OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
For more material from Christoper Michaels, visit his website.
The quote above comes from CNBC’s reporting on the tragic shooting in Boulder, Colorado. The Denver Post released their own story with a chilling reminder that what happened yesterday in the northern metro area is only “the latest in a grim litany of mass shootings in Colorado.” Both statements are windows into where we’ve come from and what we’ve become.
The details about the shooting in Boulder are still coming to light. Police have a suspect in custody but have not released his or her name. One of the ten dead was an officer for the Boulder Police Department. Officer Eric Talley was the first officer on the scene; his brave sacrifice for his community will be long-remembered. His valiant efforts to stop the violence were cut short. All of the deaths are senseless and add to last week’s surreal shooting in the Atlanta metro area.
Boulder Police said their investigation could take days. It’s probably for the better. Too often, we rush to judgment, desperately grabbing at any thread to identify the root cause of the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of violent outbursts by individuals who take unjustified angst out on their fellow man. The length of the investigation will, no doubt, lead some in the legacy media to reach for conspiratorial tropes decrying any of an array of easy targets.
I won’t waste any more breath on the sad commentary that passes for news. Instead, I want to try to understand what brought us to this place. I want to find a way to talk about the elephant in the room while acknowledging and respecting the concerns oft-highlighted by people on both sides of the gun violence scourge.
I intentionally selected the word ‘scourge’ to describe our national propensity for mass shootings. The term is defined as a person or thing that causes great trouble or suffering. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to express unnecessary violence.
“Disturbing and senseless shootings have occurred since 1891 in this country.” Maria Esther Hammack compiled a historical record of mass shootings. She admits that there may have been other such incidents before 1891, though the documents for them aren’t as precise or readily available. The data from at least the last 130 years shows that Americans have an unsavory relationship with settling ill-perceived grievances with guns.
Sure, there have been periods where the violence was more or less pronounced. Still, it seems apparent that we have a darker side that resorts to rampant violence when one or more of our citizens or residents makes the mental break required to cross the line into the indiscriminate killing. As a result, it’s past time to acknowledge an honest dialogue is necessary if we are ever to overcome this stain on our national character.
I want to disclose that I am an ardent gun-rights supporter. I financially support several national organizations that promote and fight for our sacred and inalienable rights of self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, and existential defense against a tyrannical government. It is perfectly in line with my libertarian values; the individual’s rights trump the collective’s rights. You must know this about me to understand the argument I am presenting.
Besides holding these personal bedrock beliefs, I recognize the pain inflicted on victims and their loved ones. I empathize with anyone who has seen a friend, family member, lover, colleague, or even an acquaintance victimized by some wanton and depraved soul bent on exacting an act of false revenge.
I personally know people who were students at Columbine when that fatal shooting took place. I’ve worked with colleagues who were unwitting participants in that and other mass shootings. I won’t detail how I know these people or the line of work we were in. I want to respect and protect their anonymity. I will tell you the stories they shared were horrific and heartbreaking. It tore at my very humanity to hear them recounting the events. Watching their eyes as they told me what they experienced has stayed with me for many years.
I genuinely get both sides of the gun debate. I am as staunch a gun-rights supporter as you will meet. I’ve heard reasonable concerns from people who simply want to live out their days in relative safety, watching their little ones play and grow older. Both positions offer excellent evidence to support their claims. Pretending that one side holds a moral high ground denigrates the integrity of both claims. Both sides have reasonable positions that offer little common ground.
On the one hand, gun-rights supporters (like me) contend that our rights were never intended as solely a collective right for the mangled and vague idea of the ‘militia.’ We have substantial documentation buttressing our claim. The basis of English Common Law, the personal and professional writings of the Founders, and the common usage of the terms militia and well-regulated for the time they were written (the 1780s – 1790s) are but the beginning of our argument. We also believe that our Founders provided American citizens with a safety valve—should our government run amok. At such a time, we are expected and enshrined with the duty to overthrow a tyrannical government.
On the other hand, a handful of the Founders were vocally uncomfortable with the idea of an armed populace. Make of this what you will. I happen to subscribe to the notion that the instances where gun restrictions were enacted are cherry-picked to bolster the idea of passing some form of these legislative agendas in a widespread fashion. Still, the point is valid that America has lived through periods of gun restrictions to one degree or another.
Added to that are the damning data points that demonstrate a rise in mass shootings. Since 2009, there have been almost two dozen events that even the most ardent gun-rights supporters (again, me) must admit meet the reasonable criteria of ‘mass shooting’ as a social phenomenon. I want to be clear and state that one such event is one too many. I won’t fall back on the tired trope offered by my side of thoughts and prayers, as it does little to address the apparent problem.
All of this describes who we are. We cannot hide from these facts. We have a right to firearms enshrined against government infringement in our founding documents. We also have a grotesque trend where our society’s deranged members reach some internal breaking point and seek unrighteousness retribution against others. The two propositions create dissonance for reasonable minds. It certainly does for me.
I will not pretend to have an immediate answer to a problem that has plagued our country for well over a century. Perhaps, this problem has always been a part of who we are. It doesn’t help matters when bystanders of events yank out their smartphones to live-stream the terror. Even before victims’ families can be notified, the video is often available online, though most streaming services remove it shortly after learning its existence. By that time, though, thousands—if not millions—have watched the gruesome event. And for what? A few clicks on social media?
As much as we abhor violence, we do little to stop watching it. Once we are a safe distance from its epicenter, we record what footage we can or tune into our favorite tabloidesque program in the hopes of seeing it there. It says as much about us as wanton violence does about the person committing it. We can’t look away. How are we to arrive at meaningful dialogue when we condemn violence but watch it and share it for others to see?
I won’t lie. I’ve watched gruesome videos online that were later taken down. I’m sure I told myself at the time it was purely for intellectual curiosity. I’m as guilty as the next guy of perpetuating the same vicious cycle.
Whatever possible answers lie in our future to address the problem of gun violence; it can’t begin with name-calling from either side. That is a non-starter. It gives the aggrieved party an easy-out to walk away from the table and wash their hands of the difficult conversation. We have ‘gun nuts.’ But it shouldn’t be seen as a mark against their character. They are people who really like guns and their nomenclature. We have ‘anti-gun nuts.’ They shouldn’t be painted as wanting to take your guns or my guns; they believe—rightly or wrongly—that ridding the world of firearms is a noble and achievable goal.
Using pejorative language to color either side of the debate with such language is counterproductive. We will continue to have enshrined protections that keep the government from taking our guns. I know some people don’t believe that. I suspect any such attempts to disarm society would end very badly for everyone. We will continue to have episodic gun violence as long as we secretly glorify it on our social media feeds. We will also continue to have serious disagreement until we admit that both sides have a bone to pick. The solution—like most areas where we suffer from prolonged unresolved dilemmas—will require a compromise we haven’t yet thought of. If we roll out the same arguments both sides have used for years, we will get the same results: another day, another shooting, with no more sense to be found from yet another senseless shooting.
As always, this has been the World According to Chris.
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