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An epidemic is sweeping America. It has visited us before, but this January it’s come early and this strain appears to be particularly virulent, even dangerous.
Oh, you thought I meant the flu? Well, yeah, that’s bad too, but what I’m talking about here is another outbreak of SWORS: Spasmodic Wingnut Outrage Syndrome.
As you regular readers know, SWORS is a disease of the central nervous system particularly prevalent among members of the American right wing. SWORS sufferers experience a significant degradation in upper level brain function, leading to a near-total loss of any sense of proportion. They become prone to manic outbursts of indignation and rage over trivial or even imaginary events.
The latest outbreak can be traced to a remark made by Vice President Joe Biden while speaking about the plan he was working on to curb gun violence in the wake of the horrific school shootings in Newtown Connecticut. Part of the plan, Biden said, might include “executive orders” by the President, actions taken under the power of his office that didn’t need to be voted on by Congress.
Now, anyone who knows anything about this country’s Constitutional separation of powers would realize that what can be done purely by executive order is limited, and certainly do not include a blanket ban on semi-automatic weapons or high capacity magazines. You can at least rest assured that Barack Obama, a former Constitutional Law professor, knows this. This did not stop SWORS sufferers from immediately concluding that “the plan might include executive orders” meant that Biden was actually saying “OBAMA’S GONNA TAKE ALL YOUR GUNS! BWAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!”
Reaction followed the classic pattern of SWORS, including overly dramatic public statements of irrationally disproportionate anger. Washed up rocker and gun advocate Ted Nugent claimed gun owners were going to be “the new Rosa Parks.” Tennessee resident James Yeager, CEO of a company that trains people in “tactical skills” and who has an online shop selling “tactical” equipment, put up a YouTube video in which he stared into the camera with what I suppose was supposed to be a look of fierce determination but actually more closely resembled psychotic rage.
“I’m not [bad word] putting up with this,” Yeager snapped during a profanity-laced tirade. “I’m not letting my country be ruled by a dictator. I’m not letting anybody take my guns! If it goes one inch further, I’m going to start killing people.” The state of Tennessee promptly suspended Yeager’s gun permit. Hint: when you go on YouTube loudly announcing that you plan to start killing people, don’t get all surprised if the state acts like you might be serious.
Yeager later apologized. According to the Huffington Post, he stated "It's not time to shoot anybody," while sitting next to a lawyer (who no doubt, wished fervently that Yeager had come to him before openly making terrorist threats on the Internet).
When the proposed plan was revealed on Wednesday, the “executive order” provisions had nothing on confiscation or banning of any guns. They promised that the Executive Branch would, among other things, “nominate an ATF Director"; “develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education," and "issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations." Any limitations on types of weapons or high capacity magazines would be left to the Congress, although the President did call upon the Congress to enact those, which given the makeup of the current Congress, is a pretty long shot, so to speak. Expansion of the background check requirement to include gun shows stands a better chance, but the President still left that up to Congress, while issuing executive orders that would make information more readily available for those.
Hardly the sort of stuff to send the citizenry to the barricades. Sadly, however, another symptom of SWORS is the inability to hear what someone has actually said. Instead, the SWORS victim reacts to a voice which apparently only they can hear. Republican representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, for example, demanded that the Obama Administration “enforce current laws,” apparently not noticing that some of the executive orders called for just that: they require that the government “maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime” and “require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.” RNC Chairman Reince Preibus called the plan an “executive power grab,” while failing to specify a single one of the executive orders that does not fall squarely within the President’s Executive authority.
Sadly, there is no known cure for SWORS, since it renders its victims incapable of logic or persuasion. Even more sadly, it’s not just the infected person who suffers. It’s all of us.