My Turn: Morality is the key to quelling violence in our culture

If everyone else was just like me, there would be no illegal gun violence.


I’m injecting that statement into the current National Discussion about gun violence because I think it’s an unspoken challenge hindering a solution to events that sicken, frighten, and sadden decent human beings. The first half of the sentence can set up a number of conclusions but this particular conclusion is a fallacy. It’s a fallacy because nobody is perfectly protected from the unintended behavioral consequences of a brain tumor, mental health crisis or delusion.

It seems to me that we need to talk about the fine line between an individual’s sovereignty (legal gun use) and the duties that come with civilization (protecting others from harm).

When I hear President Obama deliver the phrase “we are our brothers’ keeper,” as he is known to do, I imagine that he means to draw attention to the challenge of uniting the better features of individuality with those benefits found in a civil society in order to achieve, pardon the cliché, a more perfect union. This is a lofty goal, but who disagrees that it’s not worth attempting?

Remember healthcare reform? Don’t we remember healthcare reform being argued for in some measure because of a moral deficiency present in American society? Shouldn’t bloodshed by bullets also be seen as a moral deficiency in the U.S.? It must if this National Talk is going to be meaningful. The presidency is our government’s mechanism for economic, military, and yes, even moral leadership. Well, it’s time for moral leadership about a moral problem (individual rights and reasonable societal expectations). History gives us hope on this front as our moral sensibilities have evolved to vanquish any number of what are now seen as terrible evils: human slavery, cruelty to non-human animals, subjugation of women and blasphemy crimes, to name just a few. Is illegal gun violence really just too big to stop? I keep hearing the number 300 million guns in the media. Is gun violence bigger than the aforementioned evils? When has apathy ever merited a handshake?

Merely saying, “we need to do something,” as the Obama Administration has repeatedly said, is not enough. It’s trite, simplistic, and I daresay even silly. The fact is we do ourselves a favor by having goals set and pathways formed.The main goal from politicians and lobbyists, however, is simply thinking of ways to stop difficult to predict rampage killings. It’s a mistake to think this way.

I am persuaded by psychologist Steven Pinker’s argument that bending our nation’s collective will to stop future rampage killings is “a massive waste of resources.” If reduction in illegal gun violence is the goal, there are simply better areas to focus on: urban violence in Chicago for instance, where scores of people are steadily being murdered, is a solvable challenge. Consider that New York City’s homicide rate has been impressively reduced over the decades. There is no reason to believe that the methods used in New York can’t be focused on Chicago. Is focusing on rampage killing “prevention” looting resources? Pinker’s point about wasting resources mustn’t be relegated to only the famous newspapers in the country; it needs to be read in gazettes, weekly’s, heard in podcasts and spotlighted by the White House. It’s a stunning piece of clarity from an expert that can’t be overlooked. So why must we endure the Vice President using his power of visibility to talk about Wal-Mart’s so-called involvement in this national talk? It doesn’t appear that our nation’s brightest thinkers are being put front and center.

The Obama Administration should change direction and put morality smack dab in the middle of the table. This is a moral problem. Let’s start talking about striving for a more perfect union by sorting out the moral needs of the individual with the moral needs of a civilized society and thereby, perhaps, change the farcical sentence opening this opinion from “just like me” into, “just like us.” If history is any guide, moral goodness follows when we do just that.

• Dziuba is a 25 year Alaskan resident, Juneauite, and supporter of many national secular organizations including the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.


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