Choose Your Narrative

The last trip to Paris was in 2001 – two weeks in early December, solo, quietly slipping into another culture. Then things got complicated. Folks in systems management never know who they’ll be working for the next week, or if they’ll be working. There was no time for Paris and it turned out there never would be again – but in the fall of the next year, 2002, a friend from Paris dropped by. He had business here in Hollywood, and a few free evenings, and he wanted to get a feel for America again.

He’d been away too long, so we sipped scotch at Sunset Plaza and watched the bling roll by on the Sunset Strip, hit a few obscure Mexican restaurants in odd parts of town, and then he decided we should catch Michael Moore’s new agitprop documentary Bowling for Columbine – about America’s odd gun culture. France isn’t like that. Hell, England isn’t like that, or Japan, or even Australia. We are alone in making sure anyone who wants to carry a big loaded gun around anywhere can do just that. This is a basic right guaranteed in the Constitution, depending on how you read the Constitution. Perhaps a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, but what that has to do with some bozo walking through Wall-Mart pointing his loaded AR-15 at your kids, because he can, is unclear. If the guy is white, and he doesn’t actually shoot your kid, he’s fine. If he’s black, well, he’s dead the moment he shows up.

We have a lot to work out about this. Ronald Reagan, when he was governor out here, was all for gun control – because Huey Newton and the Black Panthers up in Oakland said they had the right to keep and bear arms, some pretty heavy weaponry, because they too were citizens. Well, they were. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed? Reagan was willing to make an exception to that – California’s 1967 Mulford Act – and when he was president, a disturbed young man, who wanted to impress a movie star he’d seen up on the screen a few times, shot Reagan and nearly killed him. Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, had a bit of his brain blown away that day too. That lead to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993 – federal background checks on firearm purchasers and a five-day waiting period on purchases. Bill Clinton signed that into law. The NRA had pulled out all the stops to block its passage and then to get it declared unconstitutional, but they lost that one.

Moore’s documentary showed that didn’t matter much. Anyone could get a gun. Some banks were handing them out when you opened a new account, and the federal background checks were cursory at best. They could be bypassed. There were private sales that didn’t involve registered gun dealers, and informal swaps, and parents, who passed the background checks, could buy guns and hand them to their kids. Birthday gifts weren’t covered. The 1999 Columbine High School massacre was inevitable – that was Moore’s contention.

Liberals loved Moore’s film. It made sense of what was happening. It won an Oscar – Best Documentary – but that’s Hollywood. Still, it made a ton of money. The reviews were glowing – but of course conservatives hated it. Moore had been rude and unfair to Charlton Heston – he was the National Rifle Association’s president at the time, but old and frail. Other than that, however, they had nothing. They couldn’t do the normal conservative thing and invoke Ronald Reagan. Even the NRA had supported Reagan’s efforts to disarm the scary black guys – so forget him. Moore had won the day. He had been too thorough. Those on the other side needed a new narrative that would change how one saw what happened at Columbine.

They needed to change the subject, and there was Cassie Bernall – the seventeen-year-old Columbine student shot dead that day. Initial reports suggested that one of the shooters, Eric Harris, asked if Bernall believed in God. She was reported to have answered “Yes” – so now there was a Christian martyr, a sweet born-again girl who was shot dead by someone out to kill Christians. There were Christian-rock songs about her. Her mother wrote a book about her daughter’s noble martyrdom, and then it all fell apart. None of it happened – the details are here – so that didn’t work out.

The same thing happened this June. Scott Eric Kaufman noted this:

In the days since 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, it has become abundantly clear that the handlers for the Republican presidential nominees have begged their candidates to avoid the subject of race – in whatever form that conversation might take.

On Thursday, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and current South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham both claimed that Roof’s primary motivation for gunning down parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was a hatred of “religious liberty.” He was, they asserted, just one of many “people out there looking for Christians to kill them.”

On Friday, Florida Governor Jeb Bush followed their lead, speaking about the events in Charleston at length without ever mentioning, for example, that Roof told police that he staged the attack in order to start a race war.

Yeah, the guy did say that. Dylann Roof was not out there looking for Christians to kill them. That narrative lasted less than a day. Those guys then pretended they never said any such thing, and the press gave them a Mulligan – everyone was upset – but that didn’t change anything. This was about race. This was also about a guy who shouldn’t have guns having a whole lot of guns, and using them.

