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Within the past couple of hours, the Governor of Connecticut finally held his press conference -- and he sounded like a decent and grieving man -- and what he said was that the most important thing that people could do at the moment was to pray.

I disagree.

And I hasten to add: I don't mean to express my disagreement as disrespect towards prayer.  I am, as I've said before, "unfashionably religious," by which I mean that my hunch is that there is something more to our existence than the material world and that if there is something beyond the material world then it may well be tied into aspects of our individual and collective morality and purpose.  I have no problem with atheists and if pressed for a logical defense of my belief I'd probably have to cop to really not able to be more than agnostic, but the fact is that I do have this belief and that it would at times lead me to do things like pray.

And boy, would I have been praying today -- selfishly as well as not.  If my daughter or grandchild were at that school, I would pray that she was not among the wounded or killed.  I don't know who I'd be "talking to" when I did so, but I would be pleading with someone or something or everything, extremely avidly, to be spared that loss.  I would pray for the safety of others and for their absence of pain and for their comfort in time of grief, but the first prayer and the loudest would be for the life of my loved one.  I claim only to be a human animal, and being of a species that has conceived of the intercession of greater powers I'd be pleading for it.  I'm not proud of it, nor am I ashamed of it, nor would I ask for credit for doing it; it just is what it is -- human.  It goes back to animism and ancestor worship, and seeking "healers," well beyond monotheism -- and if you can avoid all such beseeching for mercy then I tip my hat to you.

While some prayer is glorification of the deity and some is thankfulness and some is asking for strength and other gifts through which can serve others, my sense is that an unnerving amount of prayer is of the sort I just described.  So I don't know what the Governor was asking for when he said that people should pray -- but I think I know what he should have been asking, which might well fit into the category of prayer, and which I might call "civil prayer."

Value them.  Value each dead or dying one of them.  Value each stunned or grieving one of them.  Value them like you would value your own child.  Take what action you would take as if it were your own child, your teacher, your mate.

Should we talk about gun control?  Sure -- when people are saying "now is not the time" to talk about gun control, it's usually exactly the right time to talk about it.  The problem is that when we talk about we're unlikely to get anywhere.

Like most students of American politics, I can tell you why we don't have gun control in this country -- it's a matter of interest group politics and single-issue voting that spans both major parties -- and it's the same reason that, barring some major change of political culture, we're not going to have major gun control in this country (although some less enormous things like reenacting the Brady Bill might well happen and unhappen and happen again.)  Democrats won't do it because we'll generally, as our system stands, face electoral defeat if we do, and ten or tens of thousands of deaths per year isn't worth the price of putting the knuckleheads back in control of the country.  Elected Republicans won't do it because they would lose at least one or the other of those descriptors.

I accept the decision of the Supreme Court's holding in Heller v. District of Columbia that the Second Amendment applies to individuals because (1) it settled the matter constitutionally in a way that's unlikely to change, meaning that I don't have much choice to do anything else and (2) it's really not that onerous of a decision: Justice Scalia recognized an individual right to use weapons in self-defense but also left open the prospect that this right could be abrogated for various reasons.  So we can have more discussion of gun control than either side of the debate may think.

That discussion, I think will have to be centered on the notion of self-sacrifice.  That is: if we don't want to see the likes of the shootings in Newtown, we may have to give up some of our freedoms and/or desires.  I don't take that prospect lightly; in fact, I take it a lot less likely than statists do when they abrogate our First Amendment or Fourth Amendment rights without an apparent care in the world.  But that's what the conversation need to be about -- about accepting some voluntary reduction in our rights.

Specifically, we should discuss the extent to which we can accept a reduction in our right to act to secure our own safety: that is, the venerable and understandably important Second-Amendment grounded (via Heller) right to personal self-defense.  And, as part of that, we're talking about accepting what I think is a a very slight increase in the likelihood that we might die at the hands of a homicidal maniac to increase the likelihood that the likes of elementary schools children at Sandy Hook Elementary won't.  There's no way around the trade-off, because the gun that defends your life might be the same kind of gun that takes theirs.

