What's Tony Thinking

Living in An Accelerator


If, as another bad week ends, you’re feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to read or think any more about guns and mass shootings and the murder of children, I totally get it. I am feeling overwhelmed and sad and angry too. While I’m grateful that the New York Times has lovely photos of all the children killed in Uvalde, Texas this week, it’s all I can do to look at them. They are heart-breaking.

So, if you stop reading, no shame, no blame.

If you continue, here’s the gist of what I have to say at this point. Liberals, Democrats and the President are right: it is about guns and the lack of safe, sane, reasonable gun control or gun safety laws. But some conservatives and at least some Republicans, and gun-control skeptics, also have a point. It’s not just about guns. We also have to ask why this is happening and keeps happening. And why, incredibly, does the pace of this insanity and terror seem to have picked up?

According to the independent journalist Bari Weiss, “The elementary school shooting in Texas is the 212th mass shooting this year. It is the 27th school shooting this year . . .  As of 2020, the leading cause of death among children in America is guns. Not cars. Not drugs. Guns. It was also the year that we had the highest rate of gun sales in American history.”

People of my political and religious leanings tend to focus, laser-like, on guns and gun control. We tear our hair out that our society seems unable to get anything meaningful done on this. And rightly so. On the other side, those who oppose gun control, and who say things like “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” are seen as complicit. Hell, we’re all complicit.

The ubiquity, availability and sophistication of guns is a big, big part of the problem. And the fact that there are more guns in this country than there are people is a sign of just how fearful, and sick, we have become.

There are things that we can and should do about the unfettered access to and easy availability of guns. We should have “Red Flag” laws that allow authorities, when authorized by courts, to take away a person’s guns because their behavior is waving all kinds of red flags, as was the behavior of Salvador Ramos, the Uvalde shooter. We should have universal background checks. If you need a license to drive a car, you need a license to have a gun. And we should either ban or highly restrict the acquisition of assault weapons.

If we did manage to do these things, they would make a difference. We would have fewer mass shootings. But we would still have mass shootings. We can do better, but we can’t wipe out this scourge with gun control alone. About this the conservatives and gun-control skeptics are right.

We do have to ask why do people do such terrible, terrible things? The answer leads us back to the spiritual and moral sickness of our society. Weiss makes the point this way,

“The social rot that’s come over America, the nihilism and hatred of each other, is part of the cause here. The dissolution of our social ties—and with them the accountability and responsibility that an actual community demands—has allowed insanity to fester unnoticed. Lockdowns accelerated the isolation, the purposelessness, the lack of meaning that was already overcoming us.” The best conservatives are genuinely concerned about “the dissolution of our social ties.”

It is about guns, but it’s not just about guns.

There’s another astute point in Weiss’s comment. “Lockdowns accelerated the isolation, the purposelessness, the lack of meaning that was already overcoming us.” (emphasis added)

My argument about the pandemic is not that it brought massive and totally unforeseen changes, but that it “accelerated” things already happening. Historically, that has been what pandemics have done — accelerate problems that already existed. Bad gets worse. I think we can see that across the board. And so as we come out of this pandemic (if we are), we find that isolation, loneliness, purposelessness and lack of meaning, already eating away at us, have been amped up, accelerated.

Which takes me back to my starting point . . . if you are feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason. Just as people appear to me to now be driving faster and with less patience, so our problems have been quickened, put on pandemic steroids. Those things in which atoms are shattered . . . they are called “accelerators.” We are living in an accelerator.

Still, there is an opportunity here in this particular moment, one that my friend David Brewster pointed to in a piece today at Post Alley. Joe Biden told us he could work across party lines and get some bi-partisan cooperation. He did that in the infrastructure bill, and might have gotten further legislatively if the Progressives hadn’t hamstrung him. Another story.

But Joe has an opportunity here, argues David, to turn down the political thermostat, to stop the Dem’s from just trying to use this tragedy to back Republicans into a corner. Let’s hope some comity and sanity prevail, and progress is made. Living in the pandemic accelerator, Lord knows we need some good news.


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