Let us set aside the well-worn arguments of the firearms debate; guns don’t kill people, people do; guns make it easier to kill: many violent crimes are committed with guns, the Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms. These are, indubitably, worthy of serious consideration, but they are so frequently discussed that they need not be expounded upon here.
We will kill each other even without firearms, although firearms are a more palatable option for many a would-be-murderer than are knives or the proverbial blunt instruments. But instead of examining the weapons as if they were responsible for the crime, consider instead the nature of those who kill: their upbringing, their community, their circumstances. The structure of our society, our collective worldview, our cultural habits and predispositions; all these have created an environment which nurtures violence.
Our unique, and uniquely self-destructive worldview -based on individualism and moral relativism- has degraded familial and communal values, leaving us with a culture of self-entitlement and selfishness. When we accept that our inherent freedoms are individual, we downplay the necessity of community; and we are communal beings. Neither our virtues nor our vices are individual: the virtue of generosity requires a specific action to another individual; its vicious counterpart, miserliness, requires a specific action towards the self and a deliberate inaction toward others.
We too often think of virtue as something personal – note our perspective on volunteering. Volunteering is considered a personal choice and an action of going above and beyond the call of duty. But should we not, as communal people, view helping others as normal, even as an obligation, rather than as an action only the highly motivated individuals perform?
And more importantly, consider the motivation: many of us volunteer to get into good colleges, to please the company directors, to satisfy ourselves. But does not this self-interested emphasis defeat the purpose of the action? Instead of receiving charity and assistance, those we are supposedly helping become tools for our own advancement or feeling.
Even the most private of virtues or vices, say, an ability to be honest with ourselves about our own strengths and weaknesses or an obsession with pornography, will affect the community. Our virtues and vices are manifestations of our character–the external reflects the internal. In this way, when we have the capacity to be honest with ourselves, we will be honest with others; when we have problems with pornography, we may very well end up treating all people as objects for our pleasure.
This is not something which the government or society can legislate or control: the nature of a society, its predominant views and prevalent feelings will affect us, the individuals who form that society. Our actions, guided by those societal perspectives – like individualism-will in turn affect the function of society, thus prolonging, or even exacerbating, the problem.
For all too often we act in self-interest; thus a society which emphasizes individualism and moral relativism encourages us do what is right for ourselves, without regard for the consequences our actions will have on others. When the beliefs of all are considered right or valid, how can we expect ourselves and others not to act in self-interest? When we see ourselves as islands, loosely united in a sea of freedom, instead of the community of the sea, in which all things are mutually dependent, how can we expect fewer murders?
The unlawful taking of life is the ultimate violation of our freedom as humans and one usually committed for personal reasons: for vengeance, for monetary gain, for advancement. In that way, murder is the resolution of individualism; it is, almost without exception, an act of self-interest and the final and ultimate rejection of community, for it denies community both with the victim, and, by breach of law, the society of which the murderer is a part. It is an action for which we, as individuals, are directly responsible, however much we may have been influenced by society. For society is nothing but a group of individuals living in concert on the understanding of commonly shared values or beliefs. We may not agree on everything but we do on some: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thus the actions of individuals in the romantic and transcendentalist movements of the nineteenth century helped to shape the society we live in today, this society of the loner, the self-reliant, the communally irresponsible.
So if we wish for a safer society we must not focus on the weapon used to commit the murder, whether it be a gun, a knife or a hand. We must focus instead on ourselves and our communal responsibilities, that is, our relationship with society; we must not place blame on objects, which can do nothing of their own volition, but instead on ourselves and the collection of our fellows which to some extent influences our wills and our actions.