The Virginia Shooting

Only rarely do I comment on events in the U.S.A. as I’m well aware of my limited ability to do so with real knowledge or understanding, but the murder of Alison Parker and Adam Ward by Vester Flanagan has implications for us all. If I give offence by what I say, I apologize; but I do think there is a question we all need to consider, whether we are U.S. citizens or not.

When we ‘privatise justice’, that is to say, take to ourselves the right to judge and pass sentence on another and then carry out that sentence, we are undermining the basis of civil society. We are allowing our sense of injury or grievance to over-ride the structures of law and government. The tragedy in Virginia isn’t ‘just’ the murder of two innocent people, the suicide of the murderer and the grief and shock felt by their families and friends. It is that we are even further away from a dispassionate and open-minded investigation of the killer’s alleged motives (not all of which were personal to him, e.g. the Charleston church killings) and from a society in which the freedom of every citizen is assured by law and has no need of guns to protect it.

To an outsider, this is one of the great paradoxes of ‘the land of the free’. People who truly believe they are free, who regard their democracy as the most perfect on earth and are keen to export it to other countries of the world, often genuinely believe that weapons are necessary for self-protection. I can’t help thinking that may go some way to explaining the failure of American foreign policy in various parts of the world as well as ensuring that the cycle of violence and reaction continues indefinitely.

The U.S.A. sometimes speaks and acts as though it had the solution to everyone else’s problems. Its great wealth and generosity and sheer get-up-and-do have placed the whole world in its debt; but this reluctance to confront its own vulnerability, its reliance on guns rather than law, is going to go on troubling the world, not just the U.S.A, for years to come unless Amercican citizens have the courage to say, ‘No more’. Last night President Obama spoke of his desire for more gun control in hesitant, almost wistful terms. Perhaps Vester Flanagan’s lack of belief in his country’s institutions was justified after all.

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12 thoughts on “The Virginia Shooting”

  1. Something to think about here, Sister. No matter how we look at things, it’s a tragedy what happened, and it could possibly have been prevented.
    Freedom is not freedom if ordinary people take guns in their hands, to protect what they see as freedom.

    We can only hope and pray that things will change some day. But nothing will change if nobody will let that change happen.

  2. The problem is, it’s built into our Constitution, because people were and are afraid that a situation might arise where they had reason, but not method, to rise up against the government itself. Our country is founded on a very fundamental distrust of government in general,because that’s how it was born.

  3. Gun crime seems to be so common in the U.S that while I am disgusted I am not really shocked by it. What I do find shocking is the footage of the murders being put on-line for anyone to see.

    It seems that now we live our lives on-line our death must also take place there. How distressing that must be for their loved ones.

  4. The poor quality of mental health services in this country is shocking. As an American, I have been greatly concerned at the amount of budget cuts that have been made to these services. Our health care system is woefully inadequate. I don’t know what the answer is exactly but clearly my country is in trouble. I don’t know what it is going to take for the USA to wake up and see that gun control is absolutely vital and that equally vital mental health services MUST be kept in place.

  5. I grieve for my country. Our constitution is a marvel, but it came from the crucible of taking up arms against the political oppression of absolute monarchy. (Sorry, Brits!) The right to bear arms was originally guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment so that local militias could defend against outsiders threatening the survival of the new states. In 21st-century USA, we have closed our eyes and hearts to this original intent of self-defense from outside threats, and have enshrined this “right to carry arms” as a guarantee not against violence from outsiders but as a way to commit violence against each other. We are not pioneers blazing the frontier any longer!

    Australia had one terrible incident of a mass school shooting, and immediately had the will to take guns away from anyone without a reason to own one while ensuring those who have real needs for guns, hunters, farmers, and those who contend with the dangers of the “bush,” have proper and controlled access.

    I am disgusted and angry at those among my fellow Americans, especially those in positions of power, who seem not to have the will to protect the innocent from those who so easily can and do bear arms against their fellow citizens. The National Rifle Association has the power to bribe — sorry, lobby — our lawmakers with campaign contributions, and they most definitely do! Here in Texas, we have the right to carry concealed handguns. Some have even proposed that teachers carry concealed guns to school to defend themselves and their students from the school shootings that continue to breed fear and mistrust into our children, who then can grow up thinking that guns are a reasonable solution to problems. Violence only begets violence.

