Wheels Are Turnin’

Being a goal-oriented person reminds me of those bottomless fries at Red Robin: great, until it isn’t. Even at my most long-winded and tangential, I’m someone who is striving towards a point. Those who’ve attempted to spend time with me know how wont I am to ask What’s the plan? Where are we going? What time? I can be pretty laissez-faire about the journey, but only once I’m positive of its destination.

An orientation towards goals is awesome for the first twenty or so years of your life, because here in America we’ve done a good job of telling people during those years where they should be going. The days are structured around assignments and schedules, syllabi and rubrics. You’ve been told where you should be one, two, four years from now, and often you’ve also been given a roadmap to getting there. I loved that, because I never needed to participate in the decision process. Not really. I just asked What’s the plan? and then shrugged and smiled stupidly out the passenger side window as life carried me there, while I fell asleep to the comforting bumpy rhythm of that road.

I woke up from that nap alone in an abandoned parking lot in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, twenty-one years old and for the first time completely clueless as to what the plan was or where I was going. I’d cruised through the overlong tutorial section on the game of life and realized I had no idea how to play the real thing. That day, a panic set in that would stay with me for the better part of the next year as I bounced from state to state and futon to futon. Internally, I screamed out the usual clarifying questions, but no one could answer them for me and I’d never learned to answer them for myself.

I still never have. The end of that episode in my life ended when a friend’s charity landed me a job at an Internet startup company where I was paid well and got along with all of my coworkers. This coincided with the Olympic games, which lit a fire under my lethargic and oversized tuchus and saw me turning down extra helpings of glorious food from my friend’s mother and heading out for “runs” while blasting the likes of Gym Class Heroes’ “The Fighter.” Overcome with the hospitality and hope of the moment, I did something I had never before done: I established a vision for my future. I set goals for myself.

One of those goals was to become a professor. And I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I had to leave the new job instead of accepting their generous full-time offer. I had to learn and take the GRE in two months and hope the scores were high enough to get my applications through the door of worthwhile institutions. I had to figure out what those institutions were. And then I had to hope and pray that I hadn’t just made the single greatest mistake of my life. Well… maybe second greatest, after majoring in English on the cusp of the worst recession since the 1930s.

A couple months later I was able to breathe a deep sigh of relief, upon my acceptance to my top choice school, an offer wrapped in the kind of money that will make any neophyte temporarily abandon critical thinking in favor of inflated self-worth. But it wasn’t just acceptance or financial stability that made my acceptance so relieving; it was the fact that, for the foreseeable future, I was once again not responsible for driving. My school would tell me where I needed to be in one, two, four years. I’d curl up in the passenger seat and once again nod off to sleep.

And then last year I was jolted awake as the car crashed (I was, in reality, responsible for this crash, but pardon it for the metaphor) and I flew headlong through the windshield. I spent the better part of the summer in recuperation, wincing at the bandaged cuts and internal hemorrhaging, consulting with doctors and nurses to get a sense for how bad it was, how much worse it could have been, and whether I’d ever walk again. Autumn was physical therapy, and the knowledge that I needed to get back on track was hindered by the impossibility of me doing so. I wanted to accomplish too much too quickly, but life very sternly reminded me that this was going to take time.

Blame it on watching international soccer or the unseasonably warm temperatures, but December found me feeling like I was back in summer 2012. A long stretch of directionless drifting, dreams deferred and then abandoned. I was back to having no destination, and back as well to failing to choose one for myself. In a bitterly twisted way, I resented my parents for supporting me, not because I hated comfort but because I wanted to hold them responsible for not telling me where to go and what to do.

The push this time came, as in 2012, from a friend, who in this case spent a few hours with me and proceeded to tell me, lovingly if firmly, that as far as he was concerned my senses of self and purpose were nonexistent and I needed desperately to stop making excuses for my inaction and find something to live for again. He gave me a lead on a job. I followed it, swallowed my reservations, and waited to see if it would pan out.

