In the aftermath of Dylann Roof’s racist murders in Charleston, the Internet was deluged with think pieces about whiteness, white privilege, white racism, and the legacy of American racial injustice. While Roof’s individual agency in the murders was acknowledged, his actions were deemed inseparable not just from America’s gun culture but also from its racist past. Flags had to come down, statues had to be toppled, and even Confederate bones had to be exhumed.
What narrative will prevail after yesterday’s horrific shooting in Virginia? Vester Lee Flanagan, a gay black man, was every bit as race-obsessed as Roof. Former colleagues report a long history of unhinged behavior on Flanagan’s part. The anecdotes stretch back for years. As the Daily Beast reported, he “kept getting fired, kept threatening co-workers, and kept claiming he was the real victim” of racism and homophobia. But rather than hurting his career, one former colleague said that his race and sexual orientation gave him new chances: “The fact that he kept his job was because he was an African-American gay man. That’s pretty hard to say no to.”
So is the proper response to yesterday’s shooting an extended meditation on blackness, gayness, affirmative action, and black or gay rage? Should there now be a cultural hunt for symbols or expressions of that rage or a quest to batter history into submission until it tells only the stories we want to tell? After all, police reportedly confiscated a “gay pride flag” from his home. Yet for the Left, yesterday’s brutal murders are all about guns. They present yet another opportunity to “shame” lawmakers into passing legislation that limits Americans’ constitutional rights — legislation that would have done nothing to prevent Flanagan from killing his victims.
You want background checks? Flanagan reportedly passed a background check. You want to keep crazy people from owning guns? So far there’s no evidence that any entity, anywhere, adjudicated Flanagan as insane, and while portions of his manifesto indicate that he believed he heard from Jehovah, others demonstrate that he knew full well what he was doing. He was more than capable of discerning right from wrong.
Roof’s murders weren’t about guns or “whiteness.” Flanagan’s murders aren’t about guns or “blackness.” They’re about evil, and no demographic — no matter its history — is immune to evil. The alleged privilege of whiteness doesn’t make a man a killer. The alleged oppression of blackness doesn’t make a man a killer. Guns don’t make a man a killer. The man makes himself a killer. He is solely responsible for his actions.
Yesterday’s events showed that anyone can be a vicious, murderous bigot, regardless of their race, their sexual orientation, or the flags they hang in their home.
The most effective cultural and political response to killings like Flanagan’s — and killings like Roof’s — is to assign responsibility and enact policies that reflect man’s individual fallen nature. We decry mass incarceration — and we do need to think hard about whether so many Americans need to be in prison — but no one credible is arguing that we’ve engaged in mass incarceration of the innocent. The Left decries increasingly “lax” gun laws as enabling attacks like Flanagan’s, yet those very same laws place the means of self-defense in the hands of individuals who are actually at the scene of the crime as it happens.
Indeed, the era of aggressive policing, tougher sentencing, increased prison populations, and less restrictive gun laws is also the era of dramatically reduced violent crime, including gun crime. Yes, black lives matter. Think of the tens of thousands of black men and women alive today because of the decreased crime rate.
Radically revising our approaches to policing, incarceration, and gun ownership because they haven’t eliminated crime entirely is the equivalent of getting rid of anti-lock brakes and air bags because they haven’t ended traffic fatalities. In the Left’s upside-down fantasy, proven solutions become part of the problem: Somehow, the world is safer with fewer Confederate flags flying, more criminals on the streets, and fewer opportunities to defend ourselves against them.
But the problem isn’t policy or history or symbols. It’s people. As if we needed any reminder, yesterday’s events showed that anyone can be a vicious, murderous bigot, regardless of their race, their sexual orientation, or the flags they hang in their home.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.