I still have enough faith in the humaneness of the average human to trust that when breaking news starts with "There's been a shooting," most of us experience a familiar clench in our essence--an instinctual tremor which traces back to the terror in our apemen ancestors' hearts upon hearing the snarl of a leopard in the night as it carries away the young.
For a day or two after each unthinkable episode, there is the impression that we are as close to a communal empathy as we ever get anymore. We are struck with nothing to say beyond, "How horrible ... how awful ... those poor people," but we keep to ourselves because we assume everyone is thinking the same thoughts.
But do we all think and feel the same after each event? Is everyone's first thought "Those poor people"?
What follows is a conversation which may or may not have taken place in the halls of the National Rifle Association on the morning after the midnight carnage in Colorado. I don't insist this conversation really happened. But then, again, I don't pretend that something close to it couldn't possibly have taken place. The NRA has shown many times and in many ways it is capable of a vulgarity far more profound than this exchange of imaginary dialogue.
"Sir, have you seen any news yet?"
"There's been another shooting. They're still counting the dead."
"Didn't you get my email about this sort of thing?"
"Um, which email?"
"Where I said that we would no longer use the word 'shooting.' I've decided it puts too much emphasis on the fact there's a firearm involved."
"Then what are we supposed to call them, sir?"
"'People-killing-people events,' that's what. If there are more than two or three people who get killed, we call it a 'mass people-killing-people event.' Now, we have to move quickly on this. First, you need to get out a press release pronto. Say something like, 'It would be disrespectful and untimely to suggest this tragedy is an opportunity to debate any further erosion of our Second Amendment rights ... blah blah blah.' You know. The usual. And get on the horn to our flunkies in Congress and remind them that if they find themselves in front of a camera to never refer to this as a 'shooting.' Understand?"
"But sir, won't the media be calling it a 'shooting?'"
"Of course they will. We count on that. It's our opening. Anytime some reporter or commentator says 'shooting' or 'gun violence' or 'stricter regulations' we jump in and announce, 'We'd like to remind the liberals who control the mainstream media that guns don't kill people. People kill people. Whatsmore, it is usually a gun that stops people from killing people. And that's why this organization continues on ... to protect the God-given right of people to own whatever sort of gun it takes to stop people who are killing people.' Write that down for me, would you? I'd like to say it just that way when Fox News asks me for a comment. And one more thing ... see if you can get one or two of our congressional toads to declare this wouldn't have happened if somebody in the crowd had been carrying a gun."
"Sir, has that ever actually happened?"
"Has what happened?"
"Where somebody with a gun ... somebody other than a cop, I mean ... stopped a mass shooting ... uh, pardon me. I mean, stopped a 'mass people killing people event.'"
"What does that have to do with it?"
"Sir, gun laws are the weakest they've been in a century, especially in places like Colorado, thanks to our efforts. More people than ever are carrying guns. Yet not once has there been a case of a random gun owner stopping one of these atrocities."
"That's just bad luck, isn't it? Trust me, if we scare enough citizens into buying a gun, and if we bully enough politicians into relaxing the laws even more, and if we convince enough hero wannabes into believing they could be the one to blow away the next lunatic if they are in the right place at the right time with the right weapon, then the odds are with us. There is no reason to think these people-killing-people events are going to end, so it's only a matter of time until one of them comes out the way we wish it would. We just need to do our job and it will eventually turn out our way."
"Sir, to be honest, I'm losing track of what our job is."
"To sell guns. Do I need to send out another memo?"
"But aren't we selling those guns to the lunatics, too? Aren't we nurturing the very evil we claim to be the solution to?"
Ah, but I must end this imaginary conversation here, before Sir has a chance to answer. Further, I repudiate the whole exchange as too wildly unrealistic to be considered seriously. No, I still believe such a conversation may well have occurred within the NRA after the Aurora incident--or the Tucson incident, or the Virginia Tech incident--but it would hinge on one of the participants having a functioning conscience. And I cannot stretch my imagination far enough to imagine that any employee of today's NRA could possibly have any conscience left.