No Words

I don’t have any more words. I used them all up.

I used to believe that my country was capable of solving problems big problems by having big discussions. As I read over posts that I have written over the last ten years, I can’t help but pity the naivete of someone who once thought that reasoned discourse mattered. Here are the last ten things that I tried to say:

  • March 2012: After Treyvon Martin was killed, I put my energy into clever titles and abstract arguments about the social contract and the state of nature and wrote, “Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish, and Florida.”
  • December 2012: After the massacre at Sandy Hook (December of 2012), I first quoted Dostoyevsky, who said, through Ivan Karamozov “if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.”
  • January 2013: Still reeling from Sandy Hook, I tried to pretend that this was a “both sides” problem when I wrote “liberals need to stop pretending that the Second Amendment doesn’t matter; conservatives need to stop pretending that it is the only thing that matters.” Lots of people agreed with me, lots of people disagreed with me. Lots of people with much bigger platforms than mine made the same points. Nothing changed.
  • February 2013: And then I wrote a very balanced, centrist, “let’s-all-get-together” post about finding a middle ground between protecting gun ownership and protecting school children.
  • February 2013 (2): I had just finished writing a book about the debates of the Founders and their relevance for today. I hadn’t mentioned guns, but (thinking that research and well-reasoned arguments might work), I went back to my original research to craft a new chapter about guns—one that accepted the constraints of the Heller v. DC decision and tried to articulate a middle path that might allow us to at least examine the assumption that any person has a right to any gun in any place. I put it on Amazon for .99 cents (the least that Amazon allows). The discussion never happened. We just got used to it.
  • March 2013: After police and campus security at the University of Central Florida prevented a mass shooting, I wrote this post (which was actually picked up by several higher education websites) on why college campuses should remain gun free.
  • May, 2013: I tried my hand at both baseball and statistics to try to explain that, while other countries experience mass shootings as an anomaly (like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak), the United States experiences them as a statistical outlier (like Hank Aaron’s home run record)—the difference being that anomalies are very surprising when they happen, while outliers are statistically guaranteed in a large enough sample.
  • February 2014: After several highly publicized shootings in 2014, I made what I thought was a fairly obvious point, which is that more people having guns means more people using guns, and we need to think carefully about the tradoffs.
  • May 2014: My own alma mater, UCSB, was rocked by a school shooting that killed six students and injured 14 more. I was in Guatemala on a school trip, and I wrote this column rebutting the idea that the difficulty in enforcing laws was a good reason not to pass them.
  • February 2018: After the Parkland shooting, I wrote this column suggesting some actual steps, drawn from other major problems we have solved, that we might consider taking to address the problem of school shootings.
  • February 2018 (2): Still thinking about Parkland, I used Ursala Leguin’s wonderful thought experiment in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” as a background for talking about the tradeoffs we make when we refuse to even discuss the role of guns in mass shootings.
  • February 2018 (3): I go for a tongue-in-cheek approach and ask ten purely hypothetical questions about children’s safety, beginning with, “If hundreds of children every year were killed by falling out of windows, could we all agree that wanting to make windows safer had nothing to do with being anti-window or wanting to take people’s windows away?”
  • June, 2020: In response to a presidential order (which was thankfully countermanded by the military), I presented a documented, originalist reading of the Second Amendment that showed, fairly clearly, from contemporary sources and legislative history, that it was not originally designed to convey an individual right to gun ownership, but that it was designed to prevent the creation of a standing army by guaranteeing the right to form militias.

I am now out of words. Like so many other people in the United States, I have tried every kind of word that I know: angry invective, measured discourse, requests to compromise, and incoherent shrieks of pain. Nothing. Ever. Changes.

America is not the only place where mass shootings happen. But it is the only place where mass shootings keep happening without the whole society making a serious effort to solve, or even address, the problem. Nothing shows how broken our political system is than the fact that we cannot even have an initial conversation about gun violence without asking lobbyists first to make sure that it is OK. A nation that cannot keep its children safe in their schools is a failed state. A nation that refuses to even try is beyond contempt.


  1. I’m sorry to see that you have reached this point of despair in your analysis of our country’s political system, Michael, but I am glad for the company.

