Get Your Kicks

In 1946, Bobby Troup headed out from his hometown of Harrisburg, in the middle of boring Pennsylvania, for Hollywood, in his 1941 Buick. He wanted to be a Hollywood songwriter, but he was immediately discouraged. He was on the old Route 40 and nothing came to mind. There was nothing catchy about Route 40, but at Chicago Route 40 became Route 66 as it turned south and then west. His wife, Cynthia, probably a little bored, muttered “get your kicks on Route 66” – and the rest is history. He wrote the song with that famous tagline that became a monster hit. It was the romance of the road, with a list of cool towns far out west on the way to Hollywood:

Now you go through Saint Louie,
And Joplin, Missouri,
And Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty, you’ll see…
Amarillo…
Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona,
Don’t forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

That sounded mighty fine. The war was over, America stood alone, powerful and prosperous, there were good jobs for everyone, and now everyone wanted to hit the open road and drive out to California, just like in the song. But that song ended in San Bernardino – a dry and dismal place in the middle of nowhere. In July 2012, San Bernardino became the largest city, to date, to choose to file for protection under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy code. Norton Air Force Base there had closed in 1994 – ten thousand jobs gone – and by 2008 just about everyone there had an adjustable-rate subprime mortgage on a house they really couldn’t afford, so when the economy collapsed that year, the banks took those. Suddenly there was next to no property tax revenue coming in. Bankruptcy was inevitable, and now unemployment out there runs at about fifteen percent, and forty percent of everyone out there is on some form of public assistance.

Forget that song. San Bernardino is now the poorest city in California, not that there was much there to begin with, and now there’s this:

As many as three gun-wielding assailants opened fire on a holiday party for county employees Wednesday, killing 14 people in the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre three years ago this month.

Hours after the shooting, law enforcement officials said two attackers – a man and a woman, neither identified by name – had been killed in a police shootout several miles from the site of the original attack. A third suspect who had been seen fleeing the scene was taken into custody, but police said they were not sure whether he had been one of the shooters.

An FBI official said at an evening news conference that authorities could not rule out the possibility that terrorism was the motive.

“One of the big questions that will come up repeatedly is: ‘Is this terrorism?'” said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office. “It is a possibility. We are making some adjustments to our investigation. It is a possibility. But we don’t know that yet. And we are not willing to go down that road yet.”

A senior U.S. law enforcement official identified one of the suspects as Syed Farook. Records show a Syed Farook works as a health inspector for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, which was hosting Wednesday’s holiday party.

That sounds like terrorism. Maybe the name says it all:

Police followed a tip that led them to a house in the nearby city of Redlands; records show that a father and son named Syed Farook have lived at that address. During a stakeout there, they spotted an SUV that matched the description of the suspects’ vehicle, and when the occupants drove away, police gave chase. A law enforcement source said the suspects threw objects – possibly pipe bombs – out the window.

The suspects drove back into San Bernardino and, reaching a residential neighborhood, stopped and began exchanging gunfire with police. One officer was injured in the firefight, but police said the wounds were not life-threatening.

The two suspects were killed, their vehicle riddled with bullets.

But no one is saying if Syed Farook, the father or the son, was one of the two. Some say that the father had slipped out of the party before the shooting started, but when the shooters, whoever they were, stormed in, no one was shouting “Allahu Akbar” or anything, and ISIS has been silent.

They’re not crowing about this. San Bernardino on a Wednesday morning isn’t exactly Paris on a Friday night. San Bernardino isn’t much of a “statement” target. The ISIS folks are probably still googling San Bernardino, so this may be a workplace or a personal dispute – only the holiday party for County Department of Public Health employees was shot up after all. Timothy McVeigh didn’t bring down the whole building. Or this may be the worst case of all – motiveless malignancy – Iago in Othello, the Joker in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, but with many guns. Some men do want to watch the world burn. That’s how they get their kicks. Or the problem might be San Bernardino itself. The place is despair in the desert, halfway between Hollywood and Palm Springs. Bobby Troup was only passing through.

On the other hand, geography may not matter:

This is at least the third mass shooting since the rampage in Colorado Springs last Friday. … The San Bernardino shooting is the 355th mass shooting this year, according to a mass shooting tracker maintained by the Guns Are Cool subreddit. The Reddit tracker defines mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people, including the gunman, are killed or injured by gunfire. …

It would also be the second mass shooting just today – in the early morning hours, one person was killed and three were injured in an incident in Savannah, Georgia.

Speaking after the Colorado Springs shooting last week, President Obama urged Americans to not let this type of violence “become normal.” But the data show that this type of incident already is normal. There have been more mass shootings than calendar days so far this year.

And Christopher Ingraham notes this:

There’s a simple reason why mass shootings have become routine in America – Americans own more guns per-capita than people in literally any other country on earth. This 2007 data from the global Small Arms Survey, a group funded by several countries, showed that there were at least 89 guns for every 100 Americans, the highest rate of any country in the world.

