“White supremacy,” the headlines screamed in the days after the Buffalo shooting. Again and again, newspapers went out of their way to mention, as many times as possible, the race of the killer and of the victims. Articles featured quote after quote by so-called experts who pontificated about the growing threat of “right-wing domestic terrorism” and the “toxic beliefs” that allegedly motivated the shooting. Politicians solemnly droned on and on about the “poison” of white nationalism and how it must be eradicated from our society. The common thread among all these sentiments is that they demonstrate a greater interest in condemning and blaming groups of people based on their skin color and/or ideology than in condemning and blaming the shooter himself.
Then came the shooting in Texas. Unable (for the most part) to use this incident to attack white people for their skin color, the political and media establishment opted instead to attack everyone who believes that individual rights should be respected. Just as they have been countless times, the mindless, authoritarian platitudes are repeated ad nauseam. Pro-rights activists are viciously ridiculed for being irrationally “obsessed” with guns. The Republican Party is labeled a “death cult.” Newspaper headlines bemoan the “toll” of gun ownership and the “inaction” of Congress. Laws that actually respect fundamental rights are criticized as “lax” and “weak.” People smugly lecture anyone who will listen that Second Amendment rights apply only if someone is a member of a militia. “Since when is gun ownership a human right?” they derisively ask. (The correct answer: since the beginning of time.) “What clause in the Constitution gives you the right to mow down 10-year-olds with assault weapons?” they scream with a nastiness that is matched only by their idiocy. (The correct answer: none, and no one is arguing that any clause does. Only a moron would equate using a gun to mow down 10-year-olds with merely owning one.) “Enough is enough,” people mindlessly repeat. (My question is: enough of what? Enough of people’s fundamental rights being respected?) Even among Republicans, anti-rights sentiments abound, frequently prefaced by such dishonest statements as “I’m as pro-Second Amendment as they come, but…” Again and again, politicians and activists bemoan the fact that government has “done nothing,” as if it is somehow self-evident that punishing innocent people is the correct response to a tragedy.
Let me tell you unequivocally: punishing innocent people is never the correct response to anything. As I’ve stated before and will continue to repeat as long as there are those who disagree, people have a fundamental right to do anything that they want as long as it does not violate the rights of anyone else. Rights are absolute. You don’t get to take rights away simply because doing so would prevent tragedies from happening. And rights are not contingent upon their exercise being safe or healthy. Rights cannot be violated under any circumstances. Far too often, our society responds to tragedies by violating everyone’s rights in an attempt to prevent similar tragedies from happening again. This punishes everyone for the actions of a few. And punishing innocent people is never OK.
Many people seem to have the idea that if they can just be emphatic enough, or angry enough, or graphic enough in describing a tragedy that has happened, then it will somehow make it clear that innocent people should be punished. I am tired of hearing politicians and activists pompously moralizing, again and again, about parents grieving the deaths of their children, about communities in mourning, about the gory details of the violence that was committed. No one denies that the deaths of innocent people are tragic. What we deny is that punishing innocent people is an acceptable response. It simply does not follow from the fact that a bad thing happened to someone, that innocent people ought to be punished. And this is true no matter how bad the thing is. No amount of dramatic storytelling, graphic detail, or pompous moralizing will cause this to follow. No amount of grief, no amount of rage, no amount of self-righteousness gives someone the right to punish innocent people.
I am an autistic person who loves statues and history, who believes in individual rights, and who is just trying to get through each day the best that I can. I am angry, and I am exhausted. I am tired of public officials, celebrities, and people on the internet falling all over themselves to proclaim their solidarity with whatever group happens to be popular at the moment, while ignoring the feelings and needs of people like me. I am tired of having my fundamental rights taken away when I haven’t done anything wrong. I am tired of being stigmatized and shamed for actions that I had nothing to do with, solely because I happen to have the same skin color as the perpetrator. I am tired of being attacked and insulted for having the audacity to believe that rights should not be violated. I am tired of being punished by having my liberty restricted for actions that I did not do and situations that I did not create.
Instead of focusing on punishing the actual shooters, far too many politicians and members of the media focus on punishing entire groups, whether that be white people, young men, gun owners, victims of bullying, pro-rights activists, or legislators who opt to respect rights instead of violating them. I am tired of the sneering faces, filled with self-righteous intolerance, condemning and blaming me for another person’s actions. I am tired of the scorn, vitriol, and insults being heaped relentlessly upon me – and upon all people who believe in individual liberty – as if I am the mass murderer. I am tired of being called immoral, when failing to distinguish between murderers and innocent people is the epitome of moral bankruptcy.
I haven’t survived a mass shooting, or lost a family member or friend to one, but I am a person, and my well-being matters also. I have experienced, and continue to experience, unbearable loss, anguish, and pain, yet society has not only neglected to punish everyone for what happened to me, it has neglected to punish even the perpetrators themselves. What makes these pompous and self-righteous people so superior to me that society has decided that when I am harmed, no one should be punished, but when they are harmed, everyone should be?
Headlines about people being killed in mass shootings understandably capture the public’s attention, and the photos and stories of the victims understandably tug on people’s heartstrings. As the faces of shooting victims are splashed across newspaper front pages and the TV news, and their family members tearfully and angrily testify before Congress, it seems sacrilegious to argue against the idea that such tragedies should be prevented by any possible means. However, attempts to prevent tragedies at the expense of individual rights must be opposed, because freedom is crucial to having a life that is worth living. The gradual chipping away of liberty – whether by mandating medical procedures, banning the ingestion of substances, or imposing hurdles to gun ownership – is not as dramatic as a mass shooting. But it is just as destructive, if not more so. Of course, these victims didn’t deserve to die. But neither do I deserve to have my life destroyed by being robbed, one by one, of the things that make it worth living. The face below is not the face of a shooting victim. It is not the face of someone who has been harmed by gun violence. It is the face of someone who has been harmed, and will continue to be harmed, by authoritarian policies that attempt to prevent crimes by punishing those who do not commit them.
This, as you may have guessed, is my face. If you support gun control, you support harming me. Just as mass shootings end innocent lives, immoral laws destroy innocent lives, one violation of individual liberty at a time, by making them no longer worth living.
That is not as attention-grabbing as children being shot to death. But it is equally important.
It is wrong for mass shooters to punish innocent people. And it is equally wrong for the government to do the same in response.