Chuck Haga: We care, fret and worry. But what are we supposed to do?

Gun Rights

I got a little preachy last week, calling on you all to shake off the turkey torpor of Thanksgiving and save the world. Fix our national gun crisis, I said, and while you’re at it, stop global warming and climate change.

I’m sorry. And I’m not.

I’m sorry because who am I to rally the people to take on one of those pressing challenges, let alone both? I’m not so smart. I don’t have the answers.

But I’m not sorry about using this space now and then to resist the natural impulse to stand aside, look away, plead frustration and fatigue. Yeah, we care. We fret and worry. But what are we supposed to do? How are we – you and me and our friends and neighbors – supposed to solve seemingly insurmountable problems that have bewildered the best and the brightest for decades?

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Take guns, for example. (Wait. I shouldn’t say it like that. Isn’t that the first line of defense thrown up by the people who read the Second Amendment as a sacred guarantee of the right to have an assault rifle in every home? “They’re coming to take your guns! They want to take your hunting rifles and self-defense handguns!”

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No, I don’t want that – though I have to say that every mass killing, every spouting of “thoughts and prayers” and resistance to the slightest tightening of gun laws makes me a little less inclined to negotiate. Ever since Sandy Hook, the slaughter of all those little kids in Connecticut followed by little more than thoughts and prayers and legislative inaction, my patience has worn thin.

You’ve seen or heard the poll numbers, the high percentages of Americans who favor basic changes in our gun laws – a ban on assault rifles, adoption of universal background checks, red flag laws that allow courts to temporarily remove firearms from a person believed to be a threat to harm themselves or others.

Yes, it gets political. Angered by the recent slew of mass killings in Virginia and Colorado – and a record number of such tragedies this year, more than 600 with a month to go – the Biden Administration appears inclined to push an assault weapons ban in Congress. That, despite “extremely low odds” that such an act would prevail in the lame-duck session, and no chance once Republicans take control in the House.

“This is one of those issues where there’s a huge disconnect between the attitudes of average Americans and Republicans,” Biden’s pollster said this week, as reported in the Washington Post. “It will continue to be a political football, but I think that increasingly it’ll be an electoral issue.”

So it will go nowhere. And somewhere in America, in a church or a school or a shopping center, more people will die.

And what of climate change, the fading of glaciers and species, plant and animal? The likely disappearance of coastal cities, of island nations whose people have contributed little to the problem of industrial pollution?

As a reader properly noted, responding to last week’s column of frustration, we should celebrate progress when it comes – such as “the biggest federal response to climate change in American history,” funding and other Earth-friendly measures contained in the so-called Inflation Reduction Act. We should celebrate, too, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, adopted in June, which aims to fund state “crisis intervention programs,” including red flag laws.

But we need to do more.

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I have to admit I’ve been a poor champion of the environment. I talk (or, more commonly, write) about the problems. Fifty-two years ago, when I was editor of the Dakota Student, UND’s student newspaper, we published a special section in connection with the first Earth Day. We wrote stories about a plan to defoliate along the U.S.-Canada border, the use of napalm in Vietnam, the polluting UND steam plant, and the hopes and activities of a small cadre of students who really were committed to improving life on the planet.

But today, I recycle half-heartedly. I come home from Hugo’s with so much landfill-bound packaging and those damn plastic bags, some of which will escape the trash and sail with the breeze until caught in trees and fences, mocking me as I walk the city.

I ride the city bus. I’ve tried to cut back on meat, which environmentalists say is one of the biggest ways an individual can reduce his footprint. I’ll vote for candidates who commit to clean water and air. And I’ll plead, again, with senators to not be so beholden to Big Oil or the NRA.

Is that helping? Or is such “feel-good” individual action just letting big structural despoilers off the hook?

“Be positive,” people keep telling me, in connection with threats personal or global. And I want to be upbeat, hopeful, positive. But I’m a news guy. I can’t ignore the reports of massive, killer droughts in Africa, killer floods in Pakistan, the plight of polar bears hunting on diminishing Arctic ice.

Or the shots that will be fired somewhere, anywhere, maybe with children among the dead.

Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at crhaga@gmail.com.

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