June 3, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

You are not free

Don’t kid yourself.


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The president spoke last night about the valley of the shadow of death in which the massacre of innocents recurs over and over. It was an especially graphic speech. At one point, Joe Biden informed viewers that parents of victims had to give authorities DNA samples for the purpose of identifying their kids. They were literally shot to pieces.

It was graphic for a reason, I think. Biden wanted to move Americans emotionally – to get us to think about the costs of freedom as much as freedom itself. If a majority of us conclude the costs supersede the principle, perhaps the most intransigent of Senate Democrats would support a carve out of the Senate filibuster to pass gun-law reforms.

The GOP fears the people seeing the truth.

The Republicans won’t move. I am not waiting for Susan Collins to come around. Neither should you. I expect the Senate GOP conference to cling tight to the Second Amendment and the right to bears arms. Gun control is an infringement, they say, that revokes our freedom.

Our freedom has already been revoked.

Don’t kid yourself.

Who needs a dictator?
Over the Memorial Day weekend, according to a report Tuesday by the AP, multiple incidents across the United States “met a common definition of a mass shooting” – when four or more people are shot.

  • “Gunfire erupted in the predawn hours of Sunday at a festival in the town of Taft, Oklahoma, sending hundreds of revelers scattering and customers inside the nearby Boots Café diving for cover. Eight people ages 9 to 56 were shot, and one of them died.”
  • “Six children ages 13 to 15 were wounded Saturday night in a touristy quarter of Chattanooga, Tennessee.”
  • “Ten people were wounded, and three law enforcement officers injured, in a shooting incident at a Memorial Day nighttime street gathering in Charleston, South Carolina.”
  • “At a club and liquor store in Benton Harbor in southwestern Michigan, a 19-year-old man was killed and six” others wounded after “gunfire rang out among a crowd” early Monday morning.
  • “At least two incidents in Chicago between late Friday and Monday [happened], including one near a closed elementary school on the West Side in which the wounded included a 16-year-old girl”.
  • “In Arkansas, a 7-year-old girl was killed Saturday in a busy area near the Little Rock Zoo.”
  • “On Chicago’s South Side, the body of a young man slain at an outdoor birthday party lay on the sidewalk early Sunday, covered by a white sheet. His mother stood nearby, crying.”

Then there’s the latest mass shooting Thursday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A patient bought a semiautomatic rifle shortly before murdering his doctor. A total of four are now dead, including the shooter. 

In response, a physician wrote today: “I’m not exaggerating when I say that now, whenever a patient leaves irate or upset about something, I am going to be afraid that they’re going to come back with a gun.”

There is no reasonable definition of freedom that includes the fact that, “over the last two decades, more school-aged children have died from guns than on-duty police officers and active-duty military combined,” Biden said last night. “Think about that: more kids than on-duty cops killed by guns, more kids than soldiers killed by guns.”

You are not free. 

Don’t kid yourself.

Public violence is political violence
You, me and everyone we know are not free on account of the ubiquity of lethal firepower in a multitude of irresponsible hands creating conditions in which an open society cannot possibly remain open. 

Amid the pernicious fear of arbitrary death, anytime and anyplace, individuals put themselves in a box to be safe and secure. Who needs a dictator to close a society when a society voluntarily closes itself?

The Republicans benefit from this.

Don’t believe it?

Ask them.

Last week, the Senate took a vote on debating – not passing – a domestic terrorism bill previously cleared by the US House. The vote to debate failed, 47-47. Every single Republican voted against it. The reason, per the AP, was that it “doesn’t place enough emphasis on combating domestic terrorism committed by groups on the far left.”

Think about that. 

It’s an amazing confession, though inadvertent.

The Republicans are saying in so many words that they won’t support debating government action against far-right domestic terrorism groups without an equal and opposite commitment to government action against their far-left counterparts. Why vote that way?

Because if they voted against far-right groups, the Republicans would in effect, disarm themselves without getting something in return. Put another way, the Republicans benefit when members of a democratic society exhibit a pernicious fear of arbitrary death, anytime and anyplace. To vote against that is to vote against themselves.

The president, like everyone else, made a mistake last night by saying the liberties found in the Second Amendment are not absolute. If we’re talking about freedom in the absence of societal violence putting us all in a cage is a discussion that magnifies the power of societal violence.

Violence is viral
The ubiquity of lethal firepower leads to widespread societal violence leads to this question: Why do we get hung up on questions of motive?

Every act of public violence is an act of political violence. The Republicans and their allies won’t concede to that reality unless concrete evidence makes the shooter’s motives abundantly clear, as was the case with Buffalo killer Payton Gendron’s “manifesto.”

That’s why it’s important to know that motive is an irrelevant. Violence is like the covid virus – it’s contagious. A contagion has no reason to infect its host other than spreading. State Republicans have loosened gun laws such that America is now a virtual Petri dish of viral violence.

“For the last few years, a national movement involving more than 150 organizations and cities has been advocating the understanding of violence as a contagious and epidemic health problem,” wrote Gary Slutkin, a scientist who now believes violent death begets violent death.

The movement’s efforts include educating the public to understand the people involved in violence as having a spreadable health problem that they contracted through exposure to violence. Hundreds of studies have now demonstrated this contagious nature – even across many types of violence. 

The research shows that when an individual is exposed to violence as a victim or witness – in their community, at home or in war – they become more at risk of developing violent behaviors. The brain is picking up the violence it sees and copying it, much like the Aids virus replicates in a person.

The Republicans invest a lot in getting the American public to believe political violence is not normal (it is), but instead exceptional. 

If the people believed it’s normal, they’d demand their freedom.

The Republicans fear that most. 

Don’t kid yourself.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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