Here we are again. That place we wish that we never had to know. That place we wish we could just will out of existence. That place where we have to contemplate yet again how horrible we can be to each other. How someone who looks like us and talks like us could even begin to think of such a horrendous act.
We are all still reeling from the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. We want to know how such a thing could happen: how someone could suddenly snap and decide to bring such grief and anguish to others. And what does that mean for the rest of us? Are all of us just a moment away from monstrosity, or is there something that sets killers apart from the rest of us? We may never know the answers, but we cannot help ourselves from obsessing on the questions. They strike at the very nature of humanity—what is it, exactly, that links us all together? How fragile is the chain? Part of the morbid fascination, the need to follow every nuance, lies in our need to know whether we are in any way capable of taking the life of another human being, of planning to cut even shorter what is a short enough stay on this plane of existence.
And seeking answers to those puzzles is a good thing. We are so far from understanding what makes ourselves tick that any little piece of information can only illuminate our lives. What is not so helpful is exploiting the tragedy of others to further a political agenda. That sort of action diminishes us all, makes the loss of the victims and the suffering of their families merely another talking point in a debate. Instead of focusing of what it means to be human, instead of concentrating on our strength of character in helping others cope, we find our attention and our energies transferred to questions of power. Who should have power? How much? Over what? And the very thing that should draw us together ends up pushing us apart. Instead of supporting one another, we find ourselves fighting. Instead of searching for common ground, we find ways to lay blame.
It took only a few short hours after the terrible events in Aurora, Colorado had been exposed in all their awfulness for the issue of gun control to be raised. Here it is again, we heard. More shooting deaths. We must do something. Get those deadly weapons out of the hands of killers. That argument always raises a number of issues for me.
Less than a week after the horribleness in Aurora, a pickup truck in Texas ran into a tree and killed almost the same number of people. There has been no hue and cry to outlaw pickup trucks, nor will there be. The difference between guns and trucks seems to be that guns are useful only for killing, whereas trucks have other practical uses. So we are willing to allow people to die, so long as there is some other benefit. It isn’t the death itself that concerns us, the logic goes, if it means that we can get to work on time. It sounds awful when it’s laid out that way—diminishing the deaths of all those people, both at the theater, and in the truck.
Also, apparently the gunman had rigged his apartment with gasoline and other incendiary devices. But I haven’t heard a peep about keeping gasoline from the hands of killers. Timothy McVeigh didn’t need a gun to wreak havoc, nor did Muhammad Atta. But no one suggests that fertilizer and planes should be kept off the market. Are we so crass, then, that we are willing to accept collateral damage in order to continue to support our lifestyle? I cringe at the thought. I like to think that we are better than that, that every loss of life is a cause for concern, but the wringing of hands and the gnashing of teeth that accompanies every shooting incident, combined with the eerie silence that follows in the wake of every car crash makes me fearful for our humanity.
On the other hand, suppose we accept the given premise. The rationale that the purpose of the instrument can be weighed. That the cost in lives is more than balanced by the increase in standard of living. That guns bring nothing to the table except death and destruction. Where does that leave us?
With Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Iran, Syria, a hundred other places. The very thing that makes weapons so awful, their ability to cause suffering, pain, mutilation, and ultimately, the snuffing out of entire existences, is the very thing that makes them useful. We sit here, in our comfortable armchairs, and deplore the violence that government actors are committing against their citizens every day. Yet if the people in those countries were armed, they might be able to stop the destruction. What misery might have been averted if the refugees in the Sudan had been able to rise up against their oppressors. How many Syrian lives could have been saved if Mr. Bashad knew that he was not invulnerable. The Kurds in Northern Iraq might have welcomed some means of resistance before they were wiped out. It was the armed citizenry that allowed George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the rest to be hailed as heroes instead of hung as traitors.
When touting the gun control party line, the focus is always on offense. How this person took that many lives. The real reason to have citizens armed is for defense. Defense of home, surely. But defense against an overbearing government is the true rationale. Couldn’t happen here, you say? It did happen. That’s how this country was created in the first place. Revolution against an entrenched government. Against their own government. That was no war against an outside power. The colonists betrayed their own country. They killed their own people because they were unhappy with their ruler. And King George wasn’t even massacring his subjects. He was just taxing them without their leave.
Never could happen again? Never would happen again? We currently have a President who not only chooses which laws to enforce and which to ignore, he openly touts his flaunting of the laws of this land. It is sad, but true, that the only way to maintain freedom is to fight for it. And isn’t that much more practical than a quicker way to work?