This meme, and hundreds like it that pop up every time some massive outrage with mass artillery is committed, illustrates for me something that always bugs me about the “leap to enthuse over massive artillery even harder than before” gun lobby.
Here’s the thing: the meme winds up accidently suggesting that all attempts to deal with murder are utopian–as though anything less than 100% success in limiting gun violence means the attempt is a total waste of time. But, in fact, we *do* have laws against murder. In fact, *God* has a law against murder–even though murder remains a fact of life. That’s not silly utopianism, that’s common sense. And though laws against murder do not prevent all murders, we *should* have laws against murder–and frankly we should respond to the mass slaying of children with “There has to be some way to help reduce the chances of this God-damned* thing ever happening again” instead of, as this poster is saying, “Give up. There’s nothing you can do about it. Only an idiot would even try.”
That counsel of despair, wrapped in this sneering mockery is, more than anything else, what has bothered me about the gun lobby’s latest attempt to say, in effect, “a school room full of dead children is the price we are willing to pay for maintaining the current regime without any contemplation whatsoever of possible ways to mitigate such outrages in the future.” That’s what memes like this are calculated to do. And they demonstrate their folly by suggesting that the fifth commandment itself is a silly exercise in utopian futility.
The national period of mourning is over. It’s time to talk about this. I’ve heard all the ancient tropes about guns being morally neutral and outlaws having guns and anybody trying to limit access to assault rifles is Hitler and all the rest. Still and all, it does not escape my notice that when the maniac in question is an Iranian imam or a North Korean nutjob everybody embraces the idea that, while evil originates in the hearts of men and must finally be confronted there, there’s also the practical notion that it makes it much harder for evil men to inflict that evil on others if you don’t provide them with easy access to massive firepower.
Does the conversation about mental health need to happen too? Absolutely. So does the conversation about the social and spiritual degeneration that is proceeding apace in our culture and is the ultimate cause of this evil. But arguments about mass murder which begin by sneering at the fifth commandment as utopian suggest that those who make them are not entirely serious about that whole “We need to return to Good Book Values” rhetoric and only help to make clear that the problem is also our deeply sick gun culture and the gun lobby’s endless excuses for it.
So, by way of noodling the problem I have some questions, in no particular order, as well as some growing skepticism about the kneejerk tropes from the NRA and fellow travelers.
Second, since the Constitution links the right to keep and bear arms to membership in a militia…
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
…it seems reasonable to ask why people who are not in militias should have easy access to massive artillery–or even any artillery at all.
If you reply, “Why, to fight the guerilla war against the Leviathan that people like Glenn Beck assured Nancy Lanza was coming to put her in a concentration camp when the apocalypse came!” then I would suggest that a miscalculation has been made somewhere. In fact, several miscalculations. For the Constitution mentions nothing whatsoever about a well-regulated militia being deployed to fight a civil war against the federal government. What is clearly in view in the Second Amendment is opposition to a foreign power or threats to civil peace such as Indian attacks or drunken riots. Indeed, the theory that the purpose of gun ownership was to shoot at the government was tested some decades after the ratification of the Second Amendment in the 1860s and turns out to have had some significant problems.
Could it be that the Feds might, in fact, impose a tyranny citizens must defend against? Sure. In fact, it could be argued that many elements of tyranny already exist (such as an Executive who claims the power to kill anybody he likes on his secret unilateral authority alone). But like it or not, that’s not what the second amendment has in view. And to be honest, I doubt any but the craziest of my readers think much would be helped if armed vigilantes decided to turn America into a large-scale version of 1982 Beirut, swiss-cheesed by factional killings and assassinations by people who have decided to Fight the Power. Nor does this path of Home Arsenal Enhancement really promise much success even if you go down it, as David Koresh could tell you. As a reader of mine (who is, by the way, in the military) points out:
You’ll do that better with advanced knowledge of IT, security, how your devices can be used to spy on you, and steal from you, and a law degree and admittance to the bar. ( not that I disagree in principle.) And maybe, for that hypothetical police-state eventuality, the ability to hack into a drone…
And aside from the impracticality of you and your pistol facing down the 101st Airborne under the command of some looming American Hitler who seizes power in Glenn Beck fever dreams, it is also worth noting that Catholic teaching seldom smiles much on those who decide to take warfare into their own hands (that is why “competent authority” is invoked and Hatfields and McCoys are condemned). Deadly force is the one aspect of Catholic social teaching where subsidiarity is actively discouraged and the responsibility for using it is kicked as high up the ladder of authority as possible. (And, in any case, one of the weirdest “strange bedfellows” realities of our current politics is that the people most likely to be enthused about guns as our bulwark against Leviathan are also the ones most bizarrely supportive of an Executive who orders secret and lawless drone strikes and indefinite detention. Indeed, they are pining for the day when a manly Republican can exercise these tyrannical powers and revive the torture chamber as well, since those are part of the sacred War on Terror that now constitutes the GOP’s core value just as abortion is the Dem’s core value).
So I’m having trouble buying the notion that the second amendment really is the guarantor that people like Nancy Lanza should ever have had easy access to endless firepower, much less have been in a position to make that firepower readily available to her son. I likewise think that her case is an especially powerful persuader that it is prudent to read the second amendment in the strictest way possible: as a guarantor of guns for use by militias and them only. The net result of the gun lobby’s reading of the second amendment–for Nancy Lanza and her neighbors (and repeatedly for mass murder victims all over the US again and again and again and again and again)–is that several mass slaughters of extremely real people every year (plus some 10,000 others that go unnoticed) are deemed an acceptable cost for keeping at bay a phantasm of totalitarian monsters bent on placing us all in concentration camps. I think that’s crazy. Once again, prudence dictates that reality, not fantasy, should guide our actions in what to do next.
Our pattern, as a people, is to respond strongly to foreign powers that kill lots of us at once. Pearl Harbor (2500 dead) and 9/11 (3000 dead) both prompted a national response. 10,ooo+ Americans were murdered last year–by other Americans who could not typically have killed their victims without a gun in their hands. Most of those victims did not die spectacularly or in a way that gripped the viscera of suburbanites and would not let go. But one thing they all have in common with Adam Lanza’s victims is this: None of those killers were part of a “well-ordered militia” So why, I ask, did they have easy access to firepower? For some reason, there never is a national response to that question, except to say that opposition to gun murder is utopian and nothing can or should be done. I refuse to accept that a people who could land a man on the moon can look at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and on and on and on and say, “Let’s do nothing. Let it happen again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. It’s a waste of time to even try to prevent it.” I refuse to believe it with the slaughter of innocents in abortion and I refuse to believe it with the slaughter of innocents in a kindergarten class.
*If it matters more to you that I used theologically precise language to describe the slaughter of children as “God-damned” than that children were slaughtered, you are part of the problem. I do not take the Lord’s Name in vain. I use those words in deadly earnest. If this slaughter of children is not damned by God, nothing is.