Now many Second Amendment proponents -- and I know and respect and like many of them -- will say that there really is no trade-off to be made, because by allowing open and/or concealed carry and making possession of guns including semi-automatic weapons more widely available, we can eliminate this sort of tragedy because people won't commit such acts if they know that they're going to die if they do so.  (This of course fails to address the problem of this killer, who seems to have been reconciled to or even to have embraced the prospect of his dying, making him pretty darn hard to deter, but let's leave that aside for now.)

I will say this as nicely as I can: I consider the theory that an armed society is a polite society to be highly unproven.  It's true, I expect, in certain limited areas.  I don't think that it -- and its corollary that one can somehow establish ahead of time who is and which rare exception is not worthy of being trusted with a gun -- has been tested and validated broadly enough.  It certainly is an equation that must change with advances in technology.  (Aren't you, like me, glad this this guy didn't have a tactical nuclear weapon, for example?  Or even a flamethrower and grenade launcher and anti-aircraft missile?)

So, if you want to address this problem, don't turn to prayer -- turn to the consequence of valuing your fellow human beings.  (That this applies to Congo as well as to Connecticut is also important to note, but that's a different argument to have.  For now I'll stick to the domestic context.)  How much less safety are you willing to endure to give others, including elementary school students and their teachers, a better chance of coming home alive?  I'm not saying that you don't have the right to self-defense; I'm asking, at a time like now on a day like this, how much you're willing to see it abrogated to make others -- strangers to you -- safer?  How much self-sacrifice will you make for the common good?

That's the question of the day.

Before you get all fluttery about it, let me remind you: this is the same damn question that we ask when we discuss how effectively we'll prevent companies and individuals from dumping toxins into the air, water, and earth; how much we're willing to pay for health care for others and to inspect their foster homes; how much we're willing to pump up the economy so that they're not going to die early for lack of security or opportunity.

How much are you willing to self-sacrifice?  How much do you value your fellow human beings?

It does not, I submit, have a whole lot to do with prayer.  But it has a whole lot -- more, I suspect, than does prayer itself -- to do with religion and ethics and morals.  Prayer is, I suggest, in part a method designed to incline us -- we smart and cunning and reasoning animals -- towards the self-sacrifice we commonly see in "lower beasts."  So, you see a problem, with a crazed youth in a happy suburb.  If it were your child there, and if you had the means, you might well interpose your body between her and the bullet to save her life.  But it probably won't -- it might, but it probably won't -- be your child.  It will be someone else's.  How much will you sacrifice to prevent her needless death?

How much do you value others?  Prayer without commitment is just words.  What is your commitment to others?  That's the question, if I were Governor, I'd be asking today and in the days ahead.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I hope for a good discussion here (17+ / 0-)

    but I'm not going to waste a prayer on it.  Value each other as fellow writers, readers, and thinkers, and the rest will take care of itself.

    Plaintiffs' Employment Law Attorney (harassment, discrimination, retaliation, whistleblowing, wage & hour, &c.) in North Orange County, CA.

    "I love this goddamn country, and we're going to take it back."
    -- Saul Alinsky

    by Seneca Doane on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 04:58:42 PM PST

  •  Pray for the strength to carry the battle (4+ / 0-)

    to end gun violence to the finish.  We've not yet even begun.

    Dawn is breaking everywhere Light a candle, curse the glare We will get by. We will survive.

    by MikeBoyScout on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 05:05:59 PM PST

  •  you're right, it's not about guns or even the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PinHole, glorificus

    Constitution. I do not understand how a parent with a sick child could not secure two handguns and an assault rifle, all legally purchased by her and that she could not imagine that her sick son would shoot her in the face.

    I'm not saying that you don't have the right to self-defense; I'm asking, at a time like now on a day like this, how much you're willing to see it abrogated to make others -- strangers to you -- safer?  How much self-sacrifice will you make for the common good?
    It's not about self-sacrifice as it is the kind of selfishness that would assume that someone else will take care of the community safety represented by the common good and ignore the very basic obligatory responsibility for a potential threat that one sheltered under an elementary school teacher's own roof.
    As a general rule, any gun that is not secured in a safe designed for the task should have at least two layers of protection between the gun and its use. It can be hidden and locked, or have a lock both on its storage container and its action, or be disassembled and hidden (with the ammunition locked somewhere else). This will keep your firearms secure from children, but is unlikely to deter an adult thief. For that, only a properly secured gun safe will do the trick.

    yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

    by annieli on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 05:12:11 PM PST

    •  Once again (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      glorificus, radical simplicity

      Mental health is a serious issue
      Gun Ownership is a serious issue
      They are not the same serious issue.
      Sometimes they occupy the same space.
      But they are not the same issue.

    •  What do you say to some that suggest that guns (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annieli, Oh Mary Oh

      shouldn't be locked up, or locked, or disassembled or even unloaded? They make the case that the gun is, under those circumstances, completely unusable for personal safety.

      202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

      by cany on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 05:20:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  everyone needs to be sufficiently self-aware (6+ / 0-)

        of their situation: there are biometric gun safes, so if your kid wanted to mess with the loaded firearm near your bedside, they'd have to cut your hand off, rendering safety moot. Folks who leave rounds in the chamber thinking that they need to be able to shoot faster than racking a round are compensating for not understanding that slam-firing with a safety on is asking for the kinds of accidental tragedy that are all too common.

        yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

        by annieli on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 05:27:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  And what percent of people do you think really (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          annieli, Oh Mary Oh

          GET this? Practice it?

          Honestly, there may be--let me say, are--that get safety, but obviously some don't, and most might not.

          It's those latter two categories that are the problem. And frankly, gun owners and advocates can't just keep ignoring the problem by yelling 'Second Amendment' at the top of their lungs.

          202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

          by cany on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 06:23:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  one doesn't need to be a Plaxico Burris to be (0+ / 0-)

            ignorant of safety

            yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

            by annieli on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 07:34:18 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  ? I totally don't get that meaning! (0+ / 0-)

              202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

              by cany on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 07:40:38 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  too stupid to use a proper holster (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                cany, Oh Mary Oh

                with a DA pistol and a round in the chamber

                On November 28, 2008, Burress suffered an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound to the right thigh in the New York City nightclub LQ when his Glock pistol, tucked in the waistband of his sweatpants, began sliding down his leg; apparently in reaching for the gun he inadvertently depressed the trigger, causing the gun to fire

                yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

                by annieli on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 07:43:46 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  ah, gotcha. probably would be full-proof to other (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  annieli

                  guys had he blasted his nuts off. I bet that would have made holster sales rise pretty darned quick.

                  202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

                  by cany on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 08:01:37 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

  •  how about this sacrifice: (6+ / 0-)

    people walking into their local police stations
    and handing over their guns.

    law-abiding people with legal guns
    giving them up.

    because,
    it's enough already.
    enough.

    ------

    now
    imagine if we saw that?

    every adult is responsible for every child

    by ridemybike on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 05:12:53 PM PST

    •  I did that with my mom's gun. Hope it was (7+ / 0-)

      melted down and made into something productive.

      202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

      by cany on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 05:18:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  irony is far too hind-sighted these days (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ridemybike, Oh Mary Oh

        http://www.injuryfree.org/...

        September 1, 2011 - Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Hartford

        The Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Hartford has announced that it is working with artist Bradley McCallum to revisit a 1996 violence prevention project called “the Manhole Cover Project.” Fifteen years ago Bradley McCallum and the Wadsworth Atheneum, together with the Injury Prevention Center of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, worked with a team of local students to explore issues of gun violence in the city. A central part of the project was an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum that involved casting, and presenting, of 228 custom-designed manhole covers.

        yksitoista ulotteinen presidentin shakki. / tappaa kaikki natsit "Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) 政治委员, 政委‽ Warning - some snark above ‽

        by annieli on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 05:31:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Is this supposed to be enlightening or humorous in (0+ / 0-)

          some way, because if so, I missed it.

