Once again a violent atrocity forces us to think about gun violence. One hallmark of civilization is tempering individuals who are too self-indulgent and undisciplined for the well-being of the community. We agree to laws and regulations because moderating individual freedom produces a more desirable society for all. Our willingness to restrict what we CAN do to what we SHOULD do defines civilization.
We didn’t end slavery by leaving the decision to own another human being up to each individual. When we decided it was wrong to allow unequal treatment of minorities in public accommodations, schools, workplaces, and voting booths, we advanced civil rights as a nation. When we created shelters to protect women and children from domestic abuse, we stopped thinking of family victimization as a private matter and decided it was a community responsibility to protect abuse victims. Each of these major advances toward a more civilized society was met with intense and sometimes vehement resistance. The final opposition to significant change is always the most extreme when defenders of tradition and orthodoxy feel most threatened.
We live in one of the most violent nations on earth. The idea that being safe requires having more personal firepower than any possible assailant is absurd. We are inundated with spouse abuse, child abuse, bullying, revenge by spurned lovers, hazing by social groups, gang violence, terrorism in the name of religion and bigotry, and greed and merciless actions by corporations and wealthy individuals. What they all have in common is the belief that some people have a right to use whatever power they can acquire to get whatever they want. The solution to reducing violence is not to meet violence with violence but to recognize our common humanity, value the importance of the common good and insist that others be treated with empathy, compassion and generosity rather than with disdain, unbridled competition and domination.
Do we each have a right and responsibility to defend ourselves and our loved ones? Of course we do. But we form military and law enforcement agencies to wield carefully regulated power, including lethal force, on our behalf because it is far more effective than allowing individuals to take the law into their own hands. It’s part of the progression from being uncivilized and lawless to being a civilized society. We trust military & law enforcement agencies by insisting they be highly trained, well disciplined and carefully regulated. We enforce stiff consequences when they exceed their authority because we consider it especially egregious.
Even the Second Amendment recognizes the need for “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State. . . .” In 1939, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could limit any weapon types not having a “reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” Not until 2008 did a very conservative Supreme Court decide that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess and carry firearms. Now I have to see some insecure bozo in a local store with a gun strapped to his belt and wonder what might scare him into firing.
No regulation stops those who choose to ignore the regulation. The argument that regulations are worthless because they won’t prevent criminals from committing crimes is an illogical and ridiculous argument unless we want to eliminate every law and regulation. Every criminal is law abiding until they commit a crime.
We must stop glorifying an increasingly radical notion of unlimited individual gun ownership. We need to research gun safety to find effective ways to reduce gun violence. We need universal background checks to restrict gun possession by risky individuals. We need to discuss what types of weapons are reasonable for ordinary citizens to possess. Fully automatic firearms and short-barreled shotguns and rifles have been restricted since the 1930s.
We need vigorous but reasonable legislation to help reduce our fixation on violence as a solution to conflict and threat. We must not allow our legislators to be controlled by a multi-billion dollar gun industry and by people dominated by fear and paranoia. The greatest threat to our safety is not the federal government or outlaw hordes or even “lone wolf” terrorists but our cultural fascination with force and domination by power.