The sheriff and the shootings: An American parable

     Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin addresses the media following a deadly shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)

    Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin addresses the media following a deadly shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)

    With respect to the latest bloodbath — the Oregon shootings will soon be supplanted by another — there’s virtually nothing to say that I haven’t said before. So let’s try a parable.

    A parable is a short story that illustrates a larger truth. The star of our story is John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County, Oregon. The community college massacre, staged by yet another member of our Second Amendment’s “well regulated Militia,” happened on Hanlin’s turf. After he tallied the death toll, he was understandably distraught. He told the press, “It’s a terrible day.”

    You bet it was terrible. A loser, armed with six guns, had snuffed out 10 innocent lives. This loser reportedly had another seven guns at home – all purchased legally. But Sheriff Hanlin said this isn’t the right time to talk about guns. In his words: “There’s a lot of talk about guns and gun control, and that is a conversation we will all be having in the coming weeks, but right now I’m focused on completing this investigation, and more importantly, focused on the victims and families of the victims.”

    Yeah, whatever. I’m sure the families of the slaughtered loved ones will be oh so mollified by his thoughts ‘n’ prayers (and by the usual piles of flowers, balloons, and teddy bears). In their shock and grief, they’re probably ill-equipped to ponder the big picture, to wonder why it is that America is so armed and dangerous, why it is that America far outpaces the rest of the western world in gun murders, why it is that America has logged 45 school shooting incidents in 2015 alone, why it is that college students can die for Freedom without ever going to war.

    One big reason is our gun-loving mentality. Which brings us to Sheriff Hanlin.

    In December 2012, after 20 kids were mowed down at the Sandy Hook elementary school, the Obama administration suggested that perhaps it was time to enact some gun reform, to perhaps make it a wee bit tougher for people to buy mass weaponry. The NRA naturally said no — and so did lots of grassroots Freedom fans. One of them was Hanlin.

    In a letter to Vice President Biden, dated Jan. 15, 2013, Hanlin warned that if gun reform was enacted, he would thumb his nose at it. He warned that any attempt to touch the Second Amendment would be judged, by him, as “an indisputable insult.” He warned that “any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the President offending the Constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Douglas County, Oregon.”

    That’s the mentality that has made us the most violent nation in the western world. That’s the mentality that has fueled what is arguably the most sobering statistic of all: We have only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but nearly half the world’s civilian-owned guns. That’s the mentality that triggered Sheriff Hanlin’s “terrible day.”

    But will Hanlin suddenly become enlightened? Will anything ever change? Nah. Because, as Hanlin so proudly declared in his letter to Biden, “We are Americans.”

    American exceptionalism indeed.

    Meanwhile, during his remarks last night, President Obama issued a challenge to the media.

    “I would ask news organizations (to) tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won’t be information coming from me; it will be coming from you.”

    Sure thing, Mr. President! Happy to help:

    According to New America, a nonpartisan Washington research group, the total number of Americans killed since 9/11 by self-proclaimed jihadists is: 26.

    According to the Annual Review of Public Health, a medical journal, the number of gun murders in 2012 alone was: 11,622.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal