Monday, July 23, 2012

How Not To Respond to the Aurora Tragedy

My initial response to the news that 12 people had been killed and more than 50 injured in a shooting at a movie theater in suburban Denver was, upon further reflection, chilling: not the overwhelming sadness for people whose too-short lives were cut off or for their grieving relatives, not the melancholy produced by yet another demonstration of human total depravity (indeed, as I have often said, the only empirically verifiable Calvinist doctrine), but a total lack of shock and even surprise that it had happened.  Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora — the list keeps growing at an ever-quickening pace, and who in their right mind would believe the pace will slacken?

When reading about the tragedy Saturday morning, I came across some remarks by a Republican congressman from (where else?) Texas, Louie Gohmert.  In contrast to the spineless "gag rule on guns" that most politicians have honored since the shootings, at least Gohmert spoke up and gave his opinion on cultural and pragmatic issues related to them.  Unfortunately, what he said is more than a tad problematic, whether one views his opinions historically, logically, or Christianly.

Two things Gohmert said in his radio interview stand out.  First, when asked why such seemingly senseless acts happen, he responded thus:
You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place. ...

Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important. Whether it's John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people ... Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters ... We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country.
As a Christian, I wish he had not uttered that first sentence, conforming, as it does, to the stereotype of the backwoods fundamentalist ignoramus.  In Gohmert's view, such acts happen because of attacks on, or corrosion of, America's "Judeo-Christian" foundations.  Well, of course I believe that acts of such stunning depravity are caused by sin, the very thing Jesus came to earth so long ago to defeat.  I also will grant that the indicatives of globalism and multi-culturalism have eroded some of the assumed (Christian) perspectives on morality that obtained even in my childhood in the 1960s.  But please — who, no matter what religion or lack thereof, doesn't know that murder is wrong and speak against it in no uncertain terms?  Also problematic, despite its assumed truth by many in the Religious Right, is his assertion that America was founded on Christian principles.  Elsewhere I have expressed my opinion that the United States was formed by a decidedly unChristian violent rebellion against its mother country.  And the list of national sins tolerated and committed by this country is a serious one: violent land theft from, and subsequent ghettoization of, the aboriginal "Native Americans;" forcible enslavement of, and later discrimination against, millions of people simply by virtue of the color of their skin; child labor; disenfranchisement of women; wars waged for the expansion of empire (Mexican War, Spanish-American War) or protection of the "national interest" (Iraq).  The claim that "at least we haven't produced a Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot" simply damns us with faint praise (even America's greatest presidents, Lincoln and FDR, were men with mixed motives and uneven records of achievement).  America, like all other nations, is populated exclusively by sinners, a fact that does everything to dismantle claims of "exceptionalism" born of an illegitimate conflation of the Puritans and the much later "founding fathers."  The fathers were, to be sure, exceptional men much to be admired in many ways, but few of them were what a 21st century evangelical would consider to be "orthodox Christians."  I can think of three who were: John Jay, John Witherspoon, and Patrick Henry.  The rest are to be located somewhere on a sliding deistic scale from the somewhat orthodox (the Unitarian-leaning Adams, the Eucharist-shunning Washington) to the unorthodox (Franklin, Jefferson, Paine).  For Gohmert to cite the notoriously womanizing Franklin in this regard brings a wry smile to the face.

The fact of the matter is that in the reality world of universal human sinfulness, violence will happen.  Young men fueled by testosterone and afflicted with alienation (for whatever reason) will take their frustrations out on undeserving victims.  What has changed, however, is the ready availability of de facto weapons of mass destruction that make such tragedies both possible and increasingly common.  It is here that Gohmert's second statement has relevance.  Echoing the sentiments of America's most powerful extremist political interest group, the NRA, the congressman  said, "It does make me wonder, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?"

My initial reaction was to think that such a sentiment simply refutes itself.  I still believe that.  The utter naivete it manifests is staggering.  Even worse is the assumption, by a self-professed Christian, that the solution to gun-based violence is an even greater proliferation of guns.  Has representative Gohlert never heard the words of Jesus (in a contemporary contextualization and only slightly out of context), "Those who take the gun will perish by the gun" (Matt 26:52)?

