It is hard to have a reasoned discourse about guns when one side of the discussion seems to be dominated by people ready to hole up in an Idaho survivalist camp to await the arrival of the black U.N. helicopters filled with Kenyan commandos coming to disarm America.
President Obama has given Vice President Joe Biden the task of surveying a wide range of interested parties to formulate a remedy for the horrific gun violence that bedevils American society. The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and innocent bystanders at a shopping mall in Tucson, the slaughter in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., the heartbreaking murder of a class of first-graders in a schoolroom in Newtown, Conn., and a long string of similarly horrific incidents have become a recurring nightmare from which we all want to awake.
Supporters of gun rights make a fair point when they insist that guns are not the sole cause of the problem. They are very likely right that the ultra-violence in movies and video games inspires already troubled young minds to re-create bloody fantasies in real life. And they are right that something must be done to stop those warped-minded individuals who pull the triggers before they can do their evil deeds.
But the gun rights folks seem incapable of acknowledging that guns are part of the problem too. There are mentally deranged people and violent entertainment and video games in every developed country, but only in this one is there such frequent carnage. The one factor that is different is that, in the United States, there are as many guns as there are people.
This would suggest that it is at least worth considering measures that would make it more difficult for the wrong people to get hold of weapons. Yet, when better background checks or tighter regulation of private gun sales are proposed, too many gun enthusiasts immediately start screaming about confiscation. They insist that any step toward better regulation of firearms is an unthinkable slide toward a Stalinist world of gulags, government tyranny and defenseless citizens.
Right-wing talk show screamer Alex Jones went ballistic in a CNN interview when host Piers Morgan suggested a few sane steps to manage the gun problem might be a smart idea. "Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns, Fidel Castro took the guns, Hugo Chavez took the guns!" Jones ranted. "And I am here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!"
Yes, it always seems to come down to that –- the paranoid certainty that even the most modest move toward better gun regulation is actually a smokescreen for some tyrant-in-waiting who wants to banish all guns and enslave America. That prevalent view among gun rights advocates pushes some of them to accept even loopier ideas.
In recent days, a tenured communications professor at Florida Atlantic University, James Tracy, wrote several blog posts that suggested the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown may well have been a staged event with actors hired by the Obama administration and orchestrated to provide a pretext for pushing gun control.
Now, that is about the most crazy and obscene allegation that has ever oozed from the right-wing blogosphere. But when the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported about the professor's theory, quite a few readers called and emailed the newspaper to defend and applaud Tracy's ideas.