    One of the most basic of human needs is to be safe. Easy access to the ever-increasing gun and automatic rifle power, in truth, guns designed as weapons of war, fosters a fundamental and societal mistrust, lack of safety, and deep fear of those around us, all of which breed a growing culture of fear. This fear destabilizes all the good we try to foster in other areas of American life. Can we, in 2015, please read and interpret our founding documents in the light of their 18th-century origins? Or are we doomed by “political fundamentalism,” which, like religious fundamentalism threatens the stability and peace of our country and the entire world?

    May the Prince of Peace convert us to the ways of the Kingdom!

  6. I don’t have any answers to the questions of guns or constitutions or systems of justice that persuade people with a grievance (real or imagined) that the only outlet that they have is violence and harm to others.

    What I value about the UK is the lack of guns in every home and the possession of them, without a licence and valid reason, being a criminal action, and their use, more so.

    I know that weapons are held here illegally, but most of the guns used in American crimes are held perfectly legally under the permissive laws, based on a constitutional reality that is 300 years out of date. And, influential political lobbying by the National Rifle Association and others, maintains that status, in the face of Presidents and Congress at times. Until there is a change of heart and mind on the part of those people in the gun lobby, Americans will continue to be slaughtered on their streets and in their homes on a daily basis. i

    I pray that there will be a concerted effort by those who want a better future for the American people, which doesn’t include guns, will have the strength, courage and perseverance in the face of enormous opposition to bring about a complete change in the law, constitution and mindset that puts guns above the value of peoples right to live their lives in freedom and safety.

  7. What do we know of the motive force of this most recent event? We can posit that a disturbed man, told all his life that he was special because of race and sexual orientation, is fired for neither but spends the next two years trying to make sense of it. How can it be that he is no longer special?
    The pain festers, becomes a wound of injustice and he becomes the sole arbiter of justice. He expands the particular, himself, to the universal, Charleston, and he avenges.
    We had one bright shining moment when the ‘world’ was stunned when the members of that congregation did the Christian thing, so out of step is the world with us. The world never ‘got it’. That the norm for Christians is prayer and forgiveness.
    What has happened in America has less to do with the instrumentation of guns, the laws that allow access to them, or the historic foundations of our liberty, because none of these are arguments offered by the manifestos left behind in these awful events.
    These were individual acts written out of a personal morality play in which they, the madmen, were the highest power.
    Did Adam Lanza shoot those children and his own mother for the Second Amendment? Did the kids that had had enough bullying and massacred their fellow students at Columbine and annihilate themselves do so because they could, like millions of others who did not pull the triggers, have easy access to guns?
    Or have we, by turning away from the horrors of millions of abortions year after year, made ourselves into a society that values only those with the power to defend themselves. I can remember when birth control was a horror too far.
    I am also reminded of Thrasymachus’ argument in The Republic that Justice is whatever the strong say it is. Is it only because the unborn have no political power that they have no voice? No Justice? And we have become co-conspirators in this havoc by not raising our own?
    It is becoming easier to assert that we are no longer a ‘life affirming’ society and that puts us all at risk.
    Which leaves me with the comforts of prayer (in a world growing increasingly mad) as the most ‘reasonable’ recourse. That, and the model of ‘virtue in action’ of the Americans and Brit that prevented another massacre.
    Something to be said for selflessness in all this.

  8. The future of our society does seem to be hopeless at times when evil manifest itself in these ways but I cling to the hope the St John Paul II gave us in his inspiring writings on Marriage and the Eucharist. For me, the answer to the evil in our society is healing the brokenness of marriage. One statement made by a speaker presenting on St JP II “Theology of the Body” writings on the importance of marriage stated that “All the evil in the world could be traced back to the broken relationship between a man and a woman”. Would it not make sense that we, as a society, focus our attention and resources on the restoring marriage to the beauty of how God created it be?

  9. Jesus came to earth to preach God’s message of love and peace. His only weapons were words and miracles. Time to turn the guns into ploughshares!

  10. Thank you for all your comments, which are very enriching. I’m fascinated by the different responses and how far some of them take the discussion from the original theme. That is one of the great benefits of blogs and blogging, especially when one is fortunate to have such thoughtful readers as you are.

  11. You make a point, however this man’s motivations were colored by his mental illness. If you read the newspaper articles carefully you will see that in his past interactions, he was mentally ill. He believed in one situation, that someone who asked him would he be “swinging by for lunch” was harassing him by using the term “swinging by”. In severe cases like this, you can’t make sense of a person’s motivation.

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