I will always remember the shots.
The shots. Fired across my neighborhood every New Year’s Eve, when people jump at the opportunity to use up their ammo without attracting the cops’ attention.
The guns. That I see carried by hundreds of men on their way to the country’s largest weapons show — a regular event in Tulsa — as I exit the adjacent building hosting the Indian Festival, an annual celebration of peaceful religions.
The fear. As I walked to the bus stop as a freshman in high school, past loose pitbulls being trained to kill, and past houses that were featured nightly on the news, often the background for the latest homicide.
Growing up in the midwest, I’ve learned to accept that America’s ethos is fundamentally violent.
But last week, after 17 people were senselessly murdered, I finally realized that my acceptance was a disgrace. After Florida, I couldn’t help but selfishly think, “I don’t want to raise my kids here.” I don’t want my children to grow up in a state of war.
But neither should anyone else.
Thanks to Yale, I was able to learn over the last three years that I had been living a life of delusion: A culture of violence is not the norm of all states. China. England. Canada. I’ve had the same feeling in every country that I’ve visited — the cloud of anxiety littering my horizon for years in North Tulsa disappeared. Normal life doesn’t involve fearing for your safety in large venues or places of scholarship. Security doesn’t require a constant fear of everyone around you. It shouldn’t require a total absence of trust in humanity.
But that is unfortunately where we are today in America. The political theorist Thomas Hobbes famously argued that politics begins from the point of our immediate departure from what he calls the “State of Nature,” a condition where every man claims a right to all things. The State of Nature is akin to a state of war: Every man is for himself. Hobbes thinks that we agree to give up our right to all things in order to live without the constant insecurity and fear that a war of all against all inevitably begets.
Republicans who claim that we need more guns to protect our right to “self-preservation” are therefore asking for us to further legitimize America as a perpetual state of war. Yet Hobbes would probably say that our situation is even worse: Our state of war is authorized by our sovereign power. We cannot escape our fear and insecurity without rejecting a supposedly fundamental part of our political identity.
That means, as conservative columnist Bret Stephens argued, that the only real solution to gun violence in America is a repeal of the second amendment. He claims that liberal arguments for gun control are feckless. I entirely agree. With Yale being one of the most liberal campuses in the country, we need to wake up. Our gun problem is radical and can only be solved with a radical solution.
I recognize that we’re a long way from a repeal. But in the meantime, it is our duty as Yalies to start the conversation. We must also change our views on two key positions in the current debate. First, we should drop politicized arguments and take the higher ground. Republicans generally claim that our problem is mental health, while liberals say that our problem is guns. We should connect the two concepts — our mental health crisis is a crisis of violence. This ranges from gun-loving lunatics, to depressed teenagers who see suicide as the only way out, to those who dangerously turn out to be both. The right affirms the former as a cultural phenomenon and the left refrains from talking about the latter in fear of triggering more tragedies. Both positions disgustingly emphasize the role of the self; we should instead openly affirm the value of society and the external world. Gun fetishizing should be called what it is — a sick yearning to kill — but liberals must recognize that identity politics or “self-care” cannot also be open invitations for violence.
Second, we should take Trump at his word. We should accept every Republican proposition for background checks, age restrictions or otherwise without complaints of hypocrisy. But we should also challenge Trump to keep his promises: A real America First policy would remove all of our military personnel from around the world and put them at our doorsteps. Outside our schools, our neighborhoods, our homes. At concert venues, in clubs. After all, the bloodiest war to be fought is right before our eyes.
The frequency of recent shootings feels like a drumroll announcing an event. But every beat is another shot; another death. And the event can be nothing less than the wrath of God upon us.
We must always remember the shots. We must reject our state of war.
Leland Stange is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .