Since the fall of the World Trade Center on that bright, clear day in September more than 10 years ago, I have watched the gradual waning of our civil liberties.
No matter the public removal of one’s clothing and the search of one’s person in airports; “as long as we’re safe,” most people will say. No matter the increasing need to validate oneself by producing ID where once we used to blithely enter possessed of nothing more than our right as U.S. citizens to go and come peaceably at our will. No matter if our government monitors our messages and phone calls. Necessary in the name of security is now all that it is necessary to say.
Slowly, incrementally we are becoming the sort of nation we used to abhor, one where suspicion is the rule, not the exception, a culture where producing one’s identify on demand is routine. Whether or not a great deal of this continual security checking is meant to give more of a sense of security rather than guarantee its reality is subject to debate.
Caught after the fact
However, I would point out that to the two true terrorists apprehended since 9/11 — a man attempting to ignite his sneakers on a flight from London to New York and a man concealing a bomb in his clothes, which he tried to ignite as the plane was landing — were caught after they’d been cleared by security, not before.
Some of what we’re subjected to in the name of our safety these days is admittedly — even by authorities and experts — theater. But in some of the horrendous instances of bloodshed, occurring with increasing frequency, there has been no security. There was no security protecting the 30-plus murdered at Virginia Tech. None for those lined up outside the supermarket to meet Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Nor was there any security for that class of ESL students and their teacher in Binghamton as that disturbed lone gunman walked in. And indeed it was security, an ordinary citizen patrolling as a volunteer watchman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
As long as automatic weapons are available to the general public, in many states with minimum controls, we have no security. In the good old days of Wyatt Earp and John Dillinger, handguns were limited to the bullets in a chamber of six; shots needed to be carefully aimed, which demanded skill. In our increasingly fearful times of easy massacre, all that is needed is a trigger finger with which to begin that spray of most awful death.
Death comes easily
Death is now as easy as the metaphoric flick of a switch. No skilled marksmanship required. In the old B movies with which we spent our Saturday afternoons, the cops shot for the tires, not the drivers; they shot for the body, but not to kill. In those times, we were satisfied if the villain was caught and locked up. Our stories did not need to end in the inevitable pools of blood.
Strict gun control at a national level is as sorely needed for our national security as X-raying our shoes and inspecting our body parts for bombs. The right to bear arms carries a modern responsibility that our Founding Fathers could not have foreseen at a time when a deadly weapon needed to be separately loaded for each shot. No arc of instant destruction was possible then. Success at your target in those times demanded precision, a quality most are lacking now.
Where’s the outrage?
Each time there is a mass murder, I listen in vain for voices demanding gun control, a clamor to our legislators to initiate and back a bill. And each time I wait in vain. Rather, I’m barraged with the bloody details, interviews, press conferences, those garrulous talking heads mulling the prurient details.
How long must we wait for our understanding to match our technology? Merely because an automatic weapon can kill many so rapidly, must we accept this without debate?
Advances in technology, however deadly, are not inevitable. Beyond technology there is human understanding, human intelligence, human discipline. Our humanity, our self-control.
Barbara DeMille lives in Rensselaerville. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.