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The American Marriage of Freedom and Death

Since the Las Vegas mass shooting I’ve heard it said that the 59 deaths and the 527 injuries are the price we pay for our freedom. I’m assuming that by extension the one mass shooting every day* and the 90 deaths and 200 injuries due to one-on-one weapon violence every day are also the price of freedom. Death and injury by weapon violence in the United States is so commonplace it is taken for granted by the citizenry. Killing each other is as American as apply pie.

It is an interesting and disturbing concept that to be a patriotic American you must suport weapon ownwership  and accept the link between killing and freedom. I am not saying that people after Las Vegas were claiming freedom is maintained through the killing of our fellow citizens. Of course they were not. I am saying that many defenders of the 2nd Amendment insist that the killing is an acceptable cost of maintaining the right to own weapons and thus our freedom. It's almost as though there is a kind of organic link between the two. Take away the primary source of the killing, our weapons, and our freedom dissolves.

It might surprise many in the United States that there are countries around the world where people are just as free as Americans and do not associate the safeguarding of their freedom with weapon ownership and the killing of fellow citizens. The link between maintaining freedom and citizen on citizen killing is incomprehensible to them. The notion that death is some kind of unavoidable byproduct of having freedom is nonsensical. The claim that enduring the continual killing of citizens by citizens is an unfortunate requirement of a free people is insanity.

When I lived in Great Britain, after every mass shooting in the United States people would ask me to explain why Americans continue to kill each other when steps could be taken to at least reduce the slaughter. They would explain that after the massacre of sixteen children and one teacher in Dunblane in 1996 the British government, with the support of the people, enacted gun control. Since Dunblane there has only been one mass shooting and death by gun violence has gradually gone down. They would point out that after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, when thirty-five people died and twenty-three others were injured, the Australian government legislated for gun control which resulted in a dramatic fall in gun violence and no more mass shootings. 

Of course I talked about the 2nd Amendment and did my best to explain the importance of the US Constitution. I spoke about the incredible power and wealth of the National Rifle Association and its influence on our elected state and federal officials. But it didn’t really help. When I said that the right to own weapons is more important than the lives of our children, people just stare in disbelief. And why should they understand the outlandish reality that in the United States the concept of freedom is intimately married to the killing of citizens?

Ironically, those of us advocating for at least anemic gun control would never suggest the United States consider the measures taken by Britain and Australia to protect its citizens. We would not be so naïve and foolish. This is America, after all. No, we are simply pleading for at least humble beginnings to stop the carnage. Make it illegal for mentally disturbed people to buy weapons. Make it illegal for potential terrorist to buy weapons. Make it illegal for everyone to buy weapons that are more suited for warfare then hunting and home protection. But even these commonsense restrictions are unacceptable. The NRA fought for and won the right of people on the no fly list, that is people the FBI suspect might be terrorist, to purchase weapons. Why? Apparently to protect our freedom. (There is more to say here since the vast majority of mass shootings are done by “normal” American white males.)  

For a society to marry freedom to death in such a visceral and pseudo religious way is an indication of a serious social pathology. While we accept regulation in other areas of our lives, absolutely no regulation is allowed when it comes to our sacred weapons. We have a zillion regulations and laws protecting citizens from dangerous cars and kitchen stoves, flammable furniture fabric and scolding hot coffee, dangerous toys and dangerous medication. If a fire in a high rise kills residents, we learn what happened and take steps to prevent it from happening again. If a car proves to be dangerous, it is recalled. Our safety culture is alive and well. But when it comes to weapons, that harm and kill people every day, absolutely no regulations are allowed. No adjustments to make the weapons less dangerous are allowed. No restrictions on who can purchase a weapon are allowed. No restrictions on what kinds of weapons can be sold are allowed. The government is not even allowed to study the impact of gun violence on the nation.

This kind of societal behavior is simply bizarre and sick. To accept that one cost of our freedom is killing each other each and every day is a sign of a corporate social illness. And note. We are not talking about the killing of a common outside enemy threatening our freedom. We are talking about the killing of fellow citizens. We are killing each other. Only a violent and pathological society could accept such a reality.

People have been saying that self-imposed death is the cost of freedom. What they should be saying is that self-imposed death is the cost of freedom in the United States. It is a uniquely American pathology.  For only in America have people reified an ancient clause and thus accept a philosophical, pseudo theological, political, and psychological fusing of freedom and death.

* The FBI defines a mass shooting as four or more people killed and/or injured during a single shooting incident.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

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