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  • Writer's pictureBrian Keeler

Blood on Their Hands-

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

An essay on guns unleashed- By Brian Keeler

"Massacre of the Innocents" by the 17th century Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens now takes on more relevance in the time of school shootings of innocent students. This Biblical theme of Herrod's ordering all children under the age of two to be slain- now unfortunately has parallels and corollaries to today's climate of gun-related carnage.

Let's start with semantics or just how far a term can be distorted or applied to serve a particular goal or agenda. The concept of a "sanctuary" is the one in question here, and one usually or often used to connote a place of human safety, shelter or refuge. We tend to connect the word sanctuary with religious orders as with convents or monasteries. The very word is cognate with sanctified or made holy. We also think of sanctuary cities of current times that are conceived as a place to help refugees and the oppressed people of abusive political regimes or those escaping from rampant crime.

So it is with dismay and incredulity to see the term sanctuary appropriated by the NRA and some county governments to apply the term to protecting guns. They of course argue that they are protecting the second amendment as if this is an act of patriotism, but the real impulse is the protection of guns or the right to own guns.

This new spin on the term "sanctuary" smacks of a sinister and tricky wordplay; to allow the promoters to gain adherents in self-righteous indignation. It is political spin in other words, sort of akin to an Orwellian-like usage, from his novel 1984, where the Ministry of Peace is anything but. In fact, I would say that the term sanctuary, purloined in this way is a rather stupid usage, if not the epitome of irony and crass insensitivity. It is in fact, a cruel hoax in way too. The very idea that an inanimate device, killing machines and tools of carnage and mass murders, should require a safety net, if not coddling and nurturing is just outright preposterous if not risible. For one of the parents of the Parkland school massacre in 2018, he wore a t-shirt that underscored my point. It said, "Protect our kids- not guns." We can hear the collective cry of our nation admonishing our leaders to take action, only to be rebuffed with indifference and ineptitude.

There's one more shinning example of a misappropriation of word usage that comes to mind, perhaps equal in its crassness. That is in Serbia during the war in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990's. They took the word "Imagine" which I will forever associate with John Lennon's song of pacifism and used it, emblazoned boldly on a huge billboard over an image of the Eiffel Tower being blown up. They were protesting France and NATO trying to stop Serbia's war of genocide- you may recall Serbia also coined the term "ethnic cleansing" another gross example of twisted, if not profane word usage.

The initial incentive for this essay was a front page article in the Rocket-Courier, my hometown (Wyalusing, PA) newspaper, which was reporting on a recent proclamation by the Bradford County commissioners in Towanda, PA. Those commissioners were following suit of some other counties in various parts of the United States that were in the process of reacting to legislation and the outrage of people fed up with gun violence and atrocities across our nation. It occurred to me that Towanda could very well be the epicenter of ignorance, until I later realized that this effort was just part of a larger national movement. The vote in Towanda was followed by that demonstration in Richmond, Virginia a few weeks later. That gathering in Richmond was followed up by an incident in Frankfurt, Kentucky, which included a group of folks dressed in ski masks, military garb, camouflage gear and brandishing assault rifles in the Kentucky state capitol.

There was a time in Towanda- when the residents understood the term sanctuary and actually took courageous efforts to help the downtrodden. I am referring to the American Civil War era when Towanda was part of the underground railroad network, which of course was helping escaped slaves find sanctuary. The Piollet Mansion in nearby Wysox, was one of these havens for runaways with a tunnel leading down to the Susquehanna River to facilitate the movement. Today that structure is somewhat restored, but unfortunately used as a gas station and mini mart. That is another story, but permit me a digression; can we imagine other national historic sites, say, the Betsy Ross Home in Philadelphia or Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello being converted to a McDonald’s restaurant?

What is even more aggravating is the press and editorials from certain quarters, namely the current and new editor of the Rocket- Courier writing an op-ed denigrating those who protest and stand up for sanity in gun laws. He chalked all this up to the liberal media and took the approach of ascribing this national dilemma to a partisan squabble. In short his editorial was a diatribe, as if regurgitated from Brietbart News.

As I write this we are approaching the second anniversary of one of those mass shootings, The Parkland, Florida massacre at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. In fact, just tonight I saw a screening of the new film documenting this atrocity, called “Remembering Parkland.” The film is a powerful, and at times heart-wrenching testament of the human spirit over the terrible suffering inflicted at just one of these mass shooting incidents. This one event of gun violence on innocent people however, inspired the survivors and parents of victims to organize and create nation-wide movements for sanity and responsibility. But to put gun violence in context, and a grim statistic it is, there were more mass shooting in 2019 than in all the days of the year. Dispiriting and adding insult to injury however, is the spin machine of right wing hate groups and everyday people who have distorted the meaning and intent of those victims. They've been called all kinds of names, they're the brunt of all sorts online abuse, and one right wing pundit even went so far as to call the students involved in this massacre "child actors."