It did. And then a second job did as well. That familiar euphoria washed over me as it had with my acceptance letter in 2013, the sense that people actually valued me and had use for my talents. They wanted me. Heck, they even wanted that English degree. And now, as if to accentuate the point, the commercials are starting to run for this summer’s Olympic games and I’ve found myself listening to “The Fighter” again.

But I haven’t won yet; I’m not yet yelling “kiss my ass.” I’m closer to Eminem’s “back to the lab again” stage than I am to tearing down “haters’” balconies. The fact that other people praising me and my resumé so impacted my self-esteem suggests I don’t honestly have much self esteem at all. And if I treat this new stage of life as yet another excuse to relinquish autonomy and leave the keys to my life in someone else’s hands, then I’m an exceptionally poor learner and we may as well skip ahead to the next time that cycle works out poorly for me.

I’m thrilled because last time I was in a place like this — reconnecting with friends, newly employed, enkindled by Olympic spirit — I used it as an opportunity to develop a vision for my future and the landmarks I wanted to hit along the road trip. I decided where I wanted to be going and then I actually took the steps necessary to get there. That side of me has been dormant for three years, but lately it has been awoken.

I know many friends and family members have been concerned (and increasingly) over these last months as I sank further and further into sullen decay. Hopefully you are relaxed and relieved to hear that that long and ugly slumber is over. Hopefully you’re excited to see where this train goes in 2016, now that the wheels are turnin’ again .

I know I am.

When you’re cut down to the bone, you bleed, but it heals. You hurt, but still you must carry on. Cuz the wheels are turnin’, the feeling’s burnin’, the thrill’s returnin’, my soul is yearning, my heart is churning, the wheels are turnin’ again.
– REO Speedwagon

(in) Divisible

I’ve seen various social media attempts to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 today, including #onenationundergod, at which I nodded wryly. That statement is, at best, two different lies.

Sidestepping the religious quagmire for today (you’re welcome), I’ll note that over the past year the part of the Pledge of Allegiance which has struck me as the most farcical is “indivisible.” We as a country seem incredibly ready to divide; true unity among American citizens is both rare and fleeting, predicated on unthinkable tragedy which — after a collective gasp — devolves almost immediately into by now tiresomely predictable squabbling, hand-wringing, and finger-pointing.

At the heart of the debate is a dichotomy, and whether it is false or not does not seem to matter, because we have stretched two ideals away from each other and claimed they are poles toward which (and consequently away from which) one simply must gravitate.

Here is the tension: Do you value FREEDOM or do you value SAFETY?

So that my cards are on the table, you should know that I’ve long fancied and espoused the view best captured in the words (whatever their original intent) of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I like it not for its supposed “patriotic spirit” or even because of who said it (because let us be honest, Franklin was hardly role model material) but because it parsimoniously captures both the premium I feel ought to be placed on freedom and the subsequent aggravation brought about when Feeling A Little Safer is the justification for curtailing that freedom.

Last summer I had the opportunity to teach a course on Media and Terrorism, and while I endeavored as much as possible to avoid focusing on 9/11 or then-ubiquitous al-Qaeda (I say then because ISIS has since usurped the group in the twisted popularity contest we call mainstream news), I nevertheless found that most academic thinking — thinking in general, really — about terrorism is now firmly embedded in the lens of WTC-as-exemplar. I spent the better part of that summer trying to provide some new heuristics to accompany those smoking towers in my students’ minds, but the fact remains that when you say “terrorism” to the average American, September 11th, 2001 is what jumps to mind.

I wanted to reclaim the humanity of terrorists, to underscore what merit there is to the cliché one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. I found that distance renders this a far easier task, and empathizing with Tamil Tigers or Basque separatists was easier perhaps because those groups weren’t blowing up our buildings or setting fire to our streets. It’s easier to play devil’s advocate for the person releasing poison gas in someone else’s subway. My point wasn’t to legitimize the violence — far from it — but to get my students to understand that the violence isn’t mindless, that it is perpetrated for the most part by rational human beings, and that often it is the result of losing faith in any legitimate course of action for accomplishing what one perceives to be needed (not wanted, needed).

