Gail Collins: Mayans were wrong, maybe

By GAIL COLLINSDecember 25, 2012 

Well, the Mayans were sort of right.

The world didn't implode when their calendar stopped on Dec. 21. But the National Rifle Association did call for putting guns in every American school in a press conference that had a sort of civilization-hits-a-dead-end feel to it.

And we learned that negotiations on averting a major economic crisis had come to a screeching halt because Speaker John Boehner lost the support of the far-right contingent of his already-pretty-damned-conservative caucus. We have seen the future, and everything involves negotiating with loony people.

Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, has major sway in Congress when it comes to gun issues. So the press conference, in which he read a rambling, unyielding statement in a quavering voice, while refusing to take any questions, could not have inspired confidence that the national trauma over the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school was going to be resolved anytime soon.

LaPierre immediately identified the problem that led to a deranged young man mowing down children with a semi-automatic rifle: Gun-free school zones. ("They tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem.") Then he demanded a police officer in every American school. Or maybe a program to recruit armed volunteers.

At around the same time he was speaking, a gunman in Pennsylvania killed three people after shooting up a rural church. We will await the next grand plan for arming ministers.

The idea that having lots of guns around is the best protection against gun violence is a fairy tale that the NRA tells itself when it goes to sleep at night. But an armed security officer at Columbine High School was no help. And history also shows that armed civilians generally freeze up during mass shootings -- for good reason, since usually the only way a crazed gunman gets stopped is when he runs out of ammunition. So what we continue to have is an excellent argument for banning weapons that spray lots of bullets.

However unhinged LaPierre might have seemed to the casual observer, he sent a clear message to members of Congress who fear the wrath of the NRA: No compromise on banning assault weapons or any gun control issue. That made it hard to imagine any reform getting past the great, gaping maw that is the House of Representatives.

We witnessed the magic of the House Republican majority when the Tea Party forces blocked Boehner's plan to continue the Bush tax cuts for incomes under $1 million a year. This was around the time the speaker recited the prayer, much beloved by 12-step programs, about seeking the serenity to accept things you cannot change.

Boehner's bill was mainly a political ploy, so in a way, its defeat was meaningless. Except that it would be comforting not to believe that one of the critical players in Washington was always at the mercy of the loopy-extremist wing in his caucus.

Like, um, Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. On Friday, Huelskamp represented the House resistance forces on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," in an appearance with great Mayan overtones. First, he gradually acknowledged that he was never going to vote for anything that raised taxes on anybody, even if it was understood by the entire world to be a negotiating tactic to win massive spending cuts and avert massive tax increases on 99.8 percent of the population.

Then the discussion turned to the Connecticut shootings, and Huelskamp quickly announced that the nation did not have a gun problem. "It's a people problem. It's a culture problem," he insisted. Anybody who disagreed -- like President Barack Obama -- was, he said, using a tragedy "to push a political agenda."

In conclusion, the congressman announced that he had an 11-year-old son, "and I have a choice whether he's allowed to play those video games. What I would suggest to moms and dads across this country is look at what your children are doing. ... And I'm not saying to pass a single law about that, because I think that would be politicizing the issue."

Which we really hate. Politicizing.

There are so many ways we'd rather be celebrating the holidays. We would like to be gathering around the tree with loved ones, discussing current events in the form of that story about the theft of 6 million pounds of syrup from the strategic maple syrup reserve in Quebec.

But we are where we are. Obama bid a Merry Christmas to the nation after announcing that he would try to re-avert the feared "fiscal cliff" with a bill that resolves virtually nothing but avoiding tax increases for the middle class. "At the very least, let's agree right now on what we already agree on," he said. This is what currently passes for a wildly optimistic statement.

Meanwhile, a congressman from Wisconsin, angry about the failure to pass a farm bill, warned that the nation was about to fall over "the Dairy Cliff."

At least there's still eggnog. God bless us every one.

Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.

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