In a country where over half the inhabitants don’t believe in science, the expectation that Americans will suddenly believe in the science fiction of artificial intelligence stretches the imagination, unless we consider our nebulous notion of belief and all it entails.

We already accept concepts and ideas that, when systematically examined, reveal a kind of childlike gullibility that gives rise to the comforting fantasies many of us rely on to get through the day. Some are simple, effective and generally harmless: I’m surrounded by angels looking out for me. Others have become way more problematic, even deadly. 

The assumption, for instance, that hopes and prayers are anything beyond a placebo for terminal illness has become at this point a justification for the carnage that more and more defines our country’s self-congratulatory exceptionalism. The American dream is more about surviving a trip to the mall than a small home with a white picket fence. 

The recent wall-to-wall coverage of King Charles III’s coronation — a British tradition — dominated the airwaves until blown off the front page by an American tradition for which we don’t have to wait 70 years. In the case of mass shootings, the wait isn’t even 70 hours before the next one sucks up all the headlines — 2023 has had more shootings than days — which apparently doesn’t register enough with the gun lobby to even attempt to make sense. 

The most recent — maybe, hopefully, but unlikely — chapter in the nonfiction book not on any Republican reading lists was written outside Dallas, the state that most closely conforms to the GOP firearm theology — many guns, few laws — that it should be the safest in the nation, but of course it’s not, having been ground zero for some of the worst mass shootings in recent years: El Paso 2019, 23 dead; Sutherland Springs, 2017, 27 dead; and Uvalde, 2022, 22 dead.

The Republican representing the congressional district in which the latest massacre happened, Keith Self, had a typically conservative response, quickly reverting to magical thinking as a solution.

At first trying to brush off CNN’s Paula Reid with the fallback, “This is not the time” crap, Self finally suggested critics who say prayers are insufficient in preventing shootings are “people who don’t believe in an almighty God who is absolutely in control of our lives. I’m a Christian. I believe that he does.”

The believe word comes up again and again in evangelical circles and begs a follow up: So, when you lay this on God’s doorstep WTF do you mean? That God approved the shooting? Condoned it? Pulled the trigger? God’s greatest hits? 

One of Self’s supporters, an apparent laboratory creation of the terrorists at the NRA, arms manufacturers and spineless congressional Republicans, tweeted: “This is why I tell people, get your permit (if necessary) and ‘carry’ at all times possible. Always be prepared. Never assume anywhere is safe. This is the world atheistic progressive policy has given us.”

Never assuming anywhere is safe has been the gun lobby’s priority for years, a powerful selling point contributing to widespread paranoia and the firearms proliferation threatening us all, every day, everywhere.  

Trying to blame a convenient non-thing, “atheistic progressive policy,” is just as absurd as blaming God, who, according to fundamentalist Christians, also delivered an avenging Katrina to New Orleans ostensibly to punish the LGBTQ community. The very same sanctimonious simpletons have little to say about their favorite deity repeatedly slamming the Bible Belt with multiple tornados, hurricanes, hailstorms and floods, perhaps as retribution for their hate-filled hypocrisy, especially the fetishizing of guns, as noted by Joe Nassivera in last weekend’s Times Argus.

The millions of Americans who think that owning a gun is their God-given right didn’t acquire that assumption by accident. Nassivera contends: “The NRA, since about the year 2000, has been conducting information warfare against the U.S.,” resulting in millions understanding the phrase, not as hyperbole or metaphor, but a literal belief rooted in the NRA’s creation of a new religion “where far too many people believe that to be a true Christian you need to own some guns and be ready to shoot them” while fully supporting the Christian nationalist ideal, making us “a stronger and safer nation.”

But the conservative version of stronger and safer is essentially about the outlandish idea that there needs to be an armed someone readily available to shoot people who shoot people, as though daily pitched gunfights would be a preferable alternative to daily mass shootings. The twisted far-right, GOP, Christian nationalism firearm ideology maintains the entire country needs modification to protect gun owners from any accountability whatsoever while the rest of the country looks for escape routes before they enter a business, trembles each morning as they put their children on the school bus or, worse yet, begins thinking “maybe it’s time that I got an AR-15 too.”

While conservatives reliably dissemble after every mass shooting — it’s mental health issues, it’s immigrants, it’s rampant crime, it’s the pandemic — the world’s other industrialized first world countries have had to deal with precisely the same issues but without a similar epidemic of bloody streets, shopping centers and elementary schools. 

The difference of course is guns.

With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States accounts for 46 percent of global civilian gun ownership. There is a direct relationship between the sheer number and the type of weapons easily acquired and the body count. 

But when the Supreme Court codified the right to individual gun ownership in DC v. Heller in 2008 — frequently cited as the be-all, end-all clarification of the Second Amendment by the gun lobby — the final decision, authored by Antonin Scalia, is not all that final, leaving room for the type of courageous legislation necessary to stanch the hemorrhage before the country becomes more of a battleground than it is now. 

The Second, as interpreted, does protect a fundamental constitutional right but that right, according to Scalia, “is not unlimited,” allowing for the regulation of some “types” of guns.  

Until weapons of war are excised from private ownership it’s open season … on the rest of us.

Walt Amses is a writer from Central Vermont.

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