Recent mass shootings have brought calls for new gun laws and other efforts to curb violence. Commentator Chris Tucker says that one defining aspect of American culture will make such changes very difficult.
Every society must strike a balance between individual rights and collective security. Over the course of American history, and especially over the last century, we have, for better and worse, given the individual a greater scope of freedom than any society that ever existed.
In fact, you could argue that individualism is the true religion of modern America. As much as possible, we want people to create their own lives with only minimal restraints from the state and other centers of authority.
And most of the time, in most cases, this is a great idea that pays all kinds of benefits. But there's a frightening flip side to the religion of individualism, and it often emerges in the form of shocking violence. After a tragedy like Newtown, Connecticut, we recoil at the massive gaps in security made possible by our worship of the unfettered individual. What have we created?
In effect, this is America’s promise: "If you need military-style weapons, we'll make it easy for you to get them. If you want to drench your mind with sordid violence (the Saw movies, Django Unchained, countless video games), no problem. And if you're an emotionally disturbed person wandering the streets of a city or the hallways of a school, we value your freedom so much that we'll leave you alone until the moment you start killing - and then we'll wonder why someone didn't see the warning signs."
In the wake of the most recent massacre, we’re hearing calls for tougher gun control, conversations about violent pop culture, and more attention to keeping guns away from the mentally ill. It’s a huge, three-pronged problem, and I doubt we have the political will to deal with more than a fraction of it. We should restrict certain types of weapons and clips, and put more teeth into background checks. But with millions of guns already out there - and the millions more that will be sold before any new laws take effect, if they do - these new measures will bring only incremental change over decades.
On the culture front, I’m even more skeptical. Will Congress and the President put pressure on famous, wealthy purveyors of violence like director Quentin Tarantino and the makers of games like Mortal Kombat, which, according to PC Magazine, features “groin-shredding fatalities and new X-Ray moves that let you shatter bone, tear muscle, and destroy internal organs.” Cue the outcry about "censorship" and the First Amendment--which now protects the right to slice and dice people in living color. What do you think of that, Mr. Jefferson?
As for the mentally ill, we decided 30 years ago that “warehousing” them was wrong; today, we give even very disturbed people a lot of freedom to do what they want. The vast majority of the mentally ill are not violent, but some, like the Virginia Tech, Tucson and Aurora killers, are. Will we infringe on people's rights to self-determination? Can we intervene early in the life of someone who has yet to commit a crime?
Any one of these changes would require some scaling back of individual liberties as we now define them. But without any such changes, we're stuck with the status quo, which means just waiting for the next tragedy, and the next, and the next. . .
Chris Tucker is a writer from Dallas.