As the funerals for victims of the El Paso and Dayton shootings unfold this week, we will plunge into the usual noise of finger-pointing, scapegoating and posturing. When invitations to pray are mocked, you know there is little reason for hope toward constructive debate.
Unity was never going to happen, and that’s fine. We are a nation of differing views on every issue, and guns are no exception. Millions of Americans see these mass killings and lunge toward blaming the weapon and not the person. They are met in the arena by people who don’t want to hear one syllable that smacks of gun control. This is not a landscape for progress.
Interestingly, there has been focus across political lines on the mindset of the El Paso shooter in particular, dwelling with fervent emphasis on his white supremacist instincts. Liberals have done this with heightened volume, often in an attempt to blame President Trump, but in their misdirected aggression they have stumbled onto a basic truth: shootings are first and foremost a human problem, not a gun problem.
But if the left focuses more on the hardware than the hard work of repairing society, conservatives view any gun-based legislative ideas as an instant Second Amendment abrogation. This is not without basis. Many Democrats tout “common-sense” gun reforms while demonizing and even targeting for extinction weapons which are functionally indistinguishable from those owned by hunters, sport shooters and countless other law-abiding Americans.
Some will then mock prayerful reactions as “doing nothing,” when those wishes actually reflect the only path toward fixing what needs to be fixed, and that is people.
Our social fabric is torn to bits, its pieces falling among fractured families weighted down by inattentive or absent parenting. Relationships are shattered by political tensions we used to navigate with basic goodwill. We have tossed aside concepts of personal responsibility and even shared values. The morally vacant hallways of social media stoke the darker instincts of tortured and unbalanced people who used to be reined in by the mitigating effects of real, meaningful relationships.
The God we once called on in great numbers for guidance and comfort is now just as often mocked. We are left to rely on our own wavering instincts, which has given us a nation filled with self-absorbed children and adults, bereft of coping skills and constantly primed for the next perceived outrage.
No legislation can fix those lapses. There will be no back-slapping news conference featuring members of Congress announcing they have magically healed the nation’s soul. But here’s the thing: there will also never be some stupendous piece of legislation that ensures that guns are held only by responsible people. A society is either free or it is not. If it is, there will always be examples of citizens misusing those freedoms.
So is there no measure to consider, no ideas to ponder involving the role that laws might play in addressing these tragedies? There may be, in the form of laws that pay attention to problematic people without hindering the liberties of others.
An idea percolating from liberal California to purple Arizona involves a temporary court order prohibiting guns in the hands of people who have displayed demonstrable red flags of the types that have preceded many mass shootings. From postings and proclamations suggesting terrorist intent to words and behaviors that indicate severe mental imbalance, relevant witnesses would provide solid evidence that judges could use to issue a temporary gun ownership restraining order.
These have been called Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GRVOs) or STOP orders (for Severe Threat Order of Protection), but the idea is the same: to do what we always say should have been done when these stories break. It rarely fails: the shooting happens, and then we learn of multiple disturbing factors that suggested that trouble was close at hand. We can’t jail people for expressing offensive views or commit them for every erratic behavior; but we can sure hit the pause button on their gun ownership if the evidentiary bar is met.
That bar should be high. The evidence should be solid, not ripe for abuse or mischief. And any suspended gun rights should feature a generous opportunity for the subject of such restraint to petition for revisiting the issues that led to the order.
Our system is human. This would not work perfectly. But nor does it involve snatching legal weapons from the hands of countless Americans who pose no threat. If liberals can lose their fixation on the firearms themselves, and conservatives are willing to give this path an experimental run, we may see a rare example of common ground.