Eventually things had to make their way back around to the home soil, and it was admittedly uncomfortable. You get people understanding that — wonder of wonders — terrorists are people too, and suddenly the question of what motivated 9/11 becomes a necessary but uncomfortable one. Much of the progress gets flushed at the inevitable recoil, and the way to plunge it back up is to return a kind of sickening balance: okay, those are terrorists you don’t want to think critically about, so what about the freedom fighters you defend? At their most patriotic, I made my students compare their definitions of terrorism — asymmetrical warfare, nonstate entity against established powers, ideological justification, spreading of fear amongst a population — to the actions of the colonists whose revolution founded the country. I put them in the shoes of colonial Loyalists, and the stars and stripes suddenly became a few shades darker.

My point here isn’t that this country that so many of us adore was founded by terrorists (though if you haven’t considered that statement, it is at least a worthwhile thought exercise). And I am definitely not trying to mitigate the atrocity that was September 11th.

But considering the lengths to which our founders were willing to go in order to secure autonomy and to get foreign powers out of their land, our response to modern acts of insurgency seems painfully un-self-aware. Judging by my students’ attitudes, we would rather try to snuff out those with grievances than even consider they might have grievances (to say nothing of addressing those). And I think a failure to consider the motivations underlying an act of terrorism renders most of how people respond to terrorism moot.

In the aftermath of 9/11, America doubled down on its resolve to Not Let The Terrorists Win, but how can you calculate wins or losses if you don’t even know the parameters of the game? If the goal of terroristic acts is to instill fear in a population and create change in the state’s operation, then the only way to win is to remain resiliently unafraid, and to refuse to change.

But we did change. We were afraid. Most of us still are.

Take the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act: “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” (yeah, that’s what it stands for). When you’re done laughing, let’s sober up and consider how much more unified or strengthened we feel with the N.S.A.’s hand in our cellphone records and the T.S.A.’s hand down our pants. Then there’s the racial profiling, the knee-jerk equating of Islam with Islamist with Extremism, the see something, say something mentality that has sprung up in public places alongside militarized police.

We are a radically different nation than we were before the nation was rocked by an act of international terrorism. For a few days, maybe even weeks, we really did seem “indivisible,” knit together by unspeakable tragedy perpetrated by seemingly (but, remember, not actually) inscrutable evil. But then we cracked. Our strategy for not letting terrorists win was to try to stop them from playing — and in doing so, we have happily surrendered privacy and liberty for a peace of mind that may not even really be justified.

It is echoed in micro each time violence shakes the nation — every shot fired in a school, theater, or other public venue reverberates with cries for less freedom and more safety.

I am not saying we should not think critically about these things. There are legitimate reasons and ways for making our lives safer and better. That tragedy catalyzes these discussions does not mean they are not discussions worth having. Yet I find the zeal on both sides disconcerting; understandable, yes, but disconcerting nonetheless for all the moderation it tends so often to lack. When liberty and safety are treated as mutually exclusive, the valuing of one too frequently leads to the overhasty dismissal of the other.

We are not, despite how loudly or badly we may sing otherwise, the land of the free and the home of the brave. A brave people would not have curtailed its own freedoms out of fear.

Nor would a brave people shy away from a discussion of what constitutes essential liberty when daily living seems to be unnecessarily unsafe. Fear is what makes someone say to hell with liberty, I don’t want to die. Fear is also what makes someone say to hell with you dying, I want my liberty (sorry, Patrick Henry). Fear is refusing to engage with a person of differing values; it is the kindling upon which ideological strawmen burn.

America continues to face threats (and perceive threats) from without and within. This is not newly true since 9/11, but perhaps our awareness of it — bolstered by a 24/7 episodic news cycle — is newer. Yet even in the wake of increasing understanding of how pervasive danger can be, we have a choice as a people in how we respond. Do we stand resilient, declaring ourselves united and strong, brave and free? Or do we continue to panic, uncritically sacrificing freedom out of fear?

