The fact that we can’t have a real debate tells you something about the problem.
So, in response to the Parkland, Florida shootings, the government, federal or state, strongly tightens control of firearms.
No more shootings? No more Nikolas Cruzes and such like, taking out their personal malice on the innocent and unwary?
I speak as a lifelong non-gun owner when I say we ought not count on governmental control of firearms as a broad, asphalted, tree-lined avenue to the elimination of gun violence — perhaps not even to its diminishment.
The gun-massacre problem, we routinely fail to acknowledge, is double-sided.
On one side is opportunity: the sure-I-can stuff. Taking Nancy Pelosi’s advice to go once more to the well on gun control, government can make the acquisition of certain firearms harder than now. This fails to deal with the other side of the problem — the sure-I-can-and-I-will-because-I-WANT-TO!!! side.
Opportunity and motivation go together: a reality of which the gun control debate — if you call it a debate; knock-down, drag-out seems to me more the case — is almost completely innocent.
Happily — for the sake at least of clarity — we know Nikolas Cruz to be nutty as a fruitcake, and, may I add, an object of some pity, inasmuch as his descent into murderous derangement might have been arrested by early intervention. A national mood dating back to the ’60s discourages disparagement or involuntary confinement of the mentally defective. To talk of Cruz’s derangement is highly appropriate; but such talk really ought not be allowed to skirt the problem that underlies all human violence — the problem of evil. Here’s where we really get down to it.
Whenever these horrors occur, someone in authority calls them “evil.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the day of the Parkland shooting, noted that “you finally come to the conclusion that this is absolutely pure evil.”
Meaning what, though? Twenty-first century residents aren’t well-equipped to talk about, far less consciously resist, evil, having inherited the Enlightenment concept of steady human improvement. Better and better we live, by the accounting of Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychology professor, who in a new book called Enlightenment Now, avers that our replacement of “superstition and magic” with “science” has given us “longer, healthier, safer, freer, richer, and wiser lives.” Without shall we say, curing the Nikolas Cruz problem —or consonant problems with North Korean, Russian, Syrian, fundamentalist Muslim, Chinese, Venezuelan, Iranian, etc., etc., actors of dangerous and repellent quality.
The problem of Evil is more deeply embedded in the human story than the intelligentsia of Harvard and like places suppose it to be, they having consigned the Devil to the same realm of mythology they suppose God to inhabit. Garden of Eden?! Snake?! Aw, come on. Nobody believes that stuff! Interpretation: They don’t believe it. Hence, it couldn’t be true — though “evil” remains a helpful word, as in “the evil of colonialism,” “the evil of sexism,” “the evil of “white supremacy.”
The Enlightenment idea, stemming from the 18th century but never quite triumphant, posits man, not God, as in charge of mortal affairs — the same narrative, actually, as in Genesis. The Garden, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, all that stuff no scientist could possibly verify; except maybe in a moment of doubt proceeding from the inability of Science to put away from us the Iranians, the North Koreans, and the whim — if not the mission — to murder a random collection of strangers.
Not the “can” so much as the “want-to” part of the mass-murder equation defeats — in my reckoning — fervent calls to cure the plague of gun violence with gun controls. Want to kill, want to kill! Why? Because a snake, or a shadowy figure widely said to operate with pitchfork in hand, has put into the mind and heart a desire no science can deflect — the desire to maim and slaughter? The desire to sin without consequence? It might be, in objective terms, that nothing short of resort to the old “superstitions” we thought were gone — prayers, confessions, sacraments — will help a bit.
My advice to the gun-controllers and Harvard professors: Don’t laugh. There are more things in heaven and earth, evidently, Prof. Pinker, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
William Murchison is writing a book about moral restoration.
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