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William Rivers Pitt | Here Lies America: Shot to Death

The fact that we can’t keep thousands of our citizens from dying by guns, and that even attempting to do so amounts to political suicide, is a shameful epitaph.

There was snow that morning, so the hiss of flakes against the windows was a constant companion as I got her ready for the day. I watched her eat a bowl of cereal and drink a glass of orange juice, helped her shrug into her winter coat, made sure her laces were tied, and held her hand as we managed the icy walk to the car. She kissed my cheek before stepping out into the controlled mayhem of the sidewalk in front of the school. I watched her as she was swallowed by the mob of children flowing in the schoolhouse door. I think I saw her look back and smile.

I was barely home before the phone rang. Something happened, something happened, I don’t know what, but something happened. Turn on the news, and it’s a view from a helicopter above her school, armored cops with rifles raised (“Like the ants that fight,” you randomly remember from a Thomas Harris novel) swarming through the front door, children streaming out of the side of the building, is that her? Is that her? Where is my daughter?

No, that’s not her, none of the screaming, hysterical, traumatized children on CNN are my baby, my baby is still in the building, face down in an ocean of blood and tangled in a pile of other dead children. Someone shot my baby so many times she doesn’t have a face. Her jawbone is gore on the classroom wall, and I have to bury her with a closed casket so no one at the funeral throws up at the sight of her.

Welcome to the nightmare. As a parent, that scenario is one of many I am forced to deal with in my mind now, thanks to the Sandy Hook massacre.

I consider myself enormously fortunate, however, to have to deal only with the fear of someone randomly massacring my daughter. The reality of that horror is a national phenomenon. By a conservative estimate, at least 194 children have been killed by guns in the year since Sandy Hook. There have been more toddlers killed by toddlers with guns than there have been American adults killed by terrorists in this fading calendar year. The average age of the children who were killed by guns since Sandy Hook is six years old.

The folks who build small coffins for a living are enjoying a boom time.

The hard facts of the bloodbath:

1,500 state gun bills have been introduced in the year since the Newtown massacre and, of those, 109 are now law, according to The New York Times. Seventy of the enacted laws loosen gun restrictions, while just 39 tighten them. And, though largely symbolic, some 136 bills nullifying federal gun regulations were sponsored in 40 states. In Colorado, two pro-gun control lawmakers were booted from office in historic recalls and a third stepped down in anticipation of a similar fight.

The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, which promotes government openness and transparency, reviewed lobbying, spending and policies at the state and federal level over the years and, along nearly every metric, rights advocates have trounced opponents.

The gap between direct contributions in favor of gun rights and those in support of gun control is stunningly large, with gun-control contributions amounting to just 6.5 percent of what gun-rights advocates raised from 1989 through the 2012 elections.

Gun rights candidates and causes raised $29.4 million in direct contributions to candidates, parties, and PACs at the federal and state level. Gun control causes raised just $1.9 million, according to Sunlight-provided data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money In State Politics. In seven states-Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming-no contributions whatsoever were made in support of gun control.

Though support for stricter gun laws spiked slightly recently, it’s falling back down to its historically low levels, according to Gallup data. But while support for stricter laws has fallen, support for loosening restrictions has remained relatively steady. Instead, support for making no changes has climbed.

If a pill, or a car, or anything else was killing as many children a year as guns, there would be a national panic, and a recall, and bi-partisan legislation in Congress to make sure it never happens again. An epidemic of toddlers painting the walls with their siblings’ blood because Dad couldn’t be bothered to police his firearm? Bah and feh, whatever, because freedom.

More than one million people in America have been killed by guns since 1980. For perspective, imagine if every living soul in Austin was put to the sword, or San Francisco, or Columbus, or Indianapolis, or Charlotte, or Memphis, or Boston, or Nashville. If every man, woman and child in any of those places were summarily executed, it still would not equal the number of people who have died by guns since Ronald Reagan won his first presidential election.

In Uganda and Sudan, you can get an AK-47 assault rifle for the bargain-basement price of one chicken. In America, it’s a little more expensive, but not much more difficult, to do the same.

I opened this article with a fantasy about finding out that my daughter had been slaughtered in her school. Doing so made me literally sick, but I am at an utter loss to come up with any other way to make the bleeding fact of all this real enough to warrant attention. We have armed ourselves to the teeth at the same time as we have stopped giving a damn about each other, and so every massacre happens to someone else, somewhere else, tough luck, better you than me…and that’s why we can’t get a handle on this grotesquely obvious problem.

It isn’t NRA money, or right-wing pressure groups that bears all the responsibility for this. Neither would stand a chance against the kind of unified front represented by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Remember MADD? They changed the country, changed the culture, because too many kids were getting scraped off windshields and sent home to their parents in zippered sacks.

We don’t have the kind of grassroots public advocacy against the epidemic of gun deaths that we had against drunk-driving deaths, even though it is children who do the dying all over again. There is nothing close to that kind of campaign happening anywhere.

We just don’t care enough to make it stop, because it happens to other people, right?

That, right there, is why and where this country lost its way. The fact that we can’t keep thousands of our citizens from dying by guns, and that even attempting to do so amounts to political suicide, is a shameful epitaph.

Here Lies America: shot to death. Please omit flowers.

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