Shame on you, US Senate.

by Nicole Plyler Fisk

To the US Senators who voted down universal background checks, and to the supporters who urged you to do so:

Yesterday, while the US Senate was voting down the Manchin-Toomey gun amendment, which was already an extraordinary compromise on behalf of gun control advocates (i.e. it would have required background checks on all commercial sales of firearms — like those purchased at gun shows and via the Internet), I was teaching Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For?” in my English 102, Rhetoric and Composition class.

Although Appiah, currently the Lawrence S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton, suggested in 2010 that future generations will condemn us for our prison system, industrial meat production, the institutionalized and isolated elderly, and the environment, my students (two of whom are from Boston and were visibly shaken by the Monday bombings) used his “three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation”  to discuss our seeming inability to quell what can only be described as domestic terrorism.

Although the most recent incidents (the 4/15 Boston bombings in which 3 people were killed, hundreds injured; and the 4/9 knife attack in a Texas college classroom, in which 14 people were injured) did not involve gun violence, my students focused on gun violence in particular, because of the highly publicized string of mass shootings over the past few years . . . Tuscon, Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown.

(1) Appiah’s first sign that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation: “First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn’t emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.”

So, have we heard before some version of:  “we-don’t-sell-firearms-to-criminals-and-the-mentally-ill”?

Here’s one example of a plea for universal background checks in 1999, after Columbine, via NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre:

2) Appiah’s second sign that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation: “Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, ‘We’ve always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?)'”

I give you Sarah Palin’s celebratory tweet after the Manchin-Toomy amendment failed to pass: “Politicians’ expanded gun control effort fails in the Senate today. Count this a victory for the 2nd Amendment and law-abiding citizens.”

To suggest that thwarting universal background checks is a “win” for tradition, as established in 1791 by the 2nd Amendment, fails to take this into account: click here for a 30 second video totally worth your time. Thank you Upworthy.

3) Appiah’s third sign that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation: “And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit. Those who ate the sugar or wore the cotton that the slaves grew simply didn’t think about what made those goods possible.”

What does strategic ignorance in the gun control debate look like? Here are only a couple of examples, making the rounds on Facebook: a meme that suggests we blame guns when there’s a shooting, even though we blame bombers when there’s a bombing, and drivers when there’s a drunk-driving accident.

When there’s a bombing, we blame the bomber. But, we also do what we can to make it more difficult for people to kill others with bombs — like, we take off our shoes at airports. Thank you, John Oliver.

When there is a drunk driving accident, we blame the drunk driver. But, we also do what we can to make it more difficult for people to drink and drive. As Jon Stewart explains, we “enact stricter blood-alcohol limits, raise the drinking age, ramp up enforcement and penalties, and charge bartenders who serve drunks, and launch huge public awareness campaigns to stigmatize the dangerous behavior in question; and, we do all those things because it might just help bring drunk driving rates down — I don’t know — by two-thirds in a few decades.”

Facebook meme #2 suggests that gun control advocates are delusional to think stricter gun control laws will be obeyed.

Obviously, this meme reveals a misunderstanding of why we make laws in the first place. In “The Gun Lobby’s Dumbest Argument,” Michael Tomasky explains two reasons we continue to make laws, despite the fact that criminals do not always follow said laws (note: this is why they’re called criminals) and despite the fact that said laws won’t prevent all violence. We make laws:

“One, to have a ready statutory means by which to punish the chiselers and sociopaths. And two, to make a statement as a society about what sort of society we are. As it happens, we passed the Clean Water Act of 1972 in part simply to say: whatever sort of society we are, we aren’t one in which we will watch as our rivers catch fire and not try to do anything about it.

We do try to do something about it. Yet even so, and here is my second point, no one thinks laws against pollution will prevent all pollution. Similarly, no one supposes that laws against armed robbery will prevent all armed robbery. No one expects that laws against tax evasion will stop the selfish and the stingy from hiring their selfish and stingy lawyers to identify for them various selfish and stingy new ways around the laws. We do not presume man’s perfectibility. And yet somehow, gun laws are supposed to meet the standard of being able to prevent all future massacres and are criticized as total failures if they don’t? Absurd.”

Strategic ignorance.

In the time it takes to find and post these inane, insidious “arguments”, the anti-gun control side is strategically ignoring pleas from Newtown mothers, like Francine Wheeler. The anti-gun control side is strategically ignoring the stories of those victims of domestic violence who die at the end of a gun, because we live in an America where you can get a restraining order against your partner if he threatens your life, but you can’t violate his 2nd Amendment “right” (even when he threatens your right to . . . um, life) by asking officials take away the gun with which he threatens to (and, in some cases, eventually does) kill you. See Michael Luo’s “In Some States, Gun Rights Trump Orders of Protection”:

And the list goes on . . . and on. 3,516 gun deaths since Newtown.

To those of you who voted “no,” and to the supporters who urged you to do so:

You have failed to pass a law that would have shown the world who we want to be: a society that makes at least a valiant effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

Future generations will condemn you for it. And, I condemn you for it now.

I have two children, dressed as superheroes below:


I hated telling my oldest about Sandy Hook, and then I hated myself for hating it — since, I knew that there were so many Sandy Hook parents who would have given *anything* to be talking to their 6-year-olds at that moment, even about such a horrible thing.

I hate dropping off my 3-year old at school. Irrational though it is, I worry less about my older girl, because she really is a little bit of a superhero in my imagination. As a toddler, she spent nearly a year in an orphanage in Central Asia, skimming her own unpasteurized milk and daring the older kids in her room to take her one sweet treat a day (the Kazakh version of a tootsie role).

She slinks around in Ninja costumes . . .


. . . and, as I recently discovered when cleaning her room, reads vampire books with wooden stake in hand.


Deep down, I know she’s just as vulnerable as any other kid, but for my sanity, I let my great admiration of her strength and resourcefulness ease my fear.

But my boy. I have to drop him off at school and walk away, his refrain of

“But I don’t want to go to school! I want to hold you”


“But can I go to work with you? I want to go to work with you.”

playing in my head.

There has yet to be a day that I haven’t heard it.

I hate it.

I hated the thrill I got when the school installed new doors — solid, metal ones that are supposed to lock automatically — and I hated the dread that followed when I realized that they have yet to get them to lock properly.

To those of you who voted “no” and to the supporters who urged you to do so: unacceptable, in so many ways.

How dare you?

Shame on you all.