Maybe you noticed—investors in gun and ammunition companies did quite well on Monday, a day after the massacre in Orlando. Smith & Wesson closed almost 7% higher, and our own Connecticut-based Sturm, Ruger rose 8.5%.
No mystery here: it happens every time. Gun owners fear that some new legislation will make the purchase of assault weapons more difficult, so they need to rush out and restock. I suppose one assault weapon is never enough, even though the bad guys seem to do just fine with just one.
And so the parade continues. As Stephen Colbert said last night on the Late Show, it’s all become scripted and we each play our roles: gun owners claim it’s a mental health issue; gun-law activists blame the NRA; politicians lament the violence and tragedy; and the rest of us, bemused, watch the play unfold on television, knowing that—like any series—there’ll be another episode soon enough.
Today in the U.S. House three Connecticut lawmakers walked out when a moment of silence was called. They claimed it was hypocritical—that the same lawmakers who refuse to place limitations on assault weapons cannot atone for their inaction by mere silence, not after they have become complicit in the crime.
A nice gesture by the three—and heartfelt I’m sure. But what if, instead of walking out, they had done something really radical—maybe procured some sound equipment and played a victim’s 9-1-1 call, or some of the racket from the automatic weapons lacerating the streets of Orlando, or an interview with a survivor or, perhaps, a victim’s mother or father or spouse. How would that have gone over? And what if they kept playing it and refused to stop until they were forcibly removed from the chamber? Maybe that would create more discomfort than simply walking out.
These moments of silence and quiet vigils and festooning of flowers are little more than intermissions in the violent play whose next act awaits. But if we interrupt the intermissions—if we use them to raise hell and continue to do so until nobody’s interested in returning for the second act because it just isn’t worth it, then maybe we will have accomplished something. Because I know one thing—our moments of silence are comfortable times for Smith and Wesson, for the NRA, for Donald Trump and any demagogue who can exploit those silences—that quiet exasperation
In 1919 the Irish poet William Butler Yeats warned in “The Second Coming”
The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.
The worst thrive when the best remain docile—when they feel that moments of silence are enough. But it is contingent on the best to make the loudest noise. Movements have tipping points: the labor movement had the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, gay rights had Stonewall, anti-war had Kent State. And 250 years ago people who chose liberty over tyranny excused themselves from English rule. Orlando could become a similar tipping point, but if we quietly let it become another dispiriting episode of an endless series—or another act in a disheartening play, then shame on all of us.