Blow, Nocera and Collins

In “Revolutionary Language” Mr. Blow says extremists make sensible gun control hard to discuss, let alone achieve.  Mr. Nocera decided he wanted to shoot guns.  In “How to Shoot a Gun” he says a visit to Bud’s Gun Shop in Lexington, Ky., and to the shooting range offers some perspective on the appeal of guns.  I guess it grew 2 inches, even if one of the guns was scary?  Ms. Collins has a question in “The Flu.  Who Knew?”  She asks don’t we go through this every winter, people? Let’s blame John Boehner.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Listen closely.

That sound you hear is the sound of a cultural paranoia by people who have lost their grip on the reins of power, and on reality, and who fear the worst is coming.

And they are preparing for it, whatever it may be — a war, a revolution, an apocalypse.

These extremists make sensible, reasonable gun control hard to discuss, let alone achieve in this country, because they skew the conversations away from common-sense solutions on which both rational gun owners and non-gun owners can agree.

These people, a vocal minority, have extreme fears — gun confiscation, widespread civil instability, a tyrannical government — from which they are preparing to defend themselves with arsenals of weapons and stockpiles of ammunition.

If you pay attention to the right-wing’s rhetoric, you can hear a string of code words that feed the fears of these people and paralyze progress.

A collection of conservative groups have declared Jan. 19, during the weekend celebrating President Obama’s inauguration and Martin Luther King’s Birthday, as Gun Appreciation Day.

In a press release, the event chairman, Larry Ward, said, “The Obama administration has shown that it is more than willing to trample the Constitution to impose its dictates upon the American people.”

Using the word “dictates” is a subtle, but intentional, effort to frame the president as dangerous.

Andrew P. Napolitano, a Fox News analyst, said in a video posted Thursday on the network’s GretaWire blog: “Here’s the dirty little secret about the Second Amendment, the Second Amendment was not written in order to protect your right to shoot deer, it was written to protect your right to shoot tyrants if they take over the government. How about chewing on that one.”

He went even further in a piece in The Washington Times, saying that the Second Amendment “protects the right to shoot tyrants, and it protects the right to shoot at them effectively, with the same instruments they would use upon us.”

Who are Napolitano’s tyrants here? Is this government takeover theoretical, imminent, in progress or a fait accompli?

Ward went so far as to say on CNN: “I believe that Gun Appreciation Day honors the legacy of Dr. King.” He continued: “The truth is, I think Martin Luther King would agree with me if he were alive today that if African-Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from Day 1 of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history. And I believe wholeheartedly that it’s essential to liberty.”

Set aside, if you can, what would most likely be King’s horror at the association, and look at that language. Pay particular attention to the suggestion that guns are an essential guard against slavery’s resurgence in this country. And who would be the slaves and who the enslavers?

As the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a Spring 2012 report, the number of so-called patriot groups surged after Barack Obama was first elected president.

“The swelling of the Patriot movement since that time has been astounding,” the report said. “From 149 groups in 2008, the number of Patriot organizations skyrocketed to 512 in 2009, shot up again in 2010 to 824, and then, last year, jumped to 1,274.”

(According to the center, “Generally, Patriot groups define themselves as opposed to the ‘New World Order,’ engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme antigovernment doctrines.”)

The center also points out: “Fears of impending gun control or weapons confiscations, either by the government or international agencies, also run rampant in antigovernment circles. As a result, many antigovernment activists believe that being well armed is a must. The militia movement engages in paramilitary training aimed at protecting citizens from this feared impending government crackdown.”

That’s why it is both shocking and predictable that James Yeager, the C.E.O. of a Tennessee company that trains civilians in weapons and tactical skills, posted a video online Wednesday (since removed but still viewable at rawstory.com) saying he was going to start killing people if gun control efforts moved forward. He said, and I quote:

“I’m telling you that if that happens, it’s going to spark a civil war, and I’ll be glad to fire the first shot. I’m not putting up with it. You shouldn’t put up with it. And I need all you patriots to start thinking about what you’re going to do, load your damn mags, make sure your rifle’s clean, pack a backpack with some food in it and get ready to fight.”

