Deploying Satire at My Own Risk Link
by Donald Kaul
I think I hit a nerve.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a thoughtful, well-reasoned column suggesting ways to cut down on gun violence in our ever more violent society. It proposed, among other things:
- Repealing the Second Amendment and with it the right to buy assault weapons at will.
- Declaring the National Rifle Association a terrorist organization and making membership illegal.
- Confiscating all assault, semi-automatic, and other military-style weapons designed to kill large numbers of people very quickly.
As I said, thoughtful, well reasoned.
I also proposed, satirically and more in sorrow than in anger, tying House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to the back of a pickup truck and dragging them around until they agreed to exert some control over guns.
Well, you would have thought I’d suggesting selling Sarah Palin to the Taliban. The Internet exploded in outrage and emails by the hundreds — hundreds! — came flooding in. My phone started ringing incessantly too.
Most of the emails were abusive and a few were borderline threatening. Gun owners, it seems, are a sensitive group whose feelings are easily hurt.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose. I’ve rapped the gun control hornets’ nest with a stick many times before in my career — dozens, actually — without much effect. This time, in the wake of those 20 children ruthlessly murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, I decided to hit it with a baseball bat. It worked. I got their attention.
Gun owners seemed particularly upset at the suggestion that Boehner and McConnell be dragged. The tactic, which dates back to the days of lynch mobs, became a more modern nightmare in the wake of the 1998 dragging murder of James Byrd by white supremacists in Texas. Many of the people I heard from said I should be arrested for threatening federal officials, and one said he’d personally reported me to the FBI.
Let me say this about that: That wasn’t a suggestion to be taken literally. I don’t believe Boehner and McConnell should be dragged. I was using it as a metaphor for making politicians pay a price for their inability to confront the gun lobby. It’s a literary device.
Think of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, written three centuries ago, in which he suggested that Irish famine could be relieved if babies of poor families were confiscated at 12 months and sold to rich people, who could eat them.
Swift, an Irishman, didn’t mean that literally. It was a satiric device to underline the misery that had been visited on the Irish by their English landlords.
So too with my dragging of the Republican leaders.
Neither do I really want to repeal the Second Amendment. I merely wanted to point out that it’s being misinterpreted and misused.
I may now be closer to believing the NRA is an organization of terrorists, however. I’ve been getting hostile telephone calls at all hours of the day and night for the past several days. Why would you call a stranger at 3 a.m. if you weren’t trying to frighten him? It’s what terrorists do — frighten people.
I rest my case.
The more reasoned of the angry e-mails I’ve received recite the NRA catechism in justifying the Second Amendment — outlaw guns and only outlaws will have them, blah, blah blah.
But none of them mentioned assault weapons. Not one. And that’s what we’re talking about. Not hunting or target practice — assault weapons.
There’s no justification for unfettered access to them.
The NRA looked at the Newtown massacre and saw a need for…wait for it…better mental health screening in our schools. Some even tried to blame autism. That’s like blaming World War II on the Germans’ propensity for head colds.
Perhaps my column jumped the shark a bit. I was angry. But worse would have been to watch those little bodies being carried out of the Newtown school, shrug, and say “Gee, that’s terrible. We’re going to have to do something about that someday, if the NRA approves.”
That would have been immoral.
OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The New Agenda on Guns We Need After Newtown was his first column since late July, the month he had a heart attack and decided to take a break.