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Ordinary vs. Extraordinary Gun Violence

When we’re thinking about our horrible American problem of gun violence, it would be helpful – indeed essential – to make a distinction among various kinds of gun violence. On the one hand there is what may be called ordinary violence; that is, the shootings that happen every day in lower-class big-city neighborhoods. Typically, these shootings are done by teenage boys or young men who are members of criminal gangs. The victims are also mostly young males, often members of rival criminal gangs; occasionally an innocent victim is caught in the crossfire.

For the most part these shooters have grown up without a father in the home. Either the growing boy’s father was totally absent from his life, having done nothing for the boy but contribute his seed at the moment of conception; or the father was present in the boy’s life in no more than an occasional and remote way.

On the other hand, there is extraordinary gun violence. I have in mind such mass killings as those that took place at Fort Hood, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora CO, Charleston SC, and – just the other day – Orlando. Unlike ordinary gun violence, these are not everyday occurrences. They don’t happen in lower-class urban neighborhoods, and they are not committed by persons who, even apart from the shootings, are criminals and members of criminal gangs.

These extraordinary shootings can be divided into two sub-categories: ideological terrorism, usually Islamist (Fort Hood, San Bernardino, Orlando); and individualistic mass-murder (Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora). Some cases are not easy to categorize. For instance, the church shootings in Charleston. Did Dylan Roof shoot eight black church-goers to promote a racism agenda? Or did he do it merely because of his own merely personal madness?

A discussion of gun violence in American that doesn’t distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary gun violence, and doesn’t further distinguish between the two sub-categories of the latter, simply isn’t a serious discussion. Saying “The USA has a problem of gun violence” without distinguishing the various kinds of violence is like saying “The USA has a disease problem” without distinguishing the various kinds of disease. How can we treat cancer, tuberculosis, dementia, etc. if we never get beyond talking of them by the generic label “diseases”?

Moral and political liberals are the ones who are most concerned about – more correctly, are most likely to talk about – gun violence. And this makes sense. For liberals have an especially acute abhorrence of violence (except of course when it comes to abortion). In saying this, I don’t mean to suggest that moral and political conservatives are indifferent to violence. Not at all. But a hatred of violence lies at the very center of contemporary liberalism. Thus liberals, and not conservatives, are most likely to be at the forefront of campaigns against rape, against bullying, against domestic abuse, against war – and against guns. They abhor guns because guns are instruments of that hated thing, violence.

But the fact that you hate something doesn’t mean that your plan to defeat that hated thing is necessarily a good plan.

It is easy to see what the solution is to ordinary gun violence: restoration of the married two-parent family – which has broken down almost completely among lower-class blacks and is increasingly breaking down among all Americans. A growing boy needs a father, a father who lives in the home with the boy from the earliest years of life, and provides the boy with emotional, moral, and financial support. Provided the father himself is not a violent criminal, a boy who grows up with a father is unlikely to become a violent criminal later in life. I’m not saying it’s impossible that this will happen; I’m just saying it’s very unlikely.

But do liberals support restoration of the married two-parent family as a way of reducing gun violence in the USA? No, they support gun control laws. The idea that gun control laws will prevent members of criminal gangs from getting guns is so naïve that one is astonished that otherwise intelligent people – and liberals are usually intelligent – could possibly embrace such a foolish idea. But liberals cannot endorse the restoration of the married two-parent family; yet they have to say something when asked how gun violence can be reduced, and so they say, “Let’s have more gun control laws.”

Why can’t they endorse the restoration of the married two-parent family? Because such an endorsement would be inconsistent with the tremendous value they place on sexual freedom. They have no objection if somebody wishes to live in a married two-parent family. But they object to the notion that the married two-parent family is superior to other sexual relationships; and they very, very strongly object to the notion that the married two-parent family is the ideal sexual relationship, all others being inferior deviations from this ideal.

If abhorrence of violence is the negative supreme value of contemporary liberalism, sexual liberty is the positive supreme value.

As for reducing extraordinary gun violence, although I personally favor certain, more stringent gun-control laws, I doubt that these laws will do more than a little in reducing extraordinary gun violence. Europe sharply restricts access to guns, yet Muslim terrorists in Paris and Brussels seem to have little difficulty in obtaining guns of all kinds.

Measures that would actually do something to reduce this category of gun violence – e.g., ethnic and religious profiling by police, monitoring radical mosques – will be opposed by liberals. Liberals, due to their ideological commitments favoring sexual freedom and opposing any kind of violence, have almost nothing helpful to say when it comes to solving the gun violence problem.

It is tragically unfortunate, then, that it is moral liberals who, because of their dominance in the “command posts” of American popular culture (the media, the entertainment industry, and our high-prestige colleges and universities), are framing the terms of our national discussion about gun violence – our nearly useless discussion.

David Carlin is a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America, Three Sexual Revolutions: Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, and most recently Atheistic Humanism, the Democratic Party, and the Catholic Church.