We Americans value freedom, we value our freedoms, we value freedom — each one of us — to do what we want and to do what we think is right. We don’t want anyone confining us. What we earn is ours. What we do is our responsibility.
We err on the side of freedom. Even knowing it may come back to bite us. We side with freedom when it comes to abortion, an action I consider murderous; we side with freedom when it comes to money, a commitment to free enterprise that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. We side with freedom when it comes to guns, a freedom that emerges out of our Second Amendment and then developed in ways that many consider way too far. But we value our freedom.
I support substantial restriction of guns, expansion of gun laws, and I support a colossal shift in the kinds of guns Americans can buy and own and possess and have in homes. But gun laws would not end violence. Yet, they would curb violence and it would restrict the guns that some people could acquire or grab in a fit of rage or bitter resentment. But progressivism in laws, while a good, will not bring nirvana where freedom flourishes with only good acts.
We also value the freedoms of the mentally diseased, so far that we will not constrain or institutionalize someone until they are in imminent harm to themselves and others. I value that freedom myself. Who can decide who may or who will probably become dangerous? Freedom leads us to wait.
But these freedoms bite back. Greed motivates freedom in the market; irresponsibility and death shape the freedom of sex; violence and murder flow from the freedom of the Second Amendment.
To alter the course of history in America would mean to restrict the one preeminent value of our legal system: freedom. Are we willing to restrict freedoms? For the common good? Good laws can make a good society better. But laws cannot control humans or our will to freedom. With freedom comes the freedom for freedom to bite back. It does. It does daily. It has and it does and it will.
We do not know why the perpetrator of this horrendous crime in Newtown Connecticut did what he did, but the claim that he had autism or Asperger’s was not what caused this horrific act. As Emily Willingham said in his Slate article, neither autism and Asperger’s did this:
My 11-year-old son is diagnosed with Asperger’s, soon to be simply “autism,” thanks to impending changes in the DSM5. He is a rowdy giant of an 11-year-old who loves tumbling play with his brothers, but his spirit couldn’t be more gentle. When he finds a spider in the house, he carefully gathers it in a tissue and places it outside, alive. He can’t bear to watch people crack tree nuts, like pecans, because being something of a tree nut himself, he feels pain on behalf of the nuts. He is so attuned to all of my nonverbal communication that he will recognize and respond to a fluctuation in my mood faster than anyone else in our house, including my husband.
He knows about the Dec. 14 shootings in Connecticut. When he learned about them, his first response was to turn away in the chair where he was sitting, drooping his head over the back. He stayed that way for many long minutes, quiet and still. When he turned around again, my child who rarely, rarely cries had tears in his eyes. And then, his first urgent concern: that we break from homeschooling and go get his brother, our youngest son and in first grade, from school … now. And as we drove to the school to pick up his brother, whom I badly wanted to see and hug and hear, my oldest, autistic son voiced what I’d already decided: “Let’s not tell him what happened. That’s not something he needs to know. It would make him too anxious and scared.” Perspective-taking and empathy, you see.
Planned, social violence is not a feature of autism. Indeed, autistic people are far more likely to have violence done against them than to do violence to others. No one knows as of this writing what drove the Connecticut shooter to kill 20 children and 7 adults, point blank, although obvious candidates are rage, hate, a huge grudge against humanity, and some triggering event. But if he turns out to have been someone on the spectrum, I’d like to remind everyone that autism is not an explanatory factor in his actions. And that autistic people like my son are fully, fully capable of empathizing with those who were the target of them.
There is no simply answer to what happened. A pastor friend of mine knows that simplicities do not get to the bottom of what is going on in America when it comes to violence. He wrote this to me:
Frustrating to me to watch the aftermath of this. I understand that this makes people feel very anxious, and so they want to make it a simple problem with an easy solution that asks very little of them so they can feel safe again. But it seems to me, at least, that so many folks miss the point.
Have we finally had enough–enough of what?
A society that, in losing its faith in general and active membership in religious institutions in particular, has lost its impetus towards community?
A society with an out- of- control media that glorifies and revels in violence?
So many problems that run so much deeper than guns, but they would profoundly affect that lives and choices of many of those who are now so vocal, so they will not be asked. To me, it compounds the sadness. As does the idealogue approach which is dismissive of any kind of diversity of thought as well as the double standards (wait, I thought we needed to allow abortions because we can’t legislate choice or morality–wasn’t that what they said in the 70s and 80s?–but now these very same people are so actively trying to legislate choice and morality for their own purposes. And of the two, we lose far more children to abortion than to guns…)
So John Horgan points at our obsessions with violence, and it makes us ask ourselves why:
I’m even more worried about the potential link between our country’s hawkish actions overseas and mass shootings here in the homeland. President Barack Obama has signed off on drone attacks that often result in the killing of civilians, including children. There is a cognitive dissonance between our leaders’ condemnation of school shootings here and their violent actions beyond our borders.
What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that I see the Connecticut massacre and similar outbursts of violence as symptoms of a profound American sickness, a pathological infatuation with violence, which is also manifested in our militarism and atavisticadherence to the death penalty. All these forms of violence–whether carried out by crazed individuals or by our own government–violate basic human decency. When will we say, Enough!
What does the church have to say about freedom? What does the gospel say about freedom? about violence? These are questions for Christians to ponder.
We look to Jesus, not to laws about freedom.