The psychologist William James once observed that “since God produces real effects in our world, then God must be real.” James did not so much mean that a great Wilford Brimley in the sky decides superbowl victories, rain and genocide. Rather he meant that by causing non-trivial things to happen to people whether they believe in Him or not, God or the concept of Him is a tangible thing and should be treated that way.
And thus works the Overton Window. Guardians of public discourse have pretty clear limits on what you can and cannot say on a Sunday show and get invited back for another go. However, these limits move around. Take torture (please). One week everyone agrees that even thinking about it brands you a crazy tinpot tyrant. The next, Chris Matthews strokes his chin and nods while everyone adopts weasel words to justify waterboarding, stress positions etc. and mock hippie pacifists who think that this not-torture-wink-wink is wrong and we should prosecute people do it. How that particular window moved could fill a book but be assured that it took dedicated work by not a small number of people.
About guns. Some TPM correspondents summarize it well: years ago most gun owners would take careful steps back from anyone who said they need a tactical rifle, flash suppressor and thirty round clip. Through an odd coincidence I rode the Senate elevator with Senators Paul Simon, Dianne Feinstein and staff on the way to a major press conference about their assault weapons bill and nobody seemed that worried about it putting them far out from the mainstream of political thought. These days a national politician has to be stone crazy to propose a similar bill, or really any bill that does not make the NRA wet its pants with pleasure. Beyond the Overtonnish problem you also have to ask whether the political risk is worth the chance that our present Supreme Court will overturn the thing and enshrine even nuttier gun rules in its place.
This situation is, in a word, nuts. We could change all that if we had a handful of obsessive billionaires, ALEC and some massive industry groups funding a ginormous coordinated media blitz, but we don’t have that. We have you. That is to say a lot of informed, frustrated and pissed-off people who constitute a majority and then some. The actual grass roots. We outnumber by a comfortable margin the nuts who drive policy, but nobody writes you or me a check for speaking up. Instead people like us get politely tolerated or abused, trouble at home and at work and maybe a discreet thumbs-up from people who agree but also feel it’s pointless to rail against The Way Things Are. Even so there are a lot of us, and the message is pretty simple: there is no civilian excuse to own semi-auto weapons with suppressors and huge ammo capacities. This fetishistic need to have what the military uses (or whatever comes closest to it) costs the lives of other peoples’ kids and gives us zero safety in exchange. People who need that crap should feel embarrassed to say it in public.
We can make a difference. Maybe. It would only work if ‘we’ included a whole hell of a lot of people who start to speak up about the insane status quo, if we persist with it and if we speak up at every possible level. That means making wiping uncle gomer’s angry spit off your shirt and glasses. It means losing friends on facebook, putting your real name on letters to the editor and spending time and phone bills or postage speaking your mind to every elected official who answers to you. Every call and letter, tweet and facebook whatevertheycallit lets Democrats know that their ass may not be hanging quite so far out in the wind and reminds Republicans that many Americans do not jump to each stupid NRA blast fax. You made a huge difference on the Affordable Care Act, so I think that we can handle this, but it calls for a lot of people to get very noisy. If enough of you care are ready to get loud then I would be happy to do my small part and cheerlead.