My condolences to Virginia Tech from one who hopes he will never fully understand.
This post is going to be more political, and thus perhaps more partisan, than most of my articles. Normally, I take a sideways approach to politics by way of cultural artifacts, music, movies, Internet videos, and the like. Right now, though, I think there are some issues in the air that deserve to be addressed more directly.
Today’s issue is gun violence. In light of the Virginia Tech shootings, I think it’s a good time to make an intelligent statement on the role of violence and freedom in our daily lives. I run a risk here. In the aftermath of an incident like this, I’m in danger of being drowned out entirely by the flood of reactionary bullshit that comes out of the popular media, the blogosphere, and the mouths of politicians. But maybe I have a chance to contribute something intelligent to this debate too -- one of a few voices of reason in a country that’s become an ideological battleground, far more than a physical or literal one.
As far as politics go, I’d call myself a critical liberal. I’d like to be the leftist "old enemy from within" (borrowing a phrase from Bataille), strengthening the progressive position by questioning it and discerning the gristle from the meat. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of gristle out there. On gun violence, however, I think the reasoned liberal position, that assault weapons need to be more fully, federally controlled, and regulate, is a fairly cohesive one, and unlike with feminism, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of self-criticism the left needs to do to support its position.
What we’re fighting against: the extreme right, armed with a blanket of civil consent and disinterest. It’s frightening to me that the gun lobby is so large, considering it’s a bastion of regressive American extremism. The Gun Owners of America, apparently the second-largest gun advocacy group in the United States, has declared that the problem, of course, is that more people weren’t armed.
You may sense that this argument, symptomatic of pro-firearm argument, is mind-bogglingly irrational, but you may not realize why. It’s based on some reasonable premises: people should be responsible for their own safety, and they should have the means of protecting themselves. Individuals need to be trusted with security and enforcement, because omnipresent institutions like governments are so prone to oppression and abuse. Laws should target criminals, not the broad pool of people who might potentially become criminals. Why does the gun rights creed sound so irrational when these premises sound defensible?
The reason is that it makes some erroneous assumptions about the human environment. These assumptions make sense in a world where everybody, including, and especially, the morally upright are heroic bastions of strength and self-reliance. It makes sense in a world taken from movies, like the future of Mad Max or the New York City of The Warriors. It makes sense in a world where your personal well-being isn’t linked in any noteworthy way to the mental health of the collective.