A tale of two countries: profiles in courage and cowardice

Bruce Maples (bruceinlouisville@gmail.com)
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Terrorists blast away with military-style semiautomatic rifles, slaughtering scores of innocent men, women and children.

Such mass murders happen with alarming frequency in the richest and most powerful country on earth. In this rich and powerful country, laws regulating firearms are weaker than in almost every other country on Earth.

Most of the country’s right-wing elected leaders, a majority of whom never miss a chance to proclaim their conservative Christianity, respond to the seemingly endless cycle of bloodshed with prayers for the victims and their families. But these same politicians won’t stiffen gun control laws.

In a smaller country, gun laws are stricter and mass shootings are rare. After the deadliest mass shooting in its history, this smaller country’s leader swiftly moves to ban military-inspired semiautomatic weapons and to start a buyback program to encourage gun owners to give them up. If they refuse, they can be fined.

That country is New Zealand, a longtime American ally and one of the most democratic and humane places on earth. Its leader is Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, leader of the left-leaning Labour Party.

After an avowed white supremacist was charged with murdering 50 worshipers at two Christchurch mosques last week, she “immediately grasped the nettle,” Nicholas Kristof wrote in Thursday’s New York Times.

(In his “manifesto,” the admitted gunman, a 28-year-old Australian, praised Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” The president didn’t “condemn the white supremacy extolled by the alleged shooter, nor did he express explicit sympathy with Muslims around the globe,” The Washington Post reported.)

“I can tell you one thing right now,” Kristof quoted the prime minister. “Our gun laws will change.”

Added the columnist: “That’s what effective leadership looks like.”

He invited readers to “contrast that with the United States, where just since 1970, more Americans have died from guns (1.45 million, including murders, suicides and accidents) than died in all the wars in American history (1.4 million). More Americans die from guns every 10 weeks than died in the entire Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined, yet we still don’t have gun safety rules as rigorous as New Zealand’s even before the mosques were attacked.”

Here’s more from Kristof:

The N.R.A. (not to be confused with the vast majority of gun owners) will turn to its old smoke-and-mirrors standby, arguing that the killer’s hate, not his guns and bullets, were the real problem.

“But while it’s true that white supremacy is deadly and needs to be confronted — something our vote-obsessed president blindly ignores — without the weapons of mass murder, 50 New Zealand worshipers would still be alive; 17 Parkland, Fla., schoolchildren and staff members would still be alive; nine Charleston, S.C., churchgoers would still be alive; 11 Pittsburgh congregants would still be alive; 58 Las Vegas concertgoers would still be alive; 26 Newtown, Conn., first graders and adults would …

“Why can’t leaders in America learn from experience, the way leaders in other countries do? After a massacre in Australia in 1996, the government there took far-reaching action to tighten gun policy. In contrast, every day in America, another hundred people die from gun violence and 300 more are injured — and our president and Congress do nothing.”

Why indeed?

Some doctors pray for a patient with a life-threatening disease. But they also treat the patient scientifically with modern medicine.

America is suffering a pandemic of gun murders. Right-wing politicians from Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell down—among the many beneficiaries of lavish gun lobby lucre—offer supplications to the Almighty and refuse to use their considerable temporal powers as law proposers and lawmakers to stop the killing.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking prayer. I’ve been married to a devout Presbyterian for 40 years.

Prayer might make families of murder victims feel better. But it won’t bring back their loved ones. Nor will it stop gun deaths from individual or mass shootings, suicides or accidents. Only meaningful gun laws will.

Profiles in Cowardice would be an apt title for a book about politicians in the White House and Congress (and in governors’ mansions and statehouses) who refuse to go beyond prayer because they’re scared of the gun lobby. Profiles in Cynicism would work for the name of a book about prayer-only politicians (national and state) that the gun lobby bankrolls.

And in this country, and in this state, we’ve got plenty of both.

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