• Daniel Ethan Finneran

What's To Be Done?

February 2018

What’s to be done? Again, as in days that have passed and, probably, as in those yet to come, our nation confronts this quartet of words. It’s a quartet whose pitch, tuned habitually to tragedy, has become too familiar to our grief-stricken ear. So too is it one whose pith, succinct and desperate in the asking, strikes us and renders us mute.

From time to time, month to month, seemingly at this point week to week, the words are strung together, resuscitated, syncopated, and played on a loop. The backdrop through which they filter changes—San Bernardino on one day, Orlando the next. Then it will be Las Vegas or Columbine, Charleston or Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs or Aurora, Austin, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech or Oregon with a rest, for now, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. From the west coast to the east, from colleges to community centers, schoolyards to gay night clubs, this question dances to an ever-present dirge.

Changing with the scenes are the perpetrators and those upon whom they prey. The former is an eclectic, admittedly masochistic bunch. Some are repressed, be it either sexually or socially. Still others are racists, more of them sadists, yet all of them terrorists of domestic sort. The latter, the victims, are very much like them in that no two are quite the same. They are children, students, teachers, professors, church-goers, party-goers, concert-goers, all of them innocence incarnate and undeserving of their early deaths.

Still, knowing the places, persons, and motivations seem to bring us no closer to seeing this national blight of un-instigated mass shootings to an end. What then, we ask ourselves, is to be done? If “common-sense” gun laws are as self-evident as they seem, where in plain sight do they hide? In which conspicuous nook, surely the one we’ve tripped and fallen over thousands of times before, are they to be found? Is it possible that, on the contrary, they really aren’t so common after all? Perhaps we’re misled into thinking them more practicable than really they are. Maybe we’re imagining a country composed of legislatures, representing people, constituting a society that doesn’t consider it an inalienable and inextricable right to keep and bear arms. If we are, we’re thinking in terms of theory and nothing could be so uncommon.

This week, after a gunman opened fire in the halls of Stoneman Douglas High School, within minutes of the afternoon’s closing bell and, with that long sought-after sound, the impending, fleeting bliss of teenage freedom, the question above remains on everyone’s mind. All ask it, while precious few risk its answer: what possibly can we do to prevent future massacres on this or any scale?

For the further reaches of the political left, the answer is simple but absurd, high-minded but ill-fated. For them, nothing short of an Australian-style gun “buy-back”, or, more aptly put, confiscation program will suffice. It’s not a program everyone on the left has explicitly endorsed, nor is it one that’s reached with any seriousness the level of the Democratic Party’s leadership, but it is one that many subtly and others desperately would like to see put into place. Such a program would, in essence, complete our government’s monopoly over the use of force—both in the abstract and in the application.

Doubtless a useful transaction upon leaving behind our brutish and short lives, the state controlling the use of power is good. That said, should we agree to turn over all of our guns, we’d be giving to the state more power than our ancestors might’ve volunteered. We’d be relinquishing the very last tincture of our ingrained, unassailable propensity to militancy—that uniquely American ability to defend ourselves and our land in the face of those seeking, at their own peril, to take it away. And while those on left, most of whom are less encumbered with this Revolutionary-made-Conservative ideal, see in the absence of guns the potential for a second coming of a Pax Americana, I hasten to remind them it could just as easily bring anarchy. When asked its opinion about a broad-scale gun confiscation program, the likes of which Australia has in place, half the American population thought it inimical to their being, while the other half simply think it’s comical. If the country were ordered, by edict or fiat to divest itself of its guns, an armed rebellion, and likely, a civil revolution would proceed.

Clearly, in light of this, the far left’s preferred position on the matter is for naught. What, then, of the right’s? We’re told continually that it’s from their hands the blood of the victim drips. They share, as many Liberals would have us believe, the killer’s conscience and they bear his guilt. Of course, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. This insidious sophistry, that of incriminating Republicans because of their allegiance to the NRA or because of their intransigence to move from their Second Amendment right is both spurious and unhelpful. The NRA and the Republican Party, appealing and easy scapegoats though they may be, simply aren’t to blame.

The reasons therein could be the subject of another post, but for now, we look to conservatives for their response. What, in their eyes, would amount to a practical approach to remedy this shooting spree scourge? As with the Liberals, their response is something, but it’s wanting.

Chief on the Republican’s agenda is a universal ban on the “bump stock”, a clever, dastardly little appendage affixed to a semi-automatic gun. Once applied, the bump stock increases lethality in a geometric, rather than an arithmetic way. Instead of killing by the few, it exponentially increases fatalities on a harrowing scale. The gun’s cumbersome recoil softens, its shakiness steadies, and, like an emetic, more bullets in less time can pour forth from its mouth. To ban the bump stock would be something, but not in the least sufficient. To see this carnage cease, more must be done.

