Since Bloomberg News already broached the subject – awkwardly shoehorning in a few lines about how little President Obama and Mitt Romney have said on the topic – it might be worth carefully pursuing the question of what effect, if any, today’s cinema shooting will have on public policy. This is not, of course, to in any way detract from the personal horror of what happened there today. Politicizing an act of senseless carnage before cleanup at the crime scene is even complete has something of a ghoulish tenor to it, taking someone else’s pain and turning it into a parable about your pet issue.
That said, gun control is one of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s dearest concerns,`as briefly explored in today’s NPR discussion beween E.J. Dionne and David Brooks. It only makes sense that the newspaper that bears Bloomberg’s name would make mention of its founder’s chief political motivations.
And though the NRA has not made a public statement regarding the case (excepting a short nonstatement about waiting until all the facts are in), that has not prevented some gun-lobby boosters from making the insinuation: if someone had been carrying a concealed weapon during James Holmes’ apparent rampage, the body count would have been lower.
There is a profound danger to that line of thinking. Perhaps, in this case, yes. Someone could have shot Holmes before he took twelve lives, possibly more once all is laid to rest.
But that does not change the fact that concealed-carry advocates are calling for public gun battles between amateur hobbyists and criminal gunmen. More guns will lead to more gunfights, without question. Even laying aside the question of whether guns are likely to be used in moments of anger between otherwise sane sportsmen, the increased presence of weaponry will lead to bullets flying in both directions even during criminal acts undertaken by lone madmen. “Collateral damage,” in the form of innocent bystanders, is inevitable.
Despite the trite maxim that an armed society is a polite one, the inevitability remains that that politeness must be borne of fear. Increased presence of guns in public, formerly weapon-free spaces will not lead to fewer crazies attacking parks and civic buildings. Rather, it will lead to a culture of fear, where the expectation that your neighbor is armed will be more and more true each day.
Doubtless, this fear will lead to more gun sales. It isn’t hard to follow the lobby’s logic. The question is whether we can tolerate a public sphere in which the unarmed are considered to be asking for victimhood.