stop fighting the gun lobby.”

Horace nodded.  “They’re giving the devil a pass.”

“And what’s so stupid about this,” continued Winston, “is it won’t work.  Not a chance.  Trying to play nice with hardcore gun fanatics is like trying to accommodate cancer and then hoping that it will be reasonable with you in return.  But it doesn’t work that way, does it?  No, the cancer just keeps growing, demanding more and more of you.  The gun lobby’s the same way.  It isn’t enough to keep ownership of most handguns legal; they also insist that cop killing bullets must be allowed.  Protecting private ownership of high powered hunting rifles isn’t sufficient; no, people also have to be allowed to have semi-automatic weapons that were designed for use in wars.  The legal right to keep guns in your home for self protection isn’t enough; instead, people have to be allowed to carry them wherever they want.  You know, at the park where your kids play.  At the outdoor concert where everyone is getting liquored up.”

“And doesn’t that make you feel safer?” said Horace.  “I mean, knowing that the obnoxious drunk sitting next to you may be packing heat . . . and that he may have a perfect legal right to be doing so.”

Winston shook his head in disgust.  “And it isn’t even just about gun ownership.  These same bastards are also going around the country working to weaken homicide laws . . . trying to expand the legal definition of when it’s alright to kill people.  They’re literally trying to make murder legal.  And it will never stop.  They’ll just keep demanding more and more.  And people are going to die because of it.”

“You’re right,” said Horace soberly.  “The Democrats will have to fight back on guns some day.  Eventually the gun lobby will push so far that they won’t have a choice.”

Winston held up his glass high in a toast: “Here’s to all the people who will die in the meanwhile.  I hope they’ll understand why we waited so long to do something about gun violence.  I mean, we had elections to win, after all.     

*  *  *

Check out our episodes archive.

*  *  *

When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 27 years. Contact Steven at .

© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001

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9 Responses to “Giving the devil a pass”

  1. RJHall Says:

    “They’re literally trying to make murder legal.”

    This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show that never made it to a record or novel or tv or movie screen. It’s humorous science fiction, and of course refers only to fictional lawyers and not real ones! The line was something like this: “This problem taxed the minds of the lawyers, who argued that the concept of murder should be re-thought, re-defined, and in the end even re-spelled in the hopes that no one would notice.” (Incidentally, for those familiar with the radio story, the problem was a clone-making machine gone haywire, starting a new clone of Lintilla before it was finished with the one it was on, and so the machine could not be turned off or destroyed without murdering the two clones of Lintilla it was working on.)

  2. enviroman Says:

    The thing that gets me about politics of gun control is the NRA’s tactic of defending the 2nd Amendment. They always speak and act as if the democrats are going to take ALL the guns away. Of course, the Democrats have no intention of taking the hunting guns away, but those are the people who get all “up in arms” about the issue everytime a politician or pundit talks about it. Since the US is first and foremost a capitalist nation, I believe the NRA’s true agenda is to protect the gun industry. Just like the Bush admin never mentions oil as the true reason why we invaded Iraq, the NRA never mentions that the gun industry’s profits would be hurt if gun control was tightened. Follow the money.

    Being a country boy from the woods of southwest Virginia, I grew up around conservative people who owned guns, mostly for hunting. I never hunted much myself, but I must have some conservation veins running through my liberal mind because I also don’t want the gov’mt to tell me I can’t own a gun. I own one pistol that I haven’t shot in years and I don’t want the gov’mt to make illegal to keep it hidden in that shoe box.

  3. Chuck Says:

    I’ve got 2 guns. A .22 cal. single shot rifle that I haven’t used in many years, & then only for target practice at a near wilderness area I own miles away from the next neighbor, a .22 cal. pistol that is loaded with a birdshot bullet that I’ve used twice to scare away a bunch of crows that were harassing a nesting hawk on my property in a semi-rural area. I’d sure like to keep both.

    I think the operative phrase here is “common sense”. (Which doesn’t seem so common anymore, & often doesn’t make much sense.)

  4. iowametal76 Says:

    You’re right, Chuck - it SHOULD be common sense.

    Guns designed to kill food (animals) = ok.
    Guns designed to kill people = not ok.

    And enviroman is right on as well - the NRA is a LOBBYING group - they represent the interests of businesspeople. They don’t really give a shit about any Amendments or freedoms or rights or whatever. They care about protecting the INDUSTRY. By extension, that means protecting the right of an individual to own the products manufactured by said industry. They don’t care about the right to OWN a gun, they care about the right to BUY a gun.

