Believe In A Better World
Change is possible. There is no other choice.
There are too many horrors to count in the social failure that claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. But perhaps the most awful is what has already been forgotten. Less than two weeks before the Uvalde massacre, a gunman drove to Buffalo, New York and murdered 10 people, fulfilling an explicitly racist manifesto. In just a few days, that tragedy has been all but erased from national discussion, absorbed by more recent atrocities.
I will not here review the various lunacies proposed in the wake of these awful events by Republicans who call themselves leaders. Anyone who seriously believes that America's plague of violence is a result of the number of doors on our buildings is not going to be persuaded by reasoned argument or emotional appeal.
I want to instead focus on the sheer contingency of all this bloodshed. When terrible things happen -- particularly when the same terrible things happen over and over again -- it becomes very tempting to view them as inevitable. When our politicians refuse to act the way we want them to, we seek an explanation for their behavior in structural causes -- it must be money in politics, or the legacy of settler colonialism, or the logic of imperialism rebounding against the empire, or something big, old and impossible to dislodge without fundamentally reordering society.
But our gun crisis is not an ancient evil. America has always had problems and it has always had the second amendment, but it has not always had 400 million guns. That number is up more than 36 percent in the last decade alone. Americans have never lived like this. No society has.
In America, the political faction that champions gun ownership calls itself conservative. But as with so many other aspects of the conservative movement, its gun program is not really an attempt to preserve the culture or spirit of America's founding. It is something relatively recent, and not obviously connected to anything else in American politics or even conservative ideology. There is no reason why people who love faith and family should be obsessed with carrying weapons. There is no reason why people who supported the invasion of Iraq must fantasize about arming domestic households. There is no reason why opposing same-sex marriage needs to go hand-in-hand with buying an AR-15. Edmund Burke didn't talk about guns, and American conservatives didn't prioritize gun deregulation in the 1830s or the 1920s or even the 1960s. Ronald Reagan supported a ban on assault rifles as recently as 1994.
I don't like much of what the conservative movement does. I don't like what it has built or the way it conducts its politics. But its obsession with guns is independent of its other peculiarities. And so is the refusal of Congress to act on gun policy. Tim Carney is right -- the NRA's financial power is just not that impressive in the context of 21st century corruption, however rancid the organization may be (very rancid).
History shapes our politics, but it does not determine every detail of our lives. There are plenty of imperialist superpowers past and present who do not have our gun problems, just as there are plenty of nations living with the legacies of settler colonialism that do not have our gun problems. It is a choice to live this way, and choosing to live otherwise is not really that hard. Nobody on the left or the right has to give up any other cherished principle or belief.
We will never eradicate all violence, but we can get rid of an awful lot. Decades of suicide research shows that making it even a little bit harder to obtain a gun is actually very good at preventing self-harm. Even with all the guns out there in society right this minute, the last two mass shootings were conducted by young men who bought new AR-15s. Even if we don't ban every gun, making it harder to obtain them and limiting who can obtain them -- no teenager should own an instrument of death -- are sensible things to do that will save lives.
In trying times, it is always wise to consult Marin Cogan. In a piece for Vox, she reminds us that for all the cowardice and embarrassment in Congress, gun reformers really have made achievements since Sandy Hook at the state level, banning bump stocks, expanding background checks, and making it harder for dangerous people to own weapons. This is not progress on the scale most of us would like to see -- there obviously far too many shootings -- but the efforts of these courageous reformers show that change is possible. It's happening all the time if you know where to look. Believe in a better world. There is no other choice.