After Uvalde, is gun control the answer?

You would have to be insane not to want some form of gun control after ten days in which ten people were gunned down in Buffalo, a church service attacked in San Francisco with one death, and 19 nine and ten-year-olds and two teachers massacred in Uvalde, Texas.

America’s first school killing dates back to 1764 when four Delaware Native Americans burst into a Pennsylvania school house and killed and scalped the teacher and ten children. That butchery was horrendous. But now, 260 years later, Americans are building bullet-proof shelter pods to protect children from madmen. Has there been no progress?

Of course, gun control has to be culturally appropriate for a nation where the right to bear arms has been written into its Constitution and is so fiercely defended by gun owners. But surely something can be done. A red flag law? A ban on semi-automatic weapons? Raising the age limit for purchasing guns? A version of Australia’s gun buy-back campaign?

There’s one caveat. Gun control won’t stop these mass shootings. Hopefully, fewer people will die. Hopefully, schools will be safer. But zero? Not a chance.

The volcanic fury which erupts in these mass shootings is hardwired into human nature. Christians call it Original Sin. As G.K. Chesterton remarked, this is the one Christian dogma which can be proved by reading the newspaper. It means that there is an ineradicable perversity in the human heart. It can be healed or tamed, but it cannot be eliminated.

School massacres are not unique to the United States. The first to be recorded happened in Greece after the 492BC Olympiad. The historian Pausanias writes that:

 … it is said that Cleomedes of Astypalaea killed Iccus of Epidaurus during a boxing-match. On being convicted by the umpires of foul play and being deprived of the prize he became mad through grief and returned to Astypalaea. Attacking a school there of about sixty children he pulled down the pillar which held up the roof. This fell upon the children.

Presumably all 60 died. The template for the crime is roughly the same as Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Parkland, Florida: a young man, full of rage and despair, launches into meaningless slaughter.



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To draw Original Sin into the debate about gun control is not an excuse for inaction – any practical solution which promises to lower the toll should be taken. But it is a reason for scepticism about solutions which rely on technology and bureaucracy and not social and cultural change. More pods, more metal detectors, more fences, and more locks cannot shield all the children all the time. Universal mental health scanning is impossible.

Even if gun control were entirely successful, evil would find a way. The highest death toll in an American school killing spree took place almost a hundred years ago in 1927. A 58-year-old man killed 38 elementary school children and six adults with firebombs and dynamite at Bath Township, in Michigan. He didn’t use guns.

What is the cure for Original Sin?

Karl Marx said that unequal distribution of capital is the cause of society's woes and that revolution would bring equality and happiness. Sigmund Freud said that repression causes misery and that sexual liberation would lead to a better world. They were wrong.

Some bioethicists have seriously suggested that the only way to create a world of order, peace and virtue – a world, that is, without original sin -- is “moral enhancement”. The idea is to make people altruistic and serene by spiking the water supply, vaccinating them or adding agents to air conditioning systems in public buildings. Some have even suggested that this should be compulsory.

But this is impossible in a democracy. No one would vote to eliminate evil by eliminating free will. So we are stuck with Original Sin. Dealing with it is the most fundamental issue of political life.

This is not the time or place for Christian apologetics about redemption. But if we agree that evil is an ever-present danger, and that technology and bureaucracy will never bottle up the volcanic rage in some hearts, then the solution must be tame the hearts.

This is not a science, but we do know something about what scars young hearts: divorce, fatherlessness, pornography, sexual abuse, violent videogames, unemployment, casual hook-ups, abortion … Resolving to tackle these problems is the only way, ultimately, to stop the madness we saw this week. 

Michael Cook is editor of Mercator


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