“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.”
These, ladies and gentlemen, are the words of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, spoken last night in the wake of the shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College. Upon first hearing the President say this, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was simply speaking on the issue of gun-violence or addressing American politics in general.
He was of course speaking to the former, but his words apply much better to the latter, to the more general issue that our politics is the true numbing agent; a novocaine that leaves nothing sacred save the routine of voting and our habit of haranguing one another in the wake of violent tragedies.
So now, since I rarely vote, I might as well join in the haranguing for a moment.
For the President to suggest that those of us who do not wish to see the guns laws of America change are numb to the slaughter in Oregon, well, is a gross insult to put it mildly. Or, to put it with a bit more vinegar, the President is engaging in a horrendous form of scapegoating whereby, “we,” he says, “collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”
The President has made it clear: if you wish to defend the 2nd amendment, if you wish to purchase and own a firearm absent government permission, then you lack empathy for the fallen and are complicit in their deaths.
No, Mr. President, the only person responsible for the deaths of those families’ beloveds is the actual trigger man. You, sir, would do much better for you and your cause if you did not question the hearts of conservatives and libertarians before you propose curtailing the freedom they hold so dear.
I look at the images coming out of Oregon, and I am am shocked by the what appears to be the meaninglessness of it all. I know violence has been with humanity time immemorial, that life can be quite tragic no matter the choices we make. But the more I watch, the more I can certainly understand questions such as, “Was there some way we could have stopped this from happening? Don’t we have the power to stop this?”
These are fair questions to raise, but they do not capture the full extent of the issue at hand and can be dangerous if unchecked by other considerations: the liberties guaranteed by this republic’s constitution.
Do the actions of mass shooters really require a further curtailing of Americans’ liberty? What happened to presuming the innocence of those who have committed no crime? I believe these are also fair questions to raise.
Yet, this President’s tendency to immediately subscribe the worst motives to his political opponents, suggests he does not find liberty lovers’ concerns to be fair. He is perfectly convinced by his own zeal for collective justice. As he also went on to say:
“And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic…each time this happens I’m going to bring this up. Each time this happens I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws.”
Fair enough. At least we know where he stands. But Mr. President, considering your routine has gotten you nowhere thus far with the American people, considering that gun production has doubled under your tenure, maybe it’s time for you to step out of your routine and try a new approach.
This President’s routine: always swift to say we must collectively sacrifice the people’s liberty in the name of progress! We must further restrain the people while empowering the government to carry out this restraint!
But of course, the government is made up of “the people” as well, not angels, and the restraints they enforce are backed up by the same violent means they seek to control: guns.
I have been held at gunpoint twice in my life. Both by police officers. One was a case of mistaken identity. The other was a matter of walking into the officer’s line of sight–something you don’t expect to do when you’re simply stepping out of the front door of your corner apartment in small town Auburn, AL to take out the trash.
I hold nothing against the officers, but I must say: any loaded gun to the face makes the adrenaline surge and the mind sear snapshots of the moment onto the brain. It reminds you how quickly it can all be taken away. Twice I have felt this way: reminded of my own mortality by a gun but still alive to tell the tale. I guess you can say I’m lucky.
And while we’re speaking of things that come in twos and tragedies, twice this past year I–a now estranged, prodigal son–found myself in the Roman Catholic church of my upbringing in order to mourn the passing of a loved one. They had not been so lucky, but in both cases, guns were not to blame: alcohol, cars, and cancer were the culprits.
On the first occasion, I sat in the pew silent, watching friends stand at the church lectern as they eulogized our fellow fallen friend who, to his credit, certainly burned his candle at both ends. As they spoke, I was initially overcome by a flood of good memories. Yet, a moment later, I had a sick feeling I would be standing at that lectern myself in the near future.
Mom was sick after all.
And sure enough, after a few months passed, there I was, standing at the church lectern, looking down at row after row of grief stricken faces of loved ones, acquaintances, and strangers. And I told all of them how much I loved her and always would.
But the pain of her passing still lives within me. No matter the comforts offered: the words of old friends, the hugs and kisses of a beautiful young woman, the escapism of the bottle, or the catharsis of putting my tale to paper; I can’t seem to shake the pain. I can’t imagine the pain of those who lost loved one’s in Oregon, each person’s grief is unique, but in my own way, I know what it’s like to lose someone. It’s still fresh, and it will never seem fair.
I only share this little snapshot of my own tragedy now because I’m sure there’s some political cause I could join to help fight brain cancer or discourage drunk driving, but I imagine the pain would still be there. And even if I were to advocate for an increase in government funding for cancer research, I would never lay the deaths of cancer victims at the feet of those who did not wish to increase that funding.
I would rather accept that the world can be incredibly tragic and that justice in such a tragic world is not as simple as only listening to our desire to alleviate suffering in the world.
Suffering is, unfortunately, part of our worthwhile struggle to live. We would be foolish to think it can be eradicated it by simply following the dictates of our compassion with diktats from D.C. We must also listen to the other aspects of our hearts and minds and be wary of destroying good traditions–our liberty–in the name of granting the central power more authority over our lives.
And politics aside, I just want to tell all of those families in Oregon who lost a loved one: you are not alone. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I write this with hope that folks from all across the nation and the globe feel as I do too.
Don’t let the routine and numbness of our politics blind you to this hope so many wish to offer.