  5. alwayshope Says:

    I think I’ve mentioned here before a war protest I attended in my small hometown in Indiana. There weren’t many of us (this was before shock and awe) and there were many drive-by insults and foul name-calling idiots who took pleasure in harrassing us. It was freezing cold though so most of the idiots stayed in the comfort and safety of their cars and hurled their hateful crap at us. One man, however, walked up to our group with a gun in his belt where we could see it. We had promised the mother of teenage girl in the group that we would send her daughter home if it even looked ;ike trouble could start. We immediately had someone drive her home. This man used that gun to intimidate all of us. We stood our ground and allowed him to scream “kill em all and let God sort em out” and other profanities (he made my sister cry when he called her things I won’t mention here), we were decent Americans using our rights and freedoms and a man with a gun, with a permit to carry that gun, used that gun to shut us up and send a young girl home disappointed, confused, frightened and not a little angry. The police did show up and make him leave and we continued our march. No harm, then? He didn’t shoot anyone. If more people are allowed, hell encouraged, to carry guns, how often will they use them to make their point or to gain the upper hand ? When that man put his gand on his gun to make sure I saw it, I was enraged. We weren’t going anywhere, We weren’t giving him the satisfaction of scaring us away. What if the cops hadn’t been there? Would we have backed off ? Would he have shot us?
    He had the legal right to carry that gun, but did he have the right to intimidate others with it? Guns change the psyche of the one who holds them. carry one around with you for the day and tell me they don’t cause some strange thoughts to cross your mind.
    Guns, themselves, are dangerous, period. I’ve been around them all my life, I can shoot very well and have a target pistol myself.
    The facts are the facts.
    The gun idustry wants us to buy more so they make more money.
    Guns kill people and intimidate people and in the wrong hands cause those spineless politicians to run for those “cheat sheets for national tragedy”.

  6. iowametal76 Says:

    The GOP is also really good at playing to the fears of the public. And not just the “brown people will come blow up your 5-year-old” fears, I mean more the internalized psychological fear that is a part of our culture. Advertisers use that fear too. And I think I’ve mentioned this in the Cafe before, but I see it loosely described as playing to the fear of “tiny penises.” Look at what a lot of the GOP’s traditional platforms are based on - tough guy imagery, individualism, “manliness,” violence, fighting, might makes right, etc. For a lot of people, it works. Alone on the voting booth, many men (whether aware of it or not) vote with their dicks.
    “If I vote for Pierre Gaypants everyone will think I have a little dick. But if I’m on board with Chuck Steakblood, all will know my masculinity and potency know no bounds.”

    Guns, war, money, control = big dicks.
    Civil rights, peace, justice, compassion = little dicks.

    And it applies to women too, but in a more protective/father figure way. Who do you want protecting you and making decisions for you? Pierre Gaypants or Chuck Steakblood? Which one’s gonna keep your neighborhood safer (read: whiter) and protect your kids at soccer practice? And which one’s gonna allow some icky brown minority to take away a scholarship from your little Ashleigh & Brendyn?

    It’s all just so shallow, so simple, so degrading. And even worse, it works.

  7. iowametal76 Says:

    Sorry for the repeat posts…

    But this pretty much says it all right here:

    Note that neither the article itself nor the NRA spokescreature say anything about the right to OWN a gun, only the right to PURCHASE a gun.

  8. hizzhoner Says:

    I’d like to think that the Democratic Party will remain silent on the issue of gun control only until they have a significant majority that can deal with it effectively….

    Dealing with it effectively means enacting common sense measures (like those supported by the vast majority of law enforcement officers and their respective organizations), stopping the absolutely ridiculous Concealed Carry Laws…(it’s okay to carry guns onto school grounds, medical clinics and into places serving alcohol….medical clinics? Like FAMILY PLANNING CLINICS???/ Yep!) and the equally ridiculous “shoot first and ask questions later” laws.


    Being effective means being able to deal with the vicious retribution that the NRA will attempt to exact in return…trust me, it won’t be pretty.

    I’d like to htink that, but I know I’d only be deluding myself.


  9. FreeDem Says:

    I am going to be a contrarian here. I agree that guns often lead to bad outcomes, and that people who make a fetish of them are often very scary people, but I also do not believe in unilateral disarmament.

    The militia movements of the end of the last century have all but disappeared, but not because they have marginalized, but because they have been mainstreamed into the hard rock base of the Gang Of Pirates. This has not lowered their fetish for weaponry a bit, but rather made it much worse.

    The arrest of Mr Krar and this recent crowd in Alabama as well as many less notorious, gives a window into a crowd that has the bit in its teeth, and is itching for someone to try and stop them.

    We elected a Democratic Majority in spite of massive vote fraud to do just that. If the Democrats actually manage to get (and use) real working power, they will be using their guns, and much worse, for far more than intimidation.

    They have been feverishly packing the courts and the military/police with fellow travelers in the expectation that they will not need the democracy they hate. I do not wish this fight, and am in fact to old to be of any use in it, but to think that the disruption of corruption will be greeted with parades and flowers is as delusional as the Neocons thinking the same about Iraq.

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