By Kathleen McCabe Kenney
In the piece, Ms. Spencer bookends her account of the vigil with mentions of the Philadelphia shooting that occurred at the time of the vigil. Many of the statements that she reports indicate a need for further gun control measures, but that incident, where suspect Maurice Hill engaged police in a violent standoff for over five hours, belies the narrative that increased legislation will solve our problems with violence in this country. Hill, who was being served a warrant on a narcotics charge, already had a lengthy criminal record which would have barred him from owning any weapons legally.
There seems to be a belief on the part of those who seek to enact more gun control that we are just one law, one regulation away from a safe and harmonious world where no one seeks to harm their fellow humans. What goes unmentioned is the number of crimes committed and people wounded or killed with weapons that are not firearms; the number of times that lawfully-owned firearms are used in defensive shootings; and the persistent fact that the human capacity for evil will exist regardless of what tools are at our disposal. In England, the frequency of knife attacks is such that lawmakers there speak seriously about enacting “knife control.” It may sound silly or over the top to our American ears, but this is what ultimately happens when new legislation is seen as the only solution.
It doesn’t take a lot of research to find examples of atrocities carried out by means other than guns. The memory of the Boston Marathon bombing and the lives lost that day is certainly fresh to us, and that was carried out with pressure cookers. Tim McVeigh killed hundreds with a truckload of fertilizer. The deadliest school massacre in history was committed in 1927 with explosives.
Rep. Gordon referred to an “anti-democratic philosophy” that he believes is at the root of what he perceives to be inaction on gun legislation. The fact that elected officials have not enacted new laws based on recently-inflamed passions is not a failure of “democracy” but a purposefully installed feature of our constitutional republic. The Founding Fathers knew that heightened emotions could lead to bad law-making, and members of Congress who decline to enact further gun control are acting in the interests of those who put them in office to represent their interests, including protection of Second Amendment rights.
There are so many statements that are key points of pro-Second Amendment people because they reflect simply stated truths. Foremost among these is the statement that there are already laws on the books prohibiting murder and assault. Criminals, by definition, do not follow laws, so why does the belief persist that one more law will keep us safe? These statements begin to feel banal, but they are the fundamental truths that must be addressed before any mandate that we “do something.”
Supporters of the Second Amendment and the right of Americans to defend themselves and their families with lawfully-owned firearms are not immune to anguish and bewilderment in the wake of shootings. Our reactions are not ones of callousness, but rather an acknowledgement that the world is a dangerous and uncertain place. We are not inured to violence, but rather increasingly committed to facing that danger and uncertainty by giving ourselves a fighting chance against those who many wish harm on ourselves, our loved ones, and our families.
We mourn for victims of senseless violence, and seek to find an answer to why so many people feel that the only outlet for their anger and despair is to hurt their fellow citizens. Our resistance to finding the answer in more laws is not indifference to the problem but a belief that the issue is not with guns themselves but a cultural and spiritual void that leaves too many feeling isolated and angry. In his remarks, Rep. Gordon indicated that “if vigils rather than action become the focus, ‘we are missing the big picture. Why is this happening now?’” It’s possible that more vigils, more community events of coming together in harmony, rather than the ever-escalating torrents of anger we express to our ideological, cultural, and political opponents are exactly what we need. Kindness to one another, less fertile ground for alienation and despair to grow, and less dehumanizing of people whose beliefs don’t align with our own.
A sense of community, shared values, and shared goals as a society has been missing from American life for a long time, and rather than frenzied calls for “action”—any action—in the wake of tragedies, the clearest and most reasonable plan going forward may well be to engage with each other, rather than attempting to solve our societal problems with yet more legislation.