From El Paso to Dayton

Dr. Malcolm Cross

We can’t predict in advance when and where mass killings with guns will take place, but we can predict with mathematical precision the aftermath of these horrors:

  • Offering “thoughts and prayers” for the victims;
  • Ridiculing the idea that “thoughts and prayers” will do anything;
  • Placing blame on the National Rifle Association for thwarting gun control; 
  • Placing blame on the Republican Party for being associated with the NRA; and
  • Placing blame for President Trump for being President Trump; and
  • Renewing demand for more gun control.

Whether or not “thoughts and prayers” do any good is a question impossible to answer objectively.  Depending on the motives of those who offer “thoughts and prayers,” they’re either a valuable prelude to action, or a poor substitute for action.  It all depends.

But two types of action are of the utmost importance:  Blame placing, and gun control.  But who should be blamed?  And what sort of gun control should be implemented? 

To blame the NRA, the GOP, and/or President Trump, is to deny, or at least diminish, the responsibility that the actual shooters must bear.  Granted, holding individuals responsible for the consequences of their actions may seem too antiquated an idea for those who consider themselves “woke.”  But will weakening the idea that the evildoers themselves are responsible for the evil they do make us more safe, or less?  I personally think that that the evil in Dayton does not include the killing of the apparent shooter (unless the police shot the wrong man).  I also think the prompt execution of the El Paso gunman, once his guilt is established through due process, is necessary to strengthen the principle that the evil are responsible for the evil they cause.

It is absolutely certain that for the remainder of the presidential campaign, we will hear the Democrats demand more “common sense gun control” when they’re not blaming the NRA, the GOP, or DJT.  But what is “common sense gun control” and will it work?  

No rights—not even the right to life—are absolute.  One can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowd, unless, of course, there is a fire.  Neither libel, nor slander, nor the right to produce pornography (especially child pornography) is protected.  One cannot practice human sacrifice as a religious ritual. The “right of the people to keep and bear arms” adopted by those who had no knowledge of twenty-first-century weapons technology, has limits on its applicability as well.

But the right to own guns of at least some sort is unique among those listed in our national Bill of Rights in that it give the people the right to physically protect themselves against attempts to take away their other rights, whether by criminals or by a criminal government.  To limit our Second Amendment rights for whatever reason, especially to make us more safe, may well make us less safe instead.

So, in considering what limits, if any, we should impose on the Second Amendment, we should answer at least three questions:

  • Would the limit have prevented the shooting if it had already been in place?
  • Would the limit diminish the right of emotionally stable law-abiding citizens to protect themselves?
  • Would the limit punish law-abiding citizens—both gun owners and would-be gun owners—for the crimes inspiring the limits?

I personally lack the technical expertise to say which guns, if any, should be made less accessible now than before this weekend.  However, I think two good reforms would be, first, to impose universal background checks on all who seek to purchase guns and thereby weed out those with records of criminal behavior, mental illness, or other violent behavior patterns, and, second, to hold responsible for gun deaths those who not only use guns to kill but those who help them illegally obtain the guns in the first place.

How much good would these reforms do?  It’s impossible to say.  I think that at best they would reduce the possibility and frequency of future violence, but not necessarily eliminate it.  But however modest the results, implementation of these reforms would be a far more constructive contribution than either blaming everyone but the shooters for their evil or rejecting the idea that rights have no limits at all.

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.


  1. As to the 2nd Amendment, we are fortunate in that we have a written record of the proposals submitted to James Madison by the various State Conventions in 1788 from which he crafted the Bill of Rights. We therefore know what was in the minds of that generation because we have their own words. Most instructive is the proposal submitted by the State of New York and the wording used. Their proposed wording reads ” That the People have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated Militia, including the body of People capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state.”

    It’s somewhat unfortunate that, upon editing and drafting, Madison omitted the defining phrase “capable of bearing arms” because its omission has resulted in an argument against an individual right to bear arms, focusing on the word “Militia” as meaning, in the contemporary sense, the National Guard. From the time of the Revolutionary War to today, there has been a distinction between militia and “reserves”. The Militia of the United States, as defined in Title 10 US Code, Section 311, “consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

    (b) The classes of the militia are –

    (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
    (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.”

    In terms of your piece, the operative word in that definition is “able-bodied”. Given the broad issue of mental health problems, I would argue that those who have such problems should not be counted in that body. Just go into a gun store and try to buy a gun in Texas. They will run your driver’s license number against the Department of Public Safety’s criminal database. Unless one has a criminal record in Texas, however, this won’t identify those who might be criminals from other states. It also doesn’t identify those who may have mental health issues. Therefore, some sort of national system should be developed. That would in no way prevent law-abiding citizens from owning a gun for either hunting or self-defense.

