You almost have to admire Joe the Plumber. If what he had to say weren’t so loathsome, his honesty would be refreshingly blunt.
If you happened to miss Joe (née Samuel J. Wurzelbacher)’s appalling new grab for national attention, in a recent open letter to the UCSB shooting victims’ parents he says “As harsh as this sounds – your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” Mistaking moral corrosion for harshness, the 2008 McCain campaign sensation (who was quickly revealed to be the Milli Vanilli of American politics) has stated plainly the philosophy that undergirds the far-right pro-gun thinking. The untrammeled right to have unrestricted access to firearms is more important to them than protecting innocent lives.
“I intend to continue to speak out for that right, and against those who would restrict it,” says Wurzelbacher. I guess that would be me, then.
As a pediatrician, preventing the needless deaths of children is actually quite important to me. It’s the whole point of my career and those of my fellow pediatricians. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long advocated for restrictions on access to firearms, efforts that have won it the unmitigated enmity of the National Rifle Association. (Knowing that the AAP is on the NRA’s enemies list is reason enough for me to keep my dues up to date.) So hellbent is the gun lobby on denying that guns are any threat to public safety that it even supported a misbegotten law in Florida that would have prevented doctors there from talking to their patients about guns in the home. Were I practicing in that state, I promise you I would have defied that law without compunction, and was relieved when a judge permanently blocked its enforcement.
Though the victims of the latest high profile massacre weren’t technically children, they were still young enough to have been my patients. But even after the slaughter of actual schoolchildren, the NRA’s only answer was to call for yet more guns. Of course, in order for this strategy to have prevented any deaths caused by a shooter in a car, we would not only need a critical mass of citizens with firearms, but we’d also have to become a nation of latter-day Annie Oakleys.
If there is to be any hope of turning the tide of gun violence in this country, Americans must finally abandon any misguided belief that it can’t happen to them, that it always happens Somewhere Else. (As someone who once faced the wrong end of a gun myself, I harbor no such illusions.) And if there is any grim silver lining in Joe the Plumber’s recent shock to the conscience, it is that it will lay bare the reality behind the NRA’s ongoing campaign to keep as many guns as possible as available as possible to as many people as possible.
And so, if Wurzelbacher can issue an open letter, I can reply with an open plea of sorts to the NRA and its ilk. Let this latest tragedy serve as a Nixon to China moment for your leadership, and work with the AAP and other public health organizations to create meaningful gun laws that will be satisfactory to everyone concerned. Help us craft restrictions that preserve Second Amendment rights while also acknowledging that the price for them cannot and need not be more dead kids. It is too late for the victims of the UCSB shooter, but it is not too late for the victims of the next preventable killing spree. Don’t let Joe the Plumber speak for you, and show the country that you’re better than what he seems to say about you.