Look, friends, at what we have done
It was an American tragedy, they will say.
They will write, in the history books, generations from now: a peculiar convergence of circumstances leading to a predictable, recurring outcome.
An onslaught that inevitably continued until the government intervened.
Murders that continued, unabated, until the people did something more than just pray.
If I sound dramatic, I would say that drama is called for this week. To speak otherwise about the murder of 59 of our fellows would be sacrilegious.
It is difficult, frankly, to know where to begin. Perhaps an acknowledgement of the stupefying power of mass shootings is always necessary before trying, however imperfectly, to say something cogent in response.
I’ll start, then, with a confession.
I am a gun owner and even, most of the time, a gun lover.
I grew up with guns in the house. Pistols, rifles, shotguns; large caliber and small; guns for hunting and guns for shooting clay pigeons. Guns, even – in the worst possible scenario – for defense.
I have been around guns since the day my parents brought me home from the hospital. I have been shooting guns since I was 8 years old, if not before. I was in a youth skeet shooting league at age 9. Since before I can remember, I have learned that guns demand the utmost respect but are also objects of immense pleasure.
I still believe both of those things. I still shoot guns, and I still like guns.
I might even, as I indicated, love guns – many of my most enduring childhood memories wouldn’t be the same without them.
I’m sure many of you are the same way. Some, undoubtedly, are not, and that’s okay. You might think that my enthusiasm for guns is crazy. Certainly, many gun-toting Texans (which, in some sense, includes me) are labeled as backward, violent and dangerous by people who are distrustful of guns, or who do not support their widespread ownership and use.
I do not think that most of us gun owners are backward, violent or inherently dangerous. I genuinely believe that many staunch opponents of gun rights might be pleasantly surprised by a trip to the shooting range. They might even find that they enjoy shooting, that guns aren’t entirely malicious after all.
But I will say this: many of my fellow gun enthusiasts have succumbed to a state of denial, paranoia and self-centeredness that is nothing less than repugnant. In that way, they have indeed become dangerous.
As someone who cherishes my ability to own and use guns – but also someone who hangs my head in shame after tragedies like Orlando and Las Vegas – I would welcome stricter gun purchasing requirements with an ebullient hoot and holler.
It seems perfectly reasonable to require a thorough background check in order to purchase a deadly weapon. We require as much or more when the stakes are much lower, including when applying for many standard jobs.
I would even welcome the possibility of a federal registration of weapons, particularly assault weapons. We already register our vehicles, marriages and permanent addresses. This is to say nothing about our unwitting disclosure of information through our web activity, nor of data collection (legal or not) by the government and other parties.
I am in favor of these measures not because I am a pinko-commie, or a fascist or a tree-hugging liberal.
I am in favor of stricter gun control measures because I hold sacred the principle that deadly weapons demand the highest level of responsibility from those who use them – and this, my friends, is not responsible use on the collective part of our nation.
I would rather make reasonable concessions to unlimited rights than to have all of those rights taken away. Nor am I under the myopic and selfish delusion that Big Brother will someday use registration information to ‘take away’ my guns.
Let me say clearly: I am not ‘politicizing’ this tragedy. Mr. Trump did indeed politicize the tragedy in San Bernardino when he made it a foundational point in his Islamophobic campaign platform.
I suspect that Mr. Trump would have engaged in similar politicizing had there been any inkling whatsoever that the Las Vegas shooter was anything other than an aged white man.
I am trying to see the photos and read the descriptions of dead bodies in the streets of Las Vegas and not simply go on with my day as if there is nothing this country can do to stop such attacks from happening in the future.
I am trying to come to terms with the fact that this only happens here, in America, where we foolishly value an obsolete notion of the Second Amendment more than we value human lives.
Mass shootings and other terror attacks are unpredictable; they are perhaps even unpreventable. That isn’t to say they cannot be reduced; that isn’t to say we cannot take sensible, moderate and unobtrusive measures to prevent them from occurring here with such mind-numbing frequency and scale.
The thing about terror attacks is that they instantly deconstruct our notion that we live in something like a stable and safe society. They remind us that mental illness and delusion, not to mention random and deadly aggression, are real problems, and of the perils we bring upon ourselves by ignoring or denying those problems.
They strip us of our assumed sense of collective trust, our dignified delusion that we civilized humans are not also the wickedest of animals.
These are the times when we must look reality square in the face; we must stop denying that the blood running in the streets of Las Vegas will never run again, because it will. Again and again, America will allow her own to be murdered in the streets until we put sufficient pressure on our politicians to implement substantive policy interventions. The last attempt at a gun control bill was in 2013. It is high time for another.
But we must also, in these times, embrace each other more strongly than ever. We must not think that because some of us are that way that we are all that way. We must not lose the sense of trust and beauty and love that allows us as a people to accomplish our best deeds, even and especially in response to our worst.
SMU alumnus Marcus Pinon said it best, in a Facebook post shortly after the shooting:
“But no matter your race, your religion, your nationality, your gender, your sexuality, your political party, your truthful everyday being as a person, I am STILL not afraid to get to know you. I trust the everyday stranger to have good intentions for interacting with me, because I always do for anyone.”