Fellow The West Wing fans will recognize that as the title to the Season 1 finale. For those who haven’t seen the show, or don’t remember that episode, a quick summary is the president’s body man (personal assistant, basically) Charlie, a young black man who happens to be dating the President’s daughter, is the target of white supremacists who open gunfire on a crowd after a speaking engagement. Missing Charlie, they hit the President who suffers relatively minor injuries, and hit his Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh, very nearly killing him.
The incident is referenced in different scenarios throughout the rest of the series. One in particular is an exchange between a young conservative lawyer the President is considering hiring, and Sam, a member of the senior staff. It went as follows:
Ainsley: You think because I don’t want to work here it’s because I can get a better gig on Geraldo? Gosh, let’s see if there could possibly be any other reason why I wouldn’t want to work in this White House? This White House that feels that government is better for children than parents are. That looks at forty years of degrading and humiliating free lunches handed out in a spectacularly failed effort to level the playing field and says, ‘Let’s try forty more.’ This White House that says of anyone that points that out to them, that they are cold and mean and racist, and then accuses Republicans of using the politics of fear. This White House that loves the Bill of Rights, all of them – except the second one.
Sam: This is the wrong place to talk about guns right now. I thought your column was idiotic.
Ainsley: Imagine my surprise.
Sam: But for a brilliant surgical team and two centimeters of a miracle, this guy (Josh) is dead right now. From bullets fired from a gun bought legally. They bought guns. They loaded them. They drove from Wheeling to Rosslyn. And until they pulled the trigger, they had yet to commit a crime. I am so off the charts tired of the gun lobby tossing around terms like “personal freedom” and nobody calling them on it. It’s not about personal freedom. And it certainly has nothing to do with public safety. It’s just that some people like guns.
Ainsley:: Yes, they do. But you know what’s more insidious than that? Your gun control position doesn’t have anything to do with public safety and it’s certainly not about personal freedom. It’s about you don’t like people who do like guns.
You don’t like the people. Think about that the next time you make a joke about the South.
…and there you have it. Those last two statements sum up the problem with every gun control debate I have ever heard. It’s more about either side proving they’re “right” than about focusing on the best course of action. It’s more about either side scoring points with their respective bases than about finding solutions to gun violence. Both sides, both parties are guilty of this.
The right screams that the left is just trying to take away people’s rights and everyone’s guns so they can easily implement their “agenda” without fear of an armed rebellion. They claim only more guns are the solution and that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The left claim’s the right’s allegiance isn’t to the second amendment but only to being a puppet of the NRA and the culture of guns, and that they have blood on their hands. Neither side offers any sensible solution. Only more talking points, only more divisive rhetoric.
Yesterday we had another mass shooting in this country. In the words of Ainsley, imagine my surprise. Maybe that is what angers me most, that I’m no longer surprised. It happens with such frequency, how could we be surprised anymore? Elementary school children, people in their place of worship, members of our armed forces, just everyday citizens enjoying a movie theater or shopping mall, college students, the list of victims goes on and on. They span every race, gender, religion, age, political affiliation, and socioeconomic class. As does the list of perpetrators.
What is the solution or solutions? I truly believe the solution has to be multi-faceted. This isn’t just a gun problem. Nor is it only a mental health problem. Nor can it solely be blamed on a culture that enjoys violent themes in its entertainment. The right has a point that part of the issue lies with the people who commit these crimes, and their motivations. Whether it be hatred, mental illness, a thrust for violence or whatever else. The left also has a point that accessibility is an issue. How do we solve this? I have no idea.
What I do know is my parents never had to have the conversations with me that I’ve had to have with my son. I never came home from kindergarten and told them about the drill we did to practice what to do in case someone invaded our school with a gun and opened fire. I never asked “Why would someone do that?”. I never had to say “Could that really happen, Mommy?” with a confused look on my face that fell somewhere between curiosity and fear. I never asked “What should I do, Mommy, should I run? Should I try to stop the bad guy? What if he shoots one of my friends, or my teacher?” They never had to respond by asking me to promise to do exactly what my teacher told me to and be as quiet as possible, while trying to conceal their own terror that this is a real possibility they needed to prepare me for. Don’t misunderstand, I think it is important and a great thing that my son’s school has a plan in place, a plan that they prepare for and practice. But it is a truly sobering moment when your six year old starts asking you why.
I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how as a country we collectively get over the political bullshit and for once make our leaders solve this problem. All I do know is, that while maybe completely unrealistic, I hope it happens before another life is lost. Since I know that is unlikely, I certainly hope it happens before my son is forced to have the same heart-wrenching conversation with his child.