The world is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.
–Wendell Berry, “A Poem On Hope”
I went to bed Sunday thinking two people had been shot in my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. I didn’t give it much thought – active shooter situations are an almost daily occurrence in the U.S. In fact, 273 people have been killed in mass shootings in the U.S. in just the past 280 days, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
I woke up yesterday to the aftermath of the unthinkable. As I write, almost 60 souls are known to have perished, with an almost inconceivable 515 additional people wounded. My city was massacred.
I feel an excruciating sadness for the murdered. Friends-of-friends and acquaintances are among the dead – living, breathing human beings who will never again have an aspiration or a dream and will never again know the beauty and love of this world. My city is hung heavy with a pain it has never known.
Make no mistake: This tragedy is the fault of the cowardly, ignoble excuse for a human being that pulled the triggers of those automatic weapons just as much as it is the fault of craven politicians and their gun-lobby overlords who have created the circumstances for a society that devalues human life by allowing weapons of mass destruction to be bought and sold with almost no regulation whatsoever.
I’m a liberal, but I have no problem with guns. I was born and raised in the West. I respect that our Constitution provides an established legal right to own firearms. No person, politician, or organization will ever strip American citizens of the right to own guns – to think otherwise is rank ignorance. No one is coming for your guns.
My problem is ultra-extended magazines, easy access to automatic weapons, lax oversight of the gun industry, spineless politicians, and a refusal to acknowledge gun violence as a scourge on our citizenry that could be greatly reduced with modest legal alterations.
You should have no right to unlimited, unrestricted access to weapons of mass destruction, just as you have no right to unlimited free speech – when the public good outweighs the personal right, the public good prevails.
Yes, I’m politicizing this issue. We must politicize this issue – the dead deserve no less. More specifically, we have not politicized this issue enough. More specifically still, we have failed to match the politicization of gun violence in our communities like the gun violence advocates have.
No one wants innocent people to die, but when you stand in the way of protections for innocent Americans, the blood drips from your hands. We’re in this situation because of a large-scale, ultra-moneyed, decades-long lobbying effort by well-connected gun advocates (the NRA and their paid-for politicians). Their efforts have been strategic and effective and have stymied progress on gun violence prevention at every turn. Mass shootings are now an American pastime.
Guns are tools. Without human intervention, they are harmless. But, in the same way the agency of the murderer turns an inanimate object into a killing machine, the methodical strategy of gun violence proponents prioritizing unlimited ownership of weapons and ammunition over the safety of our citizenry turns them from ambivalent bystanders into accomplices in these horrible crimes.
It’s our government’s job to protect its citizens from danger and harm. Yes, there is room for debate about the efficacy of mental health services and how poverty and lack of opportunity makes normal people do insane things – violence is a complex issue with many intervening factors. But the paramount factor is our easy access to weapons of war. Vegas’ dead would still be alive if that lunatic couldn’t access multiple automatic weapons and unlimited ammunition. This massacre was preventable.
We must mourn and move on. But we must not let the darkness of cowardice and violence perpetuated by gunmen and well-connected lobbyists alike dissuade us from the hard road of modest public safety protections. Don’t pray, make policy change.