Some Thoughts on Mass Shootings

The Second Amendment

Despite the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, I have never thought that a reasonable reading of the 2nd Amendment guaranteed an individual’s unequivocal right to possess firearms. In fact, the only Supreme Court decision that focused on the 2nd Amendment, US vs. Miller in 1939, found that there is no individual right to bear arms independent of the nation’s self-defense interests. There is also reason to believe that Madison wrote the 2nd Amendment to protect the rights of southern states to have militias that they could use to put down slave revolts. 1

I do believe, however, that every person has an inherent right to self-defense. 2 I take this to not be a civil right enshrined in law, but as a basic human right. Although there are weapons that are designed to be used for defensive roles, assault rifles, by definition, are not. I have no sympathy for those who argue that their guns are necessary for defense against a tyrannical government. I have seen four Apache helicopters on an attack run at a range in Fort Hood. If you think that your AR-15 will defend you, you’ve been watching too many bad action movies. 3

Good Guys with Guns

Lately, there have been demands to arm teachers to prevent school shootings. This is a variation on the idea that the only solution to gun violence is more good guys with guns. There are obvious reasons why this is untenable. We had problems with active shooters when I was in Afghanistan. The solution was not to have more people carrying guns, since everyone except me and the other two chaplains were already armed. The solution was to have a soldier standing at the ready at every meeting, doing nothing but looking for signs of hostility, prepared to shoot as soon as a weapon was drawn. That’s what the only “more guns” solution looks like – an armed guard standing with weapon drawn in every classroom, in every corridor of the mall, covering every line of sight in every public venue, etc. 4 That’s not a country where I want to live.

Possible Solutions

Mass shootings are a complex problem, but not irreducibly complex. We shouldn’t pretend that our only options are an impossible perfect solution and doing nothing. So, what should be done? There are some means that, I believe, would help reduce the level of gun violence.

  1. Treating sources of terrorism consistently would be a good first step. White nationalism has always been an ideology associated with terrorism, from the lynchings of Reconstruction to the mass shooting in El Paso. As a terrorist ideology, white nationalist demands for racial purity are no different than demands for religious purity from other movements that we rightly label as terrorists.
  2. Ban assault weapons – that has already been shown to be effective.
  3. Ban high capacity magazines. Otherwise, thirty people are dead before the “good guy with a gun” has an opportunity to respond.

May God forgive me, if I ever demand my rights at the possible expense of another human being’s life.

  1. Conservatives had no problem with gun control when the Black Panthers were taking up arms to press for equal civil rights. As Governor of California, Ronald Reagan signed an act in 1967 banning the carrying by members of the public of loaded firearms in cities. He said there is “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” It’s also curious how reticent the NRA is to come to the defense of registered African-American gun owners.
  2. Specifying this right will, by no means, be simple. I do not believe that people have the right to do anything that will result in saving their lives. I also do not believe that the right to self-defense is automatically a right to kill, if there are other effective means available. There are also tricky questions about prisoners on death row, etc. This is also a right that implies certain duties, like the duty to ensure, as much as possible, that no innocent people are harmed. This means that gun-owners have a duty to acquire and maintain a high level of skill. This could mean that the public has a right to demand that those who wish to carry firearms in public be tested and certified.
  3. I’ve also recently heard that when criminals get semi-automatic weapons, then citizens need full-auto. In my infantry days, the only situation in which fully automatic fire was used was to spray a room with bullets before entering. So, saying this is the same as saying “When criminals get semi-auto, then citizens kill indiscriminately.”
  4. That doesn’t mean that a member of the public with a gun will not occasionally act to prevent, or minimize, some tragedy. That will have to be weighed against members of the public misidentifying a target or harm done by negligent discharges, a particular problem that we had in Iraq.

Prayer for the Twenty-Two

On average, twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day.

God of peace,

We pray for those who
bear the scars of war,
both visible and invisible,
for wounds that cannot be seen
are no less painful to bear,
and peace is but a distant dream
when the war is within one’s own soul.

Give them the courage to speak,
and give us to grace to listen.

Amen

Links in Army Enterprise Email

This will probably be useful to only a few people, but maybe it will help someone who is frantically searching the internet for an answer.

Roughly a year ago, the Army changed its email service to an Exchange Enterprise system. The old address, which I have had for years (decades?) forwards to the new address, which I never can seem to easily remember. It seems, though, that links in forwarded emails are stripped out for security purposes. This is not a problem if the url is visible in the message, like this:

http://google.com

One can simply copy and paste the url into the browser. If the link is embedded into text or a graphic, though, there is nothing to copy. Any link seems to go to

https://web-cols01.mail.mil/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx

This makes it impossible to retrieve the original linked URL.

The problem that I had was with the Microsoft Home Use Program (HUP), which sells copies of Microsoft Office to military members at a very low price. For various reasons, I don’t like using Office, but it’s what the military uses, and I occasionally need it. Of course, to verify eligibility, the email had to be sent to a .mil address, and the link couldn’t be opened. I tried forwarding the email to a Gmail account, but the links were still broken.

The solution was to select “Options” for the message, and forward it as an attachment to Gmail. The links were still broken, but broken in a way that the original URL could be retrieved. After forwarding as an attachment, the link to Google would be

blockedhttp://google.com

Just copy the link, paste it in, and delete the word “blocked” before pressing the enter key.

It only took two months to figure that out. It might be better if I’d simply learn the new Enterprise address.

Visit to Ft. Moultrie

Yesterday, my class at the chaplain school participated in a staff ride to Charleston. “Staff ride” sounds more impressive than “field trip” but they mean the same thing. The highlight of the visit was a trip to Ft. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. The defense of the fort in 1776 was the first major victory over the British in the Revolutionary War. Standing on the high ground at Ft. Moultrie, you can look straight across the harbor and see Ft. Sumter. The attack on Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861 marks the beginning of armed conflict in the American Civil War. Then, if you scan to the left, you can see Morris Island, which is the site of Ft. Wagner. On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts assaulted Ft. Wagner, an event portrayed in the movie Glory. There, Sergeant William H. Carney secured the United States flag as the color-bearer fell, the first action for which an African-American would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

It’s a moving experience to see a century of history and heroism from one spot on the South Carolina coast.

Great Quote From Chaplain School

From a briefing given by an Army Chaplain about the new Inter-service Chaplain Center that is shared by the Army, Navy, and Air Force:

“We didn’t foresee the challenges that we would have with a building shared by the three services. Each service has its own customs, traditions, and even language. For example, we had to order three different signs for the restrooms – one that said ‘Latrine’ for the Army, ‘Head’ for the Navy, and ‘Powder Room’ for the Air Force.”