And as we seek a path forward, whether proactive or reactive, how do we handle our differences? How do we address foreign ideas? Foreign people? As a presidential election begins to brew, will America seek actual unity? Or will it continue to pay bankrupt lip-service to nonpartisanship that goes no further than a trending hashtag?

I look at a map sprayed red and blue, and I see fifty states, but I don’t see one nation. I sure don’t see indivisible. I don’t see us prioritizing liberty. And justice? If we tore off her blindfold, we’d see tears in her eyes.

I think back fourteen years to what a nation truly standing together looked like, and I am chilled to the bone at the coming sound of partisan punditry parading in a star-spangled media circus.

Can America be indivisible? Do we even want to try?

Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.
~ Matthew 12:25

Regarding Guns, Part 2

There are some who, understandably, wish that in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy more people had taken “at least a day” before launching in on any of a variety of agendas. I apologize if what I wrote seemed insensitive or too political, and I acknowledge the sentiments of those who wanted just a little reprieve.

I suppose it’s fair to say I never considered what I said to be pushing an agenda. It was predominately an anti-gun message, but I have never considered myself to be anti-gun; that is to say, I have never paid much thought to the issue at all, and as a registered libertarian it’s uncommon for me to desire government regulation in general.

As such, I did want to clarify a few questions that have come up, and raise a couple thoughts which didn’t quite fit into my remarks yesterday but are still relevant.

First, under no uncertain terms do I place blame for yesterday’s tragedy on gun companies or gun legislation. The only one truly responsible is the shooter.

The question, the uncertainty, comes in when we ask what allows a rational, together human being to commit an atrocity of this magnitude, and the answer is found in the way that question is loaded: nothing. No rational, together person could do such a thing. And that points us to the fact that perpetrators of such violence aren’t rational. They are mentally unstable individuals who either don’t understand that what they are doing is wrong, or understand but lack the ability to care. Sociopaths don’t care about pain because they don’t feel it in the same way your or I do. A crucial portion of the cost/benefit analysis simply isn’t there.

I do not know this particular shooter’s mental or behavioral history. But I find it incredibly unlikely that he was a well-adjusted, friendly member of society. There were almost definitely warning signs — not of specific intent, mind you, but that he wasn’t “normal” — which, had they been caught and identified, might have been treated or watched with enough care as to ensure he never had opportunity to do what he did.

I don’t want to play Monday morning quarterback here. As these signs (nigh) inevitably are remembered, we must recognize as always that hindsight affords a perspective with which few are gifted prior to such tragedy. That doesn’t tell me that incidents like yesterday’s are unpreventable; it tells me that we, as a society, need to be more diligent in understanding mental illness, identifying it, and treating it. The signs are there, but we don’t recognize them; these people are speaking to us, but we don’t know their language.

This is important, because we like to talk about personal responsibility but we don’t always think it through. A baby is responsible for crying insomuch as no one else is crying for her; but she does not understand annoyance, sleep-deprivation, or any of the other things she inflicts on those around her through her crying and as such is not “responsible” in the way we tend to use the word.

In the case of a true sociopath, we must consider what it is like to be emotionally immune, to know right and wrong, love and hate merely as textbook terms rather than tangible realities. They are responsible for their actions only in the most literal of ways (in that no one else acted for them), but no further. If a sociopath feels no conscience, he does not act according to one, and we can’t expect him to understand the reality of what he has done.

I focused yesterday’s post on guns because I still believe what I emboldened: the event would not have been possible if we had stricter gun laws. I want to clarify that statement because some of you have misunderstood it. This is what I did not say:

Shootings are impossible if we ban guns. I did not say that, because it isn’t true. There will always be guns, and people who really want them will find ways of getting them. We can never truly disarm the entire population of this country (let alone the world). The most we could hope for is to truly disarm all law-abiding citizens, which would ensure a nation in which any armed criminal had full confidence of successful violence. Which brings me to the next thing I did not say:

We should ban guns. I did not say that. I said “stricter” gun laws. Over the course of the post I made a case for the need for some rifles. I also noted that self defense as a justification for private ownership is nuanced and requires a great deal more research on efficacy before it can either be ruled in or out as viable. This doesn’t merely apply to the misuse of privately owned weapons to commit crimes; it must also entail the number of accidents involving privately-owned guns harming either their owner or a loved one of that owner.

