Tag Archives: Mass Shootings

Guns, bombs and social distrust

I don’t generally have much to say about the “mass shootings” which perhaps half of America regards as an ongoing First Order National Disaster while the other half has hardened its hearts and minds to the phenomenon completely. My view of it remains rather like my view of those other violent episodes, which (unlike domestic mass shootings) everyone agrees to call “terrorism.” They are lamentable, and a civilized society ought to do something about them, but neither one ranks nearly so high on a list of dangers to life and limb that the obsession which our culture chooses to experience is reasonable. As I pointed out a while ago, the “reality” that a handful of people killed by bullets is a tragedy while tens of thousands of people killed by errant automobiles is a statistic is a choice.

Still, I’m not indifferent to either of these phenomena, if separate phenomena they are. It simply frustrates me that we seem to do too much about one, and (in practical terms) not enough about the other. For a while, I have been toying with the notion that America’s embrace of organized armed violence (i.e. the military) as not only the universal answer to terrorism but as the premier guarantor of “our freedom” represents a kind of deeply lazy passivity. The ubiquity of this vague conviction that heavily armed men and women in uniform are “protecting our freedom,” in a society where most people frequently decline to exercise any part in self-government, suggests a kind of self-indulgent outsourcing. We claim to love freedom so much, yet apparently don’t believe that we have any direct personal responsibility for its maintenance, finding it much more satisfying to believe that someone else putting on a special uniform and blowing up some “bad guys” somewhere takes care of the job adequately.

This is tempting. But yesterday, it occurred to me that maybe abdication of personal effort isn’t really the key concept. There’s that strange dichotomy, after all, in America’s broad-based freak-out over terrorism and the determined resistance of maybe half the country to any significant policy response to mass shootings. It occurs to me that in the latter instance, abdication of personal effort is arguably the exact opposite of what’s at work, given that resistance to disarmament seems largely motivated by the idea (however unrealistic) that personal safety is best ensured by an individual wielding firearms in his or her own self-defense. Thinking about this, it further occurred to me that perhaps the key concept uniting these otherwise irreconcilable attitudes is deep societal distrust.

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