Hey, Conservative Americans! I Have A Proposal For You.

I understand that right now it’s a confusing and scary time. Not because of all these shooting sprees, no, but because of the inevitable legislative response! Armed with so-called “facts,” from an obviously liberally-biased reality, indicating that your John Wayne fantasies of preventing these incidents with more available guns are, in fact, complete nonsense, the Left is going to take away your guns and leave you prone before the power of the British Empire.

But you know why this is happening, right? No, it’s not an inside job. I’m going to let you in on the secret: the problem with America right now is that we have (culturally and politically) bought into your definition of “liberty,” a definition which is nothing but an incoherent defense of privilege and power. It’s a cumbersome bricolage of the detritus of ideological history, a shotgun wedding of Cold War paranoia and pre-industrial political-economic philosophy. In this ideology, ensuring that people have reliable access to firearms is a higher priority than ensuring that they have reliable access to healthcare. The cost of the former is relatively low, and disabling every legal barrier to purchasing a gun is the appropriate defense of a vital freedom for which shooting sprees are the unfortunate price. The cost of the latter is often prohibitively high, but for the government to address this, rather than leaving it to the price-rationing of the market, would mean dabbling in the dark arts of Socialism. The combination of easy access to firearms with an economically precarious existence where mental health issues too often go unaddressed is not something we’re often encouraged to think about, under your philosophy. That combination is part and parcel of your idea of “liberty,” however, which just goes to show why your definition of liberty is garbage.

It seems to me that it’s time to decide which is more important, your pre-industrial Enlightenment-era love of negative liberty or your Cold War fear of positive liberty. To that end, I’m going to propose a compromise that I think would go a long way towards making “the right to bear arms” more bear-able:

  1. Comprehensive universal healthcare. This means you stop opposing Obamacare because it goes too far, and start opposing it because it does not go far enough. The less economic stress Americans have to face from the fear of losing access to medical care, the more contentment we’ll have, and the less we’ll be on the kind of psychological hair-trigger which makes shooting people seem attractive as a problem-solving technique.
  2. In the above, explicitly including a guarantee of access to mental health treatment. This should be obvious: the fewer crazy people there are, the fewer crazy people can get a gun. Sharp readers may note that the link I posted above refutes the idea that stress or mental health issues correlate with gross levels of gun violence. While that is true, these first two items are specifically about the kinds of dramatic spree-shootings in which these may be greater factors.
  3. A move towards a stronger and more comprehensive welfare state. It is an observed fact of reality that lower economic inequality correlates with safer, saner, and more happy people. Healthcare is simply the first step. If we want less gun violence in a country with freely accessible guns, then we must do everything possible to ensure greater levels of social trust, community spirit, empathy, and childhood stability. This means a real commitment to economic egalitarianism.
  4. Immediately end the war on drugs. I am not even sure how supporting the drug war is consistent with a “government off of my back!” stance (I guess this is one place where libertarians get credit for at least being theoretically consistent), but we don’t have the luxury of wasting vital police resources on making sure people don’t get high (while still allowing them to get drunk for some reason). Even with the advantages of the above policies, there’s still a chance that someone could misuse a gun for mass murder, and anyway, it’s not like mass murder is the only kind we should be concerned about. Not only would this free up police resources to guard vulnerable locations like schools and provide a credible deterrence to homicide, it would break the back of the institutional racism in the enforcement of drug laws, which besides being a travesty of justice, is another cause of economic inequality and social strife.
  5. On that note, get serious about racism. The case of Trayvon Martin demonstrates that the use of violence in our country is racialized, and gun violence did not start being a problem when it started affecting white communities. Stop pretending that having a black president means racism is over, that “reverse-racism” is some kind of actual issue, and for God’s sake, ditch all that “government plantation” insanity. Getting serious about racism is probably the hardest part for folks with a “negative rights” stance on liberty and the role of government, because it requires acknowledging the fact that racism isn’t just about personal prejudices, it’s also in large part about social and economic structures, and thus requires proactive policy solutions. Seriously fighting racism means supporting affirmative action, it means bussing and other strategies to undo the current, greater-than-Jim-Crow levels of de facto segregation in the school system, and it means generally acknowledging that it is right and proper to spend tax dollars, skimmed off a prosperity historically built by racist exploitation, to economically support and build up racially disadvantaged communities.

I think this provides a good set of counter-balances to the corrosive effects of widespread gun ownership. I see you out there shaking your heads sadly at the senselessness of it all, the tragedy, saying a little prayer, and then condemning the “politicization” of these shootings while at the same time continuing to promote your gunslinger heroism solution, that this would not happen if more people had guns! Fine. I’m going to meet you part-way and agree that we’re not getting rid of guns in this country, but only if you meet me part-way in committing yourself to eradicating the large-scale institutional social and economic forces that make the misuse of your beloved guns more likely.