What to do with populations in which we can identify threats ex ante only probabilistically? This is a central issue in the U.S. debate over gun rights and gun control, and, in many respects, this debate parallels the argument over refugee admissions policy.
What is the cause of our polarized politics? Some blame one party or the other, and that is certainly plausible. But I wonder if the problem goes deeper. Our two parties are fighting for the future. We are polarized because we disagree about what it would mean to make America better. Beyond that, the arguments are so extreme because in our post-modern age we cannot agree about what it means to be reasonable.
Last week’s horrible tragedy at Umpqua Community College in Oregon put us back into a repetitive cycle in partisan discourse: A madman commits a massacre. Advocates for greater controls on firearm ownership use their outrage at the loss of life to point fingers at Americans’ right to own guns, and argue for more gun control. Gun-rights advocates mourn the loss of life, accuse their opponents of exploiting the deaths of the victims, and argue that greater restrictions short of outright bans would not prevent future tragedies and would endanger the basic rights of the vast majority of gun owners to protect themselves.
Some of the families who survived the horror of the Newtown shooting are suing Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the AR-15 rifle that was used by the deranged gunman who murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The complaint actually reads more like an attempt at healing than a serious legal claim. To that extent, I am sympathetic. But the strictly legal issues and theory of recovery to be gleaned from it deserve comment.
My last post ended by asking: where is the outrage at the disparagement of the struggle and sacrifice that the first generation of Black citizens made to vindicate their right to arms? The question was rhetorical, meant to emphasize how casually former Justice John Paul Stevens and Michael Waldman turn a blind eye to one of the foundational episodes in the story of Black Americans.
The tack taken by Stevens and Waldman is all too familiar. It takes for granted that some people more than others are allowed to play rough on the field of race.