Is that so hard? Perhaps it is. Dave Cullen, who wrote the definitive account of Columbine, saw how these things persist:

Early in the Republican presidential undercard debate tonight, Rick Santorum dredged up a powerful old Columbine myth to defend Kim Davis, Kentucky county clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and to illustrate the steepness of America’s moral decline. “Sixteen years ago,” he said, “this country was tremendously inspired by a young woman who faced a gunman in Columbine and was challenged about her faith and she refused to deny God. We saw her as a hero.”

This is about controlling the narrative, so now, in the New York Post there was this narrative about the week’s massacre:

A gunman singled out Christians for slaughter during a rampage at an Oregon college Thursday, leaving at least nine innocent people dead and several more wounded, survivors and authorities said.

“The shooter was lining people up and asking if they were Christian,” tweeted @bodhilooney, who said her grandmother was inside the Umpqua Community College classroom that was the scene of the carnage.

“If they said yes, then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn’t answer, they were shot in the legs.”

Gunman Chris Harper-Mercer’s disdain for religion was evident in online profile, as the madman became a member of a “doesn’t like organized religion” group on an Internet dating site.

The Post was established in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, but since 1993 it’s been owned by Rupert Murdock’s News Corp, and the editorial offices are at 1211 Avenue of the Americas, right there with the Fox News studios. The guy was out to kill Christians. That’s what Pam Geller says – “Obama knows something, which is why he got out in front of this and made it about gun control.”

There’s scant evidence for any of this, but the blogger Maha states the obvious:

By tomorrow the Christianists on Fox News will be absolutely wallowing in martyrdom, just in time for the “war on Christmas” season.

Fox News was right on time with the headline. This is a matter of controlling the narrative. Michael Moore can never have it again.

He won’t. Obama took it up:

President Obama on Thursday made an impassioned case that gun violence is “something we should politicize” following a mass shooting at a community college in Oregon.

A visibly angry Obama blasted Congress for being unwilling to change the nation’s gun laws in response to a wave of mass shootings that have cast a cloud over his presidency.

“This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America,” Obama said. “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”

He didn’t mention the worldwide conspiracy to kill all Christians:

Obama chided opponents of gun control legislation, including those who argue the country needs “more guns” to prevent mass shootings. And he urged proponents of stricter gun laws to vote for political candidates who share their views.

“Each time this happens I’m going to bring this up,” Obama said. “Each time this happens I am going to say we can actually do something about it.”

Well, he’s had practice:

Obama has been confronted with several high-profile outbreaks of gun violence during his presidency, including shootings in Tucson, Arizona, Aurora, Colorado, Newtown, Connecticut, and most recently in Charleston, S.C. Thursday marked the fifteenth time the president made a statement on a mass shooting, according to CBS Radio reporter and unofficial White House historian Mark Knoller.

Obama’s frustration was palpable during his twelve-and-a-half minute statement.

“Somehow this has become routine,” Obama said. “The reporting is routine, my response here at this podium ends up being routine. And what becomes routine is the response from those who oppose any sort of gun control legislation.”

So here we go again:

The president chastised gun-rights groups, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), which helped stymie his previous effort to enact stronger federal gun laws following the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The proposed changes included expanded background checks and bans on assault weapons.

“How can you, with a straight face, make the case that more guns will make us safer?” he asked.

In a veiled jab at the NRA, Obama asked American gun owners to consider “whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it is speaking for you.”

That’s not a bad challenge, but may not mean much:

As he has several times before, Obama called the failure to pass gun-control legislation the biggest frustration of his presidency.

“I hope and pray I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences,” Obama said. “But based on my experiences as president, I can’t guarantee that, and that is terrible thing to say.”

He’ll be back, because of things like this:

Ben Carson just happened to be on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show Thursday afternoon, shortly after news of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon broke. The GOP presidential candidate delivered the standard conservative message about focusing on mental health instead of gun control but then took things further by using the opportunity to express his specific opposition to gun registration laws.

“Obviously, there are those who are going to be calling for gun control,” Carson said of the event, which left at least 13 people dead. “Obviously, that’s not the issue. The issue is the mentality of these people.” He said instead of focusing on guns, we should be looking for “early warning clues” to prevent incidents such as this one.

“What I worry about is when we get to the point where we say we need to have every gun registered,” Carson said. He continued, “We have to know where the people are and where their guns are, that’s very dangerous. And that I wouldn’t agree with at all.”