    We must also develop methods to “infiltrate” the Dark Web in much the same way the FBI infiltrated the KKK 50 years ago. We have the technology to do so. We should monitor those websites that are identified as havens for those professing white supremacy and violence. Those individuals should be investigated and placed on a “watch list”.

    I am confident that this can be brought under control without infringing on the rights of law-abiding gun owners. But, if those who seek to keep and protect that right are continually demonized as evil people, there’s no middle ground on which to compromise. I certainly won’t even try to have a rational conversation with someone who begins by calling me a racist.

  2. It’s the hate that someway is embedded in certain white people. Trump illustrates he has a great amount of hate over the past few decades and hopefully his grandchildren didn’t inherit it. The founders of the confederacy had hate in their motivation to organize the largest terrorist organization to ever invade America. Maybe it will be bred out of us white people. That terrorist organization of the confederacy killed more American’s than The Twin Tower’s terrorist.

  3. Let’s try universal background checks like we had but wasn’t renewed in 2004. Let’s just try it so Mr Cross start the movement by phoning Senator McConnell and tell him to bring the House of Representatives has approved. As usual we are just waiting for the old confederacy to let American’s move forward. And Mr Cross I was in the office of Jack Curtis the morning he finally set Brad Thompson down and told him just how the Republican Party is the Party of Hate. After years of having Brad talk politics to him Jack got tired of it and ran it down to Brad and he hit it all even telling him the real truth about Republicans is they want all the property and wealth from America. And the Republican Party is the Party of Hate based on lies. If you’d like to debate this with me at Clyde Wells Fine Arts Center then I promise I want be a no show. Reagan never fooled me and he was a huge waste built on lines to women like his wife. Reagan started the drug cartels in central America that natives of those countries flee from today to our borders where guys like you and Tucker Carlson tell the women and the bumper sticker politics guy that we are drowning in immigrants overrunning us and that’s just not the case. And one last thing is Brad Thompson knew there was no reply because Jack was right.

  4. Three mass shooters last weekend didn’t top the death toll of one Japanese guy with a gas can last month. Guns are far from being the problem.

  5. So JB you say compare us to Japan with mass killings over their one incident? Japan would blow us away in almost ever human lifestyle comparisons. Gun’s are the problem and failing to recognize that fact only continues the business of hate to still have its number 1 killing agent which is the gun. We used to ban assault weapons and it wouldn’t hurt to put it back on the books again. Let’s err on the side of safety like Bush administration officials said on the march to war in Iraq.

  6. Dr Cross …

    A well written essay. Thank you.

    May I offer a point or two regarding content?

    The 2nd Amendment in the Constitution doesn’t apply to firearms. It, like the other 9, applies to the Government. It is a restriction of the Government, not a restriction of technology. Clearly this is evident in the other rights ACKNOWLEDGED by the Constitution and restrict the government’s authority therein as well.

    If there is a technology limitation to exercising the right to keep and bear arms, certainly there is an associated restriction with the freedom of the press (quills and ink wells only, Vicilii) Clearly this is not the case in ANY application of government restriction; aka Bill of Rights.

    The background check you promote also is errant. Are you aware less than .1% (that’s 1/10th of one percent) of all NICS have resulted in sentencing? Is it really that surprising that a criminal wouldn’t submit to a NICS? It should not be. Therefore, our government is spending millions of taxpayer money to do background checks on law-abiding citizens, reducing their right to privacy simultaneously simply for seeking to exercise their Constitutional right. Perhaps we should have a similar check on the exercise of the right to a fair/speedy trial?

    No. The only legitimate answer for a society which supposes to honor liberty and freedom as written in Declaration of Independence and structured our government in the Constitution … is a responsibility for the citizen to BE READY and BE ALERT. The police investigate crime. They DO have a proper deterrent to crime with their presence, but they are NOT the public’s body guards. We can’t afford to have a sufficient number of LEOs for that, never mind the police state which would ensue. We are much closer to that than we were 50 years ago, and we presume to be a free society now.

    None of the democrat proposals will make anyone safer … well, criminals notwithstanding. The democrat answer makes the law-abiding less safe and the criminal more safe. Clearly both changes do not enhance freedom nor liberty.

    Again, thank you for your well written essay on a current topic and for your long-served efforts to educate/teach critical thinking at our home town University.

    All the best

    Al Vinson
    Hico, TX

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