But even that may be an undercount… using data from the Congressional Research Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms suggests that there might have been as many as 357 million civilian firearms in circulation in 2013 – more than one gun for every man, woman and child.

One thing leads to another:

It’s worth pointing out that shootings like the one in San Bernardino are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the totality of gun violence in America. Over 33,000 people died at the end of a gun in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly two-thirds of those were suicides. That leaves roughly 11,000 gun homicides each year.

Guns don’t kill people of their own volition, obviously. But they sure do make it easier. And the sheer number of guns in circulation means that somebody who wants to get a gun to hurt a lot of people typically won’t have a hard time doing so.

Get used to it:

The corollary to this: small-bore legislative fixes, like increased background checks or assault weapons bans, will do very little to address the total universe of 33,000 gun deaths in the U.S. To do that, you’d need to severely reduce the number of guns in circulation – like Australia did, for instance.

From both a political and practical standpoint, here in the U.S. that may be nearly impossible to do.

So this is futile:

President Barack Obama reiterated his call for more gun control reforms to make mass shootings in the U.S. “rare as opposed to normal” in the wake of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. Speaking to CBS News moments after news broke of the shooting, Obama called for “common sense gun safety laws” and urged lawmakers to pass a law to prevent individuals on the “No Fly List” who are barred from boarding commercial flights from legally purchasing firearms.

“We don’t yet know what the motives of the shooters are but what we do know is that there are steps we can take to make Americans safer,” Obama said in the interview. “We should never think that this is just something that just happens in the ordinary course of events because it doesn’t happen with the same frequency in other countries.”

Obama said the pattern of U.S. mass shootings “has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”

Obama has said this before, and he’ll say it again, over and over as the mass shootings roll by, day after day. We really are exceptional that way, but a curious thing happened a few hours before the San Bernardino event:

On Wednesday morning, a group of doctors in white coats arrived on Capitol Hill to deliver a petition to Congress. Signed by more than 2,000 physicians around the country, it pleads with lawmakers to lift a restriction that for nearly two decades has essentially blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun violence.

Joined by a handful of Democratic lawmakers, the doctors spoke about the need to view gun violence as a public health epidemic and research ways to solve it – as the country would with any disease causing the deaths of thousands of Americans each year.

“It is disappointing that we have made little progress over the past 20 years in finding solutions to gun violence,” said Nina Agrawal, a New York physician and member of the advocacy group Doctors for America, according to the group’s Twitter feed.

Heather Parton had previously written about this:

At the same time the right is telling doctors what they are required to tell their patients about abortion, they are passing laws requiring them not to talk about other things.

Think Progress had this from Texas last month:

“Under a proposed bill currently being considered in Texas, doctors wouldn’t be allowed to ask their patients whether there are any firearms in their homes – and could be subject to punishment from the Texas Medical Board if they do initiate any conversations about gun safety in the office. The lawmaker who’s sponsoring the measure, Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R), is backed by the National Rifle Association and the Texas State Rifle Association. He believes that the federal government is inappropriately reaching into doctors’ offices to figure out who owns gun.”

That’s correct. They are proposing to censor doctors from speaking to their patients about gun violence. And their ostensible reason for doing this is because the federal government in reaching into doctors’ offices. It’s hard to believe their brains didn’t explode from the dissonance.

This is a bit odd:

Representative Spitzer’s rationale is almost as ludicrous as the old John Birch Society “Commies put fluoride in the water” theory:

“Pediatricians are asking children away from their parents, ‘Do you have guns in your house?’ and then reporting this on the electronic health records, and then the federal government, frankly, has access to who has guns and who doesn’t.”

Clearly, the federal government’s real agenda is to engage in a clandestine sweep of pediatricians’ young patients’ electronic medical records to determine whose parents have guns. And then obviously they are planning to send in the jack-booted thugs to confiscate them. So in order to stop such a terrible overreach of state power, the “let’s get government out of our lives” people are no longer just interfering with doctors who treat the elderly and women but now they must interfere with how they treat children as well. Evidently, their vaunted fealty toward individual rights does not extend to the examining table. (And if there’s one place I think most Americans would really like to have some individual rights and privacy it’s there…)

Parton is not happy:

This isn’t a back-door attempt to make firearms illegal. That would quixotic in the extreme. It’s an attempt to cut back on the huge numbers of tragic gun accidents in this country – something which nobody is out there defending, not even the NRA. (If someone’s saying that we all have a constitutional right to accidentally shoot people, I haven’t heard it.)

Researchers are trying to gather statistics on gun violence and that is seen as an assault on gun rights, something which has long been blocked by the NRA and their minions in the congress. Only a very insecure movement would be afraid of such data. It carries no meaning in itself. It’s just numbers and observation.

After centuries of debate the Supreme Court finally declared the 2nd Amendment to mean that an individual has a right to bear arms and that is highly unlikely to be reversed. They can relax about that. Information won’t kill them. A gun accident might, however, and it’s downright nihilistic to believe that trying to prevent them through education and research must be stopped, especially by preventing doctors from discussing it with their patients.

Mark Joseph Stern adds this:

We live with this reality because easy access to firearms is, we are told, a vital aspect of American liberty. This was the National Rifle Association’s mantra throughout its decades-long push to block or topple gun control laws. This was the Supreme Court’s rationale in declaring gun ownership an individual right protected by the Second and 14th Amendments. This is the response of the pro-gun crowd following every mass shooting, as conservatives take to social media to defend untrammeled gun access without offering any realistic solutions to gun violence.

If constant gun massacres are an inevitable result of American liberty – if we cannot be truly free without letting every madman, abuser, and hothead with a grudge get guns, if we cannot send our children to school without fearing they may be slaughtered in a hail of bullets – we need to reconsider what liberty truly means.

And that’s the problem:

The Constitution’s guarantee of liberty may be its most important component. Its Fifth and 14th Amendments state that neither federal nor state governments may deprive any person of “life, liberty or property without due process of law.” On their face, the Due Process Clauses protect procedural fairness for criminal defendants. But the liberty they safeguard includes some fundamental rights that the government may not violate. Justice John Marshall Harlan II, a conservative, famously described the protection of these rights as a balancing test, weighing “respect for the liberty of the individual” against “the demands of organized society” …

Gun advocates reject the notion that an individual’s right to own firearms should be balanced against everyone else’s interest in not getting shot. They point to the Second Amendment’s debatable promise of a right to bear arms. But the Second Amendment, and the 2008 Supreme Court decision interpreting it, binds only Congress. In applying this dubious right against the states in 2010 – forbidding state legislatures, counties, and cities from barring access to firearms – a plurality of the Supreme Court cited the liberty component of the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause. “It is clear,” the court wrote, “that the Framers and ratifiers of the 14th Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty.”

That may be so, and irrelevant:

In those days, child labor was the price we paid for liberty. Perhaps that was true in 1868, when the 14th Amendment was ratified. Perhaps that was even true in 2010 – a year with fewer mass shootings than every year since. Is it true today? …

There have been at least 351 mass shootings so far this year. Mothers, daughters, brothers, fathers, sisters, husbands, and wives are being slaughtered every day by guns. Their blood is being shed in the name of liberty. It may be, as so many conservative commentators imply, that we cannot stop this horrific violence without infringing on others’ right to bear arms. But for the sake of these victims, and the future thousands upon thousands who will die the same way, we must at least ask: Is this trade-off worth it?

We actually can rethink this:

As a country, we have adopted, and then rejected, other rights that we temporarily deemed fundamental. Infamously, the Supreme Court enforced a “liberty to contract” in the early 20th century, striking down minimum wage and maximum hour laws. Throughout this period, the court maintained that such regulations interfered with “the right of contract between the employer and employees,” depriving workers of the liberty to labor for brutal hours and minimum pay in toxic working conditions. So the justices tossed out health and safety laws, wage and hour laws, even child labor laws. Allowing children to work in dark, dangerous mines for pennies – and, of course, no health insurance to cover their inevitable coal-induced maladies – was seen as an American value. In those days, child labor was the price we paid for liberty.

But America grew, and learned, and changed its mind. Today, we view that kind of cruel, hazardous labor as barbaric. And yet, at the same time, we are trapped in our own toxic infatuation with a new “liberty”: The liberty of anyone, anywhere, to access a gun. Many conservatives, and most Republican legislators, want us to believe that this liberty is an age-old one, as fundamental to American ideals of autonomy as freedom of speech. It is not. It is newly invented, firmly rejected by the Supreme Court until 2008, alien to our traditions and jurisprudence.

But something can be done about this:

Let us assume, though, that private gun ownership may be an aspect of constitutional liberty. In that case, we must balance “respect for the liberty of the individual” against “the demands on the organized society.” On one side of this equation, we have America today, which is what gun advocates have wanted all along: A freewheeling, disjointed legal framework which ultimately allows virtually anyone to access a gun. It has produced a greater number of mass shootings than this country has ever seen. On the other side, we have the possibility of fewer mass shootings and fewer gun deaths. We could make that possibility a reality, but we could only do so by limiting access to firearms. Gun advocates insist that the trade-off isn’t worth it – that endless mass shootings may simply be the price we pay for liberty. Now the country must decide: Is this liberty worth its cost in human lives?

Yes, we could change the laws, but the courts might still decide that liberty is worth all the daily random dead people. They can still declare any new law unconstitutional, not that it matters in this specific case. Now, twelve hours later, the fourteen dead in San Bernardino are still dead, and no one yet knows why. We may never know.

By the way, Bobby Troup eventually dumped his wife Cynthia, who had given him the hook for his famous Route 66 song, and married Julie London – the sexiest torch singer of that era, who, oddly enough, grew up in San Bernardino. That’s a strange place, on old Route 66, where you can get your kicks, no matter how sinister they are.

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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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