tragedy, history, repeat

The massacre in Connecticut should require no adjectives to describe its obvious moral terror, and a preface to my comments I will categorically declare my sympathy and compassion with the grieving families of Newtown. With that , however, I must take issue with the reaction of people who have no direct connection to the unequivocally saddening tragedy, beginning with the hypocrisy of people who scarcely seem to muster any outrage when this sort of thing happens elsewhere in the world. My objection stems from the various people I've encountered who expressed their heartbreak and emotional devastation at the event. Violent tragedies happens on a regular basis around the world; why does this one merit special emotional upheaval? I'm not suggesting apathy or indifference. I'm merely pointint out the moral deficiency of selective empathy. How many, I wonder, were ravaged by Anders Breivik's numerically worse massacre in Norway, an unconscionable crime that seems to share similar characteristic as the crime in Newtown? How many people give thought to the victims of the Assad regime in Syria, or the victims of violence in Afghanistan? At the heart of our reaction to the tragedy are questionable assumptions.

First is the notion that the loss of children's lives is a special class of egregious crime. Yet, do we not all have our lives ahead of us? Why is it more tragic for society to lose a child than an adult? The supervaluation of children leads to a corresponding devaluation of adults, whose lives are somehow perceived as less precious. If we value life, should we not reject such agist moralism? Why should the experience and, hopefully, wisdom of age be any less a loss to the world than the potential of youth?

Second, in a fearful, reactionary society that confuses being armed with being secure, the notion of a rational discussion of the place of guns in society is all but hopelessly muddled. Blame goes to the NRA, of course, and its relentless grip on policy. But , crucially, the problem is one of the reasoning error that equivocates gun control with gun bans. How many times does it have to be explained that the purpose of gun control is not to deprive responsible individuals of weapons to defend themselves or to hunt, but to balance 2nd amendment rights with the need for social safety and preserving the public good? The 9th amendment, it's worth remembering, states that “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” And surely the right to enact public safety policies by supporting responsible gun ownership falls within the realm of other rights “retained by the people.” We have technology to aid law enforcement, such as etching serial numbers on bullet to help track the chain of ownership. We can implement policies to reduce the likelihood of irresponsible gun owners – whether criminal, pathological, or psychologically troubled – from coming into possession of weapons. We can hold gun manufacturers, those crime profiteers, accountable for manufacturing and selling their weapons without discrimination. We can point the finger to the NRA, which is not a voice for sane gun ownership but a smut peddler of gun fetishism. And, of course, we can turn our attention towards achieving the social justice and benevolence that reduces the likelihood of people turning their suffering into acts of evil.

The President said, “We can't tolerate this anymore.” I ask: why did we tolerate it at all? An argument can be made to ban guns, particularly their manufacture. After all, it is a mathematical fact that criminals and terrorists, not to forget ordinary individuals involved in domestic disputes, will have fewer opportunities to perpetrate gun violence if there are fewer guns in existence. Nevertheless, in deference to the possibility that some situations legitimately warrant private gun ownership (and, of course, the 2nd Amendment), I would not advocate for a total ban. Restrictions, however, are another matter. No military weapons for private citizens, for example. Limits on the number of firearms and ammunition an individual can possess. Stronger background checks. None of these are revolutionary ideas, except to the radicals of the NRA.

Will history repeat itself? It remains to be seen whether the grief engendered by this tragedy will cascade into definitive action.


Catherine said...

I was accused of being opportunistic and undignified by a liberal sort when I attempted to put this crime in context with others we wage around the world. Part of my point was not simply the concept of the worthy vs. unworthy victim but that we, as a culture, believe revenge is our birthright, so why are we so surprised when it bites us on the ass. "Politicizing tragedy," another accusation aimed at my analysis, is the standard fare of "why don't you discuss this when we are no longer listening?"

Frederik Sisa said...

It's a classic rhetorical tactic to shut down uncomfortable criticisms...and it worked, since no discussion of gun legislation (or other solutions, since laws aren't a panacea) ever arose after previous mass shootings.

People just don't want to be confronted with the possibility, let alone actuality, that they are mistaken.