Saturday, January 15, 2011

So Much For Civility

Last Monday I got an email from the Washington Post leadership blog. It was in the form of a question, something to the effect of, did vitriolic attacks and heightened political rhetoric contribute to the horrible shootings in Tucson? (I'm one of countless commentators and writers on leadership who get these weekly invitations from the Post; some weeks I reply, some I don't; this week I did.)
I fired off a prompt reply: If you think rhetoric wounded and killed the victims in Tucson, I said, you need a crash course in ballistics. It was a Glock. I went on to say that I'd fired Glocks. They're terrific weapons. They're light and accurate and easy to fire and aim and reload, if you need to. And, I said, they were used to kill innocent people. (Mistake on my part: I should have said they're used to kill people, since Glocks have become the weapon of choice of law enforcement agencies around the world and are used to shoot and kill guilty and dangerous people as well as innocent people.)
I thought I'd scored a point for clarity and accuracy.
Then along came an online column written for the National Review Online by some guy named Robert VerBruggen.
He's an associate editor at the National Review. Summoning all his cleverness and wit in the wake of a national tragedy, Mr. VerBruggen wrote a column called, "How to write about firearms--a guide for liberals who don't want to sound stupid about guns."
Pretty funny stuff, huh?
In his funny funny column, he included my line about Glocks being for killing innocent people.
He left out the part about my having fired Glocks. He left out the part about the qualities that make Glocks a good gun of choice as a weapon. Since he didn't call me to check on anything, he didn't get a chance to find out that as a kid I grew up shooting .22s at a rifle range in East Alton, Illinois, owned and operated by the ammunition manufacturer Olin Matheison. Or that I got to be a pretty fair shot--not as good as my older brother, Mark, who became an Expert marksmen, but still pretty fair. Or that my mother and uncle took us duck and dove hunting.
He didn't even bother to check if I was a bona fide "liberal"--although he must have assumed that anyone who's in the Washington Post and says that it was the gun that did the crime must somehow qualify as a liberal.
He was just too busy be funny. And let's face it, clipping out quotes and leaving out facts that don't make your piece as funny as you'd like is an old journalistic practice, although judging from photos of Mr. VerBruggen, he's not that old.
Then, in his oh-so-clever effort to instruct the rest of us how to write and think about guns, even Mr. VerBruggen gets carried away, trying to make the case that his beloved handgun is actually for sport--you know, the kind of weapon you take out with you on your hunting expedition. I guess you could make that argument, if, for example, you needed your Glock to administer the coup de grace to a badly wounded animal. But here again Mr. VerBruggen would rather be fatuous than factual. People he doesn't like or agree with ("liberals") are trying to make the distinction between handguns and hunting rifles, and he's pretending either not to understand or not to accept the notion that any difference in use or application really exists.
And so it goes.
A serious tragedy, the loss of life, the murder of innocent young people turns into another game of word-baiting.
Pretty funny, huh? Yeah, it's a real laugher, Mr. VerBruggen. We're all laughing ourselves to death.

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