On Sunday, November 5, a young man walked into a Texas church armed with an AR-15 and opened fire, killing 26 people and wounding another twenty. The victims of Sutherland Springs include a five-year-old child and a pregnant woman. The pastor’s fourteen-year-old daughter was murdered while her parents were away on vacation. This was the largest mass shooting in Texas history. A few weeks earlier a man opened fire from a hotel window in Las Vegas and shot five hundred people, killing fifty-eight. That was then the largest mass shooting in all U.S. history. If someone is reading this in the future, these events will have been forgotten, eclipsed by larger mass executions. Eyewitness accounts of first responders from Newtown, Connecticut, where a young man executed a school full of kindergartners describe what an AR-15 does to a five-year-old body. At close range, the bullet will cause the body of the child to explode.
In the aftermath of such events, politicians cast about for talking points; on the right, thoughts, prayers and condolences; on the left, common sense gun laws. When Democratic members of congress say that “common sense” regulations of guns will work they are peddling a myth. While studies have found that a reduction of guns in circulation will reduce gun violence, our current laws largely preclude such action. This is why “common sense” language is so ineffectual. Gun violence is best understood not as interpersonal disputes but as a type of political speech, a speech that is guaranteed by our bill of rights. To say there should be “common sense” restrictions on a right to a gun is like there should be “common sense” restrictions on freedom of thought. The freedom of thought and speech that allows the New York Philharmonic to flourish also allows for a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. To restrict one is to restrict another. Liberals have been willing to live with hate speech because it is a price we pay for other forms of intellectual rights. If we accept that owning a gun is a fundamental right protected by the constitution, than of course individuals are going to use these guns for violence, sometimes mass violence. The political right should admit openly and without shame that Texas and Las Vegas and Newtown and the thousands of suicides each year by guns are the price we pay for this freedom. Copping to anything less than a full admission of cost-benefits is a lie. The freedom to own a gun is the freedom to commit violence at will. To say mentally ill people or domestic abusers should not have access to a firearm is a dodge. We might as well say mentally ill people should not have access to a library card or sexual predators be denied access to internet pornography. Books, pornography and guns are too widespread and any worth wile restrictions futile.
Only when we accept as a society that owning a gun, both as individuals and by the police, is not a fundamental right worth preserving will we rid ourselves of this plague of violence. Technocratic solutions offered by the center will not suffice in preventing the next slaughter. Until we de-comodify violence as a unit of exchange in the form of guns can we prevent the next mass murder from occurring. We must take a step unthinkable today; renounce a right we believe is enshrined in the constitution and collectively give up our suicidal ownership, both as individuals and the state, of guns. Anything short of this is a half measure that will allow this plague to fester. Our goal should not be restriction of gun ownership but abolition of gun ownership. Your common sense prayers and condolences are not enough.
Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections