So, now we know.
We know that the Texas church shooter should not have been able to own or obtain a gun under federal law. He had a long history of mental illness and criminal behavior: He escaped from a mental institution in 2012, threatened his superior officers and attempted to smuggle weapons onto a military base to carry out those threats, cracked the skull of his infant stepson, beat his wife, abused a dog. He was convicted of domestic violence and did twelve months in the brig and was busted down in rank to E-1. The Air Force failed to inform the FBI, and so the shooter successfully bought four weapons in four years.
This isn’t unique. The racist Charleston church-massacre perpetrator obtained his gun despite pending felony charges; the FBI screwed up. The Orlando nightclub shooter had been investigated twice by the FBI, but they didn’t charge him with a crime. The Sandy Hook shooter obtained his weapons illegally. The FBI simply missed the San Bernardino terrorists, despite years of open talk about carrying out a terror attack.
And yet the Left continues to maintain that government action should be the chief methodology for stopping mass shootings. In particular, it insists that we pass new gun-control laws. There has been no significant call to make government agencies more efficient or staff them more appropriately; in fact, the Left has repeatedly shied away from blaming the government generally. Instead, we’re told that a few more words on a few more pieces of paper should ensure that babies aren’t shot in church pews.
Furthermore, we’re told that to oppose such legislation amounts to greenlighting mass murder; Democrats have rushed to microphones to condemn the National Rifle Association for its supposed intransigence, despite the fact that it was an NRA instructor who put down the Texas church shooter.
We’re even told that thoughts and prayers are useless so long as they aren’t attached to an anti-gun effort.
It’s this last point that’s particularly telling. Those who are most adamant that thoughts and prayers be forsaken are also most adamant that new regulation will somehow guarantee the safety of Americans. New York governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted, “We have pastors, priests and rabbis to offer thoughts and prayers. What we need from Republicans in DC is to do something. Lead.” This sentiment was repeated on virtually every late-night talk show and throughout the mainstream media.
In a certain way, that makes sense: If you believe that government has godlike power, you’re going to be angered by those who suggest that only God does. One of the express purposes of thoughts and prayers is to recognize the limitations of human endeavor, and to pray for God’s guidance and grace. This doesn’t excuse inaction by religious Americans, but it does set boundaries to expectations. Religious people know that evil will endure no matter what, and that our best efforts may not be enough. Those who pray are well aware that prayers don’t guarantee desired results.
If you believe that government has godlike power, you’re going to be angered by those who suggest that only God does.
Those who believe in government lack any such humility. They believe with the ardor of the newly converted that all ills can be alleviated so long as we believe in the power of government. Hence the deep desire to ignore government’s on-the-ground failures in favor of new and exciting vistas of regulation that can presumably bring us closer to security. The failure is never government’s; it is always ours.
This knee-jerk reaction isn’t exclusive to atheists. Many Americans of all stripes have fallen under the sway of idolatry toward government. Failures to detect terrorist attacks are never met with a desire to shrink government’s overall function or seek new efficiencies — they’re met with calls for more pages in the Federal Register. Failures to prevent tragedy don’t prompt employee reviews inside the federal government, or even acknowledgment of the possibility of human error — instead, they prompt calls for new rules that will somehow fix things this time.
None of this is a case for apathy or antipathy toward all government action. But it is a case for caution. Government will always be limited in its ability to protect us. Bad guys will always slip through the cracks. That’s precisely why the Founders enshrined the Second Amendment: so that Americans could preserve their own lives when government falls short. It’s also why we should be far more eager to call for accountability inside the government before handing more power over to that government.