Opinion

Guns are destroying community in America

An armed society is barely a society at all

"An armed society is a polite society."

That's an idea gun rights advocates believe to their core.

But America's latest mass shooting — at a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, on Sunday — shows that aphorism to be a lie. An armed society is barely a society at all.

Consider where mass shootings have taken place in America in recent years: schools, nightclubs, churches, concerts. And now, a gaming tournament. Two people were killed Sunday and a dozen others injured before the gunman — possibly a tournament participant killed himself. Horrifyingly, the attack played out over a livestream, with the gunshots and agonized screams available for everybody to hear in real time.

There is no place where people gather in America that is safe from gun violence. In fact, large gatherings are becoming dangerous targets for the angry and unhinged. As that ugly realization slowly settles in, and gun advocates stand their ground in refusing any new regulations on the ability to possess and use weapons of death, there will only be one option for people concerned about their own safety and the safety of their loved ones: retreat from the public square.

This isn't a totally new phenomenon. We've been collectively growing more alienated for years now. Nearly two decades ago, Robert Putnam made the case in his book Bowling Alone that Americans were abandoning community activities in favor of individual activities. In the years since, online culture has exacerbated that trend: People who live in the same town, or even the same neighborhood, can spend years interacting over Twitter or Facebook without ever bothering to have an actual face-to-face meeting.

Amazingly, the participants in the Madden NFL 19 tournament had managed to fuse their online lives and their real lives, and had gathered to compete and enjoy each other's company. It should have been a grand, joyful time. But then, a gun was added to the mix, and the event became a death trap.

Why go outside at all?

This question may seem extreme, or even paranoid. Your individual chances of being caught in a shooting of any sort are relatively low, after all. And yet each month brings news of a fresh massacre. Who wants to be the one to tell a mother to roll the dice on her family's safety? And indeed, already some people are planning their lives around minimizing the chances they'll be caught in a mass shooting. Multiply that decision by hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions, and we're all left in isolation.

Maybe gun advocates don't see this down side, or don't consider it all that meaningful. They generally see themselves as rugged individualists — thus the belief they shouldn't rely on police when they can conceivably stop crimes on their own — and if forced to choose between community needs and individual rights, will mostly lean toward the latter. There's nothing wrong with that world view in general, and perhaps if the choice to own guns endangered only the gun owners themselves, one might be able to shrug and leave them to it. But that's not the case. While many gun owners cite self-defense as a prime reason for their stance, the reality is that living in a house with a gun makes it more likely you'll die by homicide, suicide, or accident. So really, guns aren't that great for society or individuals.

Yet we're allowing individual rights to destroy the community as a whole. That's wrong, and it shouldn't be allowed to happen.

Among our basic civil rights as Americans is the simple right to be around other people. It's there in the First Amendment, alongside the rights to free speech and religion: "the right of the people to peaceably assemble." If our culture does not allow us to exercise our rights to speak and assemble peaceably, all the guarantees in the Constitution are meaningless. And it's not government that is undermining our right to such assemblies, it's armed citizens.

Guns are destroying community in America. They're making it impossible to be together, impossible to live together. It's time for the community, at long last, to take steps to truly protect itself.

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