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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/5/22

Gun Violence and Perceptions of Morality

Follow Me on Twitter     Message Sam Barro

I ask the reader to consider: "In a better world, instead of our children, mass murderers would shoot Congressmen who refuse to vote for gun-law reform." Do you agree with that statement? Would you make that statement to other people? If you heard someone else make that statement, would you think that person is inciting violence against Congressmen? Would you decide that person is behaving immorally?

I answer the first two questions positively and the second two negatively. When I made a similar statement to colleagues, the response was mostly silence, and with the response I did get, none of it reflected a literal translation of the statement - what the statement really says - and the statement was dismissed with a simple phrase or two in which I was accused of inciting violence against Congressmen.

I also asked colleagues more directly, "Rather than shooting children, do you think it would be better for mass murderers to shoot Congressmen who refuse to vote for gun-law reform"? (I answer this question in the affirmative.) The response was again mostly silence and with some moral judgements that didn't answer the question, such as, "both are wrong," or "that's a stupid question," and, in paraphrase, "We in society are supposed to find ways to behave without any violence." I was also warned that making public statements like that might result in legal action against me.

I was surprised that responders showed no desire to engage in discussion of the issue I raised, but it's not the first time that a rational act of connecting dots was suppressed by moral judgements.

I thus ask myself, how am I able to answer these questions so easily and to discuss the issue with such detail, yet my colleagues cannot? Am I behaving immorally? But such a small private sampling of people can't mean much, and widespread public polling would be in order. Yet I doubt such a poll would ever be conducted. Why? Because the poll itself would probably be regarded as incitement to violence, or basically, immoral, and perhaps open to law suites.

The whole episode indicates to me that, although we may be prevented from having a public discussion, we do have a willingness to assert moral beliefs that replace the discussion. Yet, what are these moral beliefs?

As I explained to colleagues, one of the reasons for my suggesting and framing a public debate with such questions/statements is to bring to public mind a level of discussion wherein the rhetoric matches the violent behavior we see. My contention is that we now separate the violent action - exploded heads and floors made slippery with blood - from the political discussion of gun-law reform - sterile rooms with people wearing expensive clothing - and thus grant politicians immunity, disconnecting them from the violence they are responsible for. Wouldn't it be interesting to have Congressmen conduct their political debate in that room in Uvalde, fresh after the slaughter? This image is what I'm proposing, in a literary way.

We are now seeing public statements by some politicians accusing other politicians of having "blood on your hands." Such statements do raise the discussion to the level it deserves, but only barely so.

The most serious objection to such a public discussion I believe is raised by the fear of where it will lead. Advocates of the Second Amendment and their supporting politicians will have their say, and the fear is that the discussion will get so heated that political polarization would intensify and much more violence will result. My God, all hell will break loose!

My answer to such objection is that we humans have always suppressed free discussion out of fear of consequences. Our rational ability has been one of the most feared threats to political hegemony. Most organized religions in fact prosper by suppressing such awesome capability. Both in history and in present-day civilization, we see countless examples wherein censorship protects the most powerful people from the consequences of fact-based rational discussion among commoners, and many commoners act to suppress the public statements of other commoners. The system works very efficiently because it enrolls citizens as moral-code enforcers.

As citizens, some of us might then ask ourselves whether we'd want to seek out those discussions by which fear is instilled in those that wield inappropriate power over us, i.e., those who prevent us from effecting solutions to our most serious problems.

Would it be immoral to impart such personal fear in certain Congressmen? Perhaps not if these so-called servants of the social order would hopefully come to realize what it would mean to them personally if they themselves experienced any of the horrible personal consequences to others their official decisions enable. Gun violence certainly is personal! If such fear instigates a morally required change in their official decisions, I'd consider it a good thing.

And there are other possible outcomes to such candid discussion, for instance, with the moral stakes injected by rational inquiry within such a discussion - by virtue of the addition of the shocking visual dimension - many voters might experience a more realistic perspective on how meaningful and consequential their votes really are. Again, picture a voter at a polling booth placed inside that fresh-bloody room in Uvalde. Just the smell of fresh blood could influence his/her vote.

Thus, the hope is that the public discussion would tip the existing political balance, and that many Congressmen who refuse to vote on gun-law reform would be voted out of office.

Proponents of the status quo would hail such a result as proof that our democracy works. But it would've taken a kind of discussion that our democracy now suppresses. The obvious fact is that our democracy isn't working. The minority is controlling the majority - an achievement by our political leaders, which has broken both our democracy and our moral codes.

The effects on voting could of course go both ways, but the complexities forbid any definite conclusions. For instance, is the statement, "I'd prefer that certain Congressmen get shot rather than children," attributed to liberal, conservative, or progressive thinking styles? I believe the answer isn't clear, which means that the discussion might not polarize to just two opposing sides, as many people seem to fear.

If the accusation, "You have blood on your hands," is justified, doesn't it imply that opposition to those bloody Congressmen becomes an act of self-defense? That question itself, with its introduction of the concept of "self-defense," illustrates how the discussion is drastically moved by the simple image of violence implied by "blood on your hands." Because now with the verbiage "self-defense" part of the rhetoric, a whole new moral perception becomes possible. Most seriously, if the actions of these Congressmen result in otherwise preventable gun violence, should not the level of discussion associate the descriptive language of violence with the same Congressmen, as an act of public self-defense? For instance, "Mr. Congressman, don't you know I'd rather see you shot than a child shot?"

(Disclaimer: I am proposing only verbal discussion, not violent action.)

Very few readers here are naà ve about how our society imposes its own definitions of "self-defense," and how arbitrary they really are. Our government's missile attacks and bombings in other sovereign countries, its drone warfare, its funding of groups that kill innocent people, and perhaps even capital punishment, are only a few ways our society defines the complex nature of "self-defense." Although such definitions are often made by people to preserve their wealth and power and to not really provide for self-defense, that's the argument sold - with impunity - to the public. And the public largely buys it, as the resulting violence becomes a basis for prevailing morality that most citizens do not question. It doesn't surprise me that a country that permits its government to create such mayhem to civilian men, women, and children overseas is also willing to murder its own people, domestically.

I find it strange how, within a country that thousands of times creates civilian death by drone can produce thoughtful citizens that enthusiastically censor on moral grounds the kinds of statement I start this article off with.

Hypocrisy prevails, and we ourselves become confused at just what morality is - even though most of us believe we know what it is, with an eagerness to teach it to the person alongside. This confusion I believe is illustrated by the fact that we cannot seem to gather our thoughts well enough to have a cogent public discussion about it.

What is morality?

So then, I must ask, what's wrong with me publicly expressing my simple opinion: "Rather than shooting children, I believe it would be better if people shot Congressmen who refuse to vote for gun-law reform"?

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Fascinated, bewildered, and enthusiastic about all things human,and at the same time discouraged by how easily people with selfish, evil intentions dominate the rest of us.

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