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A lot has been written about the recent spate of mass casualty attacks carried out by murderers using guns. For those pushing gun control or outright confiscation, the clamoring for Congress to “do something” is loud. Of course, during times of “do something” politics, our government has a track record of making bad situations worse.
How many more people would have protested the government’s post-9/11 Patriot Act and creation of the Department of Homeland Security had they understood 20 years ago that Congress’s “do something” legislation would open up the door to mass warrantless surveillance of citizens, reduced privacy, intrusive transportation screenings, and a “Disinformation Board” for regulating speech? Still, when children are slaughtered in horrific ways, as they were in Uvalde, Texas, even prudent people with good heads on their shoulders find it difficult not to throw up their arms in anguish and demand that those with power “do something.”
It should come as no surprise that bureaucrats with power relish such moments, when the unscrupulous can be heard saying, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” When citizens demand new laws restricting their own freedom, government actors are eager to oblige. When society refuses to solve its own problems and turns to the machinery of government for a solution, then the power and size of government grow, while the power and liberty of the public decline.
Some people are happy with this result. Although it is difficult to claim that either of our two major political parties pursues limited and balanced government, the Democratic Party celebrates government power in ways our Founding Fathers would have abhorred. To those who sought independence from English tyranny, government was a necessary evil to ensure a peaceful society but never a blessing in and of itself.
Government Is No Replacement for Society
In the United States today, the importance of society has slipped away with tragic results. In “Common Sense,” Thomas Paine spoke for his peers before the Revolution:
SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.
For too many Americans, however, the sharp divide between government and society has disappeared, with the former now presuming to speak in toto for the latter.
To appreciate this crucial distinction, consider that the only “solution” overwhelmingly tossed around for reducing mass shootings is to pass laws that make it more difficult, if not impossible, to own firearms. Even though the Second Amendment’s protection of Americans’ natural and unalienable right to self-defense states clearly that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” the prevailing assumption held both by citizens and legislators is that only new laws, regulations, and penalties can curb gun violence. When government is seen as the only answer to a problem, then punishment becomes the only tool for effecting change.
How to Stop Sociopaths Who Shoot People
If we still had proper regard for the role of society as wholly separate from the blunt instrumentalities of government, however, responding to the illicit actions of one criminal offender by punishing non-offenders would seem absurd. Society, of course, has innumerable potential answers for handling gun violence.
It could rededicate itself to teaching America’s youth the importance of morality, civic duty, and virtue. It could reject the false notion that religion must be abandoned in the public square. It could celebrate successful marriages, strong families, and attentive mothers and fathers. It could dismiss the postmodern temptation to treat what is “right” and what is “wrong” as nothing more than contrived value judgments for creating and maintaining power.
It could commemorate the transition from boyhood to manhood and sanctify the rites of passage attendant with that growth. It could choose to honor those with virtue and condemn those consumed with wickedness.
It could recommit itself to teaching individual responsibility and applauding individual achievement. It could embrace responsible gun ownership as a duty expected of every citizen. It could refuse, in other words, to hand over society’s inherent purpose to the cold machinery of government force and coercion.
Yet these solutions are nary considered publicly because bigger and more powerful government has become America’s answer for every problem arising from a fractured, unhealthy society. Just as government is incapable of creating moral citizens, though, it is also an untrustworthy advocate for virtue over sin.
Government Answers to Cultural Problems Make Everything Worse
In a counterproductive doom loop of sorts, society crumbles a little, new government-imposed punishments become law, and society crumbles a little more. Society never improves, yet government authority endlessly expands. Only when Americans come to the conclusion that society’s problems require cultural answers, and only when government gets out of the way, can America regain its footing and health.
As Paine continued from the passage above: “Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”
Gun control laws and heavy-handed government will never end this cycle of violence in America. To rejuvenate society, society must do the heavy lifting.
J.B. Shurk is a proud American from Daniel Boone country.