          202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

          by cany on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 06:28:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  the other side of the coin (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PinHole

    and yet another thorny constitutional issue, would be censoring the glorification of violence on our evening television shows. If we can't stifle freedom of speech, and can't restrict the type of guns available, and we can't get parents to turn off said programs ( in other words, be parents ), then I fear we're doomed as a functioning society.

    Tell me a story of deep delight. - Robert Penn Warren

    by bisleybum on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 05:51:48 PM PST

    •  Well, the news media could certainly (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Seneca Doane, Oh Mary Oh

      Choose to not turn these guys into dark heroes, glorifying them with round-the-clock, breathless coverage every time they wipe out a bunch of innocent people with some novel twist.

      Roger Ebert was right.

      “I’m not sure there is an easy link between movies and gun violence. I think the link is between the violence and the publicity. Those like James Holmes, who feel the need to arm themselves, may also feel a deep, inchoate insecurity and a need for validation. Whenever a tragedy like this takes place, it is assigned catchphrases and theme music, and the same fragmentary TV footage of the shooter is cycled again and again. Somewhere in the night, among those watching, will be another angry, aggrieved loner who is uncoiling toward action. The cinematic prototype is Travis Bickle of “Taxi Driver.” I don’t know if James Holmes cared deeply about Batman. I suspect he cared deeply about seeing himself on the news.
  •  Prayer indeed has its place. I do it all the time. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    glorificus, bronte17

    But if we want real change, we've got to make that happen. If we're going to pray at all in this situation, we should be praying for the courage to take action.

    I am gay, and I'm getting married in the Episcopal Church, just like my great-grandmother did.

    by commonmass on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 06:02:33 PM PST

  •  I think these words from your diary are the (3+ / 0-)

    very essence of this.

    "How much do you value others?  Prayer without commitment is just words.  What is your commitment to others?"
    After a short time of reflection for those lost and those affected, it becomes time to be committed to long-term action.

    My mother used to say "...god helps those who help themselves; also, the helping hand you are looking for is at the end of your own arm."

    There can be no greater tribute than to buckle down and demand the actions to bring an end to these problems.

    Access to guns.
    Mental illness and drug dependency
    Hopelessness and poverty
    Education and job opportunties for youth.
    Government money spent on things that matter  - health, education, food, housing, decent well-paid  jobs,  impacts of poverty, violence e.g. on TV and in games, not on militarism.
    Election of legislators who will be committed to do these.

    It is the beginning of a long commitment, a voyage and  a tough, demanding journey. Work and effort, not prayers. If prayers sufficed this would not happen, ever.

    The NRA wil be very comforted if the main public response
    is continuous and continuing prayer services, annual remembrance services, banks of flowers and teddy bears. The Romans put on circuses for the masses to distract them. If these are the main and continuing public reaction, the NRA will know there is no concerted public demand to deal with the real problems at the root of gun culture and violence.

    To be  a real patriot does not mean to fly a flag and have a bumper sticker for "Support our Troops," and maybe voting once every four years.  It means to oppose unjust and wrong wars. It does not mean going to the ball game and holding our hands on our hearts while the Anthem plays, military jets scream overhead and young men and women still die. Same here, become committed to doing something that really could make a difference - in the end political action block by block demanding something better be done, and building a a national consensus for it.  

    "...stories of past courage can define that ingredient..... But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul." JFK Profiles in Courage " Ontario

    by ontario on Fri Dec 14, 2012 at 07:52:02 PM PST

    •  We would have to get rid of most of the Reps (0+ / 0-)

      and Senators in Washington and get almost all new ones.  The problem is politicians need contributions and sell out.

      •  And, that is the job description. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Oh Mary Oh

        As I said, "...become committed to doing something that really could make a difference - in the end political action block by block demanding something better be done, and building a a national consensus for it." Nobody should think this will be easy or quick, but that does not mean to not try. Courage, to carry on, as the quote from Kennedy says  

        "...stories of past courage can define that ingredient..... But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul." JFK Profiles in Courage " Ontario

        by ontario on Sat Dec 15, 2012 at 06:39:14 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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