On Wednesday (26 August 2015), an apparently disgruntled former employee killed two of his former co-workers, reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward of WDBJ, and wounded a third person they were interviewing before fleeing the scene, being chased by police, and turning the gun on himself. He later died in hospital. The shooter filmed himself committing this heinous act. I’ve seen the video, but I won’t link to it here. The words I’ve used in describing the event are clinical, and that may be enough for many readers.
Predictably, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America put out a statement expressing sorrow over the loss of two lives, and on that point, all decent people agree. The Facebook posting goes on to say that it is not normal for people to be shot to death in their places of education, work, worship, or entertainment, and once more, I have no argument against that. We’re told that our leaders need to do more to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, though, and here we have a parting of the ways.
This concept of danger is something that many fail to grasp. This takes some analysis, and fortunately, two great minds of the last century are here to help.
In The Allegory of Love, C.S. Lewis shows us the root of the word. It arises out of the Latin dominus, lord or master. As used in Anglo-French of the thirteenth century, it meant, “power, power to harm, mastery, authority, control.” (This can be found in shorter form at the Online Etymological Dictionary.) Later, the word takes on the meanings of risk or peril, the recognition that when we are in someone else’s power, we are at the mercy of that person’s whims.
Lewis’s friend and colleague, J.R.R. Tolkien, illustrates the idea in The Two Towers. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, following the traces of missing hobbits, have entered Fangorn Forest, only to find Gandalf returned to Middle Earth. Gimli declares:
“I thought Fangorn was dangerous.”
“Dangerous!” cried Gandalf. “And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Glóin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion.”
The point being made here is that danger and ability go hand in hand. The ability to act is a tool of great power.
Moms Demand Action would have us believe that we can restrain the dangers of the world. This reminds me of a demand I heard shortly after 9/11 for non-explosive jet fuel. Wishful thinking like that often stirs our emotions, but in those moments, we have to preserve rational thought. Tall buildings and airplanes are as useful as they are precisely because they are direct challenges to gravity. Jet fuel does what we ask it to do, but it is always on the edge of uncontrolled conflagration. We accept those dangers so as to travel beyond the places of our births and to rise into the sky.
When I was a child, I played on monkey bars at school. I walked for miles in the woods and neighborhood around my home. I rode in a lawn chair in the bed of my parents’ pickup, protected by only a camper top. Which is to say, we had a different assessment of risk in that time. These days, people are shocked to hear me describe my wild days of youth, but I’m not the only one who wonders if we’ve swaddled contemporary children up in too many layers of bubble wrap.
The lesson here is to recognize that safety and danger lie in opposition to each other—so long as we have a proper understanding of what danger is. As a nation, America decided long ago to accept distributed danger—that is power and authority—in the hands of all citizens. We did that with guns, as my readers are well aware of, but we also did that with speech and the press, with the insistence that government agents cannot enter our homes at will, and with our choice of our leaders through the vote.
These are all dangerous. They are dangers because they are the power to shape the world according to our own visions. This power will be abused, either through intent or negligence, and we can do things to mitigate the harms. But to take away danger itself is to take away choice, to take away the essence of humanity.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.