The recent shooting deaths of 31 fellow Americans (in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio) have prompted the familiar “blame game.” Democrats are blaming President Trump; Republicans are blaming the Democrats.
Of course, dreadful events have taken place under administrations of all stripes— Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump. Trying to place blame on any single party or president is silly. Yet, the game goes on.
As usual, whenever we experience this kind of national trauma, our political leaders come up with “plans” by which the problem will be solved and such terrible things will never happen again.
And so we are once more hearing proposals to restrict sales of certain firearm types and strengthen safeguards to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people who are mentally or emotionally unstable.
“Red flag laws” are the latest big idea. These are regulations which would permit local authorities to remove guns from individuals who exhibit behavior suggesting they could present a danger, to themselves or others.
This idea gains popularity whenever a horrific act is committed by someone who “seemed so quiet” or who “seemed like just an ordinary guy.”
Surely, we say, there must have been signs of possible trouble ahead. If only family or friends could have picked up on them and alerted the police, tragedy might have been avoided.
No doubt each of the various plans being proposed has its merits. But all should be examined very carefully, because in our efforts to prevent violence, we may be denying people their constitutional rights.
For instance, the idea of seizing firearms from individuals who haven’t committed any crimes — who, under the “red flag” principle, are only assumed to present a danger — would appear to violate the Second Amendment (not to mention due process). And even if you see the Second Amendment as outdated, or impractical, or out of touch with our current views, or even an actual hindrance to effective law enforcement, there still are reasons we have it.
We would be wise to proceed with the utmost care in attempting to change or nullify it because the consequences would likely be dramatic and far-reaching.
Concern about losing guns aside, momentum for dramatic constitutional change could take us in unexpected, and undesirable, directions. If we eliminate the Second Amendment, what’s to say the First Amendment won’t go next? Plenty of people believe the freedoms of religion and speech are as dangerous as firearms.
The old saying, “Tough cases make bad law,” is applicable here. Emotions stirred by the El Paso and Dayton shootings — and for that matter, Gilroy, California, and other acts of domestic terrorism becoming all too common — create enormous political pressure, especially during a pre-election period, which we’re in currently.
Politicians want to be seen as “doing something.” Whether or not that “something” actually makes for genuine improvement over the long run is beside the point. Just elect me, and everything will be fine.
Availability of firearms may indeed be something we need to address. But the problem we face is much deeper.
No insult is intended to either gun-control advocates or Second Amendments defenders, but the underlying reality in all of these violent incidents is metaphysical. It involves the spirit.
America’s problem is a spiritual malaise caused by a great deficiency — a vacuum — of good. As science tells us, a vacuum demands to be filled. And right now, evil is rushing in.
Some years ago, the well-known clinical psychiatrist and best-selling author, M. Scott Peck, wrote a book titled “Glimpses of the Devil.” He reported how he had noticed in some of his patients, motives and behaviors for which he was unable to find psychological explanations.
Beginning from a position of disbelief in Satan, Peck discovered that certain thoughts and acts seemed beyond the patients’ personalities, and couldn’t be attributed to identifiable neuroses. He began to realize that he was dealing with pure evil. This took him into the realm of religion.
While, in practical terms, Peck had been an atheist, over time he accepted the possibility that these people might be experiencing some form of possession. He found he had to develop treatments that were more like exorcisms than therapies.
One of Peck’s most critical observations was that each of these patients had undergone some traumatic experience that brought them to a turning point in their lives. It might have been a small incident, but it opened a crack through which the devil could move in.
The vacuum was being filled, just as it was filled in the lives of our domestic terrorists. The glimpses of the devil we’ve gotten from these shootings confirm this. In the case of the Dayton shooter, for example, his notebook scrawlings included entries where he was explicitly hailing Satan.
That’s a detail which received very little attention in media reports. But then, we live in a highly secularized society that wants to deny the supernatural. Clearly, the devil was in Dayton. He was outing himself.
Actually, the devil is doing a pretty effective job of filling the vacuum that engulfs society as a whole. What happened to that social atmosphere in which churches once sat on every corner, well-attended and exerting a moral influence that was, if not perfect, at least good overall? Where are the schools that once passed on to young people those traditions and social values that made for virtuous personal behavior and peaceful civic life?
Yes, there were inequities and injustices in society. But the system worked well enough to make us able to distinguish between right and wrong. In so doing, we were able to smooth out at least some of the inequities and address some of the injustices.
Were our domestic terrorists taught about those traditions and social values? Did either churches or schools introduce them to the Ten Commandments? It’s doubtful.
Change for the better is possible. Our nation has experienced periods of renewed faith and spiritual reinvigoration before. The so-called “Great Awakenings” that occurred in the 18th and 19th Centuries are such instances. But we’ve got a long way to go before we can recover our moral sense and refill the vacuum with good.
The terrible incidents of domestic terrorism are symptoms of the deeper problem we face. We’re in trouble as a society. And whether or not we get more “red flag laws,” there are already plenty of red flags waving to warn us of the danger all around us.
It’s past time to read the warning signs.
A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals.