BANG BANG: Couple weeks ago, my wife and I hit the road for Arizona. The relentless succession of 96-degree days was driving us crazy. It got so bad, we figured even the desert had to be cooler. Crazier still, we were right. Beyond that, we got to feast our souls on operatic displays of thunder and lighting. We were chased inside by hacking rains and strafed by hail. There was a tornado one county over, and Arizona doesn’t do tornados. Popular hiking trails were declared off-limits for fear of flash floods. We visited friends in Flagstaff, then the site of the freshest college campus shoot-out. I would learn later there had already been 45 such episodes on college campuses in the United States this year. That may be a new record, but who cares? We’ve been Number One forever.
In Arizona, they don’t just preach the Second Amendment; they live it. It wasn’t uncommon, we were told, to encounter families at the supermarket where mom, dad, and junior were all packing heat. You never know when one particularly pissed-off frozen turkey might spring back to life, seeking revenge. We saw lots of window signs declaring the premises inside off-limits to anyone carrying firearms, not something you’re likely to see in Santa Barbara. Four years ago, a 22-year-old white male with sun spots exploding in his psyche opened fire at a Tucson shopping mall, killing six people and injuring 14. His target was Congressmember Gabby Giffords. She took a bullet to the brain but lived anyway, though she walks funny and talks funnier. When Giffords resigned to focus on healing, her former colleagues were unanimous in praising her pluck and grit. But when she asked for legislation keeping guns away from those convicted of domestic violence charges, as she did last month, those former colleagues somehow couldn’t make out her words. After all, she talks funny.
It’s ancient news that Congress is genetically incapable of doing anything about guns and crazy people. Twenty dead 1st graders and six teachers shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago tell us that. In the wake of that slaughter, Congress couldn’t find the votes to pass even a modest expansion of the background checks required of would-be gun purchasers. It would have been a small but meaningful gesture. In Santa Barbara, we’re approaching the 10th anniversary of the Goleta postal annex shooting, where former postal employee Jennifer San Marco shot and killed six current postal workers — including the daughter of an Independent music writer at the time. That was after she shot and killed the next-door neighbor who had complained about San Marco’s late-night loud singing and the raging arguments she had with herself. When San Marco was done, she killed herself. The gun she purchased to do the job — a 9 mm Smith & Wesson — was purchased legally from a pawn shop in Grants, New Mexico. All New Mexico’s background requirements had been satisfied. At the time of the purchase, San Marco had been placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold in Ventura after being forcibly removed by county sheriffs from the Goleta Post Office back in 2001 because she posed an imminent threat to herself or others. Two months before the shooting, she was spotted by a psychiatric social worker kneeling and talking to herself at a post office parking lot in New Mexico. She claims she called the police. Police say they have no record. Under New Mexico law, none of that was sufficient to deny San Marco the gun. That would require nothing less than an adjudicated declaration San Marco was “mentally defective.”
On the way out of town, my wife and I concluded that the only force in American politics capable of keeping guns away from all the angry young (mostly) men struggling with serious psychosis was the insurance industry. Imagine the backlash if any government agency demanded prescription drug records as a possible precondition for firearm purchases. It would be insane. But we don’t blink an eye over the most coercive invasions of our personal privacy when executed by the insurance industry. That’s just the natural order of things. If would-be gun buyers were required to secure insurance policies as a precondition to purchasing a gun, the insurance companies could reckon who was likely to go hair-trigger. If they reckoned wrong, they’d have to pay out. The threat of making such payments would be ample incentive for the insurance companies to keep guns away from people whose psychological psoriasis gave them itchy trigger fingers. Having arrived at this brilliant but obvious solution, my wife and I quickly put Santa Barbara in the rearview mirror, smugly confident the Nobel Peace Prize committee would be calling upon our return.
Like any brilliant idea I think I’ve had, it turns out I must have stolen this one, though subliminally no doubt. Turns out New York Congressmember Carolyn Maloney has been introducing legislation since 2013 requiring gun owners to provide proof of insurance much the same way car owners are required by law to have proof of insurance or else. To be accurate, Maloney hasn’t bothered figuring out all the key details as to how the law would work, because she knows it’s not going anywhere. Each time she’s introduced the bill, it gets consigned to the House Judiciary Committee, where it becomes the epitome of legislative languor. No discussion, no debate, no pulse. DOA. Still, Maloney’s hoping it might serve as a conversational Molotov cocktail, sparking some broader debate. She entertains similar delusions with her bill to fund and empower the Center for Disease Control to study the health effects of gun violence, which, for the last 20 years, it’s been explicitly barred from doing.
In the meantime, I better forget about a visit from the Nobel Prize Patrol. The good news? When we got back to town, at least it wasn’t so crazy hot anymore.