One Right; Three Questions

Dr. Malcolm Cross

As the current debate on gun control in the wake of the latest school shooting horror rages on, numerous demands for policy changes are being made.  I’d like to suggest that each new policy proposal be subjected to three questions, and that unless all three questions can be answered in the affirmative, the proposal in question should be scrapped:

First:  Does the proposal uphold the principle that the shooter knew what he was doing and therefore should be held responsible for his actions, regardless of the actions, or lack thereof, of others?  These days one’s hearing a lot of people claiming that the murders are the fault of Donald Trump, or Wayne LaPierre, or the Republican Party, or the NRA.  I personally think that the murders are primarily the fault of the murderer, and that to try to blame others is to diminish the blame which I think should be attached to him.  If we diminish his blame, we diminish the degree to which he can be punished.  This becomes especially true if we shift the focus of our national debate from gun control to mental illness.  Many folks at my end of the political spectrum want to do so, and I suspect that gun control advocates may have at least a partial point in charging that to the purpose of the shift has more to do with making people think less about gun control than it has with actually providing more effective mental health policies.  Of course, it’s possible that new mental health policies could lead to the detection of possible shooters before they go on rampages, and that would obviously be beneficial. But consider the case of John Hinckley, the monster who shot and would President Reagan, a Secret Service agent, and two other law enforcement officials.  He was found NOT GUILTY by reason of insanity and committed to a Washington DC mental hospital.  He has since been released and is living with his mother.  I leave it to the reader to determine whether we’re safer because a man who tried to kill four others, including the President of the United States, is now free, subject to only minimal supervision.  As far as I’m concerned, any proposal that would diminish the degree to which a killer or would-be killer is held responsible for his actions, and increases the chances that he will one day be free to live among us again, should be rejected out of hand.  Incarceration without possibility of release, whether in a prison or a psychiatric hospital, should be the minimum sentence available.  Of course, under the circumstances of the latest horror, the death penalty seems appropriate too.

Second:  Would the proposal, if properly implemented, have had a chance of actually preventing the shooting which inspired it, or at least reduce the chances of future shootings?  I personally like the idea of armed and uniformed guards in our public schools, who can either deter would-be shooters from attacking, or shoot and possibly kill those who do attack.  An ardent gun control advocate told me the idea was poor, because the school resource officer at the most recent massacre obviously neither deterred the shooter nor fought back.  But one failure should not condemn the basic idea to rejection.  Depending on the quality and ability of the guards at other schools, a future shooting might have a different and less tragic outcome.  There’s nothing inherent to the idea itself that indicates it will never work in practice.

Third:  Will the policy preserve, protect, and defend the right of We, the People, to acquire and use guns for self-defense?  No right is more basic than the right to life, which is listed as the first right in the Declaration of Independence, because without life, one has no other rights.  Indeed, the Declaration of Independence said that the purpose of government was to secure our God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that a government unwilling to do so forfeits its right to govern.  Any policy change that weakens the right of the mentally sound and law abiding citizen to protect himself—i. e., his right to life—violates the spirit of the Declaration, and We, the People, should do all we legally can to preserve, protect, and defend our right of self-defense, especially since governments at several levels has proven themselves imperfect at best, and pathetically lacking at worst, in their ability to protect our right to life.  The Sutherland Springs monster was able to buy his gun because sloppy record keeping kept his name off a government list of those who were legally prohibited from doing so. The FBI failed to follow up on a credible report that the latest monster was an atrocity waiting to happen, and the staff of the Broward County Sheriff—especially the school resources officer at the site of the atrocity, failed to take adequate action once the shooting began. 

I personally favor some gun control measures, including background checks, the denial to criminals, those with a history of violence,  and the mentally ill of the right to buy guns, and the provision of well-trained and courageous armed and uniformed guards at our schools.  But we must never let murderers escape the responsibility for their actions, we must never forget that those officials charged with protecting our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are fallible, and we must never surrender our rights to self-defense—especially if our governments are unable or unwilling to defend us.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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