For the past month the media, unlike the actual public, has been obsessed with the issues of gay marriage and gun control. The issues have been portrayed as twin harbingers of a new more liberal age, a 1960′s redux, that has brought out all of the old battle lines. But this, in fact, is not true. These debates, and the inexorable success of gay marrige, and the equally certain failure of gun control legislation, are very much issues and outcomes of our current time. Though their discussion is happening at the same time, the two issues couldn’t be more different except for the one constant at the center of them both- the power and control of government.
It is not overstating the case to say that America is as polarized today as it has been since the Civil War, which was the blueprint for Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” that still represents the Republican Party today. These lines have become hard baked over the last two decades by the lucrative squirting of media lighter fluid onto the bonfire of social and economic discontent. But the most common mistake that talking heads and the general public make is the constant complaint that “government is not working,” or that our representatives are not “doing their job.” On the contrary, they are working, and doing their jobs- which are not to pass legislation, but to represent their constituents- very well indeed. Extreme members represent extreme districts and states, and do so very well by polling and focus grouping the landscape on an hourly basis. And this is exactly why gays and guns are winning the day.
There are several reasons why opposition to gay marriage has eroded steadily over the last twenty years. First and most powerful, sadly, is the AIDS crisis. Before the AIDS epidemic, gays and lesbians were not that far from Stonewall. Towns had gay bars and major cities like New York and San Francisco had thriving gay communities, but at best there was a prevailing “live and let live” ethos. AIDS changed that. AIDS was a clarion call to “come out,” and over the decade of the 1990′s America realized that gays and lesbians were not “them,” but “us.” The result was that the generation of Sally Rides, who hid their lives and loves in order to be functioning participants in society and culture (functioning, that is, without the legal and tax benefits of marriage), gave way to a generation of gay and lesbian people in all walks of life holding hands and openly declaring their love for one another. Another powerful factor has been the increasingly powerful portrayal of gays and lesbians in the media that has helped inure a younger generation. Over the course of the last twenty years, America has come to know that gay and lesbian people are not just the clowns like the dimwit in picture above in the pink net dress, who clearly was not helping the debate, and “dykes on bikes” but everyone else in all walks of American life. Being gay became no big deal and even those like the man in the dress now fail to get all the attention they crave.
The acceptance of guns in our lives and culture have taken a very similar trajectory. Guns, like gays, have slowly overcome their negative, supercharged, media stereotypes. Though they are obviously not similar or analogous in any other way, the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School doesn’t represent gun owners in American any more than a morbidly obese man crawling on his hands and knees wearing nothing but a leather thong and a dog collar represents gay people. Your gay dentist and your neighbor with a handgun responsibly locked in a drawer are not news but they are really who we are.
But it’s really in their relationship to government and its power where these two issues intersect. Two decades ago, Will Portman would probably have not come out, to his family let alone the public, out of respect for his Republican father’s political career. But doing so made the government’s role in obstructing him from the legal benefits that all other Americans enjoy all the more obvious and onerous, to the senator and to everyone else who isn’t benighted by retarding religious dogma. Government restrictions on the American people’s rights to make their own choices is antithetical to the fabric of our nation. And so it also is with the right to own a gun.
None of the proposed gun restriction laws would really have much impact on gun violence in America. Background checks would remain easy to get around and would be impossible to enforce. Large ammunition clips are all over the nation and would remain easy to get. There will most certainly be another terrible episode where a mentally deranged person will kill others with an assault rifle. That just is, and will remain, part of American life. But as tragic as that will be, like assault weapon violence in general, it will represent an infinitesimal percentage of gun deaths, the vast majority of which come from handguns- which themselves don’t even approach the numbers of violent deaths caused by baseball bats, knives, crowbars and the like.
In a month or so, the memory of Sandy Hook Elementary School will pass from all those Americans who didn’t lose a loved one. The next Sandy Hook will create a momentary clamor to once again do something about gun violence, which will once again die down after a few months having initiated no new legislation. But while the Supreme Court will be loathe to decide on gay marriage, and will look for any opportunity to punt, nevertheless, state by state, statute by statute, restrictions to gay rights will fall away because at the end of the day, we Americans just don’t like the government- and worse, odious, self-important Napoleon complexers like New York mayor Michel Bloomberg- telling us what to do. We prefer it when corporate America does that.