Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


1 Comment

Right Quick: The Gun Bills

In the midst of the many hot-button issues facing America right now, the gun control debate is still producing its fair share of interesting developments. We’ve had Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s disturbing attempt to publically infringe upon the rights of private corporations that refused to bow to the liberal political agenda. We’ve also had freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s winning response against government bullying. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden has tripled and quadrupled down on his peculiar insistence on shotguns being more easily handled than more popular AR-15s.

The last few months have seen much left-of-center focus on having fewer guns forms and a right-of-center focus on the many problems with “reasonable, common sense” fixes that fix little or nothing. As I’ve already written quite a bit on this topic, I won’t rehash old arguments. Rather, as more liberal-leaning media outlets take pains to highlight protests for gun control, it seems expedient to note a development unlikely to receive much attention in the mainstream media. Namely, victims of gun violence—like law enforcement officers—do not uniformly back the full package of the Obama-Feinstein proposals.

Since witnessing her parents’ death in a Texas mass shooting in 1991, Dr. Suzanna Hupp has been advocating for gun rights around the country. She considers herself a victim not of “gun violence” but of legislative malpractice. In Connecticut, grieving Newtown father Mark Mattioli testified that new gun laws are not the answer to the kind of tragedies his family suffered. Most recently, Columbine survivor Evan M. Todd penned an open letter to President Obama rejecting the administration’s gun control push.

He argues in part:

“Gun ownership is at an all time high. And although tragedies like Columbine and Newtown are exploited by ideologues and special-interest lobbying groups, crime is at an all time low. The people have spoken. Gun store shelves have been emptied. Gun shows are breaking attendance records. Gun manufacturers are sold out and back ordered. Shortages on ammo and firearms are countrywide. The American people have spoken and are telling you that our Second Amendment shall not be infringed.

Virginia Tech was the site of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Seung-Hui Cho used two of the smallest caliber hand guns manufactured and a handful of ten round magazines. There are no substantial facts that prove that limited magazines would make any difference at all.

Mr. President, in theory, your initiatives and proposals sound warm and fuzzy — but in reality they are far from what we need. Your initiatives seem to punish law-abiding American citizens and enable the murderers, thugs, and other lowlifes who wish to do harm to others.

Let me be clear: These ideas are the worst possible initiatives if you seriously care about saving lives and also upholding your oath of office.”

Whether you agree with everything these different people have to say, it would certainly add some useful substance to the gun control debate to hear more from the inconvenient holders of perspectives unfashionable in various “mainstream” quarters. As the Senate opts to split its key proposals into separate bills for separate votes, let’s hope sound policy and good governance prevail in the end.

Advertisements


3 Comments

Speed of Change

“You’re never as clever as you think you are.” –Mom

I was impatient as a kid. As has become archetypical of my generation, I wanted everything immediately and perfectly, and I read injustice in the heavens at my every frustration. You see, entitlement, particularly of the sloppy, Digital-Age variety, is an intensely emotional commitment. Whether it manifests in idle resentment or exhibitionist rage, a debt denied is an existential offense to the moral order that happens to linger in your orbit. So when I wanted snacks, I deserved them now. When I finished my homework, I assumed it was eo ipso done right—who has time to check their work when the universe beckons with dodgeball and moon pies, hide-and-seek and fireflies?

Fortunately, the many responsible adults in my young life disagreed with my less-than-adorable assessment of universal truths. I was required to wait for my turn or the appropriate time or the rightful owner’s consent in order to do things. I was made to double-check my math, proofread my writing, defend my assertions, and right my wrongs. In short, I was made to check my work. Moreover, I was taught the world would expect such things of me because those who run the world expect such things of themselves, and that is how good men behave. You get ahead by being on point, and thus you earn your keep.

What happens when you check your work. Stay in school, kids.

It seems the world didn’t get my upbringing.

As the recent Manti Te’o scandal marinates in memes, a recurring wonder reaches crescendo: why didn’t any of these reporters bother to check their work? From Sports Illustrated to CBS to The Chicago Tribune to Salon to the Associated Press, a story got reprinted over and over again with hardly anybody confirming anything. How was this possible? How often does such a thing happen without our knowing it? Perhaps the most chilling insight into this ridiculous affair comes courtesy of NPR:

“The truth is that much of the time, reporters are just like everyone else: They largely believe what they read in the papers and see on TV. So each successive journalist unconsciously relied on the last for confidence in what he or she was presenting to the public. And this story was one they wanted to believe.”

As disturbing as that might sound, something about it rings true. We are, after all, a culture fond of propagating frequently misattributed quotes—often from Shakespeare or Morgan Freeman—and jumping on celebrity causes—from Kony 2012 to It Gets Better—with devils for entrails. Speaking of videos, doctored accounts have led our federal executives to fire people in embarrassingly hurried error and our trustworthy pundits to double down on discredited network lines. While we’re at it, how many people, news anchors, and governments have been fooled by satire to date?

In our current debates over violence, there has been much appeal to raw emotion to blunt the sobering checks of reason. From the offset, the rhetorical issues surrounding so-called “assault weapons” has degenerated so far that Wikipedia is now more credible on this matter than The New York Times. Beyond that, there has been the bizarre notion that feel-good, do-something bans on rifle cosmetics and rare-in-crime magazines is a “sensible” way to credibly reduce any kind of violence. But notwithstanding all that confusion, we still have partisans like Andrew Cuomo and Rachel Maddow calling for “moving fast” on “sensible” gun laws and “common-sense” restrictions, even as Vice President Biden notes the established ease of getting around bans.

