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.