Almost a year to the day before a left-wing nut with a semi-automatic rifle grievously injured Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise at baseball practice, a right-wing nut shot and stabbed the Labour MP Jo Cox to death on an English street.
This will be grist to the mill for Second Amendment absolutists, for whom the ability of an assassin to circumvent even the strictest gun control laws is proof enough that they don't work.
It's the same old story after the Scalise shooting. One side says more restrictions on gun ownership are the answer; the other says the opposite. The debate is as futile as it is wearisome. Whichever side is right, gun control as it is conceived throughout the rest of the Western world is not an option in the United States, since the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court has ruled, confers an individual right to bear arms.
And the Second Amendment is so sacrosanct that even a little tinkering with gun laws is anathema to those who toe the NRA line in Congress, among whom Scalise has always been proud to number himself. Guns will continue to kill more than 30,000 American a year in homicides, suicides and accidents, a level of carnage unimaginable in the rest of the Western world, where experience belies the proposition that the alternative is government by tyranny.
But the Second Amendment is widely held to be the bulwark of American liberty, and nothing is going to change. If Sandy Hook couldn't do it, Scalise's wounds aren't going to cause a rethink either.
While some call for gun control, others suggest the answer might be a more civil tone in political discourse. Certainly, the atmosphere has been poisonous lately. Kathy Griffin, for example, has posed with a mock-up of President Donald Trump's bloody, severed head and Eric Trump has suggested that Democrats are “not even people.”
But politics has always been a rough game in this country, and to suggest that everyone start playing kissy-face across the aisle is a waste of breath, too. It would, in any case, be an etiolated democracy that lacked passionate and sometimes acrimonious debate.
It is nevertheless fitting for the president to decry violence, and now we have one who did not hesitate to incite it when protesters appeared at his rallies on the campaign trail. “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them,” he declared with characteristic elegance on one occasion. “Just knock the hell. I promise you, I'll pay the legal fees.”
Trump likes to bully the press, too. He routinely describes reporters as dishonest, and once allegedly asked then-FBI Director James Comey to lock them up if they published leaked information. West Virginia cops actually did arrest a reporter who tried to question Trump's Health Department Secretary Tom Price.
Trump is not out of sync with the mood of the times. When Greg Gianforte body-slammed a reporter for asking a legitimate question on the eve of a congressional election in Montana, he still won. And a poll showed that half of Trump's supporters were in favor of beating up the press.
Maybe this is not an issue on which yours truly can be trusted to take an entirely objective view, but such a disdain for the press is surely as dangerous as it is doltish, especially now that we have a president with marked authoritarian instincts.
But, regardless of who is president, trashing the press is an invitation to the tyranny from which guns purportedly preserve us. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents.” His answer was the free press that our current president holds in such disdain.
Scalise came close to death, and we all rejoice that he is now expected to recover. Calls for gun control, or a new era of civility, will, however, fall on deaf ears. You will read all about it in the papers.