Stranger than fiction: A Q&A from the distant future:
Date: Jan. 1, 2119
Question: Congratulations, Fred Harris. The state of Texas, as of today, is the last state to ban firearms, and your book “Getting Rid of Guns” is selling well. How did this come about?
Harris: It’s a long, almost forgotten, story. It goes back about 150 years, when a black teenager from Chicago named Emmett Till visited some relatives in Mississippi. He was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman, and her relatives meted out Southern justice. He was tortured, strangled, and his body and face were mutilated. The story might have ended there, except for what happened to his body when it was sent back to Chicago.
Q: What happened?
Harris: His mother was urged to have a closed coffin at the funeral, to avoid the horrible sight. But she insisted on an open coffin, so everyone could see what happened to her son. Thousands visited. Black media — I think it was Jet — published the pictures. The shock inspired Rosa Parks and many others to stand up for their rights.
Q: But what does this have to do with guns?
Harris: As you know, there have been many school and mass killings over the years. The police take endless photos of the victims — blood and gore. But the pictures are locked up carefully in police vaults, never to be seen by the public. When media wanted copies, they were told, “Go away.”
Some years ago, an officer in Illinois, after a school massacre there, decided to take matters into his own hands. In the old days, he would have had to go to the vault, and sign out the photos. But now that everything is electronic, he was able to send out the photos to social media. He must have been pretty good at covering his tracks, because he has never been identified.
Q: So he wasn’t fired?
Harris: Right. The pictures caused a sensation on the internet, with tens of millions, not thousands, of hits. In the vernacular of the time, they were viral squared. But newspapers were reluctant to publish them, because they were family publications. The editor of one newspaper remembered a PBS warning before some of their TV shows: “This program is not for sensitive viewers.”
He published a special section with that slogan on the front page. He was fired, of course, but soon newspapers across the world had their special sections after each massacre, showing the bodies and brain matter spattered on the ground.
Q: The result?
Harris: Anti-gun control groups were on the defensive from the time the first pictures appeared. Prior to that, it was just a matter of statistics, so many killed, so many injured, just like the numbers after a multi-vehicle car crash Now the real picture emerged. Gradually the tide turned. Congress and the states debated for decades, with few results. But what precipitated action was the shooting at the ballet school in New York. The carnage of the little girls in their tutus — it turned many stomachs. Someone had the clever idea of sponsoring a nationwide contest for paintings of “The Slaughter of the Innocents,” from the Bible. The thousands of artworks hung in every state capitol.
Q: And the Supreme Court …
Harris: Almost forgot. Some years ago, Olivia Jones-Obama, the great granddaughter of the president, and Barron Trump IV, the great-great-grandson of the president, were appointed to the court. They researched the opinion of the former chief justice, Warren Burger, who said that that a plain reading of the Second Amendment was that firearms were needed only for those who joined the militia, now the National Guard.
Q: So now we come to the end of a long road. Every state now has banned handguns and weapons of war, just like Congress banned machine guns in 1934. Texas was the last holdout. We’re now not that different from Canada, where you have to talk to the police chief before owning a handgun.
Harris: And a footnote: The National Rifle Association, which opposed many of the measures, now has reverted to its original post Civil War aim, fostering hunting with rifles. That’s what their name is, after all.