  2. I’m sorry that I agree with the failed state label.

  3. Most of the country would prefer stricter gun laws. But the people who have tied up their identity with gun ownership will insist that the Constitution is a suicide pact, and we should all die rather than change anything.

  4. There is only one solution to gun violence: stop voting for Republicans. It would solve a lot of other problems too.

  5. Should you be surprised?

    After arguably and even strong uprising after George Floyd / Breanna Taylor and so many more, we have a presidency and both branches of Congress, that extensively care about the issue, and still no meaningful police reform, still have qualified immunity, no knock warrants, and zero accountability for LEO killings.

    Remember despite all the mass shootings, you’re over 10X more likely to be killed by police than by a mass shooter and we’ve done nothing about it.

  6. Bert, I did that because I cared about police reform and nothing happened.

  7. easier for an 18 year old to buy horrific weapons that cigarettes. not that I am a fan of either. but like, what the actual actual anyway?

  8. We all have and know evil. We are all, including the people who do these horrific acts, smarter than most people give us credit for. If I desire to do the most damage and make the most impact, without someone immediately stopping me, I would make sure it was a place that was the most safe for me, but not my victims. A gun free zone. I know the only guns there would be illegal, mine. Such a perfect place to cause a lot of heartache, kill innocents victims and allow me the most time to do the most damage before I go the way of my victims. Stop having “gun free zones” it only applies to law abiding citizens, not the criminals.

  9. Stray, that’s beyond stupid. The federal law allows for some people—including law enforcement and teachers (at least under Texas law)—to carry guns. The police showed up, with guns and safety equipment, and proceeded to do nothing. Schools in Texas can authorize specific people to carry guns.

    It didn’t matter. With all of the loosening of gun laws in Texas, an 18-year-old boy was able to buy two guns and kill 19 children and two teachers.

  10. Sam, if it didn’t matter, then what will it matter no matter what we do? We can always find scenarios where one idea will not work, that’s easy. What we need is a solution that, at least, works some, if not, most of the time. I honestly don’t know what that is, but I also assume that same boy would not have walked into a police station and tried to kill people. You must ask yourself honestly, why not? Why do most people/criminals choose the venue they chose? I have one idea, let’s hear yours without saying how stupid my idea is without giving one of your own. We don’t need slurs being thrown around.

  11. larryco_ says:

    Sunday, many LDS’s will attend Sunday School and learn from the Book of Joshua in the Old Testament. Some teachers might possibly skirt the issue that the book – beginning to end – tells us about YHWH(Jehovah)-sanctioned mass genocide. As Israel enters the promised land, God commands complete destruction of all the people there. Not just their armies, oh no, Israel is to kill all of the women, grandmas, toddlers, infants, livestock, puppies, kittens…everything. But I know without a doubt that most teachers will provide “justification” for all this: God commanded it, the people were pagans and worshipped false gods (hello, everyone on planet earth at the time except the Israelites were pagans. Anyone ever heard of missionary work?). Some Canaanites may have put their children “through fire” (which is outrageously terrible…and yet it’s okay when David does it to the Amalekites?). Besides, they were promised the land. What were those other people doing living on it for hundreds of years anyway.

    I’m having none of it. First, I can share a dozen reasons that show that this never happened (thank goodness) and that the Book of “Joshua” was not written by Joshua, but probably by some court scribe hundreds of years later to show that Israel’s god can beat up the other guy’s god. But, most of all, Mormons need to walk away from this crap and follow the dictates of the Doctrine and Covenants that, as a people we “renounce war and declare peace”. All of this continual bloodletting, and the justification that accompanies it, should be disavowed now by GA proclamation…yes, now, today. Our scriptural history supports denouncing this: after all, did Jesus command the Jews to rise up and destroy every Roman? Were Nephites commanded to wipe out all Lamanites? Were Mormons commanded to kill all of the Missourian women and children?

    We have to proclaim peace from the highest rooftops if we are to truly follow The Prince Of Peace.
    Let’s start here. Sunday. ‘Nuff said.

  12. A read a tweet that said America is a wealthy third-world country. I’m not sure “third-world” is the right term, but that sentiment sure strikes me as true.

  13. I am so sad that the US is experiencing gun crime like no other developed country. Being British I cannot understand the idea of continuing to arm more and more people with guns. I pray that your politicians will be guided to have common sense and see the futility in this course of action

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