Baker did not know many of the people at the party. His workmate Jim had invited him out of kindness, so Baker went. Maybe he’d make some new friends.
Jim greeted Baker, got him a drink, and introduced him to a small group whose members were already engaged in a spirited conversation. Baker soon learned what the topic was: guns.
Bellyfat was saying, “Take away my guns and you automatically make me a target of every crook and nut case I meet.”
Gray Beard agreed. “We’re at war with the bad guys, and you can’t simply disarm the good guys and let them get blown away.”
Hornrims used sarcasm. “Oh, yeah. Every good guy will recognize a bad guy from the get-go, and will shoot him in the kneecap at once. Good guys are all expert marksmen, right?”
Linda Lovely broke in. “Guns aren’t the problem. It’s people. Society has got to try harder to find the loners and misfits before they go wild.”
Baker wished he were elsewhere. As he turned to go, Bellyfat said, “Hey there, stranger. What are your views on the gun control issue?”
Baker gave his best conciliatory smile and said, “You probably wouldn’t want to hear them.”
Hornrims said, “Why not? Do you own a gun?”
Baker said, “I used to, but my dog ate it. And I never did learn to shoot straight, so I figured society would be better off if I just put my trust in God.”
That last comment put a chill in the air. “What are you – some sort of Jesus freak?”
Baker said, “No, but I’ve been checking out the TV preachers to see what God’s position on guns is. Whatever God wants, I’m all for.”
Bellyfat erupted. “This wise guy is making fun of us.”
Hornrims said, “Sounds like it. What’s your name, pal? And aren’t you concerned about guns and innocent kids being mowed down?”
“My name is Baker, and I’m just as concerned as you guys are. I’m just not as noisy. I’m more of a reader than a talker.”
Gray Beard said, “Oh? And you think reading about gun ownership will do more than having a national debate about it?”
Baker said, “Maybe it would, if only we’d shut up for a few days and get acquainted with the pertinent facts.”
“Such as on the day the 20 Newtown children died, more than 50 million other kids went to school without being harmed. Such as that in the U.S. since 1982, seventy mass shootings have taken place, leaving 543 people dead. That’s an average of 18 fatalities a year caused by nut cases. That’s too many, but during the same period more than 564,000 other homicides took place in America. Of all the murders committed, mass shootings account for one-tenth of one percent,” Baker said.
Linda Lovely said, “So should we just ignore the mass shootings, on the basis of statistics?”
Baker said, “There’s no chance of our ignoring them. The news media won’t let us. Once a shooting takes place that results in more than five deaths, the media have no choice but to go ballistic with their coverage. Every news outlet in America becomes terrified that their competition will beat them, either with the basics of the shootings or on the fallout – the funerals, the grieving families, the profiles of the dead kids, the renewed warfare with the NRA, the hand-wringing editorials about the nation’s culture of violence. Nobody will admit it, but we’ve turned mass shootings into morbid celebrations, occasions for uproar, finger-pointing, demands for change, political posturing, promises of action – and then guess what comes of it all? Nothing. Or almost nothing.”
Bellyfat pushed a finger against Baker’s chest. “So what do you suggest, Mr. Know-it-all? What do you think should be done?”
Baker said, “I don’t know. Neither does anyone else. The best idea I can come up with is that we’d better accept the inevitable. The guns are out there, and they’ll stay. So will most of the shooters. The same goes for the NRA, the gun manufacturers, the payoffs to the lawmakers, the whole heart-breaking catastrophe. Remember the financial crash of 2008, and how we paid billions of undeserved dollars to gut-rotten banks because they were `too big to fail?’ Well, that’s what’s happened with the gun control dilemma. It’s become too big a problem to solve.”
No one spoke, until Linda Lovely said, “So, Mr. Baker, where lies hope? Don’t you have any hope?”
Baker said, “Yes. I hope I’m wrong about what I’ve said here tonight.” He finished his drink, found his host, said good night and headed home. What a swell party.
Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.