Despite the best efforts of Alanis Morissette and an entire generation of literarily-challenged youth who grew up believing that a dangling participle was a position in Kama Sutra involving a sex swing and large medicine ball, irony and coincidence are not the same thing. Having 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife isn’t ironic so much as it is unfortunate and a likely indicator that you either have a hoarding problem or work for a company that manufactures plastic spoons, while there is absolutely nothing ironic about dying the day after winning the lottery. This is because irony, or at least the situational irony most folk allude to when calling something ironic, is traditionally defined as occurring when the actual meaning of something is the complete opposite of its literal meaning.1 So, in order for these jagged little examples to actually be classified as ironic, the outcome of the event in question has to be the exact opposite of what we would have expected. If our hypothetical super lotto winner had died the next day because his car was t-boned by the Brinks truck that was carrying the money he had just won and which was going to be presented to him at a televised ceremony that evening, that would be ironic. Likewise, having 10,000 spoons when all you needed was a knife would be genuinely ironic if the person needing the knife was working as a butcher because knives are the main tool of his trade and there is no earthly reason to suspect that a butcher would possess 10,000 spoons at his shop.
I bring this up, again, because this past news cycle has spawned a rash of these misplaced pronouncements of irony2 after the suicide of a man at this Saturday’s NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The detail that supposedly provides the irony is the fact that the man, 42 year old Kirk Franklin, used a gun to take his life, shooting himself late Saturday evening in the back of his truck, which was parked in the infield of the speedway. The problem with calling such an event ironic is that, perhaps more than any other major American sport, NASCAR lends itself to the possibility of gun violence. With the exception of The Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Preakness, I cannot think of any American sporting event with a higher threshold for booze-besotten depravity than NASCAR, and it ain’t a coincidence that both horse racing and stock car racing both let their fans camp out on the grass infield of their tracks. Some fans will get to the track in their RV or camper days before a race starts to stake out the best seats and they normally don’t pass the time between their arrival and and the green flag by playing Parcheesi. I mean, imagine if you let the Bleacher Bums out at Wrigley Field bring their own liquor to the stadium and gave them a spot in left field to get hammered for two days before the game even began. Those drunk bastards would be pelting Alfonso Soriano in the back of the head with beer cans and harassing the Cracker Jack guy by the middle of the 3rd inning.
It would have been more shocking to me if authorities said alcohol was not factor in Franklin’s death, considering the fact that booze and beer are as integral a part of NASCAR as radiators and restrictor plates. I haven’t heard anything about the man’s blood alcohol content from the media, but considering that the NRA 500 was a night race and that the suicide took place around 10:30pm3, it isn’t a stretch to think that Franklin had been drinking for at least 12 hours before he pulled the trigger. Tack on to that the fact that over 19,000 of the more than 38,000 suicides in 20104 were committed with a firearm along with Texas’ extremely lax gun laws and what happened Sunday night isn’t even remotely ironic. If there was going to be a firearm-related suicide in professional sport, it would likely happen in an area with permissive gun laws, at a venue with minimal security, among a population with a high percentage of gun ownership and in an environment with a good deal of substance use. You’ve just described the infield of the majority of NASCAR races.
The unfortunate coincidence of Kirk Franklin’s suicide at the NRA 500 serves as a backdrop for the latest, and possibly final, iteration of gun control legislation in the US Senate. The proposal being debated at the present is the brainchild of Senators Joe Manchin (WV-D) and Pennsylvania’s Joe Toomey (PA-R) and it packs about as much punch as a decaf cup of coffee. The vast majority of the recommendations from the President’s now three month old gun control proposal have been dismissed entirely, while the majority of those that remain are shells of their former selves. Assault weapons ban? Nope. Limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds? Gone. Confirming the President’s nominee for head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms? Not yet. Universal Background Checks? Not so much. You see, the Manchin-Toomey bill requires background checks on currently exempt internet purchases and it would close the notorious “gun-show loophole”, but it wouldn’t regulate most other private gun transactions5. The bill is essentially one giant concession to supposed “gun rights supporters”, something that comes as a shock to few considering the fact that Manchin, who is actually the Democrat behind the proposal, currently has an A rating from the NRA.
If you ask Manchin or Vice President Biden about the reasons for these tremendous concessions, they will cite pragmatism as the motivating factor. The logic goes that some change is better than no change and that keeping a hard line and risking Congressional rebuke is worse than caving in and giving your opposition the farm to get something productive out of the deal. Normally I would disagree vehemently with logic based on my belief that, a) 95% of the Republican Party is allergic to reason and largely incapable compromise and, b) gun control advocates never have more political clout than after a mass shooting, especially considering the scale of the tragedy in Newtown and the fact that the victims were all small children. If gun control supporters in Congress don’t take full advantage of their newfound political cache, they’ll find that they won’t have that level of public support again until the next tragedy strikes and, since the entire point of this legislation is to stop atrocities like the ones in Newtown and Aurora from happening, it would be a cowardly act to settle for legislative table scraps that would do little to prevent more mass shootings from occurring in the future.
With all of that being said, I am not going to chastise Senate Democrats for watering down their gun control legislation in an effort to garner bipartisan support and get the bill passed. Frankly, there’s no need because the milquetoast legislation isn’t going to pass the Senate anyway. According to The Washington Post’s Ed O’ Keefe,6 gun control supporters only have 52 of the 60 “yes” votes required to jump through all of the procedural hoops required to get the amended legislation through the Senate. Of the remaining 48 eligible votes, 40 are confirmed “no” votes, while 7 senators remain undecided (the 100th vote belongs to absent NJ Senator Frank Lautenberg, who may or may not be able to make the vote due to his recent health issues). As it stands now, all 7 undecided Senators would have to come down in favor of the legislation (6 if Lautenberg can vote) for it to pass, and the prospects for that don’t look likely. Of the 7 swing votes, 5 of them of Democrats who are either up for re-election in 2014 or from a right-leaning state that is seen as being very gun friendly.
Without the full support of the Democratic Party, pretty much any gun control legislation has no chance at passing and it appears that Manchin and Toomey know this. The duo has been talking with rural democrats like Alaska’s Mark Begich and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu7, trying to win their support through amendments to the legislation that would exempt certain rural gun sellers from having to conduct background checks, provided they are a set distance away from a federal firearms licensee needed to complete the process. All of this is in addition to the fact that the Manchin-Toomey Bill actually makes it easier for folks to sell guns over state lines and that the guns rights lobby is trying to amend the legislation to facilitate the sale of firearms to people with mental illness and allow for “national reciprocity” with regards to conceal and carry permits, allowing residents of states possessing conceal and carry rights to transfer those right across state lines, even into states that ban the practice.
Look on the bright side. When the Manchin-Toomey legislation crashes and burns later this week, at least you’ll know that it wouldn’t have done much good in the first place. A gun control bill that might actually make it easier to access guns? How ironic.
1Did I just use Ethan Hawke’s character from Reality Bites as my primary source for the definition of irony? Yes, yes I did. I also tell people that I want to buy the world a coke whenever people ask me what I’m planning on doing after grad school, because, if there was one thing Generation X perfected, it was being disaffected and snarky.