Again, calling the “patriots” to arms is, I think, no accident.

Chew on that.

And now here’s Mr. Nocera, who’s actually shot guns.  (Um, so have I Joe, but since I don’t have a tiny wing-wang it didn’t make me all excited.  I am rather good at it, though.)

It was the middle of the workday — a bright, chilly Wednesday afternoon in Lexington, Ky. — but Bud’s Gun Shop was crowded. Why was I surprised? The combination of President Obama’s re-election and the Newtown massacre has caused gun proponents to stock up, fearing, against all available evidence, that the federal government was about to crack down on gun ownership. As I opened the door, I felt like a teenager about to buy a condom.

My plan was to shoot a gun, something I had never done before. I thought it would help me understand why gun owners are so passionate about their deadly possessions.

The daughter of a local friend, Don McNay, offered to accompany me. Gena Bigler is the chief financial officer of her father’s financial firm, a personal finance columnist and the mother of two. Gena, Don said, is “very liberal in all her politics, except pro-gun.” Just like his wife, his ex-wife and many other women in Kentucky, he added.

Bud’s Gun Shop was cavernous, with scarcely a square inch of wall space that didn’t have a gun on it. As we headed for the shooting range, I asked Gena why she liked guns. “In the Old West,” she said, “the gun was the great equalizer. I think for women that is still the case.” The first time she shot a gun, she told me, she was 8.

“Let’s start easy,” Gena said as we approached the shooting range. At the counter, Dave, a retired policeman who served as the “range officer,” brought out a Ruger Mark .22 semiautomatic handgun. It was a gun that a newbie like me could handle, he gently suggested. A box of bullets in hand, we headed out to the shooting range.

The target was a bright green human silhouette. Gena and I took turns shooting. It took awhile, but once I got the hang of it, I stopped worrying about the shape of the target and focused on hitting it. The .22 made small bullet holes. Gena told me that when she used to shoot in the woods, you could see the enormous damage guns could do to a tree. “I think children need to be better educated about guns,” she said, “so they’ll understand better what a gun can do.”

We next moved to a .45 semiautomatic handgun. “Do you want one that shoots really well, or do you want one you can hide?” asked Dave. He gave us a Kimber. Its manufacturer describes Kimbers as “no compromise, purpose-built pistols.” Certainly from my point of view, it was more difficult to ignore its purpose than with the .22. The bullets made much bigger holes, fire often came out of the barrel, and it had a big kick. It was meant to kill people.

The gallery was filling up. I saw two women shooting handguns, three young men sharing an assault weapon and a man who needed crutches taking target practice. The only noise you could hear was the pop, pop, pop of guns being fired.

Finally, Gena and I rented a Kriss Vector, a shiny black assault weapon. The man who handed it to us called it a “P.D.W.” — or personal defense weapon. “This gun is made for something like the Secret Service,” he added. Dave looked at the gun and smiled wryly. “Blast away,” he said. The gun had a 30-bullet magazine, which I emptied as quickly as my trigger finger would allow. It took, literally, seconds.

Using the assault weapon was a frightening experience. Even Gena thought so. “I don’t see why anybody would need a gun like that,” she said. But when I asked her whether such guns should be outlawed, she didn’t hesitate: “That’s the beginning of the slippery slope.”

Did I discover on Wednesday afternoon why shooting a gun appeals to so many people? Not really. But I did get a glimpse of why it will be so difficult to change America’s gun culture. You can say until you’re blue in the face that a gun owner or his family is far more likely to be hurt or killed by that gun than an intruder. But people like Gena — decent, honorable citizens who grew up around guns — will never believe it. They will always think of guns as the great equalizer. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Kentucky, which has some of the least restrictive gun laws on the books, has no intention of tightening its laws after Newtown.