It is well past time for a rational and realistic national discussion on guns and the increasing havoc they are playing on our society.  To be sure, in the wake of Aurora some of the usual suspects have called for this: "liberal" academics such as Melissa Harris-Perry and journalists like E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News (though conservatives like Bill Kristol have chimed in as well), big-city mayors like Michael Bloomberg and Michael Nutter, big-city police commissioners like Philadelphia's Charles Ramsey, pacifist-leaning Christians.  In my view, they are right, but, as usual, I am not optimistic about this happening.

The reason for this is the stranglehold the NRA has politically on Washington and ideologically on most of "conservative" America.  It is a strange fact that Americans who know little history or English grammar nevertheless "know" that the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of the individual American to bear arms (curiously, their constitutional piety does not often extend to the 14th Amendment and the right of children born in America to "illegal" immigrants to American citizenship).  I myself am not confident that the Second Amendment, properly interpreted, guarantees this right.  Indeed, I find the Supreme Court's pronouncements on the amendment in 2008 and 2010 to be somewhat tendentious.  Nevertheless, even if the current de rigueur interpretation is granted, the matter is not as black-and-white as its supporters usually contend. 

I can confidently claim that I will never own a gun.  And before anyone says that is because I am a soft product of the Philly Main Line, I must remind such a person that I lived for 12 years in a poor, crime-infested neighborhood of Dallas, where gunshots and hovering police helicopters were at least weekly occurrences, and where more than once I had to call the police because of prowlers/burglars on my or a neighbor's property. Nevertheless, despite my own aversion to guns, I have no difficulties with hunting rifles and handguns kept in the home for "protection."  Even less do I have a problem with riflery as a sport or of shooting clubs that people can join for hobby purposes.  That does not mean, however, that restrictions cannot rightly be placed on types of weaponry or on stockpiling of such implements of death.  There is simply no justification for allowing private citizens to own assault rifles and high volume drum magazines.  Nor are strict background checks, waiting periods, requirements for training, or limitations on frequency and volume of purchase overly burdensome, despite what the NRA thinks.  And, frankly, I cannot understand why anyone (usually, unsurprisingly, a man) thinks he must carry a concealed (or not) weapon on him while in public.  Actually, I think I understand the pathology of such a felt need, but I will refrain from writing about it.

Certain facts about the good old USA need to be faced head-on.  This morning I read that 15 people had been shot, four of them killed this weekend in my home city of Philadelphia.  Americans love to brag that the USA is "the greatest country in the history of the world," as President George W. Bush used to say with regularity.  If so, why is its murder rate so high?  Specifically, why are gun-related homicides so prevalent compared to other, supposedly not-as-great countries?  The statistics are staggering: the yearly firearm-related homicide rate per 100,000 people in the USA from 2004-2006 was 4.14, better than such places as South Africa, Colombia, El Salvador, and Jamaica, to be sure, but far worse than other industrialized nations as France (0.44), Canada (0.76), Australia (0.44), New Zealand (0.17), Germany (0.22), Ireland (0.03!), Spain (0.21), Scotland (0.19), Japan (0.02!!!), and England/Wales (0.07).

