Republicans: We Need to Act
The largest mass-shooting in American History occurred this Sunday night. As of my writing this, 59 people lay dead, and over 500 people were injured. Immediately people ask "why" without denying the obvious. Why does any person kill another person? The only answer is an inhumane evil, that denies the equal and unparalleled worth, dignity, and beauty of every individual human being on earth. It is an easy answer, which is too often overcomplicated. The truth oftentimes lies somewhere in the middle.
We as a society ask "why" so that we can discern some meaning out of tragedy, or assign blame to a group or person. We look for what lawyers would call "motive." Motives are reasons/motivations why a crime is committed. However, they are largely irrelevant to proving a crime occurred. Murder at common law is "an unlawful killing with malice aforethought," note that there is no motive requirement--only that a person act with a mental state of "malice"--a "reckless or wanton disregard for human life." In a criminal case, a prosecutor is charge with proving that the elements of a crime occurred, and that the defendant was the individual who committed the crime. There is no necessity that the prosecutor prove a meaning or an influence on the defendant, or even show they had reasons for committing the crime. This is because, many times, the criminally insane mind can be completely without reason. Why must we seek meaning in tragedy?
Sometimes, motive can be helpful to understand the underlying trends of crime--is someone acting as a part of a criminal gang, or an international terrorist organization? If so, law enforcement can target that influence, and seek to curtail it to prevent future crimes. But these influences are all stemming from some baser, cruder form of evil. It is what Al Qaeda and the Unabomer and Timothy McVeigh and the KKK all have in common. It is mindless, senseless, illogical evil, and we should just call it what it is, and leave it at that. Evil has always, and will always exist. When one group ends, another begins. That doesn't mean that it can't be prevented, but rather that evil is persistent, and to defeat it, we must be more vigilant than evil is persistent.
The 59 lives that were taken are an absolutely horrific tragedy. This tragedy should shock us as a country, and make us feel despair for our fellow man. But what depresses me is that in the wake of a tragedy, another casualty is our loss of sensitivity as a country. Both sides seek an explanation, a motive, a reason, or a scapegoat for a tragedy. This is not required, and it is not oftentimes helpful.
On one side, we have Republicans who utilize "thoughts and prayers" as a shield from the needed policy advances. I am a Christian, and I have read the Bible cover-to-cover. I believe every word it says. Because of this reading, I believe that scripture is God-breathed. I believe that God used the hands of the authors, I believe that God utilized people through various Councils to codify the Bible. God uses people to bring about action and change. The power of "thoughts and prayers" is that these "thoughts and prayers" should move us to action. An important part of the Christian faith is to love what God loves, hate what God hates, and act accordingly, the end goal being to become more like Jesus Christ. It doesn't just involve internal thinking and praying ad nauseam while the world around you burns.
On the other side, we have the Democrats who never want to let a good tragedy go to waste. We have tweets from a failed candidate aiming to set off a policy debate, sent before the bodies in Las Vegas were cold. Hillary Clinton tweeted: "The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get." Being someone who has shot guns, studied guns, and studied the law of guns, this is an impossibly mindless statement. Silencers do nothing to increase the lethality or rate of fire of guns. This man was not found for 20 minutes, and was only found due to a smoke alarm. I can easily imagine the deaths that would have occurred if the shooter had a silencer--they would be largely the same. The statement is also released without any knowledge of the facts. The massive investigation had just then begun at the crime scene. It will happen for weeks. There are many things we do not yet know. Then there were tweets and posts levied at people who were offering their empathetic prayers to the victims, as though they do not truly care, seeking to polarize and isolate these people instead of engaging and challenging them to action. There were media executives that suggested that victims did not deserve sympathy because they are "Republican gun-toters." This is ugly, and it needs to stop.
If we are to truly solve the problem, there are a few things that we can do in order to set about fixing things.
Republicans: we need to act. Give money, give blood, use your knowledge of firearms to contact your elected representatives and offer your expertise to help craft policies that limit dangerous instrumentalities, toughen sentences on illegal guns, provide additional security measures, and can prevent future tragedies. An example of this would be to ban the "bump stocks" that the shooter used to increase the rate of fire of his semi-automatic rifles to nearly that of an automatic weapon (currently fully legal). Another example would be to ban entirely the sale of automatic weapons (which is currently allowed if the owner pays a tax stamp, gets a signature from a Chief Law Enforcement Officer, passes a background check, and purchases a fully automatic firearm that was manufactured before 1986). Implement the Second Amendment that Scalia enumerated in Heller: "The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." Felons and people with mental health issues do not have Second Amendment rights to firearms: they should not have guns. Period. This means that the Second Amendment assumes a screening mechanism for mental health and for felony status. These laws all would curtail high rate-of-fire weapons, undermine the lethality of would-be mass shooters, and would fully uphold the right of law-abiding, mentally healthy citizens to keep and bear arms.
Democrats: you all need to be humble, listen well, be empathetic, and be respectful of longstanding law and American tradition. People have always hunted in this country. People have always owned guns. According to Pew Research, there is one gun for every man, woman, or child in this country. Read the history of the Powder Alarm, and you will see that the Americans beat the British and vindicated their individual rights by using firearms. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to defend oneself with firearms. Firearms are also an engineering marvel. Part of a class I took in law school involved the study of the mechanisms of firearms, so that I could understand BATF regulations and the case law surrounding firearms. This also involved a "gun day" where my professor brought his personal (unloaded) firearms to class to teach about the various mechanisms and how they operate. Oftentimes a major criticism of the liberal "gun-control" argument is that it offers only solutions that curtail the individual rights of firearms owners, and that these so-called solutions illuminate the regulators' lack of technical knowledge about firearms (such as "assault weapon" bans that focus on aesthetics rather than firing mechanisms and overall lethality). So liberal friends, find yourself a conservative "gun-toting Republican" friend, and go with them to the range one day. Learn about firearms, how they operate, how to own and operate them safely and responsibly, and what it really takes to legally buy one. It will give your policy arguments the authenticity and technical knowledge they oftentimes lack. This listening process is humbling, but enlightening. Another part of this process is to engage the firearms policy debate at the proper time, place, and manner. Be respectful of the dead and of tragedies, as well as of peoples' religious beliefs. But challenge your Republican friends to pursue policies that would prevent tragedies after a few days. A smart rule of thumb is maybe three days or so (most employers give that long for bereavement of a family member before they expect people to come back to work). Engage in policy debate by discussing cases and actual facts--sadly, there are many of them to choose from. Let us only make mistakes once as we advance towards policies that make us all safer while guaranteeing the hard-fought and inalienable individual rights of self-defense for all.
This is all possible, but it takes humility, intellectual honesty, and respect for others, from both sides.