Mass shootings and collective responsibility

A portion of President Obama’s charged response to the recent mass shooting in Oregon invoked a collective, political responsibility. (Full transcript here.)

This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.

He goes on to draw a parallel between different types of laws that save lives, such as seat belt laws:

When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seat belt laws because we know it saves lives.

When a source of harm emerges as part of a predicable pattern — even ‘routine’ as Obama puts it — then the proper response is structural; laws have to change. The issue is no longer about individual responsibility, but a collective and shared responsibility. There is a slight difference, however, between seat belt and gun laws. Someone who refuses to wear a seat belt doesn’t harm me. Someone who owns an assault rifle can very easily harm me, my friends, my family, my colleagues, my students…

The President urged the press to publish facts that compare gun violence with other perceived threats so that American’s can make informed decisions when they elect their leaders.

[…] I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up. And that will require a change of politics on this issue. And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.

I think that this is the correct direction, but only partially so. I want my neighbors, friends, and community to know — not only the ballot box — why I believe we would all be safer with less guns. In other words, we should be talking with one another as well as our representatives. Bad arguments should be addressed and flushed out. This is not merely a matter of personal choice or freedom when it affects so many lives so drastically and so routinely.

It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.

Australian comic, Jim Jefferies, does a good job of humorously addressing some bad reasons that float around for owning assault rifles. Laughter, I think, is not in disrespect of the victims or their families. This laughter comes from ridicule, and ridicule is often an effective, and even appropriate, response to poor reasoning that obstinately clings to itself despite the now routine mass killing of our fellow citizens.

Advertisements