In a perfect world, gun violence would not exist. In our fallen, tragic world, gun violence will continue so long as either guns or violence exist. Since no one (outside of Hollywood and the “happy hoodlums” it celebrates) actually likes gun violence, the question arises: What to do about it?
Liberals such as Joe Biden choose to focus on the guns. They say they are out to stop “gun violence,” but it’s the guns that have their attention. Regarding violence in general, liberals are too often indifferent, ambivalent, or just plain wrong-headed for their ideas to be of any use. At their worst, liberals have actively encouraged violence so long as it serves their ends or victimizes people they despise.
Conservatives’ Dereliction of Duty
I would like to say that we conservatives, for our part, choose to focus on the violence. Unfortunately, far too many of us have had our minds elsewhere. While never as perverse as the Left has been in rationalizing crime and coddling criminals, we too have been of little use to crime’s victims. We have not discharged our duty to suppress criminal violence with all the means at our command.
This dereliction, and the political price we have paid for it, have been the theme of most of what I’ve written, at American Greatness and elsewhere, for a great many years. In this piece from 2008, for example, I argued the case like so:
I believe a really hard campaign against crime, if carried through to victory, would destroy liberalism’s power for a generation or more. Specifically, actual enforcement of the death penalty, to the point that thousands instead of dozens of killers are put to death for their crimes, has the potential to break apart the entire culture of gangsterism, cowing not only murderers but also the robbers and rapists who rely on the threat of murder—and thus making today’s crime rates a thing of memory. And in the peace that followed, people would never forget nor forgive liberalism for the fact that the mayhem they’d suffered for decades had been indulged, shepherded and enabled by liberal dogmas.
Scroll down in that link and you’ll find a related item I wrote for the Chattanooga Free Press back in 1998: “Deadly Mercy: Crusaders against capital punishment are killing people with kindness.”
In 2013, when a newly reelected Barack Obama had responded to an especially horrendous massacre with a new push for gun control, I argued the case this way:
While the Left relentlessly pursues its objectives, conservatives play defense. We’ll go to the mattresses to defend the Second Amendment, but we have ignored our duty to the Eighth, and everyone pays a price for this. Crime’s victims pay in blood. Conservative politicians pay on Election Day.
It’s been excruciating to watch the Republican Party boot one election after another when the thing that can connect the GOP with so many rank-and-file Democrats is lying there, so obvious for anyone to see. It isn’t just Reagan Democrats who are keen for law and order. Many among liberalism’s special clientele—poor people, minorities, feminists, gays, unions, the homeless, etc.—are sick to death of gangs and violence and would love to see that all swept away. . . .
We may well argue that the Left’s gun-control agenda is impractical, ineffectual, and unconstitutional, but if we want it to remain unpopular and unenacted, we’d better offer some “common-sense solutions” of our own. Our slogan has long been: “Guns don’t kill people; people do.” Let us follow that idea to its logical conclusion. While liberals pursue their impossible dream of eliminating murder weapons, we should be setting about the very practical, effectual, and constitutional task of eliminating murderers.
When, in 2016, Donald Trump announced himself as “the law and order candidate” for president, I was thrilled. When, in accepting the GOP’s nomination, Trump vowed that today’s crime and violence “will soon—and I mean very soon—come to an end,” and when he took the presidential oath and proclaimed, “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” I began to hope that conservatives’ neglect of crime might at last be ending.
Sadly, that turned out not to be the case. Even with Trump talking a good game about crime, he—and we—failed to follow through on it. So we lost the House in 2018, the White House in 2020, and the Senate this year. Other problems contributed to those setbacks, of course, but success in crushing crime would have overwhelmed them all.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Here we are, back where we were so many years ago, with liberals in power pushing gun control, and conservatives in opposition playing defense.
Would the alternative I propose—inexorable enforcement of death for murder—really be of any use against crime? Liberals might say, “Surely not!” But why should conservatives take their word on that? I’ve cited the evidence for the death penalty’s deterrent effect here and here. I’ve shown its compatibility with Christianity here, and with the Constitution here. Read the authorities I invoke in those pieces, and then see if you still think capital punishment has no role to play in ending gun violence.