As I explained to several friends afterwards, I am not against the concept of private gun ownership in principle. I have personally considered getting a handgun in the future. On the other hand, I have also considered getting a cat in the future. And between the two, if the government outlawed both I’d be far more upset about the latter.

What I meant to imply in my statement, but did not explicitly say, was that the speed and efficacy of yesterday’s crime was enabled primarily by the gunman’s legal access to an assault weapon, an item for which (as I believe I established) there is no valid reason for a citizen to possess. If, as I believe to be the case, the number and volume of gun-related tragedies could be lessened significantly by the removal of those weapons from the public’s hands, that good outweighs the negative of the government dictating what property its constituents are allowed to enjoy safely in their own home.

There are of course limits, and it’s a slippery slope. My position allows for gun ownership to a point, but argues that the current point is too inclusive. I don’t know or propose to know what the safest gun ownership arrangement would be; I merely know that this is not it, because there are plenty of places with stricter regulations that have far lower gun-related death tolls than we do despite much larger populations. On the other hand, as with the country’s experiment with prohibition, outright banning potentially harmful luxuries that a decent segment of the population doesn’t want banned will almost definitely result in a burgeoning criminal underground.

That comes with a caveat: guns are not alcohol or drugs. Guns are not grown in one’s back yard or created in a bathtub in one’s basement. They are expensive and difficult to build privately and effectively. While particularly tenacious or well-off criminals will find their way to black market arms, average would-be killers likely would not. Granted, there are plenty of other ways to kill people (heck, building a pipe bomb is cheap and incredibly easy to do), but those are straw men because unlike guns, they can’t be regulated or controlled. Also unlike guns, they aren’t the things currently being used.

There’s one last gun-related point I want to mention, and that is the rather prevalent argument I’ve seen which goes in the exact opposite direction of mine and says that we need more guns, rather than fewer, to avert these tragedies. The most common line states that teachers and school officials should all have weapons, and that this would disincentivize violence in schools.

Now the very first issue I have with that is that it’s narrow-minded to this particular case. School shootings are not the only shootings. Less than a week ago one took place at a mall. Aurora’s case was a movie theatre. So if we’re aiming to arm potential victims, it’s worth noting that the scope of that is phenomenally larger than a handful of school teachers or principals. While the killing of kids strikes us as particularly heinous, I don’t really consider children any more or less innocent than the victims of the other (noticeably less-talked-about) tragedies over the past months and years.

Yet to the point of schools in particular, I’m not exactly sure much thought has gone into the realities of the proposal. First and foremost, we are talking about placing weapons in the hands of a tremendous number of primarily over-worked and underpaid individuals. We are also talking about putting a lot of guns in public places. If they are too inaccessible, they won’t be useful, and if they are too accessible, they won’t be safe. Moreover, potential shooters would no longer need to secure their own weapons, because they would be able to acquire them within the very classrooms they planned to target, even if they had to strong-arm a teacher into relinquishing that weapon.

Again, imagining that none of my other reservations were valid, there is the matter of pure and simple economics. The hardware, licensing, training, and maintenance of these weapons would put an enormous strain on the budgets of districts which are, for the most part, already straining to support adequate curricular and extracurricular activities for their students. I’d hate to be the parent at the local town hall meeting asked to relinquish my child’s band program to put a pistol in his English teacher’s hands. And if the money isn’t coming from local sources, then where exactly will it? State sources? Federal? I suppose you never can have enough taxes.