There were many practical lessons I learned growing up an impatient, quick-tempered brat in the singular nexus of ethnic and cultural diversity that is the U.S. Army. One key understanding was that “fast” and “sensible” are competing goods, and there is nothing common about “common sense” (another way of saying, be wary of groupthink). Sometimes, the situation demands immediate decision and you cannot afford to “overthink”. Deliberation does have costs, after all. The other side of that coin, however, is the old adage: there’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over. Enter: New York.

In wake of the tragedy and outrage of Newtown and the ubiquitous desire to do something about it, Andrew Cuomo set out to push the “toughest gun control legislation in the country” before anyone could stop and think too much about what it was they were passing. And so they did. It is illegal to have unfashionable rifles and old magazines with eight or more clips in New York. There are no exceptions to this law. Now, as every police officer in the Empire State prepares to become a gun criminal, Governor Cuomo and the nation’s gun-control enthusiasts are learning that hallmark lesson of my childhood: always check your work.


2 Comments

A Place in Heaven

Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time, with a gift of tears;
Grief, with a glass that ran;
Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
Summer, with flowers that fell;
Remembrance, fallen from heaven,
And madness risen from hell;
Strength without hands to smite;
Love that endures for a breath;
Night, the shadow of light,
And Life, the shadow of death.         –Algernon Charles Swinburne

“and the dragon fought…and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.” –Revelation 12:7-8

“Angels with silver wings shouldn’t know suffering.”

I remember watching Megyn Kelly one afternoon, some time ago, after one of the many little tragedies that emerge through the fickle din of commentary. As she was imparting the latest developments in the case, her station engineers switched to a photograph of whatever knave had vomited his iniquity onto the world that week. Before disgust could curl my lip, and after only the briefest pause, Megyn ordered unseen hands to keep the screen on her. Under no circumstances, she said, were they to reward a criminal with attentive eyes.

It’s rare you see such unilateral moral clarity in public anymore. I could have fallen in love that day.

Yet instead of love, I recall a situation from my college years as a member of a political debating society known as the Independent Party. Through various historians, alumni, and a mysteriously lost silver goblet at Mory’s Temple Bar, the Party has preserved the names of the Chairmen through the decades. Lost among those is “The Jackelope.” Before you inquire: I don’t know this fellow’s name. He was removed from office over a decade ago for moral and political failings so heinous that his peers struck his name from all records. I have met several alumni from that period. Not a one will tell of the man behind the soubriquet. Thus, his memory will die as nothing more than a cautionary tale forever shrouded in the indignity of oblivion. That is the fate of varmints.

When I think of the day the abyss gazed into Newtown, Connecticut, I think of Vicki Soto, just four years my senior, trading her own promise for a chance to save the children. I hear the custodian canvassing the halls to warn people of the gunman. I see Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach lunging into eternity, buying precious moments through the intercom. I watch the school’s lead teacher barricading a classroom door as her body is violated by fire. I choke back tears for that darkly shrewd little girl playing dead among the bodies of her entire first-grade class. I remember that twenty innocent children will never again smile, laugh, cry, hurt, sing, pout, or grow old. I contemplate how we might find a way to stop these and so many other deaths from so many tragically resolvable ills. I grow weary of how powerless I am against the violent apathy of a vast and empty universe.

But I do not think of the shooter. Of what consequence is his memory? For what reason would we immortalize his name in media or conversation? Of what concern are his views and philosophies that we should ponder his mind? For the sake of what value would we propagate his photograph? To the extent that there is any possible meaning in his story, it is only the understanding of how the next maniac might be thwarted. It is not a narrative of this or any other specific shooter. It is a tale of bundled pathologies, full of sound and fury, warranting no greater identity than a set of coordinates in space and time—Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, 2012.

Perhaps there is a lesson about mental disorder, drugs, guns, bullying, or societal decay—those are certainly worthwhile inquiries of policy and culture. But we shan’t discern any useful direction for national policy from the reconstructed memoirs of a deranged mind. Did the shooter suffer from mental illness? Had he been violent before? Did he get proper treatment? Were there any warning signs missed? Should Governor Malloy reverse funding cuts to mental health services in Connecticut? Should Governor McDonnell contemplate the same in Virginia? What policies might best prevent future tragedies? Why?

I hope policymakers will diligently ascertain solutions. But that process is not aided one iota by imparting millions with inanely jaundiced views of the “mentally ill” because the media is too sanctimoniously fickle for difficult conversations of mental health and other issues. It is not responsible journalism but a macabre theater of fetishistic enabling that produces articles, segments, op-eds, and photographs delving ever deeper into a story offering only horror and the illusion of enlightenment. (No, I won’t link to any of them.)

To be sure, this kiss of oblivion to fiends is not always expedient. If the suspect is still alive and at large (or is thought to be so), then it is vital that we think about him (or her), as a matter of public safety. But such are not the situations with mass shootings, whose perpetrators are caught either by law or bullet.

It is also said that we should remember the humanity of the shooter and find it in our hearts to forgive. As assuredly as resentment is mother to a stillborn soul, forgiveness is the ultimate rite of healing. But these victims are not my family or neighbors, nor are their towns my home. I feel sympathy for their pain and solidarity with their desire for justice and recovery of promise lost. But absolution is not mine to give. That is between the people and communities most deeply affected by these tragedies and powers beyond primetime. The media as we know it is no better fit for such a transcendently serious project than a “gentlemen’s club” is fit for a nursery.

If we are eager for a divine lesson, we have Milton and the origin of violence. When the angels of the rebellious Morning were expelled from Glory, their names were to be heard no more in Heaven. Wisdom held that justice does not crown the wicked in the immortality of infamy. From then on, the fallen were merely Satan—Accuser—of no more personal significance in the grand struggle against evil and chaos than individual waves are to a flood. Instead, all focus is for the innocent and the hopeful. So let us speak of them and the way forward.

There are stories of the dead that we must tell and answers for the living that we must find. That is our project now. Let there be no glory for the wicked.