They’re right — it’s a moral issue

Conservatives say mass shootings are a moral issue and they’re correct

In a darkly perverse way, it’s appropriate this one happened at a church. No, I’ll never be grateful for a mass shooting but there’s a moral to be had in this one — a moral in the most literal sense.

As mass shootings go, the shooting at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama on June 16, 2022 didn’t even make the official “mass shooting” cut.

This mini-mass-shooting unfolded when “occasional attendee” Robert Findlay Smith showed up at a Thursday “Boomers Potluck” gathering at St. Stephen’s. The 74-year-old shooter produced a handgun and then proceeded to shoot. Authorities said Walter Rainey, 84, and Sarah Yeager, 75, were pronounced dead shortly after and Claire Pounds, 84, succumbed to her injuries Friday.

Another potluck attendee disarmed Smith and immobilized him until police arrived.

According to the independent, nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a mass shooting is an incident during which at least four victims are shot, either injured or killed, not including the shooter. As of today, the 169th day of 2022, the U.S. has seen 270 mass shooting events this year. The St. Stephen’s event would’ve made that 271 but, with only three victims, it doesn’t qualify. Nevertheless, at 1.6 mass shootings per day, we’re on track to exceed two daily mass shootings by Christmas.

When I write on the topic of mind-numbingly common mass shootings, I very frequently get push-back from Second Amendment supporters who tell me it’s not a gun issue – it’s a moral issue.

They’re absolutely right. I agree: mass shootings are unquestionably a moral issue.

As recently as the 1980s, pickup trucks with gun racks and rifles visible in rear windows were common sights in high school student parking lots. Nobody thought anything of it.

Hold on, I know where you’re going to go with this. In many or most mass shootings, the good-guy-with-a-gun scenario is pure fantasy — the odds of a high school kid getting out to his pickup, retrieving his rifle and successfully hunting down a mass shooter somewhere on his school campus simply do not make for a favorable bet. Heavily armed gunmen in body armor routinely kill tactically-trained professional law enforcement officers. Realistically, an amateur stands little chance of dropping many or most mass shooters.

Yes, there are circumstances where a disciplined, cool-headed good-guy-with-a-gun could prevent a shooting. As I have stated elsewhere, a mugging or robbery could well be stopped by an armed good guy. Even the St. Stephen’s incident might’ve turned out less deadly with an armed good guy’s intervention.

But shooting someone isn’t the straightforward one-and-done that American films and television portray — it’s frightening, it’s uncertain, it’s violent and life-changing. Saving the day with a sidearm is best left to those with tactical training. Now more than ever, if we truly want to stop the depravity of daily mass shootings, we must be honest when we talk about solutions for this uniquely American scourge.

And how times have changed. Since most of us feel a level of mass-shooter-related unease far greater than we did in the halcyon 1980s, we don’t see rifles in teenagers’ pickup trucks at school today. And at the rate mass shootings are occurring, we might be forgiven for a little suspicion and paranoia.

Several weeks ago, I saw a man carrying a rifle as he walked the sidewalk across the street from my house. Back in those ‘80s, I would’ve thought little of it, assuming him to be a hunter or target shooter exercising his Second Amendment rights. Today? No way.

Only a fool would dismiss an unknown armed man as harmless — even if you’re the most ardent 2A supporter, you’re probably going to keep an eye on a stranger with a long gun walking through your neighborhood. Sure, he might well be benign. But in this day and age, given our more-than-one-a-day mass shootings, you can’t blame any sane person for being worried or suspicious when armed strangers wander around.

Don’t forget, most recent mass shooters met the textbook definition of good-guy-with-a-gun right up until the moment they raised their weapons and mowed down a bunch of shoppers, worshipers, kids or whoever the victims were in our dizzying array of dead.

That is, most recent mass shooters acquired their weapons legally which, last time I checked, earns the full fury of Second Amendment enthusiasts whenever someone tries to control, restrict or confiscate legally acquired firearms. Then these legal owners kill some people and the chorus of “if only there’d been a good-guy-with-a-gun there to take him down” starts up, conveniently forgetting that the shooter was technically a good-guy-with-a-gun until he suddenly and bloodily wasn’t.

