American gun culture, with ‘libertarianism run amok,’ causes gun violence

Hundreds gather for ‘Enough is Enough’ vigil in Lexington, call for action on gun violence

Hundreds gathered in Lexington’s Robert F. Stephens Courthouse plaza Thursday night to hold a vigil for the victims of gun violence from two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this week.
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Hundreds gathered in Lexington’s Robert F. Stephens Courthouse plaza Thursday night to hold a vigil for the victims of gun violence from two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this week.

Texas has experienced its second mass shooting within a month. As one of the laxest states in the nation regarding gun regulation, Texas’ prominent place in the recurring mass shootings that plague and terrorize the nation should surprise no one. Studies show that the laxer a state’s gun regulations are, the more gun violence it experiences. What needs more attention is the ideology that governs national gun policy that makes massacres like the ones in El Paso and Odessa more and more part of daily life in America.

Our scandalous gun policy is the inevitable consequence of libertarian ideology. That the United States has become a pariah among nations in its utter failure to maintain a safe public sphere is due to a libertarianism run amok. This is the mind-set that focuses solely on an individual’s right to be armed, no matter where one happens to be — whether at home, in the marketplace, in the workplace, in school, in church (just about any place except the workspace of the politicians who are the makers of the policy). The mind-set has no concern for the lethal effects of a gun-infested public square.

Our Constitution mandates that our government promote the general welfare and the common defense. Cultivating a gun culture in which four percent of the world’s population possesses more than 42% of the world’s guns is not promoting the general welfare nor is it providing for the common defense at its most basic level, that of a safe environment in which to lead our lives. Making matters even worse is the specious claim that there are simply too many guns of all kinds in private hands to try to regulate, much more to repossess them. Inaction is not an option.

No other developed nation comes remotely close to our annual toll in gun deaths. What differentiates us from them? Not ethnic nor religious diversity, not the incidence of mental disorders. As a recent New York Times article concludes: “The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.” And the culprit responsible for that menacing glut is our anarchistic libertarianism, together with our corrupt campaign financing which enables the gun industry to ensure that the politicians in its debt treat gun rights as sacred, ones to be honored to the point of absurdity. Anything that has the potential to infringe upon those rights, such as the registration of guns, or the limiting of access, or the banning of certain types, or the encoding of ammunition that will identify the source of its firing, or the accountability of manufacturers for the illegitimate loss of life that their weapons cause, all such measures are dismissed as being a threat to this concocted American value. Just ask Mitch McConnell.

In the Second Amendment we have a perfect example of the power of libertarian ideology, with its atomistic view of society, to shape our discourse about gun-related matters. It reads: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It says nothing about individual rights. The “right” is that of “the people,” a national community which is, as Lincoln reminded us, the core of our government. At the time the framers of our republic drew up the Constitution and its first ten amendments, the common defense was provided for by local militias. The right to bear arms was predicated upon that need to have organized communal bodies ready to provide the common defense for the state (a need, one should note, that no longer exists with our professional military).

That is the context in which the Supreme Court traditionally interpreted the Second Amendment. Until District of Columbia v. Heller, when a libertarian majority of the court invented an individual right to “keep and bear arms” that opened the floodgates to the ocean of weapons that increasingly imperil our nation. There are now more weapons than people in this country, all too many owned by a shrinking minority of Second Amendment addicts.

The amendment is an anachronism whose misinterpretation by five justices has made it a source of suffering and death that this nation can no longer afford. For the nation’s well-being, we need to repeal or amend it. To accomplish that, we need to call out the libertarian extremism that has brought us to the harrowing place in which a gun-happy minority of our society has put us.

Robert Curran is a retired professor of history from Georgetown University who currently lives in Richmond.