Our gun violence paradox: How the US government undermines the protection of Americans

While listening to President Obama’s moving press conference after the UCC shooting, my interest was piqued by a phrase he used to describe the tragic situation. In exasperated tones, he asserted, “[Gun violence] is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together. To the body politic.”

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard the term “body politic” referenced by a politician and its appearance in Obama’s remarks gave me pause. Here was a leader pleading for his nation to examine the motivations behind joining in “common life together.” In essence, he was asking us to consider: What is the primary duty of government? 

At first, it sounds like a daunting question, but it is a question that has been answered many times by our nation’s presidents – and unvaryingly so. Thomas Jefferson wrote about the deontological priorites of our government, claiming, “[It is the obligation] of every government to yield protection to their citizens as the consideration for their obedience.” Ronald Reagan admitted, “Government’s first duty is to protect the people…” So, too, did George W. Bush: “I believe the most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people.” And so has our current president: “If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.”

So, if the safeguarding of Americans is our government’s first duty, we are confronted with a paradox: What happens when the American people elect representatives who support policies which actively undermine the protection of Americans?

Lest you think that question is hypothetical, it is not; it represents what is happening in America today with gun violence.

Since 9/11, more than 150,000 Americans have been killed in gun homicides alone. As Fareed Zakaria highlights, that’s equivalent to nearly three Vietnams…in a 14 year span. Pull back the curtain even further and the image gets more terrifying. Since 1775, there have been 1.4 million Americans who have died during war. Shockingly, that number is matched by Americans who have died from guns since 1970.

And what have our representatives done about these catastrophic levels of deaths, these attacks on the body politic? Virtually nothing. In contrast, when faced with a foreign threat, the US government happily sacrifices its citizens’ rights in order to “protect” the people. It seems the American people have an insatiable appetite for safeguarding themselves from “the other” but not from one another.

A large part of the blame towards this perverted mindset can, and should, be assigned to the gun lobby. They undoubtedly influence the voting patterns of elected officials and block the will of the people. If you didn’t know, “most people in the US support background checks, bans on assault-style weapons, bans on high-capacity ammunition clips, bans on online sales of ammunition, and a federal database to track gun sales.” However, our elected officials fail to enact any of these regulations, yet we continue to elect these same obstinate individuals into our local, state, and federal governments. For shame!

America is rotting from the inside-out due to inaction by the body politic. Only through our collective will can we right this wrong. As James Madison reminds us, “a dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.” Alas, it seems we have forgotten his advice. Gun violence in this country is a paradox that the American people created, and it’s only the American people who can solve it.

Nick Cassella

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