Stay Classy, Assholes

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Neil Heslin

I've brought this up once before here but it's worth repeating right now. Several years back, I got into a minor online battle with a gun rights group called the Virginia Citizens Defense League after it decided to hold a pro-gun rally within driving distance of the Virginia Tech campus just one month, almost to the day, after the shooting there that killed 32 people. My argument, made with a whole hell of a lot of four-letter words, was that it showed an almost staggering level of insensitivity to throw a heavily armed frat party -- and trust me, that's exactly what this thing was -- while right outside your doors standing silent vigil were the families of several of the kids shot dead at Virginia Tech, families still freshly in mourning and learning to cope with the loss of their loved ones.

I understood that if you believed that guns weren't to blame for the V-Tech massacre then you likely saw nothing wrong with having a big gun-lusty circle jerk while the wounds from the attack were still very much open. But to strike a pose of mocking defiance against gun violence victims -- men and women you inexplicably considered your oppressors and enemies -- instead of at least taking the opportunity to acknowledge their suffering and what should be its effect on the tone of your event wasn't just lousy PR, it was practically sociopathic. My overall point was that anyone that callous and cruel shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a gun -- that he was the last person on earth you wanted to see armed.

There have probably been plenty of occasions where determined and single-minded activists on the left have been grossly insensitive to the suffering of others simply because those people happened to be their political adversaries. But I swear, I can't remember a period in history when I've seen more of the kind of despicable, inexcusably monstrous bullying being dished out regularly in the name of crushing any who dare to oppose a political position than what's come from the right in recent years. If it's something conservatives hold as an article of unwavering faith, they'll fight to the death to make sure nobody can even approach the subject from the opposing side without being utterly obliterated, whether that person is, say, a war hero, or a private citizen who has the temerity to publicly suggest that insurance companies should cover birth control for women -- or a guy whose son was just killed in an unspeakable gun rampage at a Connecticut elementary school and who is now daring to speak out in favor of sensible gun safety legislation.

If you haven't yet seen the video clip of gun enthusiasts heckling Neil Heslin, the father of 6-year-old Sandy Hook shooting victim Jesse Lewis, last night in Hartford, Connecticut, get ready to want to put your fist through a wall. It's so sickening, so profoundly disrespectful that I can't imagine anyone with a soul defending it. There honestly isn't language strong enough to describe the kind of mentality it must take to try to overpower the voice of a man who's holding a picture of his dead child in his hands while he's speaking publicly, fragilely about his personal pain. And to do it simply because you're that obsessed with being able to own as many guns of as many shapes and sizes as your heart desires without ever having to meet an ounce of resistance from anyone is fucking insane. Completely fucking insane. Again, if your gun lust is so intense -- if it's tied so inextricably to your masculinity and your sense of self -- that you're willing to attempt to confront and bully someone like a Neil Heslin, it proves incontrovertibly that you should not be allowed anywhere near a weapon. You're not mature enough, disciplined enough, and level-headed enough to be given the awesome privilege and responsibility of owning a firearm. You're dangerous.

It's generally entertaining to watch the desperate tribalist flailing of a movement which is intellectually and morally bankrupt, mostly because that flailing is the direct result of its being deprived of air. It's what happens when people who've been able to have their way for so long that it's become the status quo for them suddenly realize that their authority is finally meeting a serious challenge and is slipping through their fingers. But the heartless, brainless, shameless joke that passes for conservatism these days still has a certain amount of pull with millions of Americans and therefore when its angry, robotic adherents cross the line it deserves to be pointed out and publicly shunned.

The usually virile pro-gun lobby has had a truly rough month-and-a-half PR-wise -- and the beauty of it is that it's all the pro-gun lobby's fault. It miscalculated both public sentiment and its own formerly Jedi-like powers at virtually every turn and in doing so made itself into a laughingstock and a walking billboard for why guns shouldn't be in the hands of every single person who demands them. From Wayne LaPierre's unthinkably tone-deaf rant about adding more guns to schools, to Alex Jones's full-on furious-white-guy meltdown on Piers Morgan, to the NRA's repugnant and logic-free ad questioning the security provided to President Obama's daughters, to a misguided and unsurprisingly violent Gun Appreciation Day held the same weekend as MLK day and the Obama inauguration, to, maybe most Keystone Kops uproariously, a campaign that tried to reach out to minorities by tying in Django Unchained and making the claim that guns in the hands of black men and women -- traditionally the last people conservatives want to see armed -- would've prevented slavery, the end of December and all of January was a non-stop comedy of errors for the "Cold Dead Hands" crowd.

And now this: heckling a grieving father.

I can't imagine how these people are going to top this one, but I have no doubt they'll come up with something. They always have in the past.