It’s here that both sides tend to hit an ideological impediment. They find themselves stuck. They’re at loggerheads and incapable of proceeding forth. Both of the foregoing ideas, those of the right and the left, entail taking something away. In the one case, it’s a small accoutrement and in the other, it’s the gun itself. Better than both and, I think, probably agreeable to both would be any number of powerful additions instead of subtractions.

First, on school campuses, the police’s presence must increase. The current ubiquity of “gun-free zone” signs sprouting up and infesting every schoolyard is entirely absurd. To think of these signs as some kind of a barrier, a kind of membrane through which a murderer won’t pass, is beyond wishful thinking—it’s negligent. The pervasive “gun-free” zones no longer are, nor have they ever been, the inviolate little gatekeepers they were intended to be. The protection of innocent children demands that we do away with them and their illusory, peace-promoting ideal.

No endeavoring murderer counts his steps while approaching the gun-free zone, but he does just that, and likely returns whence he came, if he sees ahead of him an armed guard standing at the school’s front door. His greatest hope, in that case, might be an armed stand-off with the guard, who, if quick-witted and well-trained, will have surely dispatched for reinforcements. The assailant might strike an officer, maybe a passer-by as well, but his endeavor will be short-lived and so too will his life. More likely, he’ll die within a minute or two if the armed guard’s aim is true.

Banks, stadiums, airports, malls—all of them gestate with precious cargo, but none so much as our schools and the treasures they have within. Inside and surrounding all of those places, armed guards are not only present, they’re pervasive. And if we are to prioritize the commodities that those places of business, entertainment, and travel keep over our children’s safety, who are, without overstating it, our nation’s future and our greatest investment, we have a fundamental gap between the prices of mere materials and the sanctity of life.

A second addition would be to enjoin, or otherwise restrain, an unstable person’s ability to purchase a firearm. From a libertarian perspective, this sort of an injunction has little appeal, but outside of this freedom-loving niche, I think the nation, on the whole, could bring itself to its terms. The idea is simple, the application, potentially less so. It would require a parent, a guardian, a teacher, a colleague, or any other intimate associate to flag—for lack of a better word—any person deemed in their mind not only psychologically unwell, but gratuitously drawn to violence. If the case against said person can be made, a judge would have the ability to revoke from him his right to obtain a firearm. Of course, this covers only his legal acquisition of a gun. He might pursue a weapon through the black-market or any number of other avenues, both of which raise daunting concerns on their own.

The prohibition needn’t be a life sentence. He whose rights had been suspended by judicial decree would have the chance intermittently to be screened by a professional in the psychological, medical, or sociological fields. Such screens would reveal all improvements or regressions regarding his mental faculties. If his improvement is sufficient, then and only then should he enter a tightly scrutinized probationary period in which his right to carry is restored, in part if not in full. If, on the other hand, his clinical presentation fails in any objective way, based on any entrusted metric, the ban remains.

A third and final addition comes in the form of additional years. Years, that is, added to one’s life before he can legally purchase a gun. At the time of this writing, an adult aged eighteen has the legal ability to purchase a long-barrel gun (only he who is twenty-one, and no younger, can purchase a handgun). Think not of the halcyon, Revolutionary-aged musket when you hear “long-barrel” gun. From that time to this, when teenaged boys and farmers and philosophers fought back the British yoke, the long-barrel has come now to include the AR-15—that popular and infamous semi-automatic rifle used atop Mandalay Bay, in Sutherland Springs, and in Florida.

While I agree that guns shouldn’t be in the frighteningly impulsive hands of impetuous teens, there’s an issue one can’t avoid when it comes to raising the legal purchasing age. How, as a country, can we send our eighteen-year-old men (or boys, depending on how you see them) to the arid, hostile climes of a Somalia, or an Iraq, or an Afghanistan, armed to the gills with rifles, side-arms, and hand grenades with a dictate to kill in the name of our flag? Then, when these boys—now veterans—return home from the front, are we to bar them from carrying weapons as they did so nobly in defense of our land? Herein lies the disharmony of the idea. We can’t justifiably raise the age of purchasing a firearm without also raising the age of entrance into the military. And I see no impetus to act on the latter, which leaves me skeptical about changing the former.

These three issues, and likely many more, will arise in the weeks to come. Where they’ll go, and what kind of support they’ll receive will direct this nation through a watershed moment. The time wasted being quiet and quiescent about this issue has come to an end. The student protests have made this clear. And while we shouldn’t necessarily heed all of their proposals—after all, they spring from the callow wells of the upperclassmen—we must hear them out, somberly consider their plight, and sympathize with them in their (and our) loss. Far too much innocence has been lost and far too little to address it. What we need is a first step. We’ll see if, as a country, we can take it and take care of the future deceased.

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