The crucial thing I hope you take away from this all is that guns are not to blame for these crimes, but guns play a part. Save a scenario of mutually assured destruction, wherein guns are so common that the likelihood of overpowering people without immediately being overpowered yourself is so low that you have no incentive to try, it seems reasonable to believe that the fewer guns, the safer the majority of people will be. Meanwhile, the real problem, the one that won’t go away even if all guns go away tomorrow, is the fact that there are people, perhaps even people you know, who can shoot twenty children and their teachers.

Sure, there’s the “…and not feel remorse part.” But it’s really just the fact that they could do it at all that should strike us. The fact that they could plan to do it, that they could even consider doing it, and then actually go ahead and, amidst the screams, proceed with annihilating an entire class of children.

These people are monsters not because they do these things, but because they lack the inhibition to keep them from doing so. And to the extent that we do not identify and prevent them from realizing that potential, we fail as a society. At best, these people can be helped. At worst, they can be restrained. But where we are right now, we’re worse than worst, because we’re neither helping nor restraining, and we’re letting the potential for disaster roam unfettered and unchecked through our lives.

Our focus, meanwhile, should be anywhere but sociopaths. We should stop suggesting in our conversations, in our blogs, in our tweets, in our media, that there is anything special or interesting about this killer. There are others like yesterday’s shooter: unhinged, disconnected, bombs with invisible fuses. Any one of them could have done what he did, and any one of them could be encouraged to act because of what he did. We do ourselves a great disservice by glorifying him and his actions, because in doing so we legitimize them as a path to fame and recognition. I don’t actually know the shooter’s name, and I’m intentionally ignoring it, because I don’t want to remember it, or him. I’ve seen this sentiment expressed by some friends, and I don’t think it can be overemphasized.

Instead, I want to remember the town. I want to remember the kids.

I want to remember the families that most likely have dozens of presents hiding somewhere in their houses which were purchased with anticipation of huge smiles that will never be seen again.

I want to think about the loved ones I have who I could lose just as easily, as suddenly, as irrevocably, and cherish them a bit more this season than I might have otherwise.

And moving forward, I want to think about actually changing things for the better, and evaluating which right — to life, or to property — is actually God-given and inalienable. Where the two coexist, great. Where they clash, life wins every time.

Or at least it should.

Make it so.

Regarding Guns

Well, it looks like it’s going to be a discussion whether we want it or not. And to be clear, I do not. But if talking’s happening, I’ll be a part of it.

Today’s tragedy would not have been possible if we had stricter gun laws. If you disbelieve that statement, you’re failing to function on a rational level. Yes, other tragedies have occurred with other weapons. But this one in particular, and its ilk, are made possible directly because of the guns we have available to us.

Apparently there was an incident in China yesterday that also grievously involved children. None of the headlines I’ve seen flash along my Twitter feed have suggested that anyone died from that. Injured, shocked, yes. But not dead. Their futures were not permanently cut off. And even had there been deaths, they would not have been nearly as numerous. Guns are none of the other things which are misused to tragically end life. Guns are guns, and guns are designed with a single purpose: to end life.

Is ending life an inherently immoral thing? No, at least not from a Judeo-Christian standpoint. If you disagree, read Genesis 9, in which God institutes both consumption of meat and capital punishment. And to the former end, we need effective means of hunting, less today for subsistence than for population control (though I applaud those who do hunt for food as a means of simpler living). There are very few guns, however, which are recognized as either ethical or effective for hunting. Fur or feast, good hunts rely on efficiency to preserve the animal for consumption.

A great many guns, then, are legally available but serve no practical purpose beyond shooting other people. I say practical here because I recognize that shooting ranges and competitions have always enjoyed a great deal of popularity among subsets of the population. I do not think an honest cost/benefit evaluation, however, would justify the reality of school and shopping center shooting galleries on the basis of fringe entertainment.

Of course, when you get past the “I need guns” argument, the next one is “I have a right to, and the founders of our country agree,” and since I tend to agree a great deal with the founders of our country and don’t want to undermine their legitimacy or foresight, allow me to suggest this: you’ve already lost the right they were trying to secure with the Second Amendment.

