The Gun Debate

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I am tired of the familiar sequence of events. The shooting and then the grieving. The drop down menu of social media-click here for thoughts and prayers-followed by a failed attempt to legislate even a modest curtailment in the availability of guns. The slaughter of innocents transformed from tragedy to a Rorschach test: do you see proof that there are too many guns or evidence that not enough of us are armed? Then we all retreat to our respective echo chambers until the next shooting.

There are those who counsel optimism. If this country could end slavery or expand voting rights, then surely we can curb this plague. But the social progress made in this country has been the gradual and grudging expansion of rights, not their curtailment. That this expansion had to be enforced by the power of the state makes many in the country even more protective of a right to bear arms that they see as their best defense against tyranny.

In a matter of days we celebrate not just the birth of our nation, but the longest lasting relationship on Earth between government and the governed. It is a marriage of sorts, but if the Declaration of Independence was the wedding invitation, then the Bill of Rights is the pre-nuptial. It is a statement that we may have come together as a nation but that certain rights were not surrendered in the process.

These days the fault line that runs through much of our public debate is the boundary where these rights collide against community interests: the right to privacy versus national security, the right to own a gun and community safety. We sort ourselves into political tribes based on where we'd tolerate an infringement or reinterpretation. We can summon any number of statistics to frame an issue as a matter of public well-being, but there will always be somebody who claims that their right deserves protection.

So I despair of any meaningful change when it comes to gun control. We will go on repeating the same cycle and individual rights will remain the altar on which we sacrifice the innocent.


With a Perspective, I'm Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.