Sense of Decency

Listening to others, seeing things through their eyes.


A famous cartoon shows Robespierre about to execute the executioner on the guillotine. The implication is that Robespierre and his colleagues of the French Revolution have now executed everyone, and only the executioner remains. An inscription says “Here lies all of France.” 

I thought of that image this morning as I read of another killing. A six-year-girl and her parents were shot, apparently because a basketball rolled into a neighbor’s yard. Earlier this week, a man in Kansas City, Mo. allegedly shot a teenager who knocked on his door. And earlier, closer to home, a young woman in a car was shot and killed when the car she was riding in turned around in a man’s driveway. He allegedly shot her from the porch. And on and on. 

As I read the news again, I had an image of another pierre, this one Wayne LaPierre, the high-living head of the National Rifle Association. In my vision, LaPierre is surrounded by bodies, bodies of children, teenagers, adults, people of all kinds, and is holding a gun to his own head. The image in my vision says: “No one left to kill.”

This image bothers me because I (try to) wish no harm to anyone, no matter how vile they may appear. We are taught to believe that there is good in everyone, although it may be deeply hidden, and it is wrong to wish harm. But I’m not wishing him harm. Only that he and the politicians who so casually dismiss the crisis of gun violence behind the veil of the Second Amendment will wake up to the carnage that surrounds them. I actually admire the Tennessee lawmaker who said bluntly that he and his fellows would do nothing to stop the gun violence. At least he’s up front about it.

I wonder if the “Originalists” on the Supreme Court ever stop to consider that the originators of the Second Amendment were talking about single-shot firearms? 

Don’t get me wrong. I believe the Second Amendment gives me the right to own firearms, and I do own firearms and I do not want anyone arbitrarily taking them away. But I also believe the Second Amendment is not absolute any more than any other amendment. As a former journalist, I hold the First Amendment and its provision of a free press as sacred. But I know that there are limits to free speech, limits that come into play when that speech does demonstrable harm. When the suffering of the society at large outweighs the unbridled exercise of that right.

It’s curious that this belief is a cornerstone of “conservative” thought. “Conservatives typically contend that human moral imperfection leads men to act badly when they act upon their uncontrolled impulse, and that they require the restraints and constraints imposed by institutions as a limit upon subjective impulse,” writes Jerry Z. Muller in his book Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought from David Hume to the Present. 

Muller’s anthology includes an essay from 1772 by Justus Möser: “On the Diminished Disgrace of Whores and Their Children in Our Day.” Möser argues that unwed mothers and their offspring should be shamed and shunned in favor of the good done to greater society by the institution of marriage. It should come as no surprise that Möser makes no mention of shame or opprobrium for the men who impregnated the women in the first place.

Whether you agree with Möser or not, the point is that even conservatives acknowledge that the good of society as a whole outweighs individual freedoms when those freedoms threaten to harm the society at large. So, if unwed mothers and their children (along with drag queens, gay people and immigrants) are such a clear and present danger to society, how can conservatives deny the blatant danger of unfettered firearms?

Again, I’m not saying that we should (or can) do away with guns in private hands, and, as much as it pains me to say it, I agree with the NRA’s flippant assertion that outlawing guns will leave only outlaws with guns. People break laws. That’s a fact. But we can take other steps to, at the very least, slow the slaughter. Red flag laws will identify some (not all) people who should not have deadly weapons at hand. Stricter background checks will again deter some (not all) people who plan to use firearms to harm others. Longer waiting periods are a minor inconvenience if they prevent even one violent, premature death. And, again, I agree with the NRA (God, it hurts to say that): enforce the laws we have and punish severely anyone who uses a gun, legal or otherwise, in the commission of a crime.

My Congressman, Brandon Williams, R-NY, in a recent town meeting, after affirming his belief that everyone has the right to own a military-type rifle, went on to list the things we shouldn’t do, that won’t work. But other than the above cited “enforce existing laws,” he had nothing to add and dismissed, almost as children, those in the audience crying out for something, anything to stop the flow of blood. Perhaps he’d pay attention if he knew that fewer than 10 percent of gun owners are members of the NRA. As one of the remaining 90 percent, I’m tired of being told there’s nothing to be done. Do something before all the states turn red — with blood.

Dennis Harrod is a co-founder of Sense of Decency.

One thought on “A tale of two Pierres

  1. Jim McKeever says:

    From NPR 4/26/23: Gun rights organizations are suing to stop a brand-new ban on the sale of AR-15s and other semi-automatic rifles from going into effect in Washington state.
    The ban became official Tuesday after Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law. Part of the goal of the new measure is to prevent mass shootings.
    The Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation is among the groups suing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. In an interview with KUOW, Foundation spokesman Dave Workman concedes semi-automatic weapons are used in mass shootings. “Some people have misused these guns for horrible purposes,” he said. But Workman said his group is suing because Washingtonians have a constitutional right to own these weapons.


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