Ultimately, I agree with my conservative friends: mass shootings are a moral issue.

Where we diverge is on how we make that morality happen. I believe it’s impossible to legislate morality in a free society. So if we cannot mandate individual morality, we’re stuck legislating the other part of the equation: firearms. Sure, we can define criminal behavior — we’ve always done that. But it’s not doing anything to mitigate mass shootings and it certainly hasn’t halted moral decay.

On a sweeping scale, we have abrogated our responsibility to raise morally sound children. Some of this is as simple as aloof, indifferent or perpetually distracted parenting. Some of it is a result of parental irresponsibility or immaturity. Some of it is the result of people who have no business producing progeny nonetheless cranking out kids like drunken rabbits.

And it’s not like the media and entertainment industries are worried about their influence on an increasingly narcissistic and self-indulgent culture. No, sir, it’s not their fault — they’re just giving the people what they want. They can’t be held responsible.

Welcome to freedom in 2022.

Often, my conservative friends clamor for a return to teaching Biblical morals, the ten commandments, traditional discipline, respect and deference — robust ethics drilled into our children. Would this work? The funny thing is, it would almost certainly help. But what they really mean is a return to an era that’s long gone — a time we’ll never see again. Whatever the case, mandatory Bible training sounds dangerously theocratic, a sort of right-wing Sharia to constrain the public’s habits and behaviors to fit a Christian idea of decency. That’d never fly now.

This mini-mass-shooting hit too close to home for me as St. Stephen’s is an Episcopal church, a member of the Anglican Communion, to which I belong.

Meanwhile, we talk in circles, endlessly repeating the same tired non-solutions for a problem no developed nation would tolerate — or rather, no developed nation other than us.

It remains an inarguable truth that guns are tools designed to quickly and efficiently kill. When the Second Amendment was drafted, firearms were simpler and slower than they are now — perfectly suited for the well-regulated militia the amendment references. As it stands, we’re placing lethal military-grade equipment into the hands of people who see no value in training and, frankly, lack the competency, maturity, stability and accountability we should expect from bearers of such arms.

While we wait for the return of an epoch that will never happen, we’d be well-advised to update our views on how firearms fit into an amoral era. A regression to a latter-day Wild West serves none of us.

Photocomposite © 2022 Josh Applegate via Unsplash; Hosein Charbaghi via Unsplash

9 Replies to “They’re right — it’s a moral issue”

  1. We’ve had plenty of presentations that the lab rats in the experiment that opt for laced water when alone, are perfectly happy with unadulterated stuff when in a community with their peers in a fun setting. Taking that as an example, I also want to pose that while we, as a society, have lost our marbles, I mean morals, we have also lost our connection to each other. I have long considered that while I was in support of ending the draft (I am a product of my 1960s/70s environment), I do think we should institute some kind of mandatory service to our community. Perhaps programs can be offered on a statewide or national basis, to offer some flexibility. Service COULD be military, or it could be Americorps, or a new organization that will help, CCC style, addressing infrastructure needs. The participants should be required to give one or two years of service at age 18 or upon high school graduation. Positions could be made available despite mobility issues and few would be excused and certainly not for minor health issues. It could work and it could help build a sense of belonging and community. It is harder to attack strangers once you have helped feed them.

    1. Brilliant.
      As opposed to a military draft, it’s more like a compulsory community service that could, as you say, take the form of military service, AmeriCorps, ServiceCorps, National Health Service Corps or Mercy Corps (for those in health-related fields), the Portland-based Global Service Corps, any number of appropriate quangos, even certain appropriate religious ministries or charities. The possibilities are endless.
      I have long believed a compulsory service period would benefit us as individuals and communities.

  2. “Don’t forget, most recent mass shooters met the textbook definition of good-guy-with-a-gun right up until the moment they raised their weapons and mowed down a bunch of shoppers, worshipers, kids or whoever the victims were in our dizzying array of dead.”

