Once again, the morning paper and the evening news are filled with reports of homicides and shootings. Once again, communities are being held hostage by remorseless thugs ... people who think only of their own gratification, no matter how much misery they cause innocent people.
I'm speaking of course, about Pennsylvania Republicans.
On April 24 -- just eight days after the massacre at Virginia Tech -- gun-rights advocates held a rally in Harrisburg to assert their Second Amendment rights. Among the rally's leaders was our very own Daryl Metcalfe, repping his 'hood of Cranberry with a press release that blared "Metcalfe Unleashes Double-Barreled Legislative Assault."
Now there's a politician who understands a tasteful analogy! The good people of Cranberry should feel proud: Metcalfe will fight for them, even if it means leaving his political opponents in a pool of their own blood and brain tissue. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Metcalfe, it turns out, backs a law that would grant an emergency firearms license to anyone who could prove they faced a threat of domestic abuse. Families that slay together, stay together, Phil Ochs once said. But Metcalfe has an even higher purpose than ending domestic violence. "Allowing potential domestic-abuse victims to obtain an emergency right-to-carry permit," his statement argues, "will only add to the ... cache of intellectual ammunition already proving that firearms are effectively used in acts of self defense."
When it comes to "intellectual ammunition" on guns, Republicans have been shooting blanks for a long time. But even by GOP standards, this has been a tasteless display. At this rate, they'll be using the Three 6 Mafia for campaign music in 2008.
And guess who was watching the April 24 rally from the front row? According to news accounts, it was none other than state Senator Bob Regola, a Westmoreland County Republican whose own handgun was used in the apparent suicide of a 14-year-old boy next door. Earlier this year, in fact, Regola & Son were indicted as a result of the death; authorities say they were lax about keeping the gun secure, and then tried to lie about it to investigators.
I guess some Republicans, like a gangsta rep anti-hero, have the ability to look death in the face without blanching.
Then again, who doesn't? Pittsburgh has seen a spate of shootings recently, especially in the city's poorer East End neighborhoods. But all that changes is the body count: The prescriptions and finger-pointing remain the same.
Just open your paper to the letters page, or turn on talk radio. You'll hear suburbanites -- people who'd be afraid to drive through places like Homewood -- demand courage from those actually living there. "You have to stand up to the criminals in your community!" demand the voices from five communities, and two tax brackets, away.
The message from inside those communities is much more complex. "If you're talking about justice, then everybody has a responsibility," says Paradise Gray, an anti-violence activist. "It's our responsibility to manage our lives and our community." In recent months, Gray and other community activists have been trying to do just that, patrolling streets even police don't walk -- at least not without an armored vehicle behind them.
But even the meanest streets go both ways. If elected officials want to solve crime, Gray says, "They need to stop closing down schools and stop opening up jails. How can I blame a kid for what he does when it's easier to get an ounce of crack and a pistol here than it is to get a job?"
Especially when Republicans like Metcalfe say that pistol makes him safer. Increasingly, the answer to gun violence is ... more guns. Virginia Tech wouldn't have happened if more hungover fratboys had guns. Domestic violence would drop if more women packed heat.
Sometimes, pro-gun legislators seem more shameless than the gunmen themselves. In one of Pittsburgh's highest-profile shootings so far -- a weekday-morning hit Downtown -- the shooter reportedly drew his gun on the wrong person, apparently having confused him for someone else.
"My bad," the gunman said, according to press accounts, before lowering the gun and walking away.
A few minutes later, he found the guy he was looking for, and gunned him down. But for a moment there, it seems, he took a tiny bit of responsibility for having risked an innocent life.
If only Republicans could do the same.