News agencies today are reporting that a shooting has occurred on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The details at this point are various and unclear. The number of dead is at least seven, perhaps more, and the shooter has been killed. One witness says the shooter ordered people to stand and declare their religions before opening fire. The implications of that can take us in many directions, and it’s best to leave speculation here alone until we have more verified information.
But restraint is difficult in the face of an outrage like this. Presidential candidates are already weighing in and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has released a statement. Twitter is ablaze with tweets about the incident. As is to be expected, the early reactions tend more toward heat than light.
The standard answers—tighter gun control, elimination of gun-free zones—have been debated for a long time, and by this point, it should be clear that neither the position of gun control advocates nor of people who support gun rights holds the credible promise of absolute safety. As should be clear to my regular readers, I’m on the side of individual rights, and on principle, the sacrifice of rights is never the answer, but in pragmatic terms, a proposed solution has to show evidence that it can succeed to be worthy of consideration.
Can we reliably stop a person who is dedicated to committing murder in a location with a lot of people? No. Years of terrorism and spree killing show that when someone is determined to kill without being concerned about surviving the attack, preventing that intention would require the imposition of a police state, with all the inherent harms that would bring.
So what do we do? I’ve written before about solutions aimed at reducing overall violence, but here are some thoughts about what to do specifically with mass shooters of the type that have grabbed our attention in the last several years.
For one thing, as I’ve also discussed before, let’s follow David Brin’s advice about not celebrating these shooters. Celebrating, you ask. Indeed. We show their faces. We read their manifesti. In other words, we give them the attention they sought. Stop doing that.
But more than that, Americans—and we who support gun rights especially—need to rethink our attitude toward difference. Whatever groups we belong to, it’s altogether too easy to adopt the attitude that we are the good guys and everyone else as Other. Insiders are good; outsiders are bad or evil or dangerous or whatever term we wish to substitute here that makes us feel repulsion. Isolation of individuals who belong to a social species is painful, especially when the person being shunned is surrounded by but cut off from his fellows.
This isn’t to say that the individual shooters responsible for killings deserve a pass. We each are free moral agents. But at the same time, we have to recognize the psychological damage done by labeling some as outcasts. We don’t yet know the specific details of the person who attacked the college in Oregon. What we can say is that if we expect our rights to be respected, we owe the same courtesy to others. And we would do well also to understand that difference is exactly what freedom is.
Less mockery of those who don’t make choices we understand or agree with and more willingness to include others in our comprehensive expression of freedom won’t prevent every outrage. What such actions will do is to make society as a whole better, thereby reducing the impulse to violence.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.