    Matt, that’s ludicrous! Absolutely Ludicrous!
    I’ll give you the opportunity to walk that back.
    Although you don’t owe me anything, this is your site and I’m only here for the dialogue .

    1. Textbook definition, Graham.
      They acquired their firearms legally and committed no crime. If any government tried to confiscate or restrict usage of weapons acquired legally by people who committed no crime, every 2A organization, group, group member, fan, enthusiast and all their relatives would raise holy hell that a good-guy-with-a-gun was being persecuted. Because up to the point they committed the capital crime of killing, they meet the textbook definition of “legal firearms owner,” a.k.a. “good-guy-with-a-gun.”
      Were they good guys? Of course not! They were disturbed losers who had no business owning the staggering array of killing tools they were allowed to purchase and then use.

  3. Hello Matt,

    So, I did some reading/research this weekend on the topic of “Good guy/gal with a gun”.
    I have to say that I was surprised to learn just how far back this discussion has been going on.
    For decades, I read that it’s a “Myth”, a “Fantasy” a “Delusion” and some have been so bold as to call it a “Lie”.
    What I also took note of was that the vast majority of publications leaned to the left of the 2nd Amendment discussion.
    That did not surprise me at all.
    Good guys with guns have taken oaths since our country was founded the “Protect and Serve” in both law enforcement and military capacity.
    I hold these people in the highest regard since they all volunteer for this potentially deadly career. And it seems today we need them more than ever.
    These people didn’t join to perpetuate a lie or a myth and they need our support.
    That’s why the whole “Defund The Police” is so harmful to our civil society- Talk about a myth or delusion!
    Now that these leftist mayors / politicians have got their virtue signaling wish, they are now confronted with the reality that their cities are not safer and they look like the fools they are.
    Evil people exist and that will never change, and we can agree that there seems to be more of them every day.
    Sine our last conversation weeks ago, ZERO serious policy to make our schools safer has been enacted.

    1. My dad is one of those good-guys-with-a-gun! He started as a jailer, then patrolman, rising to detective in a Southern California police department, at the height of the Watts Riots. Then, he followed his father and brothers, more or less, into land development / building. When he “retired,” he went out and got re-certified and is now the oldest gun-toting deputy in a large-ish sheriff’s office. He’s in superb physical condition for a 70-something-year-old and he shoots straight.
      So, yeah, having people like him around makes us all safer.
      For the record, defunding the police was a ridiculous concept (then and now) but, as a catalyst for reforming policing as it pertains to race, it was a necessary phrase for us to hear. (A few of my thoughts on police reform are here.)
      It’s such a crap-shoot when it comes to a good-guy-with-a-gun stepping up and saving the day. If it’s somebody like my dad, someone who has tactical training and decades of experience, we’re good to go. But just as often it’s an amateur who buys a Glock, goes to the range once or twice, and considers himself the Lone Ranger when he’s carrying in public. A guy like this does not make me feel safer. If you’re honest, Graham, I’ll bet you agree with me.
      All of which takes me back to enacting national standards. We need a national standard to ensure those who pack in public can demonstrate competency, maturity, stability and accountability. Like any dangerous equipment, the public has a vested interest in making sure those who operate that equipment in public are capable of doing so responsibly. For some asinine reason, guns get a free pass — bearers of arms are granted assumed competence until, uh-oh, they screw up and it’s too late.
      I have a column coming up that relates three incidents that took place locally around the same period. Three good-guys-with-guns who, in hindsight, shouldn’t have been allowed to have them. I will be curious to see what you think.

  4. Matt
    I know about your father’s service, we’ve discussed it before.
    Partly the reason I brought it up, but not entirely.
    Guns don’t get a pass, at least not by me.
    They are inanimate objects, they don’t load themselves or fire themselves.
    Question for you, do “gun free zones” make us safer?
    Or are they just where a sick bastard would go to commit a heinous crime?
    World history is full of examples.

    1. Gun-free zones are theater.
      And it’s not you, I’m worried about, Graham. I know you take the matter seriously. It’s all the morons and yay-hoos who don’t that I lose sleep over.

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