I’m working on a couple of other short essays for this blog: one on the question of personal responsibility and the other on why No Child Left Behind and similar programs try to hold teachers accountable for the wrong things. The Aurora theater shooting has intruded on that. Print, broadcast and electronic media, together with social networking sites, have been overfilled with words of tearful outrage, prayerful compassion for the victims, and a strong sense of collective angst that this is yet one more sign of our decline into a culture of violence. No doubt the months ahead will be dedicated to a public examination probing every aspect of the perpetrator's life to discover a “why.” It will be inconclusive and unsatisfying, but not without first smearing the reputations of others along the way. Some will demand measures be taken so that something like this will never happen again. A vain notion at best.
The worst demagogues among us will rise to the occasion. An atheist will scornfully demand to know how a loving God could allow such a thing to happen. A fundamentalist will retaliate with God’s wrath visited on a sinful people. A radio host will name the secret cabal behind it. One elected official has already announced that the suspect is a psychotic son of a bitch; an understandable statement of anger, but not helpful in the public discourse. Another fulminated that if only others in the audience had been armed, they could have stopped the massacre. More guns in more hands is the answer, as far as he is concerned. My local Tea Party friends are already yelling that left wing liberals are blaming them, and that Obama will use this to take away their Second Amendment rights.
Frankly, they have a point. They have had a lot to do with setting a public discourse of divisive, uncompromising, scape goating laced with threats of violence and the glorification of retributive justice. With no Islamic terrorists or illegal aliens to blame, they are the easiest scape goat to grab onto. Moreover, this tragic event of great moral evil will reignite the gun control debate, which is as it should be.
Maybe this time, instead of paranoid fear over losing Second Amendment rights, which may or may not be imaginary anyway, we can have a serious national conversation. My own preference would be to license all guns and gun owners in a manner similar to the way we license cars and drivers. My Tea Party friend Bill would have a fit over that, but I think if he could calm down enough to stop hyperventilating, we might actually be able to talk about it in a reasonable way. Maybe he would discover that we liberal, or progressives, or center left moderates, whatever, are not out to destroy the Constitution, take away our freedoms, or coddle all the criminals.