As kids, we wouldn’t have stood for it.
A ball on the other side of the fence, half a dozen of us standing around with our gloves dangling off our sweaty hands, and we would have demanded more. Even faced with the three-times-kid-height chain-link, with the uppermost row of rusty diamonds extending nastily over the top bar, giving up would not be an option.
“Well, we gotta climb.” No way, no way; too high, pants will get caught, on and on. “Anyone got a better idea?” Tunnel? Find a cut we can fit through?
No? We’re climbin’.
Now that we’re adults, the analysis isn’t much different. But the stakes are higher. So why aren’t the ideas better?
Faced with the challenge of keeping all innocent children from being perforated by bullets from semi-automatic assault weapons, we find opposition, but no alternatives. The idea that the possibility, however remote, of saving the life of even one child isn’t enough reason to endure inconvenience in the legal purchase of a firearm is frustrating enough. What is maddening is the Facebook-fueled screed that maintains that an assault weapons ban shouldn’t even be considered because it won’t work. “Ban all you want; mental health is the problem” we hear. “Criminals don’t line up for background checks,” we are admonished as a go-away hand waves in our faces.
All correct, strictly speaking. But the idea that a polio vaccine might be imperfect in its first iteration didn’t stall Dr. Salk. The first pacemakers and mechanical hearts were failures; modern versions extend lives for decades. Few successful anti-hunger efforts ever had the food and the planes lined up at exactly the same time.
Ignore it all you want, but the simple truth is this, and it is undeniable: ban assault weapons, and they will be harder (not impossible) to get. That will decrease the chance (not erase it) that an innocent child will be killed in a Newtown- or Columbine-style shooting. (How can we bear the shame of having not one, but two highly recognizable adjectives for this kind of tragedy?) A well-written ban, combined with improvements in mental health care, is our best chance at containing gun violence.
Some criminals and mentally ill people will still get AR-15s and big ammo clips. But maybe, with a comprehensive law and enforcement, not as many will. I have become tired, bone-tired, of the amateur social scientists who say the prospect of saving one life is societally unworkable. If that’s true, 1) I need to find a new society, and 2) anyone who holds with that numerical analysis had better not cross my path or get anywhere near the levers of power.
But what it comes down to, in the end, is this: if opposition is to have any credibility beyond window-dressed obstructionism, it had better bring a better idea. If not this, what? Why not this? Bring it. Tell me. Or admit you don’t think there’s a problem, in which case you suffer from a distinct and dangerous lack of humanity.
Of course, such idea-bereft opposition is nothing new. No one in their right mind can deny that medical care of even the most basic kind has become too expensive for nearly everyone, especially the working poor. But when President Obama had the courage to champion and push through the Affordable Care Act, he met with blunt opposition from people who were perfectly willing to admit the problem — but obstinately unwilling to come up with a serious alternative that is better than the president’s plan. As if cost alone is a reason to turn away from a chance to have a healthier country.
Make no mistake, the law that is usually called Obamacare is far from perfect; it will need time for experience to help it evolve. But as a first effort, it is far, far better than nothing. And no piece of major legislation in our history came out of the first draft fully formed. That is not the way it works in representative republics. Civil Rights Act, Social Security Act, National Labor Relations Act, even the Constitution — all amended and seasoned by national needs and experience.
So on assault weapons, health care, you name it — oppose if you disagree. Such friction is what leads to better laws. But if you’re just going to give up, go play your ball games somewhere else. We need people brave enough to climb the fence to where the better ideas are.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr