Are We Close to a Tipping Point on Guns?

This is in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The big-box giant says it will stop selling handguns and ammunition for military-style weapons, and will discourage open-carry of guns in stores. It’s also calling on Congress for stronger gun safety measures.

To put it mildly, Walmart isn’t generally considered a socially progressive corporation. Which is what gives this announcement a certain Nixon-to-China credibility. If even Walmart, that defining icon of rural middle America, is standing up to the National Rifle Association and saying enough is enough, then the company has determined that, to a big portion of its customers — meaning, a big portion of America — enough is, indeed, enough.

The NRA took great umbrage at Walmart’s decision and fired a barrage of condemnation at Walmart that the Post-Dispatch writer, Kevin McDermott, takes apart. Very basically, McDermott points out that Walmart wouldn’t have made this decision out of the goodness of its heart or if there were any chance it would drive its blue-collar, largely small-town customers away. They are looking out for Walmart. And they have decided this is what the blue-collar, largely small-town customers want.

And we may have Dmitriy Andreychenko to thank for this. You might remember that Andreychenko is the nitwit gun rights activist who walked into a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri, wearing full body armor and carrying a semiautomatic rifle, triggering a stampede out of the store. A few days later a couple of men entered a Walmart in Kansas City with handguns stuck in their waistbands, causing another customer stampede. In that case, the police decided the men were not breaking any laws and let them go. Missouri firearm laws are extremely lenient. Andreychenko, on the other hand, was engaged in theater and attempting to be provocative, and he was charged with a felony.

But the larger point is that Walmart, apparently, noticed that most shoppers are not at all comfortable around armed men they don’t know and has decided that the Second Amendment open carry wackjobs activists need to take the performance elsewhere.

The open carry of firearms is primarily performance. Whether the performer’s goal is to dramatize extreme gun rights, intimidate others, trigger the libs or cast oneself as the avenging hero in a miniseries of the mind, the practice is not just an assault on public safety. It’s a theater of the absurd.

There is no evidence that open carry makes any corner of society safer. There is, on the contrary, impressive evidence that carrying firearms increases aggression and gun violence. Open carry forces people in public thoroughfares to evaluate the mental state, physical demeanor and emotional intent of every armed person they see. How exactly does one differentiate open carry from homicidal carry?

This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of politicians who still are puppets of the NRA. Here in Missouri there is much anguish over the homicide rate in St. Louis, which until recently was the highest in the nation. This year the honor shifted across the river to East St. Louis, Illinois. The Post-Dispatch maintains a handy-dandy homicide map so you can see where the carnage is going on; the red dots, showing firearm deaths, dominate. There have been more than a dozen murders of children in drive-by shootings since April.

Per state law that went into effect in January 2017, Missouri residents can carry any damnfool firearm they want, concealed or openly, without a permit. Since that time firearm violence in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas has gotten worse. This is from a couple of weeks ago:

From huge rewards to calls for allowing Missouri cities to enact their own gun laws, leaders in St. Louis and Kansas City are grappling with a troubling rise in shooting deaths, especially those involving children.

This past weekend was especially violent. In Kansas City, four men were killed Sunday, including two in a drive-by shooting in a popular entertainment district. In St. Louis, six people were killed in shootings, including 8-year-old and 10-year-old girls and a 15-year-old boy.

Many of the victims of violence in the state’s two largest cities are black, and black Missouri lawmakers are asking Republican Gov. Mike Parson to allow the House and Senate to consider during a special session next month legislation that would let cities adopt their own gun control measures. In a letter dated Saturday, state Rep. Steven Roberts Jr. a St. Louis Democrat who chairs the 19-member Missouri Black Caucus, told Parson that local leaders need the autonomy to act as they see fit on “this pressing crisis.”

However, the state’s Republican troglodyte governor, Mike Parsons, refuses to consider allowing the cities to write their own gun control laws or to work with the legislature to change the state’s absurdly lenient laws.

These are violent times, even by St. Louis standards, with more than 130 homicides so far this year — mostly shooting deaths — a spike of almost two dozen from this time last year. Thirteen victims under 18 have died by firearms this year.

There’s no single cause of all this mayhem, but one issue is hard to ignore as a likely contributor: the Republican-controlled Legislature has, for years, been on a gun deregulation binge that has given the state one of the loosest sets of firearms laws in the country. Today, the state doesn’t require a background check when someone buys a gun from a private seller, doesn’t require a permit to carry that gun and doesn’t allow local jurisdictions like St. Louis to impose their own stronger rules.

The upshot is, a dangerous felon who isn’t legally allowed to have a gun can, in practice, easily buy one from any private dealer in Missouri and carry it around in public, with minimal legal mechanisms for police or anyone else to stop him before violence erupts. And we wonder why St. Louis can’t get these shootings under control?

But most of the teevee news watched in the small towns come out of St. Louis or Kansas City, or probably Springfield in the middle of the state, so everybody is getting inundated with the almost daily stories of gun deaths. This includes the children, some of them killed as they played outside their own homes. People who were fine with guns a few years ago may be getting sick of them now.

In an era of mass shootings, not knowing whether the armed individual next to you is a “law-abiding citizen” or an internet-addled murderer is its own kind of trauma. (And indeed, as the Trace has noted, at least two public shootings in open-carry states have been committed by individuals who’d been brought to the attention of police before they started firing but hadn’t been arrested because, until they started shooting, they hadn’t been doing anything illegal.) The Resurgent, a conservative site that revolves around the work of gun-happy right-wing pundit Erick Erickson, wrote this week that “If the pro-gun community doesn’t take some action to rein in people like Dmitriy Andreychenko, the right to carry a gun could be easily lost.”

In other words, even a few of the gun nuts are starting to realize that “open carry everywhere” could backfire on them.

Please also read “On Giving Up” by Alexandra Petri.