A few months ago I was lucky enough to find an old copy of essays by E.B. White. The book had been discarded—put on a bookshelf where residents of my building (“our fancy building” Judy Woodruff, one of the residents, calls it) can put books they no longer want. Anyone can take a book off the shelf to borrow—or keep.
Anyway, the title of the book is “One Man’s Meat.” It was originally published in the late 1930s and then updated a couple of times. My edition was published in 1942, and its last essay was written three days after Pearl Harbor.
All the essays display White’s elegantly simple style. Many appear nonchalant as he discusses pressing—and not so pressing—issues of the day. Among the issues White deals with—up until that last essay after the entry of the United States into World War II—were the feeling some Americans had about the decennial census being an invasion of their constitutional right to privacy; the growing practice of states putting advertisements on automobile license plates (e.g., “America’s Vacationland” for Maine), and helping lambs give birth in the spring.
If a reader didn’t know better, he or she might mistake White’s casualness for his being oblivious. He wasn’t of course, and one can sense the underlying passion that he manages to restrain with his cool style. Even when America has entered the war, White manages to write about it in an understated way, though his message comes through.
Until Pearl Harbor, White manages to observe the world about him with ironic good cheer. He could do that, I suppose, because he managed to overlook or disregard a great deal that was going around elsewhere in the United States and the world.
And so, one comes away with a word picture of an apparently simpler time in America where one could set his watch by the comings and goings of the lobsterman who kept his boat out in the bay near White’s house.
It would be a challenge to emulate that air of insouciance today. It would also be idiotic at a time when Russian soldiers are murdering Ukrainian civilians in large numbers for no apparent reason, and Americans are murdering Americans in large numbers, also for no apparent reason. The Russians are murdering Ukrainians because they can. And Americans are murdering multiple Americans because they can, thanks to the absence of reasonable laws restraining the availability of guns, which have become weapons of mass destruction.
It now seems that America may be the most dangerous country in the world, not threatened by alien enemies or Muslim fanatics or murderous, raping Mexicans but by American citizens who may be mentally disturbed but still can legally obtain weapons—semi-automatic handguns, rifles, semi-automatic and automatic rifles.
The argument for easy availability to these weapons is based on the Second Amendment which has been interpreted by this Supreme Court to give virtually unfettered access to them. No right is absolute though. The rights of the individual always must be balanced against the rights and safety of society. The First Amendment, certainly as important and foundational as the Second, isn’t absolute. Almost anyone old enough can own a car, but to drive it requires passing tests to obtain a license. Anyone who has fired a rifle or a handgun knows the awesome power they have. In most places, though, no instruction is necessary to own and use a gun. It’s evident that gun licenses are easy to obtain. Venturing out in public—to the grocery store, or a rock concert, a movie, a subway, a church or an elementary school—shouldn’t be a life threatening venture.
Here’s the reality. To date—May 25, 2022—213 mass murders have occurred in America this year—more than one a day. Of those, 27 were in schools. An average of 109 persons in America die from gunshot wounds every day. The federal government, by the way, is effectively banned by law from collecting data about gun violence. The leading proponent of this ban is the National Rifle Association.
It’s difficult to penetrate the psychology surrounding the gun culture in the United States. It’s even more difficult to understand the convictions or cowardice that render the United States Senate totally absent when it comes to passing any gun control legislation. Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says “we know” what works to prevent felons and mentally ill persons from obtaining guns, but, he adds, Democrats will only “politicize” the effort and try to do much more. So rather than seeking compromise, his answer seems to be do nothing.
Is there a solution that will prevent a recurrence of these abominations? Maybe not. Making no effort will certainly result in no solution. As Shakespeare said, “Nothing will come of nothing.” What can we say about a government that fails to make any effort to protect its citizens, especially young children? What can we say about state governments that want to make guns even more available, as they are doing, including “ghost guns” that cannot be detected by metal detectors or X-ray machines?
On each of the mass murder occasions we hear about the thoughts and prayers for the victims and the parents, spouses and friends of the victims. Really? Where is the empathy? How much imagining does it take to see one’s own child or grandchild lying in a pool of blood? That’s what we’re talking about. Your child, Senator. Your grandchild. See if thoughts and prayers will console you. Now argue that the Second Amendment bars averting that disaster. Put the Second Amendment on a scale and weigh it against your child or grandchild and say that the Second Amendment must prevail.
The Constitution was written, among other things, to “insure domestic tranquility”. We’re a long way from that.