Chekhov's Second Amendment: The Horrible Inevitability of the Gun

A well-worn, possibly apocryphal anecdote about the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov has him giving advice on writing and the use of plot devices. "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired," Chekhov supposedly said. What's often left off is the last part of that line: "Otherwise don't put it there." The idea is that if you're not going to bother using the gun, it's useless to have it.

While I don't think anyone shoots up a church or a school or a concert or a club or a house or a restaurant or an office or a store just because he (and, let's be honest, it's almost always "he") owns a  semi-automatic, possibly modified, possibly with a bump stock, but if you are thinking of ruining the day for a few dozen, possibly a few hundred, people, and you've had all these guns just sitting there, maybe taken out for target practice, well, if you're not gonna use it, then don't put it there, right?

As we grapple with our new house of horrors in a house of worship, this time in a tiny town, Sutherland Springs, Texas, the usual tedious voices on the right are voicing the usual tedious things. "We don’t need politics right now," said Senator Ted Cruz when asked if we should maybe, perhaps, at least, please, just a little, talk about gun laws. And you'll hear that repeatedly. Doyenne of evil spin and a woman with a raging case of the Trumps, Kellyanne Conway. said that it was "disrespectful" to talk about politics now.

Except it's not too soon for everyone. For instance, today the National Rifle Association put out a call for "urgent action" on an Illinois bill that, the NRA screams, is "extreme." What is this "onerous," "egregious," and "excessive" legislation? A move to license gun dealers. That's the thing that's so urgent that the NRA couldn't put aside politics in honor of the dead. If the anti-gun side is supposed to shut up, then so should the pro-gun.

Except the pro-gun side never thinks it's getting political after a massacre, no matter how many children are torn to shreds by guns. The Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, declared that the answer wasn't to do anything to stem the tide of guns themselves. Laws don't work, Paxton said. What will work, he explained, is "arming some of the parishioners or the congregation so that they can respond if something like this, when something like this happens again."

To some, this sounds like great sense - if you have more guns, then there's less of a chance this Devin Kelley monster in body armor could have gotten off all the shots he did from the oversized magazine he was legally able to buy, along with the legally-bought AR-15. And that's frightening, not just because it sounds nonsensical. To some of us, it sounds like surrendering. It sounds like we have decided that the only way to deal with guns is to give up and allow them to infect every part of our society, that instead of making ourselves safe, we make ourselves eternally unsafe, always awaiting the next bullet, always having the gun in the first act that goes off in the next, always prepared with thoughts and prayers instead of action.

Except thoughts and prayers just seem ludicrous when a church is shot up so badly that the pastor doesn't think the actual physical building can ever be repaired. And while the faithful will say that they are being tested, that they find comfort in Jesus, that they know there is a plan, I can't help but wonder if we're not misreading the signs from God. I mean, maybe all the horrific events, the frequent massacres with more than a dozen, two dozen victims, is God telling us that it's time to give up the guns.

What could be a clearer message than God showing us what happens when human-made weapons are used on human bodies? "Oh, shooting high schools wasn't enough? How about shooting little kids? Oh, that's not enough? Then how about shooting up some churches? C'mon, what the hell is wrong with you idiots? Could I be any clearer?" I imagine a frustrated invisible sky wizard yelling at the United States. "Why aren't you politicizing this shit? All that means is 'doing something to solve the problem.' Jesus H. Christ. No, not you, Jesus..."

If it's too early to talk about gun control in the wake of the tragedy in Sutherland Springs, then let's just say we're talking about it post-Las Vegas. Or post-Orlando. Or post-Newtown.  However far back you need to go to feel comfortable -Columbine? Killeen? San Ysidro? - let's say we're talking about it because of that nightmare.