Misplaced priorities are a political disease

Almost immediately, they gave the microphone to a Navy SEAL veteran to state their patriotic position. “We’re the National Rifle Association of America and we are freedom’s safest place.”

The ad had nothing to do with the deadliest shooting in U.S. history though. On that, their silence was a symptom of nation so focused on winning that it’s become a disease destroying the body politic.

The NRA’s ad titled “We Stand” was published the day after players throughout the NFL refused to stand during the national anthem. They did that in response to remarks made by President Donald Trump. He told the league owners to fire anyone who wouldn’t stand.

The disease of winning was peppered throughout the 80-minute rambling speech in which Trump mimicked his trademark reality TV line. “We’re going to be like your football teams” he promised his Alabama audience. “We’re going to win all the time.” And he boasted of one victory he’s already delivered. If Hillary Clinton had won the election last November, he said, she’d be coming for all their guns.

Trump claims he saved the Second Amendment by appointing Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. But it wasn’t his win. That belongs to Senate Republicans who paved the way by denying Obama his rightful duty to replace the late Justice Antonia Scalia. They finished the job by ending the filibuster for such appointments. That denied Senate Democrats the opportunity to block Gorsuch’s nomination.

Besides, there isn’t a Democrat in the country proposing a total ban on gun ownership. Nor is there a hidden agenda to whittle away those rights till they’re gone.

After Las Vegas, Congressional Republicans will feel pressure to enact some form of new gun control legislation. But as Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, explained the morning after the massacre, that’ll be nothing more than an “effort to put points on the board against” the NRA. When the dust settles, he said, they’ll get back “to defending freedom” with same nonsense used in their We Stand ad.

That scoreboard metaphor reveals the disease. It shows what matters more to the NRA is keeping alive the strident fighting mood of their supporters than the real people whose got caught on the firing line of a crazed gunman.

The evidence they’re already their winning this perverse game came from the stock market. As happened after every other mass murder event the past decade, gun manufacturers saw the value of their stocks climb the very next day.

Such gains would be reversed if the self-proclaimed guardians of freedom and safety even questioned the murderer’s legally outrageous arsenal of 23 guns and 1,600 rounds of ammunition. Or the way he legally modified some firearms to function like banned automatic weapons. That they haven’t is further proof they don’t care about the people gunned down.

It’s not just the NRA. They might be leading the fight for this ideology-over-people-lives approach to governing. But congressional Republicans and Democrats, and every law-abiding gun owner who supports them are already arguing we can’t debate gun control so soon after the tragedy.

This win at the expense of real people isn’t new to American politics. To become one indivisible nation, the South had to win the right to continue enslaving 600,000 men and women. That number grew to almost two million by the time of the Civil War.

Afterwards, southern politicians continued to impose its bankrupt ideology by ignoring murderous lynch mobs and imposing Jim Crow laws. Today, it’s taken the form of “all lives matter” whenever there’s evidence that a police officer wrongly killed an unarmed black American.

The strategic goal of all this is evident in the ads produced by the NRA since Trump entered the White House. It’s to keep Americans so bitterly divided that Congress can’t act.

If they refuse to debate new gun control legislation after this latest massacre, then pundits around the world ought to start writing America’s obituary. Because even though every election cycle gives us ugly rhetorical battles, this disease is preventing us from governing in a sensible and humane manner. And if we don’t heal ourselves, we’ll all be losers in a game we thought was all about winning.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. He contributes a regular column to the Juneau Empire.

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