Law in Contemporary Society

By the Goodness of Gun

-- By CoreyWhitt - 10 Mar 2022

November 14, 2019

On Thursday, November 14, 2019, at 7:38AM, Saugus High School — its students, parents, teachers, and neighbors — was robbed of its innocence. Not more than a few steps from my first-period classroom, a troubled student killed two of his classmates with a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun, injuring three more. In the tragedy’s wake, headlines hailed the community as “Saugus Strong,” but stopped short of fully appreciating the transformation that occurred immediately after the first shot was fired.

The shooting at Saugus High School lasted for sixteen seconds, but I cloistered alongside students in a darkened office for nearly one hour, unaware of the timeline playing out beyond the four walls sheltering us. I hushed them when their alarm became too loud; I soothed them when the sober reality of what was occurring set in; and I assured them that all would be okay.

For individuals who have lived through similar distress and sorrow, they will recognize the looks staring back in return. More than tears or cries, what welled-up in the eyes of each student was distrust. I played the role of protector, but how can one be comforted when your life is left in such uncertain terms? Each student knew that there was no promise I could make guaranteeing their safe exit from room E517, or that they would be able to walk out to the embrace of family when the nightmare came to a close. Trust was no longer a currency that held any value when I could protect them no more than the lock on the doors held, and outside was a gun aimed at their friends and teachers.

Gun Violence Will Continue Until the Shooting Stops…

The common response to tragedies like the ones felt at Saugus High School extend from the common ilk of political bluster: Americans will not allow ourselves to be terrorized by one individual with a firearm.

But we do everyday.

Today, there is no corner of American life that has been untouched by gun violence.

We are not immune to it while grocery shopping or walking the mall.

We are not free from its clutches at concerts, block-parties, or work.

It has taken lives at massage parlors and spas, medical clinics, and protests.

It finds us whether we are downtown, at a festival, or at home;

Nor has it stopped at bowling alleys, birthday parties, breweries, or banks.

Students are not safe in their schools.

Commuters are not safe on the subway.

Our families are shattered by it.

And our children are left without futures because of it.

All are ugly reminders that the ubiquity of guns places the possibility of hurt and harm suffered at the end of the barrel not far from reality.

What results is the same deterioration of trust I witnessed three years ago from my office cluster. We operate in public spaces with more care and caution, rely on strangers less, and decline to believe in the goodness of one another more, because firearms are ever-present fixtures of American life and our contact with them is increasingly inescapable.

What’s a Good Guy to Do?

In a society soaked in gun violence, firearms are the omnipresent thumb on the scale of our interactions with one another; where anyone can have a gun, everyone is a threat. The power dynamic threads every exchange and encounter with those around us. In the spaghetti Western epic, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Blondie saw the same: “[I]n this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig.”

Firearms are the American counterbalance to fleeting security and certainty, with the proposition echoing throughout history. From the influence of the English jurist William Blackstone on the Founding Fathers to the commentary of Columbia Law Professor Phillip Bobbitt, guns safeguard our own soundness in the face of chaos. The Black Panther Party recognized as much, making firearms a pathway for Black Americans to protect themselves from the racist police tactics of the Oakland Police Department, advising supporters that “the gun is the only thing that will free us — gain us our liberation.” And when firearms had threatened such a scenario, the California Legislature and then-Governor Ronald Reagan responded by passing the 1967 Mulford Act, prohibiting the carry of loaded firearms without a permit.

Guns are the American solution to waning safety and independence because of the might that accompanies them. If you don’t want to “dig,” you better bring a gun. In other words, staring down an overwhelming number of shootings across all American spaces, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

And so the presence of guns beget more guns.

We arm classroom teachers in response to school massacres.

We permit the production of “ghost guns.”

What we are left with are more guns than people in the United States — where manufacturing does not appear to be slowing — making firearms an inescapable fixture of American life. As a consequence, American society finds itself in an arms race that further sows the seeds of distrust in a soil that has been plenty fertilized by senseless, entirely-preventable carnage.

Let Not the Gun Go Down On Your Wrath

As long as guns are present in the United States, distrust will be foundational to the American condition, leading to our republic’s further erosion. It is certainly not a hallmark of a functioning society to consistently worry whether or not our children will return from their school day, or to provide anyone with the power to unilaterally kill nine people and wound 27 others within a matter of 32 seconds. As long as this is the case, the strands of trust we have with one another are strained and severed.

Guns have no place in America, but while they remain our very relationship to each other suffers from their presence.

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r5 - 06 Jun 2022 - 18:47:29 - CoreyWhitt
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