America’s not so great gun debate

SAN DIEGO — Is anyone else embarrassed by the great American gun debate? It’s not so great. In fact, much of it is absurd.

It’s been two weeks since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead, and we’ve learned that much of what went wrong in that case had nothing to do with guns.

It had to do with armed Broward County sheriff’s deputies crouching behind their squad cars outside the school while teachers and students were being slaughtered inside, and the FBI fumbling its dealings with 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. It had to with all those people who ignored red flags that this young man was dangerous, and the fact that law enforcement had been called to Cruz’s house at least 45 times. And it had to do with extreme negligence on the part of James and Kimberly Snead, the couple who took in Cruz and let the young man bring high-powered weapons into their home.

Of course, none of this lets firearms — and those who make, sell and buy them — off the hook. And it is when the talk turns to guns that the absurdity really kicks into overdrive.

Like when Wayne LaPierre tells attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that the problem with our society is that everyone plays the victim — moments before the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association makes victims out of gun owners.

Or when an arena full of left-wing anti-gun activists at a CNN town hall betray the liberal traditions of preaching tolerance and defending women by intolerantly attacking and slandering NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch.

Or how conservatives — many of whom oppose legalizing drugs because they say doing so would only encourage more drug use — now say that the way to curb gun violence in schools is to put more guns in schools and arm teachers.

Americans need a serious gun debate. We’re not there yet. We’re spiraling. We’re shouting at one another. We’re barricaded in our ideological bunkers. We’re tuning each other out. We’re dismissing even modest proposals because of paranoia. And we’re ascribing sinister motives to those whose views we don’t agree with.

Meanwhile, amid the fog, important questions go unanswered. Should high-powered, military-style semiautomatic rifles be sold to the public? If so, who should be allowed to own them — and at what age? How many such guns should someone be able to purchase? How do we strengthen background checks, and should we perhaps add a psychological test? And how do we make our schools safer — while still preserving the Second Amendment?

Let’s at least be clear what the gun debate is really about. Here’s a hint: It’s not hunting.

A few days after the Parkland shooting, radio host Rush Limbaugh took a revealing call from a gun enthusiast who said the real reason that he and his kind want to own high-powered, high-capacity, semiautomatic rifles is because they want to have as much firepower as the U.S. government — just in case things go sideways and our leaders turn tyrannical.

I’ve heard others say the same thing. And it makes me recall Donald Trump’s notorious sound bite in June 2015 about Mexican immigrants. To paraphrase:

When the NRA defends gun owners, they’re not always defending the best people. … They’re defending people that can have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them — to our schools. They’re bringing death. They’re bringing chaos. They’re fanatics. And some, I assume, are good people.

Welcome to the new arms race, one that private citizens are never going to win until people can buy battleships on Amazon.

Here’s what the Second Amendment says:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

And here’s what many gun enthusiasts hear:

“Just in case it becomes necessary to overthrow the State, the right of the people to stockpile weapons of war and engage in an arms race with Uncle Sam shall not be infringed.”

See what happened there? Over the years, the gun lobby has brazenly repurposed the Second Amendment 180 degrees into something completely different than what it was originally intended to be. The Founders wanted everyday Americans to be able to own guns in order to protect the state, not overthrow it.

The latter is not freedom. It’s anarchy. And, if you can’t tell the difference, you most certainly should not have a gun.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

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