In the aftermath of a tragedy like the elementary-school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, when emotions and egos are running high, few of us have much wisdom to offer.
We have our anger, which even when justified is largely self-serving, and we have fingers to point, which we do without listening or considering where we might challenge our own priors instead of merely attacking others.
We have absurd and impossible solutions — Ban all guns! Arm all teachers! — to a morally and legally complex problem.
And yes, I’ll say it: Guns are part of the problem.
Gun ownership may be an enshrined constitutional right, but rights come with responsibilities, especially to the most vulnerable among us. And when 19 innocent children are gunned down in an elementary school (not to mention those killed on the streets or by suicide every day), it’s worth at least considering how our existing policies are not striking the right balance.
It should not be alienating to other conservatives to agree that we should restrict teenagers from purchasing high-caliber weapons, or limit the size of certain magazines, or pass red-flag laws that would keep potentially dangerous and unstable people from legally obtaining weapons.
We should have a robust debate on ways to close loopholes in background checks.
Some conservative leaders, such as Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have made overtures in this direction. We need their leadership, and we need follow-through.
We can have a serious and sober discussion about better enforcement of existing laws, such as cracking down on straw purchases.
While most of these efforts would have had minimal impact (save the age restriction) on the mass shootings in Uvalde or Buffalo, N.Y., they might help around the edges at reducing gun deaths overall. And even that would be progress.
They might in some small way deter more young and troubled people from obtaining weapons that would ultimately result in self-harm or harm to others.
We won’t know until we try.
But with 400 million guns already in circulation in the U.S., limiting access to firearms isn’t a viable solution. Anyone who argues otherwise is living in a European fantasy.
And if Republicans are responsible for their failure to meaningfully engage on reasonable gun-control measures, Democrats are guilty for their refusal to address the litany of other issues that contribute to a deteriorating culture. It alienates our youth, degrades trust in our institutions and makes rampant gun violence, like the horrors we’ve just experienced, ever more prevalent.
Many politicians who fought to keep schools closed and teens isolated for two years can’t figure out why juvenile mental health has plummeted but violence among the same population has increased.
They don’t understand that gun purchases surged during the COVID-19 pandemic because faith in government was in rapid decline.
They refuse to acknowledge how fatherlessness and family breakdown exacerbate isolation and radicalization and destroy the social guardrails that keep kids from failing through the cracks.
How do we rebuild trust? Strengthen families? Address mental and emotional health?
None of these problems is easy to resolve.
They won’t be addressed by expedient political fixes and theater or hashtag campaigns and social media posts.
And they won’t be resolved if all we do is paint our ideological opponents as the enemy, without any intention of working with them to find solutions.
It’s becoming clear the attack on Robb Elementary that resulted in so much carnage was at least exacerbated by school security failures and the utterly incompetent response of local authorities. The coming weeks and months will require more than a review of what broke down on site.
We need a far deeper reckoning with what has broken down in our society that allows these tragedies to occur over and over again. Who is willing to do that?
We need wisdom that comes not from screaming but from listening.