Ah, we don’t WANT to know where the guns are, but there’s this:

Two years ago, Carson expressed views about gun laws that sounded very different from the comments he is making now that he is running for president in the Republican primary. Speaking to Glenn Beck in March 2013, Carson said, “I think if you live in the midst of a lot of people, and I’m afraid that that semi-automatic weapon is going to fall into the hands of a crazy person, I would rather you not have it.”

That sounded like Ronald Reagan. Carson needs to stop that. He did stop that. But there are other narratives:

Chris Harper Mercer, the man identified as the gunman in the deadly rampage at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., on Thursday, was a withdrawn young man who neighbors said wore the same outfit every day – combat boots, green Army pants and a white T-shirt – and was close to his mother, who fiercely protected him.

Neighbors in Winchester, Ore., and Torrance, Calif., where Mr. Mercer, 26, lived with his mother, Laurel Harper, remember a reclusive and seemingly fragile young man with a shaved head and dark glasses who seemed to recoil from social interaction.

“He always seemed anxious,” said Rosario Lucumi, 51, who rode the same bus in Torrance as Mr. Mercer when she went to work. She said she believed he took it to school at El Camino College. “He always had earphones in, listening to music.”

“He and his mother were really close,” said Ms. Lucumi, who estimated that Mr. Mercer and his mother, who shared a small, one-bedroom apartment in Torrance, lived there for less than a year. “They were always together.”

Bryan Clay, 18, said he once asked Mr. Mercer why he wore “a military get-up” every day.

“He kind of just didn’t want of talk about it” and changed the subject, Mr. Clay said.

“He didn’t say anything about himself,” he added.

Derrick McClendon, 42, another former neighbor, said that Mr. Mercer was so timid and ill at ease that on occasion he would ask him if anything was wrong.

“I would say, ‘Hey, man, you all right?'” Mr. McClendon said. “He would say hi, but that’s it. He was really shy.”

This is not a gun control issue or a jihad-against-Christians issue. It’s a mental health issue, or it’s not:

There are constants in the small towns of Western Oregon, some waning, some enduring. In Douglas County – the home of Umpqua Community College, the site of a mass killing on Thursday – two of those constants are trees and the right to bear arms.

Umpqua is surrounded by nearly three million acres of commercial forests. Those forests supply the local economy with one-tenth of its jobs – a rarity in a state where timber employment has cratered – and they loom large in the area’s support for gun rights.

Young men and women there grow up to work the woods and the lumber mills, and they learn to hunt the woods for birds and big game. The county of 107,000 is a conservative place, where Mitt Romney thumped President Obama 62 percent to 35 percent, and where elected officials have time and again raised their voices against proposed gun control.

In 2013, after a man killed 20 children and 6 adults with a rifle at a school in Newtown, Conn., the sheriff of Douglas County sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, at a time when the Obama administration was pushing for a law to expand federal background checks for gun purchases.

The sheriff, John Hanlin, said he was making “a formal request that you NOT tamper with or attempt to amend the 2nd Amendment” – and vowing not to enforce any such law that violated the constitution.

“Gun control,” he added, “is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings.”

Congress passed no such law. When Oregon lawmakers were considering their own background check expansion bill this year, Douglas County leaders recoiled again, even before the Democratic-controlled legislature could send it to the governor.

At a meeting in February, county commissioners approved a resolution “objecting to any expansion of Oregon’s failed ‘background-check’ system for firearms transfers between qualified, law-abiding persons.”

The bill passed over their objections, and Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, signed it.

There is no issue. These things will happen now and then, or there’s this:

Chris Harper-Mercer was said to have been born in England before moving to the States as a young boy, according to reports in America. The 26-year-old, whose social media profiles featured content supporting the IRA, apparently demanded to know his victims’ religious beliefs before opening fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

Maybe he was shooting Catholics, or Protestants. Which side is which in Belfast? Still, Obama is sticking to his narrative:

“Somebody somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue,” the President said. “Well this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.”…

“When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we work to make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them. To reduce auto fatalities, we have seat belt laws because we know it saves lives,” Obama said.

“So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibit any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations. Doesn’t make sense…”

Doesn’t he realize the worldwide war on Christians has started? Christians need to be armed too – now more than ever. Maybe Obama isn’t a Christian. That will come up too. It depends on who controls the narrative.

That’s the issue. It may be time to re-release Bowling for Columbine. Oh, and the guy from Paris who had been visiting long ago, to get a feel for America once again, went right back to Paris and stayed there.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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