Loyal readers (both of you) might remember how I rail against meaningless and/or deceptive platitudes: “We wish him well,” for instance, when referring to a departing employee. The real meaning is “May he burn in hell.” There’s also “Thank you for asking,” which translates to “It’s really none of your business.”
But let’s add a truly insidious one to the lot; we’ve been seeing it over and over again as Americans are killed or maimed by crazy people firing guns: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family” yada, yada yada. The New York Daily News got it right with its startling headline: “God Isn’t Fixing This.”
That was after the slaughter in San Bernardino, California, and after the lineup of craven political leaders cybermumbled or tweeted their robotic “thoughts and prayers” messages. But that just isn’t going to cut it. Beseeching a higher power won’t solve the big problem here, the lack of action by our lower powers; it won’t stop the crazy people from getting their hands on readily available, hand-held weapons of mass destruction.
By now most of us have seen the statistic: In 2015 alone, there have been more than 350 “mass shootings,” defined as a shooting that results in four or more people being killed or wounded. And considering how easy it is to get lethal firepower, it’s probably not a bit surprising.
Reflexively we blame the National Rifle Association, that incredibly powerful lobbying organization backed by the arms merchants, which effectively blocks through intimidation even minimally rational controls on the ability to buy and possess these death machines. Perhaps the real blame should be heaped on the politicians who do not dare entertain any restrictions or qualifications under threat of NRA jackboots.
For instance, as nutty as it sounds, a person on the terrorist watch list, who is not allowed to fly, can purchase a gun — including rapid-fire “long rifles” that effectively shred anyone who has aggrieved them and set off their homicidal fantasies. Just one day after the San Bernardino butchery, Senate Republicans killed and amendment that would have corrected this lethal absurdity. One could contend that the NRA as well as the politicians they control are accomplices in the massacres.
But one also could argue that we all are. There are 300 million guns privately held in the United States. Not only that, but millions of us would go bonkers if anyone infringed on our right to keep them, as so carelessly enshrined in our Constitution.
The result is that we have become a very scary nation. President Barack Obama, plaintively said after the Planned Parenthood bloodshed (remember that one, just a few days before San Bernardino — it’s hard to keep track), plaintively said, “We can’t let it become normal.” Sad to say that it is obscenely normal, and no matter how many times we are shocked by such carnage, we can’t work up the political will or national character to regulate the instruments of death. Remember Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a lone gunman annihilated 20 children and eight adults, if you count his mother and himself?
In case you don’t remember, we were horrified. But nothing was done to make it even slightly more difficult to get such lethal weaponry. That’s because, as a country, we have a perverted relationship with guns. There have been so many theories advanced about what they represent to Americans, but my preference is that we are frightened, feeling powerless in the face of sinister forces, and that lethal weaponry offers courage to the timid. How pathetic. How dangerous.
Imagine the families who deal with the loss of loved ones who were snuffed out by a psychopath while just going about their lives. It’s impossible to imagine how crushing their agony is. “Thoughts and prayers” won’t make that go away. Sanity over guns might help. And a little courage.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.