Where This Meets That
“Criminals are made, not born.”
These were the last words of Andrew Kehoe, found written on a sign hanging on his farm’s fence after he murdered forty-five people, including thirty-eight young children, in an attack on the Bath Consolidated School in Michigan in 1927. The attack remains the deadliest school murder in U.S. history.
Last month, we all received a brutal reminder of how cruelly history can repeat. My heart aches for the lives robbed in Newtown, Connecticut. It bleeds for young parents whose closets and attics might still hide Christmas gifts that will never be opened, whose children will never again be seen but in flat pictures. And for the whole community after such a horrendous act of cold-blooded murder.
These tragic events always raise more questions than they answer. Here, I submit my thoughts on the matters at hand.
Guns and Government
I have fired a gun twice in my life, so I hardly qualify as a gun enthusiast. Yet, I am a solid gun rights supporter. I think that a free society can never be completely secure but that, nevertheless, erring on the side of more freedom rather than less is the most secure choice in the long run.
In 1967, newly elected California Governor Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Maybe so, but it erodes more easily than it shatters, and a society that considers itself free must fundamentally be moving either toward greater freedom or away from it. Former Supreme Court Associate Justice William Douglas eloquently observed that, “As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
The more legislation we pass, the wider the divide between the people and liberty. Since the mid-twentieth century, with notable exception of the civil rights movement, our society has trended steadily away from liberty. Today, the policies of both the Bush and Obama administrations have left us in a virtual free fall away from it.
Between massive power grabs enabled by wars on drugs and terror, the gradual erosion of wealth and healthcare rights, and a politically compromised Fourth Estate, our system finds itself as much a form of modern feudalism as it does a republic.
Tragedy to Tyranny
While tragedies like last month’s massacre in Connecticut remind us of a darkness that can surface anywhere at any time, they also inspire another great tragedy, that the Establishment attempts to leverage such events to turn our trust away from our neighbors and place it instead in itself. Fear is a terrible foe of freedom and yet one of the Establishment’s greatest allies.
The debate over gun control is not new, but it escalates with every terrible event like this. The natural reflex trumpets the most focused action, in this case banning firearms. Or at very least, banning automatic assault rifles. The argument goes something like, “I’ve never seen anyone go out hunting deer with a machine gun!” But this is a “straw man” fallacy. Yes, our nation’s founders did acknowledge our right to kill and eat game, but the Second Amendment centered squarely on the citizenry’s protection against threats, up to and including that of tyrannical rule.
As I’ve said before, increased lawlessness is an unfortunate and paradoxical side-effect of increased legislation, and by taking on “industries with consistent demand . . . lawmakers create monsters.” I understand the outrage caused when these military-grade weapons are misused, I really do, but the movement to see them banned is short-sighted.
I ask you to consider a different United States of America.
Pretend that as you read this post, President Obama issued an executive order to ban private gun ownership. A limited existing black market for guns would instantly become unconscionably massive, and if you think drug dealers are well-armed, just wait until you see arms dealers! The government would “be forced to” enact unprecedented measures to “secure” our nation’s streets, and the Bill of Rights would be “suspended”. In response, we would see unprecedented outlaw violence. Regardless of the genuineness of the ensuing police state’s motives, a police state would nevertheless ensue, and the public would never again enjoy freedom from tyrannical rule.
Not without a long struggle. Fought with outlawed weapons.
Of course, this is a totally unrealistic “flip the switch” scenario (or is it?); any reasonable move to ban guns would take gradual decades of indoctrination and clandestinely subtle legislation. But whether reached overnight or over a century the end result is the same: government with unchecked power over its subjects.
Think about it this way: the First Amendment was to protect our thoughts; the next amendment sought to protect the first. The Second Amendment is not something “spoiled gun-lovers” cling to so they can hunt, and it’s not even simply a “right”; it’s an absolute necessity.
Does that leave innocent people vulnerable to psychopaths like Andrew Kehoe or Adam Lanza? Tragically, yes, but thank God those people are the rare outliers from the bottom and not tyrants from the top.
Signs of the Times?
Nevertheless, these random rampages raise their own set of questions. For example, is something wrong? Clearly, yes, but are things really any worse than they have been before? And are they trending even worse? If so, then why? And what, if anything, can be done?
Suicide is tragic in itself but is nothing new. These modern suicidal rampages, however, from Colorado to Connecticut, force the macabre question: what ever happened to simple suicide? The note? The device? The discovery? It’s one thing to fall into such despair as to not want to go on living, but what drives this passion for taking so many innocent people in the process?
Clearly, gross mental illness plays a role, but what feeds it and inspires such collateral devastation? Is the graphic realism and rewards-system of modern video games to blame? Does the promise of instant celebrity play into the warped logic of these perpetrators? Could the pervasive electronic wave transmissions in which we bask today or perhaps the modern scrambling of our circadian rhythms play an insidious role in the way our brains work? Is our society’s entire mental health paradigm just so woefully inadequate? Or all of the above?
In 1938, 21-year-old Mutsuo Toi killed 30 people, nearly half of his small community, including his grandmother and himself. His stated motive was revenge over the way he felt his neighbors treated him after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. As for his grandmother, he wrote that he killed her to save her the disgrace of being a “murderer’s grandmother.” An interesting twist in this story is that the authorities were concerned about Toi beforehand and revoked his gun license prior to his rampage.
While video games certainly played no role in Toi’s massacre, his depraved assault compares with modern recurrences. I’m not sure what media coverage this case got at the time; nor can I attest to the coverage given to Kehoe’s Bath School massacre, though the absence of the 24-hour news cycle assures that neither case received a fraction of today’s attention. Nevertheless, I think the cases are useful in illustrating that the nature of these massacres is unique neither to this generation nor this geography. And while both cases were recognized at their time as unprecedented in scope, I doubt they were unique in concept.
Modern Mass Murder
Such tragedies today are magnified and publicized more pervasively than at any other time in history, which can aggrandize them disproportionately to events past. This fact doesn’t diminish the tragedy of the Newtown massacre as much as place it in some historical perspective; it is not the first and, sadly, it won’t be the last of its kind, regardless of what legislation gets passed.
We Americans have a tendency to both flatter and condemn ourselves in a historical context. We believe our current society should be more civil than those “more primitive ones” before, and because it is not, we assert blame on violent video games and movies, dissociative social media, and the like, instead of accepting the law of averages in our own nature. Frustratingly, context (including capabilities and proportion) and publicity are the only true variants across history.
Murderers today are, as they have always been, murderers.
I again quote Governor Reagan, when he said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
Don’t get me wrong: that such tragedies have precedent doesn’t immunize them from thorough analysis for lessons to be learned. For instance, does it make practical sense to maintain a level of “lockdown” at public schools, including a police officer on the premises at all times, as suggested by the National Rifle Association?
With “Big Brother” policing intersections for speeders and red light-runners, armed officers should have extra bandwidth available for more focused protective duties. On the other hand, where does that road lead, and could police be guaranteed to only protect against violence in the schools rather than inflict violence of their own?
In lieu of an outright ban, perhaps we should consider the wisdom of issuing licenses based on certain training achievements. After all, my driver’s license doesn’t qualify me for taking the controls on a Boeing aircraft, and not all restaurants can attain licenses to serve liquor.
Four hundred years before Christ, Plato observed that, “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.” Whatever alternatives we consider – including maintaining the status quo – offer more wisdom and security than an outright ban.
My two cents. What are your thoughts?