Another Mass Shooting: Heaven Forbid

Another Mass Shooting: Heaven Forbid

Angry. Frustrated. Exasperated. Deeply, deeply sad. My reactions to the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.

I was an undergraduate when a wonderful and brave food service manager for whom I liked working was gunned down on campus. Gordon Beaumont was trying to protect one of his employees, a woman whose estranged husband was intent on doing her harm.

It happened on the steps leading down to the room in the student union where I played ping pong and pinball with friends and faculty members. Access to the spot was cut off for quite a while, first for the forensic investigation, then for the cleanup.

Maybe that is why my emotional response is so strong.

Or maybe it is the fact that I spent the last few years of my career in higher education in a faculty office building that was secured 24/7 against the death threats made by a mentally unstable and quite lethal former student against three of my colleagues.

Or maybe it is because we had a foster child who ultimately had to be removed from our home because of his serious efforts to do harm to family members. I can only imagine what would have happened had he been able to get his hands on a gun.

Or maybe it is because five of my children have spent thousands of hours on college campuses pursuing their education . . . sons and daughters just like those whose lives were ended on Thursday.

Or maybe . . . just maybe, it’s because the sense of oppressive déjà vu is overwhelming.

It simply is intolerable that, as the carnage of mass killings continues, as the breaking news alert of another shooting becomes a familiar refrain, we, as a nation, do nothing.

Nothing.

We marshal substantial government resources to investigate, convict and ultimately sentence a man for wantonly endangering people with contaminated peanuts . . . and well we should.

But part of the reason we are able to do that is because food production is regulated as a public health issue.

We marshal substantial government resources to find Volkswagen guilty of cheating on emissions test, with a wanton disregard for public health in the quest for profit . . . and well we should.

But the whole reason we are able to do that is because emissions are regulated by law as a public health issue.

But guns?

Heaven forbid that we would ensure that those who sell guns, regardless of where and how they sell them, follow procedures designed to protect public health.

Heaven forbid that we would require the manufacturers of guns and ammunition to devise and implement means of reducing their lethality or the ease with which they can be acquired and used by irresponsible, mentally unstable or criminally minded individuals.

No, actually, it isn’t Heaven that forbids any of this, nor any other reasonable effort to reduce the carnage caused by guns in our society.

It’s us.

We’re the ones who have forbidden it, through our acceptance of legislative inaction and of an intellectually sloppy and excessively expansive rhetoric when some speak of the right to bear arms.

The Constitution does not forbid the regulation of guns and gun ownership. No Supreme Court majority opinion (and, to my knowledge, no minority opinion) ever has suggested that. Much that we have not done and might productively do almost certainly would pass constitutional muster.

It’s us. We’re the ones who are choosing to leave the door open to slaughter.

And we’re the ones who can reduce the chance that it will ever happen again. We can demand action from Congress and our state Legislature. We can tell them that we respect the rights of those who wish to own guns, and that we also respect the right of citizens to live with reasonable confidence in their personal safety and security, whether or not they choose to own a gun. To protect the citizens from threats both foreign and domestic . . . that’s a fundamental obligation of government, one that our state and our nation have failed miserably to meet.

Heaven forbid that we tolerate inaction any longer.

4 Responses to Another Mass Shooting: Heaven Forbid

  • Gail Darmody

    Well said with excellent rationale!

  • Raymond

    Dr. Paine, I agree, well said rationale thinking. However, we still have the right to bear arms, and your message should not have any bearing on rational, and citizens who abide by the law. We need to find a way to keep the guns away from the crazy people. How, I do not know. But don’t penalize folks who have the rigth to protect themselves at all cost. Your opinion seems to be the one to do away with all weapons at all cost. Thanks for your letter and my opportunity to reply.

    • Dr. Scott Paine

      Raymond,
      Thanks for reading and for your concerned response.
      I am very aware of and respectful of the right to own and carry arms. That right, like all rights (yes, all, as any constitutional law scholar will affirm) has been understood to have limits. Appropriate forms of regulation related to gun and ammunition manufacture, sales and ownership can and have been crafted in the past; we have many on the books today. They do not exhaust the scope of constitutionally-permissible regulation. It may be that there are other regulations that might help us reduce the thousands upon thousands of deaths each year resulting from the intentional and accidental use of firearms. Some have to do with the design of weapons themselves. Some have to do with how, when and to whom they are sold. I’m sure there are still other ideas out there.
      As your comment suggests, there are other areas of policy where wise action may reduce this carnage. The appalling lack of access to appropriate mental health care is one. We have decided, as a society, that certain diseases are serious enough that they merit significant public investment to address; I believe serious psychological disorders ought to be on that list.
      There are still other areas in which we might engage in common efforts to reduce the bloodshed.
      My hope is that you and I and others will have the courage to face an intolerable fact (the persistent phenomenon of gun violence in this country), to recognize and be concerned for preserving the rights involved in addressing that fact, and to take action. Not to do so is to ensure that the needless slaughter, not only by shooters like the one in Oregon, but by thugs, by depressed friends and family members, by relatives caught up in the heat of anger, and by children who come across a poorly-secured firearm, will continue.
      Those students and teachers had rights, too.

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