Across America, this week isn’t one where people will wonder why the flags are at half-staff.  All of America is mourning the victims in Las Vegas and praying for their loved ones.

(All Americans except for the pathetic excuse for a former CBS Television attorney Hayley Geftman-Gold who wasn’t “sympathetic [because] country music fans often are Republican gun toters.”  It’s sick coincidence that, if the shooter indeed was a psychopath as at least one former FBI profiler has hypothesized, then he and this woman would share one trait: a chilling lack of empathy.)

We’re in collective shock.  We instinctively grope for answers to create some context that makes any sense at all.  Now is the best time to be brave, set aside your political positions – pro-gun, anti-gun – for just a moment.

If you’re a feeling person, as most Americans are, then the terror unleashed beside the landmark Vegas Strip late Sunday evening, well, it scares you. Frankly, it should scare us. Random violence is Satan’s turn to roll the dice. The number that comes up can easily be ours or that of someone we care about. We should all seek solutions that can minimize the number of times the devil gets his throw.

As we begin to debate policies with the goal of reducing either the number of these events, or the ability for an evildoer to rack up large body counts, or both, it’s actually important to identify what is motivating our policy preferences.  If you lean toward solutions for broader restrictions on gun ownership – maybe even as extreme as getting rid of the Second Amendment all together – are you really anti-gun (e.g., you believe the gun itself is evil and removing it them from society is the answer) or just scared of what guns can do when in an evil hand?  It’s a question that you can sort through even in the current emotion-driven state of debate. It just takes the bravery to honestly confront a thought experiment.

Consider that you are among those people who may have been walking near the Mandalay Bay as the shooting began. You know what’s happening. You can hear the screaming. You know people must be dying. You recognize that you are not in the killing zone; in this constructed reality you know that you are not in danger.

Then, a higher power – God, Yahweh, Allah, or Richard Dawkins and a teleporter machine – blinks you into that unholy space, the 32nd floor corner room.  The same higher power places an assault rifle in your hands and endows you with an immediate Jason Bourne-like understanding of how to use it. The shooter has his back to you and is focused; a kill shot would be assured. What do you do?

If you hold the pure belief that guns are the evil in the room, then you have only one moral option: you do not fire.

On the other hand, if you do choose to fire, that decision informs you about what you really believe: the gun is value-neutral and the shooter is the moral actor.  You accept that the gun is a tool that can be used for a moral purpose to take down the shooter and save lives.

Confronting this has important implications for how we discuss policy.  For those who are concerned by the randomness of these shootings but are brave enough to absolve the gun of a responsibility it doesn’t actually bear, the focus on solutions shifts to address the evil of a would-be shooter. Surely there are laws that can be enacted to address the physical nature of the weapon.  Banning the sale of bump-fire stocks or modifications that allow a weapon to effectively be fired fully automatic seems like a reasonable beginning and ending point.  But when we acknowledge that a person with gun can be a moral good, it becomes much clearer where we need to direct our attention; the utopian fantasy in which getting rid of all guns (or even enacting strict infringements on ownership) would also eliminate the risk of mass violence falls to tatters. Because as long as there’s evil, there will be rampage killings, even when the population has been disarmed.

The scale of evil done with a gun in Las Vegas was grand, but doesn’t negate the value of guns to do relative good in smaller-scale confrontations that take place in living rooms, churches, shopping malls, and elsewhere. Infringing upon the rights of the greater good to address abuses by an evil micro-minority would have unintended consequences that can’t just be ignored.

(Ed. Since initial publication, the headline has been changed for clarity of context.)

[Image credit: UltraONEs]