June 10, 2023

The Guns of Mediocrity

Guest Opinion
By Isiah Smith, Jr. | May 6, 2023

Can the United States lay claim to being a civilized society if it cannot perform the basic job of keeping its children safe and alive?

America’s moronic love affair with guns—and the concomitant debasement of our democracy by deliberately misreading and distorting the Second Amendment—does not inspire confidence.

The evidence is incontrovertible: Gun violence in the U.S. is a clear and present threat to our safety and health. Our country has infamously laissez-faire firearms laws, more guns than people, and an increasing disregard for human life. Consider the evidence.

Since overtaking automobile accidents in 2020, guns in America are now the leading cause of death for children and teenagers.

The U.S. accounts for 97 percent of all gun-related child and teen deaths among similarly large and wealthy countries. Almost six in 100,000 American children ages one to 19 die from firearm violence. The next closest country is Canada at 0.8 children per 100,000. (Perhaps Canada’s proximity to the U.S. is hazardous to its children’s health.)

Living in America seems to become more hazardous daily, as harmless and routine activities can carry the risk of deadly retaliation in this country. Knocking on the wrong door can get you shot; mistaking a stranger’s car for your own can get you shot; honking your horn at other motorists can get you shot. Attending church, going nightclubbing, and even asking for directions can be fatal. Engaging in any of these activities can, and has, ended with fatal shootings.

While guns are the greatest threat to our children’s survival, incompetent leaders are a close second. Drivers’ licenses require greater qualifications than practicing politics. If one aspires to a career as an electrician or plumber, or any other valued profession, one must first earn a license. But what experience do our legislators have?

An Alabama senator’s last job was as a college football coach, (and not a great one at that). Georgia Congresswoman Greene has experience in the construction and fitness industries. Representative “Gym” Jordan last toiled as a high school wrestling coach. Noble professions no doubt, but what if, before qualifying to be a senator, representative, or (oh my) president, candidates were required to pass basic competency exams? Suppose basic understandings of constitution law, history, and economics were preconditions to holding political office?

To succeed in politics often seems to only require a questionable charisma and a gift of gab rather than substantive knowledge. It shouldn’t be asking too much of our leaders that they serve with honor and principled commitments to, and an understanding of, the rule of law.

Any hope that one day our leaders would miraculously wake up and pass sensible gun regulations were dashed by the shallowness of the Lilliputian Leader of the House of Representatives. Following another senseless (is there any other kind?) mass shooting, a reporter asked Kevin McCarthy to comment. He replied with “No comment” and stormed off as if the intrepid reporter had insulted his rapidly diminishing manhood.

This unsettling episode recalled a quote from Epictetus’ Discourses: “What is it then to be properly educated? It is learning to apply our natural preconceptions to the right things according to Nature, and beyond that to separate the things that lie within our power from those that don’t.”

Using Epictetus’ measure as a point of reference, many of our political leaders appear poorly educated and unwilling to use the power of their office to protect the nation’s children. Example: Tennessee Rep. Burchett said of school shootings: “We’re not gonna fix it.” Instead, he said that the country needed more prayer and a “real revival” rather than gun control legislation. This politician has chosen the path of mediocrity.

As Seneca wrote in his moral letters, “…this sickness is an unrelenting distortion of judgment, so things that are only mildly desirable are vigorously sought after.”

It seems clear that too many individuals enter politics motivated by greed and the lust for power. When faced with a choice of doing good or doing well, they choose the latter. No wonder few leave politics in grave financial need. Public service can be lucrative!

This essay leans heavily on the Greek Stoics because they popularized the idea that all people are capable of moral growth, but it requires motivation, study, and practice. None of us are perfect—we all are capable of stupendous acts of stupidity (speaking from personal experience)—but we can change and become, per President Lincoln, “the better angels of our nature.”

We end this essay not with the Greek Stoics, but with the words of a great American, an ex-enslaved person, Frederick Douglass, who demonstrated through his life how motivation and hard work on one’s mind equal personal growth. Douglass possessed prescience, apparently anticipating our current dysfunctional political landscape. He wrote: “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

We cannot build strong children if we cannot keep them alive.

Isiah Smith, Jr. is a retired government attorney.


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