The actual text of the Second Amendment says more than “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That’s the “then” of an if/then statement, and is predicated on the assumption that “a well regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free state.” These words were written by people who had just fought off a strong, centralized government, and were putting together a union of sovereign states.

Perhaps you read that differently from how I do, but it sounds a lot to me like, “in order for the states of this union to ensure they will never be subjugated by the federal government we are instituting, they must be capable of having their own military to fight against that federal military, should it ever come to such extremes. Rather than a standing army, this would simply be a collective of citizens of the state who would, if needed, defend us — using their own guns.” They recognized the value of militia in overturning an oppressive regime, and wanted to make sure that going forward, that militia capacity never went away.

Nevermind the myriad ways in which state sovereignty has been trampled on in almost every way imaginable over the past two and a half centuries; the intent of these words is clear: we need guns because the government will have guns, and without guns the common man is defenseless against the government.

Well, newsflash. The government has access to a lot of things we don’t. Not just guns (though plenty of those), but bombs and intel and drones. A conflict between Washington, DC and any individual state in the United States of America would be hilariously asymmetrical. Even armed with the most powerful weapons legally available to citizens today (that is, even if gun control got no stricter), there is no way a state could form a militia that came close to having the capacity to win in that struggle. In a worst-case scenario, entire cities or swathes of a state could quite literally be disintegrated at the push of a button.

And so, if the reason for having guns was so that John Doe could defend his hometown from government attack, and he has no ability to do so, whence the reason for having guns?

Self defense against fellow citizens, I suppose. That’s what people will say. And you know, considering the criminals don’t care what the law says (hint: that’s why they’re called criminals), only the law-abiding citizens can be hurt by gun control, because they’ll be gunless while the criminals use the guns they’re not allowed to have to do things they’re not allowed to do.

I’ve used that argument before. It kinda sounds valid. But you know what it doesn’t sound like? An argument predicated on the founders’ beliefs and the Second Amendment.

So if you want to say you need a gun because someone might break into your house with a gun, or rob your store with a gun, or whatever, okay. I’ll let the researchers squabble over how often self-defense gun ownership results in its intended consequences (as opposed to, say, young Bobby finding the shoebox in the closet and making terrible mistakes).

But don’t conflate that argument with the inalienable right argument, because first they aren’t related and second, the inalienable right argument is already (as I just suggested) moot.

It’s stupid, really stupid, that we blame tragedies like today’s on guns rather than focusing on the monsters who perpetrate the actual acts, the people who would willingly hurt defenseless children and underpaid educators (and holiday shopping families and minimum-wage-earning store employees). The culpability focus is definitely skewed whenever some potentially political hot button news item arises.

But if you’re going to have a knee-jerk reaction, at least try to put a little thought into it before smearing the Internet with a record of your political leanings. Even if it’s ultimately the fault of the shooter rather than the gun company, what I said in the beginning is still true: today’s tragedy would not have been possible if we had stricter gun laws.

So love your guns, your shooting galleries, your hunting trophies, and your self-defense monologue. But if your kids were coming home in a body bag today, would you still be so self-righteous?

I hope to God the answer to that is no.

EDIT: Addendum. It’s worth noting that a lot of people don’t want anyone to get political over this, not right now. I agree with that sentiment, and that’s why I addressed it in my opening sentence: like it or not, it already is political, and our options are to ignore it or to take advantage of the opportunity for discussion and strike while the iron is hot. I’m not one to suggest overturning centuries’ worth of precedent while caught up in an emotional frenzy, but I think capitalizing on the sting of tragedy is the best way to remind us of what tragedy actually feels like, what sorts of emotions and thoughts we’re trying to prevent from reoccurring. We callous quickly, and then the issue becomes fringe and unimportant all over again. The only time the majority of the nation thinks about guns is when something like this happens; and since that’s true, we must engage the topic now, like it or not. Be sensitive, but don’t be quixotic. In all things, charity. End Addendum.