The lunacy of a nation: Reflections on gun violence in the U.S.

On June 10, Emilio Hoffman, a 14-year-old student at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., was transformed, from a good-hearted kid with his life ahead of him to a statistic.

He was an athlete, a soccer coach, a people pleaser, a brother, a son. He had a girlfriend, and he loved to make people laugh.

Now, he’s a red dot on a graph, one blip in an “American victims of gun violence” total that is already absurdly high, and will no doubt be higher the next time you check it.

Emilio’s crime? He went to school, on a day that another student decided — for reasons none of us can fathom — to bring an AR-15 rifle from home and start shooting people.

What happened to Emilio is not a tragedy. A tragedy is when something happens that no one could have helped: an accident, a natural disaster, a crime that could not have been foreseen or prevented.

But what happened to Emilio also happened at Seattle Pacific University five days prior. And it happened in Isla Vista, Calif., near the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara, two weeks before that.

It’s happened again and again and again, dozens of times since Dec. 14, 2012, when 20 children and six teachers were gunned down in Newtown, Conn., and we all supposedly got a “wake up call.”

These aren’t tragedies — not any more. These are symptoms of insanity — of a country doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

This is the lunacy of a nation.

We have the right to bear arms in the United States. It’s guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

But let’s just acknowledge the facts here: The Second Amendment was drafted when there was virtually no such thing as a police force to keep law and order, and frontiersmen’s property might very well be attacked by wild animals or roving bands of American Indians, and the state-of-the-art weapon of the day was a musket that took at least a half-minute to load and was as likely to miss or explode in your face as it was to find its target.

At the time, the ingesting of mercury (which we now know to be horrifically toxic) and the deliberate draining of one’s own blood (which is not a good idea either, by the way) were regarded as cutting-edge and highly effective medical techniques. Also, slavery was considered a perfectly legitimate business enterprise.

As far as I know, there’s no one arguing that we should reinstate the medicinal or anthropological thinking of 220 years ago, so it’s more than a little disingenuous to claim that the firearms standards of the same time period can be directly superimposed upon our modern-day society, with its assault rifles and semi-automatics.

We live in a very different world today, and that makes interpreting the Second Amendment a bit trickier.

I am not anti-gun. I’m not anti-the Bill of Rights. Those rights, however, were an addendum to the Constitution. They came later. Before them, before we even had a country at all, the Founding Fathers declared our independence on the basis of different, even more fundamental rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The right to bear arms was bestowed by a government, but these “unalienable rights” were held to be a gift to mankind by our Creator.

We can only guess how the Framers would have worded the Second Amendment in a world of Adam Lanzas and James Eagan Holmeses and Elliot Rodgers and Jared Michael Padgetts.

But there’s nothing ambiguous about the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They are timelessly applicable. The “right to life” — that’s clear: It means a 14-year-old kid has the right to not be shot to death in his high school locker-room.

If we care about “rights” at all, that is where the conversation has to begin. That’s our starting point.

And I’m not prescribing a particular route here. I fully appreciate that this is a complex issue, and if it had an easy and obvious solution, we would have implemented it long ago.

I don’t know, specifically, what will solve America’s gun violence problem. All I know is that doing nothing won’t.

Cross-posted with Sojourners and the Woodburn Independent.

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3 thoughts on “The lunacy of a nation: Reflections on gun violence in the U.S.

  1. Reblogged this on Catholicboyrichard 2.0 and commented:
    WHAT I APPRECIATE ABOUT THIS POST is that the author does not propose a “one size fits all” solution. What he rightly points out is that the solution is forthcoming–or needs to be . Neither the NRA nor the radical gun-control advocates are totally right on this topic–and neither are totally wrong either. But we cannot ignore the issue, nor can we rest on our laurels with simplistic solutions. Not anymore. And we never should have.

  2. When we began, as a nation, to kill over a million babies in the womb, we began to devalue life to such a point that the guns right now are just an extension of the violence that has permeated our culture since the late 1960s. There is more to mass killing than getting rid of the guns. I watched a TV show last night about a serial killer whose weapon of choice was a towel wrapped around a woman’s neck. I don’t know what the solution is–I just know that guns bans don’t work. i.e. Chicago

    • Thanks so much for reading and your comments. I agree, it’s a complex and difficult issue, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. What I am sure of is that no single measures will “stop” gun violence completely. However, there have to be some common-sense steps that would reduce both the prevalence of mass shootings and the destruction they cause when they happen. We’ll never wipe out violence altogether, but we should be able to bring the United States’ per capita rate of people killed by gun violence closer to those of other developed nations.

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