The proclamation by the commissioners in Towanda was part of a trend we can see in that county with its elected officials in cahoots with big business, this time the NRA. But we’ve seen their support and endorsement of the fracking industry and now they’re in the hip pocket of the gun lobby as well. It would not be quite as egregious if this act were not in support of the worse kinds of firearms. I am referring to the assault rifles used by the military and those guns used by most of the mass murderers in America. They probably are even in support of the bumpstocks that enabled the shooter at the Las Vegas bloodbath. Furthermore these NRA toadies are not even in favor of the most limited background checks. In short, there is no sanity, responsibility or forethought behind these proclamations by the NRA and its members. Worse yet, in Towanda and elsewhere, the local sheriffs are refusing to enforce gun safety laws. Maybe the next time somebody gets stopped for speeding in Towanda, they should claim that the county has been proclaimed a no-speed limit district. To read about the police in various towns encouraging people to break the law is just beyond the pale. And it's not just any law, these cops are rendering their own jobs more problematic and making us all less safe by encouraging the free spectacle of loaded and dangerous weapons.

I've not heard the following line of reasoning (yet) from the NRA but I would not put it past them, as with their twisting of the term sanctuary, it also indicates the tendency and likelihood of distortion. They may claim that brandishing guns in public and disregarding laws is simply an act of civil disobedience. Stealing a page from the civil rights movement, in other words is their rationale. Just as the NRA is distorting the second amendment, they are likewise perverting the idea and act of civil disobedience. Whether they are aware of the original coinage and use of civil disobedience with Thoreau, Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King is doubtful. But for those of us who are, then taking ideas that were once employed as acts of kindness for the welfare of the oppressed and using them for promoting guns and the resultant violence is truly obscene.

The recent incident at the state Capitol in Kentucky also draws comparison to Towanda and underscores the safety loopholes and insanity of these gun nuts. Gun advocates were able to walk right past the security checkpoints with no trouble, no questions and probably a nod of approval. However people with umbrellas, cell phones and other personal items were required to check their belongings out of concern that these could be used as weapons. The courthouse in Towanda has similar security. We can imagine the county commissioners in Towanda and local gun-toting fanatics marching into this beautiful building and raising their military assault weapons for a photo op. This is the civility and safety that the county commissioners have encouraged.

The article from the Wyalusing weekly, the Rocket- Courier.

And as this belligerent disregard for safety is on parade in Towanda and elsewhere- we can assume that these gunslingers would have no qualms about having a rally in front of the planned LNG in Wyalusing. It seems that pro-fracking and pro-gun go together, at least with the Bradford County commissioners. In case you hadn’t heard, one of these LNG transport trains is the equivalent of four Hiroshima bombs in explosive potential. These folks seem to know no bounds in regards to gun infatuation. So who is to say that hand grenades, bazookas or shoulder held rocket launchers would not be considered protected by the second amendment as well.

A quote from Bill Moyers, the PBS commentator seems apropos here; “the arsenal of democracy transformed into the arsenal of death and the NRA - the NRA is the enabler of death - paranoid, delusional, and as venomous as a scorpion. With the weak-kneed acquiescence of our politicians, the National Rifle Association has turned the Second Amendment of the Constitution into a cruel hoax, a cruel and deadly hoax.”

I would add that the framers of the constitution never envisioned the way the second amendment is being abused and distorted today. For those fellows and women showing up at Frankfurt and Richmond dressing like military commandos and with loaded assault weapons, they are not protectors of the civility and intelligence of our nation's founding fathers. If they look like terrorists, dress like terrorists, talk hate and ideology of extremists and kill people in mass- then they are terrorists.

I find myself wistful for days when we could see simple pleas for gun safety, such as a bumper sticker with a handgun with a slash through it. That wish for no handguns seems remote and so removed from the polarized situation today, when we now can’t even get assault rifles banned. And of course, looking back to the days when the NRA stood for gun safety is part of this nostalgia, instead of the NRA being a mere front for the unbridled proliferation of arms foisted on us by gun manufacturers is part of the nostalgia too. In short, it is profit before people, money before sensibility.

So the next time there is a school shooting, which there most likely will be, we can reflect again on how the nation is held in thrall by corporate gun stooges and their money. We occasionally hear of lockdowns in area schools in this new climate of gun culture. It is a time of fear and tension, as who knows when some disturbed kid will abscond with his father's unlocked AR- 15 rifle in Sayre or Canton or elsewhere in America. We can see little national will or accomplishment since the Parkland massacre to stand up for the victims of gun violence. So these county commissioners in Towanda can now proudly chalk one up to their supposed interest in the nation’s constitution. In short, this is a horrible policy enacted in Towanda, which will effect everyone adversely and it will have deleterious influence beyond Bradford County.

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