Consider that the most famous handgun in American history was a six-shooter known as “the Peacemaker.” How so? Because all across the American frontier, it was an essential tool in performing “the very practical, effectual, and constitutional task of eliminating murderers.”
The Colt “Peacemaker” turns up in countless Hollywood Westerns, including many in which it is entirely out of place. For example, the 1961 John Wayne oater “The Comancheros” has good guys and bad guys blazing away with Peacemakers, even though its story takes place in the 1840s, 30 years before that gun was invented.
Peacemakers figure also in another look at the Old West, George Stevens’ 1953 cattlemen-vs.-homesteaders masterpiece, “Shane.” That movie is a serious film, though not without its own anachronisms. Little boys in America did not run around the house pointing toy guns and shouting “Bang! Bang!” until they had been taught to do so by the Saturday matinee shoot-em-up. Indeed, it was just such frivolous treatment of violence that Stevens sought to counteract, haunted as he was by his experience of real violence in World War II.
In “Shane,” when a man has died in a gunfight, “we go to his funeral, we listen to the hymns sung and prayers said over his grave, we hear his widow’s sobs. We even watch his dog whining and scratching at his coffin as it’s lowered into the ground.”
At one point in the story, the lead homesteader’s wife tells the hero, “We’d all be much better off if there wasn’t a single gun left in this valley, including yours.” Nevertheless, it falls to the hero and his Peacemaker to bring the bad guys to justice, thereby bringing peace to the valley—but not without receiving a grievous wound in the process. Before riding off into the hills to die, he tells the little boy, “You run on home to your mother and tell her—tell her everything’s all right, and there aren’t any more guns in the valley.”
Of course, it wasn’t the guns that were gone. It was the violent men, the murderers, who were dead. So put “Shane” down on the right side of the guns versus violence question.
How the Anointed See Themselves
Not that this makes any difference to gun control enthusiasts. The facts adduced by writers such as John Lott, Joyce Lee Malcolm, and Thomas Sowell don’t matter to them, so why should we expect them to be swayed by a work of fiction?
Obtuse they may be, but the “woke” brigades’ power has grown greater in recent years. Many of us are trying to figure out what gives with these people, but I think Sowell had them pegged more than a quarter-century ago.
I was privileged to attend a lecture Sowell gave in Chattanooga based on his 1995 book, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. Here is how Sowell summarized his thesis.
He explained that public figures who see policy issues as “opportunities for moral exhibitionism” are rarely inclined to view their own policies critically. And when, as “the conscience of the nation,” such people attain positions of power from which they can overrule everyone else, they rob society of the ability to correct its direction as their policies are found wanting.
The anointed “cannot simply say that Policy A is preferred to Policy B for the following reasons and with the following evidence,” Sowell said, “because of course those who disagree with them will put forth other reasons and other evidence alongside of theirs. To do this would be to put themselves on the same moral plane as other people, and to play by the same impartial rules of logic applying to others. That clearly is not how the anointed see themselves.”
Sowell cited the vocabulary of the anointed as evidence of their contempt for those they would lead. From their lofty perch, “they are to ‘raise our consciousness,’ make us ‘aware,’ and hope that we will ‘grow.’ Those of us who nevertheless continue to disagree with them must then be shown to be not merely in error, but in sin.”
Such an attitude, he said, “cuts off your path of retreat when the evidence begins to pile up that you were wrong. It’s one thing to simply admit that Policy A was really not better than Policy B after all; it is far more devastating to acknowledge that all the moral disdain which you poured down on those who opposed you was a farce, and that the whole vision of yourself and the world which led to the policy you advocated was a house of cards. Few people are prepared to see their world come crashing down like that.”
So again, here we are, with the self-congratulatory Left slaving away to get rid of guns, and with far too few conservatives bestirring themselves to get rid of murderers.
Therefore I say to all conservatives: If nothing else can move you to do what is necessary to save the lives of crime victims, just think of the joy you’ll feel when “the anointed” see their world come crashing down like a house of cards.