The Carnage on American Ground

Church is uncomfortable at times.  On Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, I went to church in the middle of the day.  The season of Lent was beginning: a period calling Christians back to the church and a deepening of their faith, a call that is not so easy to respond to, given that we are errant and have only a cloudy notion of God.

The sermon, which the bishop, Jeffrey Lee, preached, was about how our personal enchantment with the world leads to spiritual misery, characterized above all by our estrangement from human society.  (Lee spoke at length about Eustace, the fictional bad-boy of C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, who, in his eagerness to claim a great treasure found in a dragon’s lair, clasps a gold bracelet on his hand, only to find that his greed has transformed him into a beastly dragon, too.)  Christians may resolve to “give up things” for Lent, as is customary, but without divine grace we cannot restore ourselves, nor can we hope that such measures will bring us to a right relation with other humans, a relationship that we innately desire.

Which is why (here the bishop leapt to a startling conclusion) the Christian mission is inevitably collective.  We would be miserable even if we could attain salvation alone, but, as it is, we simply can’t.  Moving away from the wrong and toward the right involves turning from individuality and toward the common good.  It involves assuming responsibility for the many wrongs we witness each day.  Lee argued, for instance, that we, his hearers, were in some way responsible for the death of a respected police commander here in Chicago, who met his fate at mid-day Monday while trying to apprehend a convicted felon in flight after committing yet another crime.  The commander, who just a few minutes earlier had been on his way to a meeting at city hall, was shot dead in the stairwell of a downtown government office building.

I left church about 1:30, pondering how I could be responsible for this crime.  At about the same hour, I later learned, a crazed nineteen-year-old entered the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida and, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and ample ammunition, began shooting dead the youngsters, teachers, and staff inside.  After murdering 17 people, most of them in their teens, this ghastly creature slipped away to hide himself in the banality of a Walmart and Subway before being picked up by the police.

Fingers have begun to point, divisions to arise, as though this damning episode were a grand occasion for taking sides.  But we are all on one side in sharing the responsibility for crimes so deeply rooted in who we are, whose sources are not just individual, but moral, legal, political, and communal.  As inhabitants of a self-governing society, we are all responsible for the society we have.  When it comes to gun violence, every person of conscience in the US can rattle off what needs to be done.  That we fail to do it ranks as a tragedy, a national sin.

RELATED:
Mary Schmich on what Marjory Stoneman Douglas would have done (Chicago Tribune).

The president’s vision of progress on guns

The sociopathic killings in Oregon on October 1 spurred another round of chaotic and frenzied comment. The dialogue began with the president, whose comments on the shootings came out fast, faster than news of the shooting itself.  Whereas some might see the increase in mass gun murders in the US as a cultural, even media-driven, problem, the president understandably sees the Oregon massacre and others like it as having political roots.  In his brief somber statement that day, President Obama argued that this form of criminality has grown out of political choices that ordinary Americans have made.  Make different choices, and sociopathic rampages involving firearms will begin to wane.  Most strikingly, the president appealed to the public for relief from a stale, inconclusive dialogue about gun violence that has become terrifyingly routine.

President Obama’s remarks are worth reading in their entirety. They are notable for what they did and did not say. The president did not call on Americans to back any specific gun-control measure.  Instead, he made three general appeals.

 1.  GET OUT THE FACTS ON GUN-RELATED DEATHS.  The president appealed to the journalistic world to assemble and publish comprehensive data about gun-related deaths in the US.  It’s odd, but authoritative statistics about gun trafficking, gun sales, gun violence, and gun crimes are surprisingly hard to come by.  Several years ago Congress barred the Obama administration from studying this problem or amassing authoritative statistics on public’s behalf.  So, most of the available data is very old, incomplete, or statistically flawed.  Instead, the job of monitoring the extent and nature of gun violence has fallen to a ragtag assemblage of voluntary efforts throughout the country, such as Slate’s effort in the year after Newtown, or the real-time reporting on gun violence that the good people at the Gun Violence Archive carry on.  Accurate information about gun violence and its social costs could reshape the gun debate by silencing false claims and focusing public attention around effective policy aims.

2.  RESPONSIBLE GUN-OWNERS ARE A KEY GROUP IN THE STRUGGLE TO PROMOTE GUN SAFETY.  The millions of Americans who own guns are perhaps the only constituency capable of checking the influence of the National Rifle Association.  The heinous mass murder of children and teachers at the Sandy Hook School in December 2012 effected an attitudinal shift, galvanizing responsible gun-owners in favor of stricter gun laws.  Surveys show that 90 percent of gun owners now favor ‘common-sense’ gun-safety measures, a stance at odds with the unbounded pro-gun rhetoric of the NRA.  In his message, President Obama appealed directly to gun owners, asking them ‘to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.’  Gun-owners are uniquely positioned to speak out in support of prudent public-safety measures that do not impinge upon Second Amendment rights.

3.  VOTERS MUST MAKE PUBLIC SAFETY A PRIORITY: Though many Americans favor tougher gun laws, they do not view this as a key issue when voting.  As a consequence, the gun lobby and pro-gun advocates routinely get their way in Congress and state legislatures.  The president urged voters to care more, and to pay more attention to candidates’ voting records (an issue that has lately vexed Bernie Sanders).  Without legislators willing to vote for gun-control measures, the political struggle to inhibit the reckless use of firearms will go nowhere.

The president’s conviction that the will of the people can transform the gun debate is characteristic of an executive who has taken to heart his role as ‘the people’s sovereign.’  Time and again, the president has placed his faith in a democratic public to generate the “change we can believe in.”  Whether Americans have the determination and wherewithal to fight for a safer civil society remains to be seen.

The Firearm Insurance Requirement Act

World map of civilian gun deaths per capita (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

A post I wrote back in 2012, ‘Should We Treat Guns More Like Cars?’ is now the subject of a White House petition.  The idea is to require all gun owners to carry insurance on guns and to empower the insurance industry to set appropriate premiums based on risks posed.

Proponents of mandatory firearm insurance include New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and US congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney.

In combination with other measures, mandatory insurance would help shift the focus of the gun debate toward the crucial issues of responsible ownership and community safety.  It would make it more expensive for sociopaths to acquire and stockpile weapons.

Please help promote this idea by signing the White House petition.  JUST AS IMPORTANT, share this post with your friends on social media.  The petition needs 100,000 signatures by November 1 to become viable.

To sign the White House petition for The Firearm Insurance Requirement Act, click here.

To read my original post, click here.

Image: RGlouster, World Map of Civilian Guns Per Capita, 2007.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Click on the map to go to the source.

Recommended:
Rolling Stone, “How to Beat the NRA in 7 Not-So-Easy Steps.”