Uvalde Betrayed the Social Compact

And that’s why it just might change things

Robb Elementary School, Uvalde Texas. Source: commons.wikimedia.com

To an American public worn down by decades of mass shootings, the questions seem almost cruel.

Is the Uvalde massacre different? Will something be done this time to try to stop the carnage? If these questions make you feel more exhausted, I’m sorry, that’s not my intent.

I’m an optimist by nature and I try to take the long view. While we are in the wilderness of our political dysfunction when it comes to guns in America, the only constant in life is change, and I’m hopeful that we’ll emerge from this wilderness someday. I’m also modestly hopeful that the Uvalde shooting has nudged our society towards that place beyond the wilderness.

At the risk of raising hopes, but in the name of hope, I’m going to ask and attempt to answer these questions once more: In what ways, if any, is the shooting in Uvalde different? Could positive change come from it?

Betraying the Social Compact

A horrible conclusion from the Uvalde massacre — the one driving public rage and hints at the possibility of real change in gun laws — is the betrayal of the Social Compact.

Oversimplified, the Social Compact is the implicit agreement in society that we follow the rules for the collective good and everyone, including ourselves, ultimately benefits. In this instance, the part of the agreement that was violated says that when we need help and call the police, they come and help us.

That didn’t happen in Uvalde.

Conservative former Congressman and gun ownership (and gun safety) advocate Joe Walsh tweeted this simple truth three days after the shooting.

Source: Twitter.com

This failure is more acute than other mass shootings because the botched response failed our most vulnerable, our children. They followed the rules, hid, remained quiet as best they could, and called 911. Although they were likely too terrified to think straight, they somehow did and did everything right. They upheld their end of the social compact, and we, the adults, the guardians of their safety, let them die.

This truth is hard for me to write and it’s hard for many to handle. That’s why this shooting cuts so deeply, why it’s causing such rage, and why maybe (just maybe) some change in federal gun legislation comes from it.

Two core arguments against gun safety legislation were destroyed

Two of the most common arguments against gun safety legislation are the “good guy with a gun” theory and the “it’s not about guns, it’s about…x”. Both of them were among the casualties last week in Uvalde.

First of all, a “good guy with a gun”, indeed 19 of them, didn’t stop the bad guy with a gun. They stood in the hall while the gunman finished off his victims. Yes, a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun, but not when they are afraid of, or overpowered by, the bad guy’s firepower.

This leads to the fallacy of the next argument. As in the past, opponents of gun safety legislation point to other reasons for these shootings. “It’s not about guns, it’s about,” take your pick: mental illness, cultural decay, lack of God in schools, video games, etc. However, none of those things made the police fear going into that classroom. Only one thing drove that fear — a gun designed to carry and fire many rounds, very quickly, at high velocity, and inflict maximum damage.

Ok, but will things really change?

No one knows. That’s the honest answer.

A bipartisan group of Senators is reportedly meeting to discuss potential gun safety laws such as increasing the age minimum to buy a semi-automatic rifle, more complete background checks, and so-called “red flag” laws.

I wish them well. I really do. But we’ve all seen the Washington two-step before. Our elected leaders start out saying all the right things but eventually, everyone retreats back to their corners and life goes on until, for someone, somewhere, the next mass shooting ends it. For them, whether at church, a movie, or looking forward to the end of a typical school day, life ends in a hail of high-velocity rounds fired from weapons that the police fear.

Part of what gives me a sliver of hope is that I work to change the status quo. I try to help elect leaders who will at least try to reduce these incidents. Indeed, nothing will change if we don’t keep working for change.

If you are feeling hopeless, give it try. It will help.

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