Half a loaf isn’t always better than none.
After last week’s massacre in Las Vegas, deeply committed Second Amendment Republicans, as well as the National Rifle Association, began to voice tepid support for the idea of banning the so-called “bump stock,” the ingenious device that shooter Stephen Paddock used to make his semiautomatic weapons function more or less as automatics.
With a bump stock, Paddock was able to unleash an appalling barrage of bullets with a single pull of the trigger.
Banning bump stocks is probably a good idea; without them, a few more lives might have been spared in Las Vegas.
But we shouldn’t be overly impressed or excited by any proposal to abolish them. It’s a less-than-half measure that will do very little to resolve the problem of gun violence in our country. And it gives Republicans and the NRA cover for disingenuous claims that they are open to the notion of sensible gun control.
A more cynical person might wonder if this gambit by devoted Second Amendment types is merely, well, cynical.
We have a tendency to do this in our nation, to embrace solutions that are intended to accommodate or placate the disaffected; we often temporize rather than make serious, good-faith attempts to resolve important issues.
This was the feeling I had when the Dallas Cowboys recently strode as a team to mid-field, clasped arms and knelt before the playing of the national anthem, during which the team later stood on the sidelines, as usual.
President Trump had put the NFL, the owners and the players in an awkward position by demanding that the owners fire any player — Trump called them S.O.B.s — who declines to stand for the national anthem. He even urged fans to stay away from the games unless players toed the line. The Cowboys were, evidently, attempting to placate Trump, the fans and the players with an accommodative, middle-ground gesture.
But this is an unsatisfying response to the issues originally raised by Colin Kaepernick and other protesting players. It does no more to address those issues than banning bump stocks will solve the curse of gun violence in our country.
In fact, half-hearted, feel-good responses like these encourage us to draw a complacent veil over bigger, more important concerns.
For example, the original anthem protester, Kaepernick, has apparently been blacklisted by the owners, and other protestors — if Trump has his way — could be fired. Citizens could be punished, not for something they did but for something that they declined to do.
In other words, Trump, some owners and the NFL are demanding that players behave in a particular way — that is, stand up whenever the anthem is played — or they lose their jobs.
There’s a big difference between punishing someone for what he says or does and punishing him because his sense of allegiance to the flag doesn’t match ours. The essence of free speech is that the speaker doesn’t have to have a good reason for declining to perform the haphazard rote ritual that we go through before each football game.
We may prefer that well-paid black athletes quietly fall into line so that we can enjoy the football game, but that’s not our call. Their message is that racism is not dead in our country, and in fact it shows signs of resurgence. If they choose to point this out in a public forum in a way that makes us uncomfortable, well, that’s our problem, not theirs. And it’s the whole purpose of free speech.
So I hope that Kaepernick and other protestors won’t be taken in by accommodative, feel-good solutions, and I suspect that they won’t be. Nor should citizens concerned about gun violence be placated by lukewarm measures focused on bump stocks, any more than we should imagine that the problem of climate change will be resolved by recycling.
Sometimes half-measures are worse than none at all, especially if they distract us from facing cultural problems that are serious and persistent. We won’t solve them by mostly empty gestures.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.