Lapointe: Michigan momentum runs against guns

Would massacre pictures help or hurt the gun control cause?

click to enlarge A memorial painted on the University of Michigan campus honors the victims of the MSU shooting. - Shutterstock
A memorial painted on the University of Michigan campus honors the victims of the MSU shooting.

After grisly gun massacres at Michigan State University and Oxford High School, news media showed poignant images of flowers, candles, stuffed animals, and people hugging each other while in tears.

Not shown were still photographs or videos showing how high-powered bullets mangle the flesh, blood, brains, and bones of human beings who are slaughtered by hand-held murder machines.

In between two more mass killings — first in a Nashville school, next in a Louisville bank — there came a fusillade of fiery questions from a pro basketball coach, Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. He wondered whether the public needs to see these gory images to comprehend the crisis.

“What will it take?” Popovich asked. “Do we have to show it?”

He mocked Senator Marsha Blackburn and Governor Bill Lee, two Tennessee Republicans, for their meaningless platitudes belched after six killings there in a Christian church-school.

Blackburn said her staff was “ready to assist.”

“Ready to assist? In what?” Popovich asked. “They’re dead. What are you going to assist with? Cleaning up their brains off the wall? Wiping the blood off the schoolroom floor?”

When Lee said he was “monitoring” the aftermath, Popovich responded with “What are you monitoring? They’re dead. Children. They’re dead.”

Popovich predicted that gun-excusers would soon “cloak all this stuff (with) the myth of Second Amendment freedom.”

He added, “Is it ‘freedom,’ for kids to go to school . . . and be scared to death that they might die that day?”

While some states stubbornly defend and even expand gun “rights,” Michigan goes in the opposite direction. Its progressive Democrats are early in a coherent and reasonable counterattack to multiple human slaughters.

Last Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed two pieces of common-sense gun legislation.

The first is for expansion of universal background checks for gun purchases. The second requires safe storage of firearms. A proposed third piece of legislation would improve “red flag laws” to keep firearms away from disturbed and dangerous persons.

“This [is] from a state where many of us grew up with guns,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat. “[We] don’t need to accept the false choice between gun ownership and gun safety for our kids . . . Gun violence can rip a hole in the heart of a community.”

To answer one of Popovich’s questions: Certainly, it would take courage and motivation for the family of a murdered relative to show in public the crime-scene pictures of a gun massacre. People would be appalled, horrified, and disgusted. 

What if such photos or videos appeared on TV, in newspapers, or even on billboards?

It’s been tried. The movement against abortion used images of fetuses on leaflets and signs in public places to advance that cause. Even if these tactics had no effect, a Supreme Court packed with religious fundamentalists abolished the constitutional protection of choice last year. That side won that one.

Consider another historical precedent. A corpse image 68 years ago helped galvanize the Civil Rights movement. These were the photos of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old, African-American male murdered by Mississippi racists in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman.

Instead of a closed coffin at his funeral in Chicago, his mother insisted on displaying the mutilation of her son, who’d been beaten, shot in the head, and dumped in a river. Jet magazine and other publications circulated the pictures. The images both horrified the public and motivated the cause of racial justice.

We tend to react to images and remember viscerally their impressions. Think of the airplanes hitting the Twin Towers on 9/11; the filmed and still images from the Holocaust; the full Zapruder film that shows frame 313, when President Kennedy’s head explodes into a blurry, gray-red spray of brain matter and blood.

Images of recent gun massacres – and they do exist — would look much worse. After all, we now have high-definition video.

But most gun scenes we absorb from our screens merely soothe our fears and sanitize the carnage. In cowboy western movies and TV cop shows, the good guy with a gun always wins. He might suffer a flesh wound — you can tell by the little, red hole in his shirt — but he’ll be OK and he’s a hero, too.

There can be little compromise, reasoning, or negotiation on guns with right-wing Republicans.

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Meanwhile, back in the real world, we now have a six-year-old bringing a weapon to school and shooting his teacher. One of the more preposterous arguments of the right wing is that teachers need to pack heat. Why, for gunfights with first-graders? Maybe we should arm cops with books and blackboards. 

Whatever the tactics chosen by the gun-safety lobby, the moment and the momentum in Michigan favor Democrats, liberals, and progressives. It is time to push that edge and acknowledge that there can be little compromise, reasoning, or negotiation on guns with right-wing Republicans.

These folks whine about “weaponizing the FBI” while they weaponize their weapons. There are none so blind as those who will not see the connection between gun massacres and guns. They call up right-wing radio stations to trumpet their “God-given right” to own, carry, and fire guns.

And they foul the air with bad-faith arguments like “just enforce the laws already on the books” or “we must do something about mental health.” Yeah, right. Elected legislators pose with their smiling families while holding weapons of war for Christmas cards. Ho, ho, ho!

In the Capitol, on their lapels, they wear assault-rifle pins. Ha, ha, ha! Way to own the libs. Debating them is like arguing with barking dogs. The primary purpose of a gun is to end lives. On that they are obtuse. They say they fear that new and stronger gun laws will lead to a “slippery slope.”

On this narrow point, they are absolutely right. Hell, yes. Right now, the death dealers of the gun culture stand at the top of that slippery slope, at least in Michigan. It is time to give them a big shove downhill. Maybe this state — newly blue again — can, for a change, lead the way.

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About The Author

Joe Lapointe

Joe Lapointe is a Detroit-area freelance writer who is a former reporter for the New York Times and Detroit Free Press. He is working on a sports reporting memoir to be titled either The Fire-Balling Flame-Thrower Threw Bullets to Slam the Door or Local Team Hopes to Win Next Game...
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