by Sundar J.M. Brown, Editor
In the wake of the June 12th terrorist attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, a plethora of articles have appeared arguing both for and against heavily politicized positions on gun control. These writings were emerging even before all the bodies of the victims had been removed from the scene of the shooting. We have, in our modern world, become shameless in seizing upon opportunities for political grandstanding, most particularly when they are presented by the all-too-recent dead. The majority of these for-and-against-gun-control articles are but identical diatribes, each piece standing in for the same old boilerplate propaganda of the anti-gun establishment, not any more, nor any less, meaningful than the same old boilerplate propaganda espoused by the pro-gun establishment.
One article in particular, by infotainment “journalist” Tom Scocca, included a particularly unfounded, meritless, and unsubstantiated claim. Scocca writes, “It is true that political correctness—the stifling of debate, due to a fear of causing outrage—helped create the slaughter in Orlando.” Today’s popular understanding reads political correctness as a tool of the left and as something eschewed by the right. Scocca seems to be attempting to either subvert, or invert, that commonly held perception in his poorly reasoned writing. While an over-adherence to political correctness by any government administration has not been definitively, or causatively, linked to the Orlando shooting—and, so far, even those persons suggesting that political correctness is merely correlated to the Orlando shooting have not produced evidence to prove as much—if Scocca is suggesting that the so-called political correctness of avoiding open debates on the Congressional floor around gun control could have prevented the terrorist attack on the Pulse nightclub, he is just as sorely mistaken.
A tightening or loosening of gun laws, an increase or decrease in the strictness of gun laws, restrictive amendments to or obviating of gun laws, none of these will notably reduce the number of guns circulating through any given marketplace. Loosening/decreasing strictness/obviating gun laws will maintain and increase the number and variety of guns in the public marketplace. Tightening/increasing strictness/restrictive amending of gun laws will also maintain and increase the number and variety of guns, only now they will be driven into an underground marketplace. Guns will always be available to those who want them—it is only a question of their presence in open markets or black markets.
In either event, there will always remain, in societies the world over, agitated persons who are driven by extremist agendas. Those agendas, left unchecked, will simmer and eventually boil over into violence, especially when they are propped up by oppressive and fundamentalist ideologies, of which Islamism (and, though not entirely, literalist and anachronistic readings of Islam) is but one prime example. Secular examples also abound, but Omar Mateen, although likely driven by a combination of factors, was decidedly non-secular, both in his personal history, and in the statements he made as he executed-at-will 49 victims and critically injured 53 more.
As history has consistently proven, persons driven by extremist agendas will seek to express them. Ultimately, this expression takes the shape of their forming criminally violent intent (mens rea) and acting upon that intent (actus reus) while utilizing all of the tools—e.g., weaponry—available to make the commission of that expression, now a full-fledged criminal act, a success. Mateen’s behavior fits the same pattern of progressive extremization that we have repeatedly witnessed transforming into violent terrorist activity.
It would appear that Scocca’s solution is well-intentioned, as is all of the boilerplate propaganda spewed by both pro-gun and anti-gun establishments alike. One group earnestly believes that they are preserving lives. The other group earnestly believes that they are preserving rights. But such parroting of the issues by professional media institutions not only belies profit/power-oriented elements of both liberal or conservative political agendas, it also reveals the utter lack of critical thinking on the matter at hand. Both the pro and anti sides have missed the mark entirely, because they have dug into their side so thoroughly as to be blind to the truth which lies somewhere in between.
The truth of the matter is that violence is, and always has been, a human problem. Guns are but an inanimate instrument, only becoming criminally animate by ill-intentioned human actors. Were guns to disappear they would be instantaneously replaced by another instrument weaponized to inflict mortal harm. Do guns have the capacity to inflict substantial damage at a faster rate than other weapons? In some cases, yes. When compared to the damage potential of basic explosive devices made from easily obtainable, over-the-counter materials, guns are quickly outclassed.
Terrorist actors favor excessive carnage, of the type that both guns and explosives can produce. Terrorism is, and always has been, a twisted version of publicly performed religio-political theater, and high body counts surely make a bigger bang for the terrorist buck. But, if we are of the collective societal mind that even one fatality resulting from a terrorist act is too many, death tolls become irrelevant to the greater discussion. When an individual is overwhelmed by a persistent desire to express his or her extremist agenda through the exercise of violence on a civilian population, any weapon will do, and any weapon in such a person’s hands can, and will, become deadly.
Violence is a human problem; better stated, violence is a human trait. By extension, terrorism, due to its promise of violence, is a human problem; and for some, terrorism is a human trait, a fact long since proven in witnessing the evolution of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbollah and any number of terrorist personalities and groups. In the hands of humans so inclined to harming others—as humans have been since the beginning of time—this can only mean endless, cyclical violence. Violence, in most cases, is already constituted as unlawful. Yet, in the history of mankind, the abundance of laws against violence have done little to reduce it.
Minimizing any cycle of terroristic violence will take far more effort, creativity, thoughtfulness and, ultimately, intentional investment in forming functional, healthy, and differentiated human relationships than any well intentioned, but vacuously constructed, collection of laws could ever guarantee. Until such a time as those resolutions overwhelm the extremist violent narratives that drive terrorist actors, we have only the guarantee that this “new wave” of unpredictable, small-scale, small-weapon, often lone-wolf performative terrorism will continue. It is working far too well for terrorists to abandon it as a tactic and a strategy, and, as the present focus on anti-gun/pro-gun rhetoric proves, it is far too effective at drawing us into divisive, intra-community political debates, all of which brilliantly distract us from terrorism’s true underlying drivers, for us to put it to a stop.