Two of my closest friends are also my steadfast movie companions. It is our habit, whenever possible, to sit in the same row of our favorite theater.
We've been doing this for years, but during our most recent excursion, one of them quietly asked during the previews, "When we sit here, do you ever think a man with a gun—."
Her wife and I didn't even let her finish her sentence as we started to nod.
"That we would be the first to be shot?" one of us asked.
"That we would die?" the other asked.
Oh, yeah, we all agreed. We think about that.
This is an absurd mental exercise on our part. As Plain Dealer Editor George Rodrigue III wrote in a recent column in my hometown of Cleveland, "If you lived in America last year you were less likely to be shot by an Islamic terrorist than by a toddler." This is just as true about the likelihood of being gunned down by a homegrown terrorist shooting up a movie theater.
We know this, my friends and I, but there we were anyway, imagining the rain of bullets. I am embarrassed to admit to this, in part because such fear is so irrational but also because it suggests the right-wing fearmongering has had its way with me, a lifelong liberal. Only for a moment, mind you, but it's the sort of lapse in rational thinking that can eat away at you if you aren't vigilant. Before you know it, you're parroting talking points from the National Rifle Association, which acts more like a mob syndicate than it does a lobbying organization.
Right after New Year's, President Barack Obama signed 23 executive orders designed to address gun violence, including tightening loopholes on who can sell guns and who is allowed to buy them. As The New York Times duly noted, these are guidelines, not binding regulations, and the president will face "legal, political and logistical hurdles that are likely to blunt the effect of the plan he laid out."
That's a gentler way of saying the gun zealots and the Republicans who pander to them are acting as if the devil just galloped into town to lasso the whole bunch of them and drag them back to hell. Not a wholly unpleasant scenario to imagine, but it has nothing to do with the president's plan.
Republican right-wing propagandist Ted Cruz said: "We don't beat the bad guys by taking away our guns. We beat the bad guys by using our guns."
If he weren't serious, he'd be hilarious. It's so easy to imagine all 5 feet 8 inches of him standing there in the dirt with spurs jingling as his hands hover over the Colts in the gun belt slung around his hip-huggers.
I can't even.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said that "rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, (President Obama) goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty."
I am so tired of these men thinking we're this stupid. Every credible poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans want gun reform. In October, for example, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 92 percent of Americans favor background checks for all gun buyers. That included 87 percent of Republicans who were polled.
The NRA, preferring to channel the voices in its collective head, claimed otherwise this week. NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker, in a statement to Fox News: "President Obama failed to pass his anti-gun agenda (through) Congress because the majority of Americans oppose more gun-control. Now he is doing what he always does when he doesn't get his way, which is defy the will of the people and issue an executive order."
Hear that? That's fear talking. For the first time in a long time, the NRA hears the American people pounding on a door it doesn't want to open. So of course, it declined to participate in the president's town hall on guns with CNN's Anderson Cooper.
At his White House news conference Tuesday, the president began to cry when he started talking about the victims of school shootings.
"Our right to peaceful assembly, that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette," he said. "Our unalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara and from high schoolers at Columbine and from first-graders in Newtown — first-graders — and from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun. Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad."
Many right-wing pundits and lollygaggers on social media mocked the president for his tears. This disrespect outraged a lot of President Obama's supporters, but it made me feel optimistic about gun reform for the first time in years.
Who mocks a man for showing the same hollowed-out grief most of us feel when we think of those babies being gunned down? Who makes fun of a president standing tall with the majority of his citizens?
Scared people, that's who. The ones who are trembling in their boots because, finally, we have a president willing to take on the gun lobby that has held our country hostage for far too long.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.