I used to hunt people.
They were violent men who were trying to kill other people. Sometimes it was the innocent they were after. Other times it was the less innocent—my friends and teammates.
My job was to find them and stop them. And to aid others in killing them if necessary.
Despite the violent nature, I’m proud of the role I played to serve my country and keep others safe.
I’m not delusional about the nature of the wars in which I fought. They were problematic in their best lights. Immoral or even illegal in their worst. For whatever reasons though, be it chance or purpose, I always found myself somewhere after the iron die had been cast.
After the conquering.
In war, it was always my team’s job to keep things safe. The reality of 21st Century American conflict is the duality of that experience. The destruction takes weeks. The rebuilding takes much longer. And so, it has been for most of us who served in recent times. Our view of war was trying to stop the war.
Mostly, we failed.
It was our responsibility to take life only in service to protecting it. To be so willing and eager to do it leaves a mark though. We were willing to commit incredible violence in order to stop violence. The expansion of our human norms came at a cost to the world around us. We didn’t pay it though. Instead, it was those we were trying to keep safe.
I wield no power over anyone whose aim is to do harm to others any more. I have no sanction, by government or anyone else to stand in the way of violence. But it doesn’t absolve me from the responsibility to try, with whatever means I have, to stop it. Any more, I only have my words.
Here’s the best I can do.
Guns aren’t the problem. The darkness that lies in the hearts of men to destroy other men is the problem. But they use guns to do it. And without guns, they do it less. Once they’ve got one, the iron die is cast. And the only thing left is violence.
More times than not, like the communities that lived in the middle of the wars I fought, those around that violence pay the price.
The hard lesson I learned from war was that a society where a belief that violence is the only appropriate answer to violence is not in equilibrium. It is not a zero-sum game. The notion that the only way to stop a bad man with a gun is by being a good man with a gun has a harmful shelf life.
I was once a good man with a gun. The things I had to do may have been necessary. But they weren’t good.
Violence, in any form erodes the fabric of communities. Justified violence doesn’t lead to safety. It leads to a cynical, untrusting world. Ask people who have lived somewhere where only violence stopped violence.
“When the chips are down these, uh, civilized people? They’ll eat each other.” says the Joker to the Batman.
I saw it first hand in Iraq. In Africa. In Southeast Asia.
People aren’t marching for their lives today. Not really. Americans have never been safer. Statements to the contrary are delusional. That doesn’t make the march wrong though. People are marching because they don’t believe the legend any more—that guns are worth the risk.
They don’t believe that justified violence to stop violence is the best way.
They don’t believe that something that makes our society less safe is inherently worth it because someone else told them it is despite all evidence to the contrary.
We don’t save people from earthquakes by stopping earthquakes. We do it by making the buildings that fall on them less likely to fall when they happen. We don’t save people from floods by stopping the weather. We do it by keeping the water away from them.
And so, we don’t stop bad men with guns by being bad men with guns. If we do it right, we do it by having less bad men with less bad guns.
The days when guns can protect us from tyranny are over. The days when guns protected us from violence have never been.
And people all over the America are marching to let us know they’ve figured it out.
6 thoughts on “The Violence”
Sean, you make a compelling argument. Thank you. But, I can still see where adamant supporters of gun rights would feel as though their right, or their freedom, to own guns is under attack. Is it in the language? Do they interpret the demand for stricter gun regulation as an attack on their liberty?
So, instead of saying we want stricter gun regulation, we say: we are only trying to mitigate human behavior. And we recognize that not everyone who has a gun is bad, and that guns themselves are not bad. We, like you who support gun rights, believe that people can act irresponsibly, and sometimes when people act irresponsibly, they do so with guns. And because it is way too easy for most people, including those who act irresponsibly, to access guns, we ought to have higher expectations for the type of people who can own guns.
We already place higher expectations on people for other things that they are allowed to own and do – owning and driving a car, being qualified to do different jobs (should it be as easy to be a pilot as it is to buy a gun?). Obviously, there are people who act irresponsibly when they drive or when they are in different jobs, and we should continue to strive to do a better job at regulating those abilities and positions. Shouldn’t we continue to try to mitigate our behavior if we want to live together in communities? Shouldn’t we try to change the mentality that we are just helpless victims to the irrational forces or behavior that do happen in the world?
Thank you Sean!
The wisest words on this issue yet.
Thank you Sean for another great essay!
wow. hit it out of the park again.
I enjoyed this piece a lot. I am grateful for your service protecting men, women and children with your gun when you had one. Your efforts these days with your words have at times a similar explosion to a gun with those of us that read them. Differing opinions articulated in different ways. Sometimes intellectually, other times not su much. Either way and regardless of any political position you are truly a gifted person with a talent that I am happy you share through your blog.
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