I am aware that the gun-toting Swiss likewise have a low rate (0.58), so the presence or absence of guns alone does not explain the issue entirely (the mythological American metanarrative has a lot to do with it).  Nevertheless, guns make murder easier to commit, and without a shadow of a doubt easier to commit on a mass scale.  In particular, I am bloody sick and tired of the specious truism that "guns don't kill people, people do."  Well, of course guns, as inanimate objects, don't will to commit a crime.  But guns certainly do "kill people" in that they are an efficient tool used by murderers to do their dirty deed.  Claiming that guns don't kill people is the equivalent of saying that the atomic bomb didn't kill 70,000 people at Hiroshima in August of 1945.  Certainly the vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding, murder-deriding citizens.  But some are not, and the easy availability of guns (James Holmes bought three of his weapons online with no background check, which in his case wouldn't have mattered) makes mass murder a much easier proposition than would be the case if more restrictions were on the books.  It is safe to say that Holmes could not have done this vile act if the most powerful weapon he had at his disposal was a knife (even a machete).  Call me "unAmerican," if you like.  You won't offend me, whose only ultimate loyalty goes to the one who was murdered on my behalf and whose shed blood set me free from slavery to sin.  But one thing I do know: the inconvenience of prospective gun owners and even, if necessary, the curtailment of their "right" to bear arms is small price to pay for the lives that are ruined and lost because of guns each year.  Something has to be done to make sure that tragedies like the one that happened last week in Colorado happen far less frequently.  Making more guns available is not the answer, and will only contribute to the cycle of violence that has gripped America and gives the lie to her self-serving claim to greatness.

10 comments:

  1. I have to split this up due to a 4,096 character limit per post:

    I will start by saying I appreciate the time, effort, and passion you poured into this entry. I have thoroughly read through it and, though I hold you in high esteem both personally and in Biblical knowledge and application, am markedly upset by your statements in general. I will address each one and I hope you're able to likewise appreciate the time, effort, and passion (not to mention trepidation in responding to a respected mentor) I have invested in my reply.

    I will agree that the shooting in Aurora was heartbreaking, senseless, and an overwhelming reminder that we live in a fallen world with little to no regard for human life.

    Please consider my disagreements as well.

    Quote:
    Nevertheless, despite my own aversion to guns, I have no difficulties with hunting rifles and handguns kept in the home for "protection." Even less do I have a problem with riflery as a sport or of shooting clubs that people can join for hobby purposes.
    I'm unsure why you have protection in quotes but I first will ask you this. Why is it acceptable to have a "weapon of mass destruction" in your home for means of self defense, but not when one is out engaged in public life where the chances of interacting with any attacker (armed with a firearm or otherwise) is monumentally greater than sitting (or in your case-standing and yelling) in one's recliner at home, watching the Phillies? How many mass shootings take place in private residences? If a crazed armed (again, firearm or otherwise) attacker wanted to hurt a large amount of people at once, they would (I think) naturally choose a place where a large amount of people are gathered at once, don't you think?

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  2. Quote:
    That does not mean, however, that restrictions cannot rightly be placed on types of weaponry or on stockpiling of such implements of death. There is simply no justification for allowing private citizens to own assault rifles and high volume drum magazines. Nor are strict background checks, waiting periods, requirements for training, or limitations on frequency and volume of purchase overly burdensome, despite what the NRA thinks.
    What constitutes an instrument of death? While not a perfect analogy, it's closest to firearm ownership. I propose that multi-ton hunks of steel, plastic, rubber, and glass are a far more dangerous weapon than firearms. There are also restrictions on operating these weapons. You must not have a suspended license in any other state (background check), go through a waiting period (permit), have training (DL test/Driver's Ed); and there are no restrictions on how fast of a vehicle you can purchase (lethality), how large of a gas tank it can have (ammo), or how many vehicles you can purchase in a specified time frame (1 gun a month laws in some states). I will use the same time frame you mentioned of 2004-2006 and state that there were 128,921 motor vehicle deaths in the same three year period, which makes it 21.6 deaths per 100,000 people. There were 31,224 firearm related deaths in the US in 2007, over half (17,352) were suicides. In the same year, there were 41,059 deaths from motor vehicle accidents. In 2009, there were 254,212,610 passenger vehicles on the roads. In 2007, an estimated 270 million firearms were in the US of the 875 million known firearms in the world. Obviously any death is legitimate reason for pause, but roughly 5 times more people died in 2007 from motor vehicle deaths than from firearms and there are about 15 millions more firearms in the US than automobiles.

    Enough with the numbers.

    Is the answer to lowering the staggering amount of people that face death-by-auto stricter regulations? More training? Less availability of cars? Limits to how much fuel you can purchase at one time?

