Today is March 5th, 2013, 81 days after 20 students and six teachers were gunned down at their elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. In the immediate aftermath of that tragedy, there was a sense that the US might finally be willing to take some reasonable steps to control the proliferation of deadly weapons in our society. But that was before the Oscars came to our nation’s capitol, bringing with it the latest battle-to-the-death mega-extravaganza. It’s a cross between The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook Without Any Discernible Silver Linings, and it’s called “The Sequester.”
As a sequester detester, I am proud that the American political system last week managed to demonstrate yet again its brilliance—if you define “brilliance as “the havoc that can be wrought by demagogues so busy calling each other names that they forget to pay the rent on several aircraft carriers.” (If that is your definition, congratulations, but I strongly suggest you get a new dictionary before studying for the SATs.) Having put a gun to each others’ heads last summer—a “stand your ground” kind of move that would make the NRA proud—Congress and the President managed to cut housing assistance, kill thousands of jobs and send us back toward a recession while ignoring both 1) the Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and tax reforms that are critical to our long term budget issues, and 2) the fact that our current ambassador to North Korea turns out to be Dennis Rodman. But as John F. Kennedy once said, “we Americans will pay any price and bear any burden, as long as the operative ‘we’ is either the poor or our grandchildren.” The dysfunction in Washington has gotten so bad that Michelle Obama is now rocking some kick-ass bangs in the apparent hope that no one will recognize her.
With the endless talk about sequestration, and how it’s not to be confused with the “fiscal cliff” or the “debt ceiling downgrade” or “a two-year-old’s temper tantrum,” the potential for progress on any other issue has faded along with Rebecca Black and explicitly calendrical pop-songs. According to The Washington Post, in the midst of all this sequestration nonsense, “the last event [Obama] dedicated solely to gun control was a Feb. 4 appearance at a Minneapolis police station, and on immigration it was a Jan. 29 speech at a Las Vegas high school.” Only congressional Republicans have managed to keep their eye on their obstructionist ball, with the result that while you might lose your job, you can rest easy knowing that your kids still have the constitutional right to be fatally shot in their own classroom. Unless they’re lucky enough to get deported first because you came to this country illegally when they were seven days old.
And we the people are letting them get away with it, because we have the attention spans of doped-up goldfish.
This is the beauty of the 24 hour news cycle. We careen from yesterday’s funny cat to today’s crippled cruise ship, from the Voting Rights Act one day to another Harlem Shake the next. That can be a beautiful thing, especially in the case of a particularly funny cat. All you need is a smartphone the size of the Republican wing of the Congressional Black Caucus to sit in England, read an Italian twitter feed, and make pope jokes with friends sitting in New York and Amman (“There was horse meat in the communion wafers too?!”). But this instant communication also means that pointless distractions come and go so quickly that by the time you sit down for breakfast, your morning latte is already old news. And so, apparently, is the senseless death of 26 people in an elementary school in Connecticut.
So today, March 5th, 2013, six and a half years after Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, I’m bringing back gun control. The NRA is counting on you to be so distracted by screaming goats spliced into Gregorian chants that you won’t even notice when modest reforms, like limits on the size of ammunition clips or closing gun show loopholes, are allowed to quietly die. Or when Bruce Willis sneaks out and makes another Die Hard movie (“Die Hard 16: It’s a Good Day to Exact Vengeance at My Retirement Home, But Where the Hell Did I Leave My Teeth?”).
Throughout recorded history, March 5th has been a big day when it comes to guns. It was on March 5th, 1863 that Samuel Colt produced the first .34 caliber revolver, thereby increasing the killing capacity of Revolutionary War muskets by 600%. 93 years earlier, on March 5th, 1770, Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave, was the first to fall at the Boston Massacre; minutes later, he was joined by a teenager, Samuel Maverick. On March 5th, 1974, Eva Mendes was born. To my knowledge, she has nothing to do with guns, but she’s dating Ryan Gosling, and he has great guns. (Let me be clear: I do not believe that those things should be regulated. In this case, and this case only, I’m fully in favor of a “sun’s out, guns out” policy).
This matters. This all matters (maybe not the Ryan Gosling stuff, but—wait, of course that matters). It matters because the colonists did not forget the incidents in Boston and allow themselves to be distracted by proto-reality shows (e.g. the stage sensation that swept the nation, “The Real Horsewives of New England”). In an incipient republic that was soon to become a model for the ages, people did not forget the deaths of a black man and a 17 year old. To this day, high school students learn of the Nazi Party’s electoral victory on March 5th, 1933 so that we will never again allow a democracy to become so corrupted by pure evil. They learn of the writings of Copernicus, banned by the Catholic Church on March 5th, 1616, so we will not forget the dangers of censorship—for had Copernicus’ followers allowed themselves to be bullied into silence, we might still believe that the earth revolves not around the sun but the Kanye-Kim baby. Our form of government—indeed, our very civilization— cannot survive if we can’t find a way to screen out the irrelevant and the inflammatory and focus on what actually matters. To paraphrase George Santayana, those who ignore the past are doomed to become anchors on Fox News.
As the negotiations over sequestration end not with a bang but with a whimper from Harry “Don’t Tread on Me More Than Twice a Week” Reid, let’s take this March 5th to look back and remember what we need to keep our eyes on. Let’s remember the children of Newtown, and the students of Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, and the young black men who face daily warfare in the streets of Chicago, and Gabby Giffords, and all the other victims of tragic, avoidable gun violence. Let’s remember William Hung, because I always liked that guy and I’m afraid that my children will never get to witness his luminosity on national television again. Above all, let’s remember that we need to fight back against the 24 hour news cycle and stay focused on what matters, whether it takes 24 days, 24 months, or 24 years. Because if we don’t remember, we’re always going to be dodging bullets, both metaphoric and literal. And when we fail to duck in time, it will be no consolation at all that the wound was self-inflicted.