The Internet is good for many things -- conspiracy theories, shopping, sharing funny pictures with friends. But it may prove to be very, very bad for the extreme gun-rights movement.
Here are a few recent stories that the Web, in its collective wisdom, has plucked from relatively obscure locales in the past week and elevated to national prominence.
We have the case of the 2-year-old who shot himself in the head with a handgun about 50 miles from Dallas. He is dead.
There is the matter of the 3-year-old Tampa boy who fatally shot himself this week with his uncle's gun. (Like 1 million Floridians, the uncle has a state permit to carry a concealed weapon. The boy apparently found the weapon in the uncle's backpack.)
A 13-year-old in Florida this week shot his 6-year-old sister, who survived.
Here's the blunt fact: for all the talk about "responsible gun ownership," guns are easily available to everybody, responsible or not. It's an empty compliment even to refer to "responsible gun owners" - many of them are people who through good luck simply have not had their irresponsibility catch up with them yet, as so tragically happened yesterday to the Wanko family.
The National Rifle Association cannot bear to admit it, but many gun owners are not paragons of probity. Some are drunks, drug addicts, wife-beaters, criminals or simply reckless, stupid, irresponsible humans with atrocious judgment. It's anybody's guess, for instance, how many of the one million concealed carry permit holders in Florida are a danger to themselves and others. (Trayvon Martin isn't around to make his guess.)
There are roughly 30,000 deaths a year in the U.S. due to gunshots. As this week's news makes clear, incidents of children killing themselves or other children are appallingly common. They are also the types of stories -- compact, outrageous, horrifying -- that are readily transmitted through Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media. As such stories spread, they make it increasingly obvious to increasing numbers of people that American gun laws are uniquely insane.
The NRA has been remarkably successful in suppressing government research on gun violence and hindering dissemination of data on guns. Legislators in Washington and state capitals have been ghoulishly accommodating. The Internet, it seems, won't be so easily bought.
To contact the author on this story:
Francis Wilkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org