A few days later, I called Bud’s Gun Shop to ask Dave what he thought about the renewed effort to regulate guns. In his calm, unflustered way, he said he thought the problem was mental health care, not guns. “People have rights,” he said.

In the background, I could hear the pop, pop, pop of guns going off in the shooting range.

Last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

Everybody is talking about the flu. Never have I seen so many people trying to open doorknobs with their elbows. “Epidemic spurs rush to hospitals,” announced The New York Post under a “Flu York” front-page headline. A financial Web site offered a list of undervalued stocks in the funeral service industry. The mayor of Boston declared a public health emergency. Google Flu Trends painted a map of the country in deep red and inspired a raft of terrifying predictions. (“Outbreak could be the worst on record.”)

It’s hard to tell the extent of a flu outbreak because most of the victims just snivel away unhappily in the privacy of their own homes. The Google site solves this problem by tracking the number of times people search for flu-related terms online. Does this make sense to you, people? If we could determine what was going on in the world by the most popular searches, wouldn’t the universe be run by mischievous kittens and Kate Middleton?

O.K., that is not a sophisticated thought — Google has an algorithm. But I still wonder if the number of recent searches on the subject of flu isn’t related to the number of recent press conferences about flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls Google Flu Trends “a useful tool” that may be “subject to the perturbations of media attention.”

It’s hard for the media, or the elected officials who are currently terrifying their constituents with dire flu warnings, to know where to draw the line between encouraging preparedness and scaring the public out of its wits. The flu is incredibly debilitating, especially this year because it’s showing up at the same time as a stomach virus that features diarrhea and projectile vomiting. Truly, you only need to mention “projectile vomiting” once to get our attention. And flu can be dangerous for some people, like the frail elderly.

But we do go through this every winter.

“This is the worst flu season we’ve seen since 2009,” said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, the guy who declared the public health emergency.

Stop there. While 2009 was a very bad year for flu, worst-in-four-years doesn’t sound quite as dire as worst-on-record.

“We have an epidemic of flu every year,” said the New York City health commissioner, Thomas Farley. If there are alarming headlines, he added, it’s because public officials are “trying to get out the message to get your vaccine.” In a phone interview, Farley explained that the city declares an epidemic when more than 5 percent of the people going to emergency rooms are complaining of flu symptoms, which is unusual only in the sense that it doesn’t happen in warm weather. He also managed to work “get your vaccine” into virtually every sentence.

Yes! Get a flu shot, like Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who received one on Thursday, along with a lollipop. This was to set a good example. Although honestly, that was sort of late in the game, don’t you think? You’d like to believe the governor of one of the most populous states in the nation would have thought about flu protection in November.

The C.D.C., which measures epidemics in a different way, also agrees we’re in one. But officials there don’t seem all that worried, beyond the fact that when you’re the Centers for Disease Control, you’re always worried. “The bottom line: It’s flu season,” said director Tom Frieden.

Maybe the national über-angst is because the last two years were really light ones for flu, and we’ve forgotten what a bad one feels like. Also, it’s possible that we’re talking about it more because there isn’t all that much going on. In other Januaries, we might have been anticipating the actions of the new Congress. This year, we know in advance that there won’t be any.

This brings me to my theory about how to calm the flu panic. We can pin everything on John Boehner, the speaker of the House.

Think about it. One of the worst side-effects of illness is the feeling of a lack of control. Your symptoms seem to descend out of nowhere. Picking somebody to hold responsible gives a little more sense of order to the universe.

“Nothing will make you feel better like finding somebody to blame,” says a new Facebook app called “Help, My Friend Gave Me the Flu.” That app, which is sponsored by a pharmaceutical company, lets you prowl through the social network looking for which of your acquaintances got symptoms before you did.

This sounds like a terrible idea — you don’t want to ruin friendships over a transient ailment. John Boehner, on the other hand, is somebody you have never met. And the average case of the flu, no matter how unpleasant, is not as bad as two or three more fiscal cliffs.

Plus, so many people are angry at John Boehner already that he would never notice a few million more.

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