I hesitate to say anything about this awful action and so many violent deaths. What can I add to what others have said? I deeply regret that such a terrifying incident occurred; I am sorry for the loss and pray for the peace of families who lost their loved ones in the shooting. I am deeply unsettled by the consequences, all too easy to predict, for our social interactions and political discourse. And yet I have no sort of similar experience to draw on to really understand what the victims and their friends and family went through. I have already seen many express public resentment for sympathy from those like myself who disagree fundamentally with the “queer” lifestyle, or who support private weapons rights on legal or moral grounds: they suspect hypocrisy or self-serving manipulation of public image. And when emotions run so understandably high in a time of tragedy; when the oh-so-human reaction is to tend to doubt anyone who has not fully supported you; all I can do is say the grief and prayers are genuine, as is my understanding of why you find that hard to believe.
A few persons took this event as an excuse to say the victims had it coming; among these were several Christian persons of public note, who should have known better. I will not indulge in the silly posturing of apologizing for them, though I regret such actions – such statements at such a time do not edify believer or unbeliever; they reflect poorly on the mercy extended by Christ; and they serve to further sour social and political relations in a country where so many are or claim to be Christian.
Before the news was widely released, I was at church, where by great good coincidence (or providence) the sermon was on Luke’s account of Jesus’ interaction with a Pharisee Simon and an unnamed female “sinner”, whom many suppose to have been a prostitute. As those raised on Bible stories likely remember, the woman is commended for her faith, the Pharisee chastised for poor manners.
Others have remarked on one particular reaction of Christ’s to tragedy, warning his listeners – disciples and the curious alike – “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the other who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13) Public tragedy is no time to condemn particular sins of others – though perhaps pastors of the flock may remind their particular charges and those they seek to convert of the coming judgment prefigured in untimely death, as Christ does here – but this is a time to look to our own consciences.
(And after all, who knows why each person there that night was there? Commitment to the “queer” community, a friend’s invitation, curiosity, ignorance, ministry… surely not something we can parse from a distance.)
One of the accompanying tragedies of these deaths is that, in our oh-so-sensitive culture, only “correct” statements of any emotion are accepted. It has become unacceptable to many to see a mass murder of this nature as an offense against all of us: we must consider it, it seems, only as an attack on the particular community targeted – which means not only admitting that such persons were targeted, but expressing support for them, and recognizing their claims as legitimate. No one, apparently, not prepared to do all those things is welcome. I am not making this up; other people also lament this short-sighted approach.
I quote here Martin Luther, from a 1535 sermon, speaking on the difficulty of restraining emotionally-driven reactions to heated topics (Luther was referring to the various treatment of the Lord’s Supper, but his point stands in relation to other issues):
“…[I]t is well to remind our people, so that, when [we] see such things [i.e. incorrect practices, here w.r.t. the Supper], they may not be offended, but may be able to say: That it is not right…”
Note the clear distinction made between (emotionally) taking offense and (rationally) disagreeing. Luther is hardly a paragon of the distinction himself, being at times quite abusive in his rhetoric (whether one believes this excused in some part by the debating culture of the day or not), but failure to follow one’s own advice does not mean the advice is wrong.
V. The Paradox of Gun Control
Other than refusal to admit the legitimacy of “queer” self-identity, the other complaint raised immediately against various politicians and public figures is that they do not support gun control. We have here a sort of social problem. It is clear enough that the Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to own weapons. In fact the controls already enacted and considered more or less legitimate may on some readings be too stringent; as may be. However, one could argue with some evident reason that as a society we do not currently possess the restraint required, the self-responsibility, to be each of us entrusted with modern firearms. And here lies the paradox: to act on that conviction correctly would require a constitutional change; yet to achieve that constitutional change for the reason given would almost be evidence that the responsibility was in fact present. To be clear, I do not expect such a movement would succeed, between those convinced of the necessity of weapons for self-defense and those simply uncaring. I simply note that such a movement could only succeed for good reasons in a society where it would probably be unnecessary. And thus societies slip into tyranny: when what popular pressure sees as “necessary” can only be accomplished incorrectly, abuse of power seems to a mob the lesser of evils. But it is hard to say that such a society – which we may be – does not deserve it.
VI. The Problem of Gun Control
It is not entirely clear than gun control measures, even if enacted, would have prevented this or similar massacres. Other targets of terrorism-driven attacks – such as France – are hardly enclaves of lenient firearms laws. Similarly, the majority of these shootings in the US occur in areas where firearms are nominally restricted. It is likely true – or I suspect it is true, at least – that effective gun control measures would reduce the incidence of large-scale shootings, although from what I know it would probably not significantly affect the number individual murders. However, I am not sure whether nominal nationwide restriction of firearms access would in fact be effective.
I remain unconvinced that most advocates for national gun control have entirely thought through the process. If I were defining such a law, I would require, I think, (a) that all firearms and owners be registered; (b) that all firearms be stored in a public place, such as a police station or firing range, to be released for use only by a police officer or licensed official of some kind; (c) that purchase (or perhaps release of ammunition stored similarly to weapons) be limited to a certain amount per designated time period. (This is not freedom – certainly not in the American context, perhaps not at all – and I do not in fact support such measures, but this, or something like it, would be my goal if I did.) The measure would have to pass Congress, where it would be highly contentious due to differing cultural standards regarding firearms in different areas of the country. It would have to be signed by a President, who depending on his party – and the state of election politics – might or might not be willing to do so, possibly depending on how partisan the congressional vote had been. And it would have to survive a series of legal challenges, which it might or might not do, depending on the law’s wording, the cases’ wording, and the judges sitting at the time.
Finally, it would have to be put into effect. And this I cannot figure out how to accomplish with even the remotest chance of simultaneously maintaining both civil liberties and peace. Anyone known to have previously purchased a weapon legally becomes a “suspect”: many, I am certain, would resist, Supreme Court decision on the law or no, a search thorough enough to be effective. Many would likely resist even in the more authoritative case of a Constitutional amendment: where they would probably be clearly in the wrong. As for a “mere” law, contentiously passed, recent history should warn us of the difficulties.