One hundred twenty years before the latest rounds rang out in distant corners of America, author Joseph Conrad peered into madness, declaring life “that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose.”
Those broken souls who opened fire last weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, were like the one described by Conrad in “Heart of Darkness,” knowing “no restraint, no faith, and no fear.”
The debate over guns is tediously rekindled with every new fit of horror, but this only sends the ideologues wandering in the same circles of finger-wagging and hand-wringing.
Both sides race for guns, one to take them away and the other to keep them. Meanwhile, death tolls mount: Twenty-two in El Paso and nine in Dayton, a total of 31, in two attacks less than 24 hours apart. That’s half the total of 62 killed in mass shootings this year in the United States.
Leftists would have us believe guns are to blame. That contention does not hold in places like Franklin County, where the Second Amendment is championed and guns are used in a wide range of practical purposes, none entailing the killing of human beings.
Firearms foes shout down these kinds of arguments, ignoring such facts as these: Nearly half of adults living in rural areas say they own guns, compared to 28% in the suburbs and 19% in urban areas, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Yet gun violence is most acute in the cities, where the share of gun ownership is the lowest.
If guns are the problem, where is the rural carnage?
This take is simplistic, of course. The number of annual homicides in the United States is frequently more than triple the total from among European Union member nations, where gun laws are tighter and the combined population is nearly 60% larger.
Statistics on guns are wax noses shaped however the beholder likes, which makes them deceptive in the hands of those using data simply to make one case or another.
More abstract arguments are no better. Last weekend’s killings were carried out by a white supremacist in El Paso and a leftist in Dayton, according to the latest reports.
Neither guns nor those who oppose them are to blame for the senselessness of mass killings. Nor are the competing ideologies the cause. Something deeper ails America. A sentiment like the one Conrad describes swirls in the shadows of the national psyche. For all America’s riches, too many of her struggling young people feel only “merciless logic for a futile purpose.”
If we are to get serious about stemming the flow of spilled blood, we must get serious about restoring the sense of national vitality and the allure of the American Dream. We must demonstrate the capacity to disagree civilly, to contest ideas and ideals within the framework of national unity, as a people diverse but not divided. The same banal arguments will not right us.
Only renewed faith in our country and our democracy can accomplish that.