    Surely we should have an answer for all the people slain via automobile operators. Where's the outrage?

    Obviously cars aren't manufactured to harm/kill people, but in the end they harm/kill more people than an 'inanimate object' that is designed to harm(defense)/kill(hunt).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...n_U.S._by_year
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_vio..._United_States
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passeng..._United_States
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/...34893820070828

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    Replies
    1. Sorry, copy/pasted and the links got shortened:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_United_States
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passenger_vehicles_in_the_United_States
      http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/08/28/us-world-firearms-idusl2834893820070828

      Delete
  3. Quote:
    And, frankly, I cannot understand why anyone (usually, unsurprisingly, a man) thinks he must carry a concealed (or not) weapon on him while in public. Actually, I think I understand the pathology of such a felt need, but I will refrain from writing about it.
    I would venture to say that those who think they must carry a weapon on them in public are taking responsibility for their safety instead of relying on police who admittedly only enforce the law and document/investigate what happened after a crime has been committed. That you, personally, don't feel a need to carry a weapon is, again-in my most respectful, humble opinion, not a reason to snub your nose or imply a lack of stature in certain appendages at those who do.

    Quote:
    Certain facts...murder rate...firearm-related homicide per 100,000 people, etc. ...
    While it may seem odd to downplay murder rates and firearm-related homicides, the CDC has determined that neither of these are in the top 9 leading causes of death in the US. Number 10 is listed as: Intentional self-harm (suicide): 36,909, which likely includes firearm related suicide. Noting earlier statistics, the rate for firearm related suicide was 56% while firearm related homicide was 41%. If the leading cause of death is heart disease and other health related issues, why aren't their more battle cries to regulate/ban the causes of these deaths?

    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm

    Quote:
    Nevertheless, guns make murder easier to commit, and without a shadow of a doubt easier to commit on a mass scale.
    I propose that there are other ways that commit murder that are easier than gunning them down, especially on a mass scale, that don't involve background checks, etc.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Land_fire
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cokeville_Elementary_School_hostage_crisis/wiki/Bath_School_disaster

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  4. Quote:
    In particular, I am bloody sick and tired of the specious truism that "guns don't kill people, people do." Well, of course guns, as inanimate objects, don't will to commit a crime. But guns certainly do "kill people" in that they are an efficient tool used by murderers to do their dirty deed.
    And that's exactly what firearms are, a tool. Murderers also use other inanimate objects for their dirty deeds. Point being, while firearms may be lessen the amount of time it takes to harm/kill people, people have been harming/killing others for years. Remember when Amazon sold out of bats and police-style batons because people in the UK wanted a means of protection against rioters but aren't permitted to own firearms?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/09/baseball-bat-billy-club-sales-uk-amazon_n_922217.html

    Quote:
    Certainly the vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding, murder-deriding citizens.
    Thank you for acknowledging this.

    Quote:
    But some are not, and the easy availability of guns (James Holmes bought three of his weapons online with no background check, which in his case wouldn't have mattered) makes mass murder a much easier proposition than would be the case if more restrictions were on the books.
    The vast majority of vehicle owners are law-abiding, murder deriding citizens, BUT SOME ARE NOT. Should we punish every vehicle owner for the actions of a few?

    Where did you learn that his weapons were bought online? Not sure what laws in CO are like, but in PA you MUST pass a background check when purchasing any firearm-online or otherwise. If you do purchase a firearm online, it must be shipped to a store with an FFL (Federal Firearms License) where it is then treated like any other firearm purchase made in-store. ANY (legal) transfer of handguns in PA MUST go through an FFL. Long gun transfer in PA between private citizens does not require a background check but no sane gun-owner would sell their firearm to someone without doing some homework on the buyer (most private sellers require the buyer produce a PA License to Carry Firearms and complete a bill of sale) because their proverbial hindparts are on the line if that firearm is then used in a crime and subsequently comes back on the seller since it's still technically 'registered' to them. Again, this all assumes legal transfer/purchase of firearms.

