In immediate response to the Newtown massacre, every pundit began pointing fingers and giving their answers. The problem was gun culture. No, the problem was feminism. Violent video games. Insufficient funding for programs for the mentally ill. Hollywood. Rightwing paranoia. And so on.
Now, I have my own views about the cultural conditions in America that coincide with our high levels of violence. I think both liberal and conservative commentators probably make some good points along the way. I think the most conspicuous problem is the glorification not of guns or fictional violence, but of actual violence. America is a militarized society, seat of the world’s empire. The U.S. government is always at war with a handful of countries. We glorify killing and dying in our patriotic parades. Our Nobel Peace Prize winning president has bombed Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya. The fact that Tim McVeigh was a Gulf War veteran who saw his mass killing in military terms was lost on those who attempted to blame the Oklahoma Ctiy bombing on talk radio.
I think there are many cultural phenomena that have contributed to mass shootings and American violence, from militarism to public schools and the welfare state. And of course, most such shootings occur in “gun-free” zones where security has been socialized and has failed.
But there is no panacea, and I wish this was something acknowledged before people began pointing fingers. It might very well be that in a society culturally and politically oriented in the way I’d want, there’d still be the occasional atrocity. No perfect solution exists. And although there have been more school shootings in the last couple decades than before, the data set is still far too small to draw solid conclusions.
At least as alarming as the finger pointing have been the particular solutions most commentators have immediately gravitated toward. Progressives immediately began accusing conservatives of cutting mental health funding, and conservatives immediately fired back that civil libertarians have eroded the capacity of government to involuntarily commit those suspected of mental illness. This is, I think, perhaps the most disturbing reaction in the long run. Great strides have been made in the last half century to roll back the totalitarianism of mandatory psychiatric commitment. For much of modern history, hundreds of thousands were denied basic human rights due to their unusual behavior, most of it peaceful in itself. Lobotomies and sterilization were common, as were locking people into hellish psychiatric gulags where they were repeatedly medicated against their will, stripped of any sanity they previously had. The most heroic libertarian in recent years may have been the recently departed Thomas Szasz, who stood against mainstream psychiatry’s unholy alliance with the state, correctly pointing out that the system of mandatory treatment was as evil and authoritarian as anything we might find in the prison system or welfare state.
In particular, those with Asperger’s were immediately singled out as potential threats in the wake of Newtown. This was especially disgusting scapegoating to behold. Such people, along with the vast majority of those deemed “mentally ill,” are no more a threat to society or other people than anyone else is. There is simply no way—no way—for a free society to weed out the dangerous based on “mental illness” and force them into treatment, and there is no reason to think this will stop the next mass killing. Every single high school in America has an eccentric who, if he ended up killing a bunch of people, everyone would say, “Yes, we knew he was dangerous.” Yet 99.9999% of these people will never harm anyone. More coercive psychiatric treatment is a recipe to destroy what liberty there is left in this country.
Meanwhile, statists on both the left and right called for the national security state to put armed guards in every school in America. More militarized policing is not the answer. Barbara Boxer, California’s hyper-statist Democrat, called for National Guard troops in the schools. Yet the spokesman of the NRA, instead of doing what it could to diffuse the hysteria and defend the right to bear arms, added his voice to this completely terrible idea, demanding utopian solutions and scapegoating when he should have been a voice of reason. The main difference between his proposal and Boxer’s would be the uniforms worn by the armed guards.
Government armed guards will not necessarily make the schools safer, though. Central planning doesn’t work. The Fort Hood shooter managed to kill twelve people in 2009, despite the military base epitomizing the very pinnacle of government security. And now we see President Obama toying with the exact proposal aggressively pushed by the NRA—more surveillance and police, funded by the federal government, to turn America’s schools into Orwellian nightmares.
Although both conservatives and progressives have responded to this tragedy in generally bad ways, and there seems to be wide agreement on a host of downright terrifying police state proposals, I don’t want to imply that both sides have been equally bad. As awful as the law-and-order conservatives have been, the progressives have been far worse, agreeing with most of the bad conservative proposals but then adding their own pet issue to the agenda: disarming the general population.
The right to bear arms is a human rights issue, a property rights issue, a personal safety issue. The way that one mass murderer has been turned into a poster boy for the agenda of depriving millions of Americans of the right to own weapons that virtually none of them will ever use to commit a crime is disgusting, and seems to be rooted in some sort of cultural bigotry. Nothing else would easily explain the invincible resistance to logical arguments such as: rifles are rarely used in crimes, gun control empowers the police state over the weak, and such laws simply do not work against criminals, full stop. Rifles are easier to manufacture than methamphetamine, and we know how well the drug war has stopped its proliferation, and 3D printing will soon make it impossible to stop people from getting the weapons they want.
I will be doing some more writing about gun rights in the next few weeks, as it appears that not for the first time in my life, I was totally wrong about something. I had suspected that the left had given up on this issue, more or less, and Obama—whose first term was overall half-decent on gun rights—would not want to touch it. We shall see what happens, but it appears that the progressives have been lying in wait for an excuse to disarm Americans and have happily jumped on the chance.
Many left-liberals will claim they don’t want to ban all guns, and I think most are honest when they say so. Polls indicate that 75% or so of Americans oppose a handgun ban. Maybe there has been some genuine improvement on this issue, although I do have my doubts about the honesty of those who claim they would stop at rifles and high capacity mags, which are implicated in a handful of crimes compared to the thousands killed by people using handguns.
In any event, the core mentality of the gun controllers is as dangerous as ever. In response to a horrific mass murder of around 30 people, they are calling for liberties to be sacrificed in the name of security, apparently impervious to the logical problems with their proposals. When terrorists murdered a hundred times as many people in September 2001, many of these same progressives sensibly pointed out that those who would sacrifice liberty for security will wind up with neither, a line from Franklin. Yet the same logic should apply here. If 9/11 should have taught us anything, it’s that you cannot have total security, certainly with the state in charge of everyone’s safety. Nineteen men with boxcutters murdered 3,000 people. In a world with cars, gasoline, fertilizer, gunpowder, and steel, it is simply impossible to eliminate every threat, rifles being one of the smallest ones out there. Since 9/11 we have lost so many freedoms, have seen our police forces turn into nationalized standing armies with tanks and battle rifles, have undergone mass molestation and irradiation at our airports, have seen the national character twisted to officially sanction torture, indefinite detention, and aggressive wars. What will we see happen in the name of stopping troubled young people from engaging in smaller acts of mass murder? Much the way that conservatives led the charge toward fascism after 9/11, with liberals protesting a little at first only to seemingly accept the bulk of the surveillance state and anti-terror national security apparatus, I fear that today’s progressives are leading the stampede toward an even more totalitarian future, with the conservatives playing defense but caving, first on militarized schools, then on mental health despotism, then on victim disarmament.
Perhaps if after 9/11 the conservatives had focused on allowing airlines to manage their own security, even permitting passengers with guns on planes, instead of doubling the intrusiveness of the police state, we’d be in better shape today. But now the progressives are running the show, the SWAT teams have become more ruthless, the domestic drones have been unleashed, the wars abroad have escalated, and the same federal institutions whose gun control measures left American civilians dead at Ruby Ridge and Waco can expect new targets throughout the land. The bipartisan police state commences, now that the left has gotten its own 9/11.
About the author: Anthony Gregory
Anthony Gregory is a Research Editor at The Independent Institute. His articles have appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, East Valley Tribune (AZ), Contra Costa Times, The Star (Chicago, IL), Washington Times, Vacaville Reporter, Palo Verde Times, and other newspapers.