When There’s No Easy Narrative on Gun Violence

Several friends shared this sad but inspiring story of a heroic French police officer who freely gave his own life for another hostage.  NPR has details on the story hereUpdated to add: He was Catholic. 2nd Update: More details on Beltrame’s faith

What can every Catholic take away from this incident?  I think only that heroism is valiant, and we should all strive to live a life of self-sacrifice.

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What doesn’t work is trying to use this story, or most others, to fit into a narrative about one side or the other on the Great American Gun Problem.  It doesn’t work for anyone because:

  • France already has strict gun laws.  Here’s a round up from 2015, and the current summary at Wikipedia.
  • Illegal weapons remain a huge problem.  People like to pick and choose when Country X can and cannot be compared to the US.  In this area, it’s almost certainly apropos: There is no evidence the US would do any better than France at controlling illegal arms imports, just as we utterly fail at controlling all the other outlawed goods and persons that cross our borders.
  • The criminal didn’t come out of nowhere.  As in the Parkland shooting, he already had a criminal record.  In the French case, the shooter was under police surveillance.
  • Armed citizens can only do so much.  We can imagine scenarios where a shopper who happened to be carrying a weapon might have saved the day.  We’ve also seen, as in shooting at Great Mills High School, even a successful defense isn’t always 100%.

There is just nothing in this case that unequivocally supports a particular policy position.  Catholics of good will are free to take a variety of stances on this matter.

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Two older articles from that bastion of right-wing conservatism The Atlantic I think shed light on this corner of our fallen world.

Read through this one: “Americans Don’t Really Understand Gun Violence.  Why? Because there’s very little known about the thousands of victims who survive deadly shootings.”  The article is about how we lack a clear understanding of the nature of our gun problem because we don’t gather good data on the survivors of gun violence — people who get shot but not killed.  I’m not convinced that more data would cause anyone to change opinions, because the data on the people killed by gun violence is already substantial enough.  I do agree that good information is worthwhile all the same.

What I find more telling in this article, though, is just how thoroughly it tours our broken-down society.  When you look closely at survivors’ stories, each one tells the tale of one or more ways our social fabric is shredded to bits.  Whether it’s the mother or grandmother left to care for the victim because there is no father in the picture, or the innocent grandchild caught in the crossfire of violence passed down from one generation to the next in the same neighborhood, or the lack of support for people with expensive, life-changing injuries, each incident shows yet another way American society is utterly dysfunctional.

What Liberals Need to Understand About ‘Gun Guys’ is a memoir in the form of an interview with a guy who doesn’t fit anyone’s narrative.  He writes about his experiences on the political fence, a trip he took, and different thoughts he’s had about America’s gun politics:

I was writing a piece in West Berlin in 1979 and a guy said to me, “You’re an American. You think every problem has to have a solution.” We have this impulse in the U.S. to do something. We have no national church, so the only way we can express our public morality is to say there ought to be a law. It’s antithetical to the American can-do character to say there are certain things we just can’t do much about.

At the end of this trip, did you feel any less conflicted about your place in the gun world?

No. I still don’t really belong in either camp. If you watch the reaction to the book when it comes out, you will see that. I’m no less a Democrat than I was, but I am more attuned to the gun guy complaint — “I am over-managed and I am under-respected as a citizen and a human being.” I think the right has a point there. We need to stop fearing capable, empowered, independent-thinking individuals.

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You may have missed Lawblog’s two part series on “Understanding Gun Rights and Laws in Light of the Las Vegas Tragedy.”  Part One: The Second Amendment and Part 2: Gun Control Laws provide some historical and legal context for why things are how they are.  Something that caught my attention was the 1876 ruling by the Supreme Court that limited the scope of the 2nd Amendment.  The context was this: White people needed a way to justify disarming black people, so that it was easier to keep freed blacks from getting uppity.

The Supreme Court has since changed its reading of the law, as it has done on other issues as well.

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The media has an incentive to push the polarization narrative, because controversy sells.  “I Felt Hopeless About the Gun Control Debate. So I Talked to Gun Owners.” is the story of a journalist who took a different approach:

Writing to gun owners humanized the issue for me. After feeling so hopeless, the emails made me feel better. They were the only thing that did. Talking to people who owned guns and were willing to discuss that with me in a reasonable and respectful way had some immediate, and surprising, results.

. . . Shouting matches are easier than real engagement. But fear of “the other” shouldn’t disable a discussion that is far too important to ignore.

Aggressive gun enthusiasts — who will probably spread anger throughout the comment chain of this post, too — no longer represent the opposition for me.

I’m grateful for that, and now I know that deadlock isn’t the inevitable result of a conversation that many of us are afraid to have in a real way. I was. But not anymore.

I did not hear about the hostage situation in France until a friend shared an article on the police officer’s heroic death.  Why not?  Major events in France often make the news, because Americans are interested in French stuff.  This particular incident does have policy implications.  Color me cynical, but I think the reason there was so little coverage of this incident is that the policy implications in question didn’t fuel populist fires.

Be better than that.  It is good to listen to your opponent.  But it is better to listen to all the information, even the bits that serve neither you nor your opponent.

File:France carcassonne rue verdun.jpg

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 3.0.


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