    What further restrictions would make someone like this mass murderer simply not commit murder? If someone disregards basic decency, not to mention existing laws against murder, what makes anyone believe that they will abide by further restrictions?

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  5. Quote:
    It is safe to say that Holmes could not have done this vile act if the most powerful weapon he had at his disposal was a knife (even a machete).
    It is not safe to say that Holmes (or any other crazed attacker) would have taken less lives or done a less vile act if 'all he had' was a blade:

    http://www.metro.co.uk/news/818760-eight-children-killed-in-chinese-school-massacre
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_attacks_in_China_%282010%E2%80%932011%29

    Quote:
    But one thing I do know: the inconvenience of prospective gun owners and even, if necessary, the curtailment of their "right" to bear arms is small price to pay for the lives that are ruined and lost because of guns each year.
    Again, not to make light of any deaths, massacres or not, 38-51% of Americans are gun owners, which at current US population puts those numbers between 119,324,054-160,145,441. Punishing legal gun owners, whether you see the need for multiple weapons and ammunition caches in the thousands or not, *is* a large price to pay for the horrendous and treacherous actions of a few. Making it more difficult to own firearms will only serve to take them out of law-abiding citizens' hands (and encourage them to be driven into non-law-abiding citizens' hands) because they wish to remain law-abiding citizens, since once of the requirements of gun ownership is to pass a criminal background check.

    http://www.gunsandcrime.org/numbers.html

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  6. Quote:
    Something has to be done to make sure that tragedies like the one that happened last week in Colorado happen far less frequently.
    What would you suggest?

    Now to incorporate all of this into the Christian life...

    I feel as if your statements demonize anyone who would so choose to defend their life by carrying a weapon, and, subsequently are slapping God in the face for we, as Christians, are supposed to turn the other cheek. Would you be so bold as to say that if you or I were in that theater, it would be God's will that we die for lack of means of protection? Would you also say that you or I would be outside of God's will to take another human's (read: aggressive attacker's) life to save our own? Can a Christian be Pro-Life yet still want to keep his own (in that situation)?

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  7. Well, as usual Doc, I have a mixed bag of reactions to your opinion piece. I always appreciate the fact that you start a positive dialogue about controversial issues.

    Let me chime in with my agreement to the fairly indesputable fact that guns are a relatively good tool for killing people. I am perplexed, however, that gun-related homocide rates are compared in order to determine the merit of anti-gun laws. Personally, I'd be much more interested in homocide rates in general considering that I don't think many people prefer stabbing or choking as a means of death over being shot. Of course we all know that it is much more difficult to establish a correlation between gun regulation and general homicide rates, even while you are forced to admit that examples such as Switzerland really bust the curb on even gun-related violence as a statistical argument for gun control.

    I think we've already successfully missed the point entirely (not surprised anymore...), because the purpose of the second ammendment is not primarily related to self defense against citizen on citizen crime. It's specific purpose is to protect the ability of the populous to stage a viable uprising against its government should it overstep the rightful bounds of its authority into despotism and tyranny. All one needs to do is take a cursory glance through the anals of human history to discover that it is the tendency of those in power to lustfully attain more and more power, and that great power is followed closely by corruption, often to the point of great evil perpetrated upon the subjugated masses by those in authority.

    The Second Ammendment protects the rights and ability of the populous to band together and resist tyranny at home. Having an armed population not only keeps the land safer from foreign invasion, it protects the right of each individual to defend his/her own property from unlawful seizure and his/her family from governmental abuse.

    On one edge of the proverbial dual-edged sword is a defense of liberty, on the other is the desire to be protected from the potential of unwarrented acts of violence such as Aurora. A simple electrical fire with some containment planning or a homemade bomb could have killed more in that theater in less time than the 3 guns. However we MUST preserve the freedom to bear arms in order to preserve the liberty that we have enjoyed in this country for nearly a quarter of a millenium.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. anals! lol I guess I shoulda proof-read this...

      Delete
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