In the wake of another mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the cry to government to prevent these events is once again at the forefront of our national conversation. Gun violence joins the problem of racism as one of the greatest challenges we currently face as a nation — a problem we expect government to fix. We can all agree we want change, but let’s assure we are looking for proper solutions and that we are searching for change in places where they can actually be found.
The essence of human prosperity is the ability to overcome adversity — our American spirit is founded and built upon this nature.
By reforming laws, our ancestors defeated the burdens of violent attacks through war, and conquered the struggles of those who were oppressed — both issues resolved by government intervention. Today we face similar challenges through the expression of violence and oppression, but they bear different burdens and call for different solutions.
The issues our generation face are gun control and race relations. We are called, as were those who came before us, to unite and root out the issues that threaten our community, but we cannot expect the solutions of yesterday to solve the problems of today.
Some historical threats manifested themselves as threats to the nation as a whole and called for a response from the federal government because it fell under its jurisdiction; whereas the current threats we face, for the most part, affect such a small segment of the population that intervention from the state would be ineffective and, in some cases, even immoral.
For example, a foreign entity attacked Americans 0n 9/11 and therefore called for the unity of our nation under the leadership of government. With the approval and request of the people, President Bush, as the Commander in Chief, took measures to increase national security in order to assure such horrors never take place again.
This was seen through dramatic changes to airline security, the Patriot Act — “Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism” — and ultimately the declaration of war against terrorism. The actions were fitting for the nature of the challenge.
From the time of the abolition of slavery to the Civil Rights movement, there is no dispute that the path to freedom for the oppressed had to come from the hands of the legislative body. It was the laws of the land that encouraged and allowed for the oppression of African Americans. It was within government’s power to change it. Changes to institutional racism came when Congress enacted the 13th, 14th, & 15th Amendments to the Constitution and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The actions were fitting for nature of the challenge.
Natural security threats and racism were conquered by our ancestors and have evolved into what we now know as gun control and race relations. With it, the issues have advanced from a context where government was the most powerful force, to a situation where we as individuals hold the true power for change.
In recent years, the tragic events of mass shootings have risen, and with them, the supplication of the people to government to prevent these tragedies — through the regulation of guns — has been prominent in our culture. In an idiosyncratic sense, the subjugation of the racism seen in today’s world faces a similar cry. We naturally turn to government because it is the most powerful friend we know, and it served as the solution to the problems of the past.
We become angry that our government doesn’t solve the problem, but that assumes that government is vested with the power to do so. President Dwight Eisenhower said, “I think people want peace so much that government had better get out of their way and let them have it.”
No matter how much we desire it, no level of government regulation or intervention will solve gun violence or racism because the challenges of our time are not fostered by the threats of foreign powers or the laws of government.These issues arise from cultural hatred. And people change culture, not government.
When viewing these two issues only through the lenses of our contemporary existence, ignoring their vast history, we fail to serve those who come after us. The natural progression of these issues has inherently called us to act, because in our days the power of change rests within our area of control, not government’s. The collective power of individuals who unite against a problem far surpasses that of government. President Ronald Reagan said, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
Our plea for help, in regards to gun violence and racism, should not be to government, but to ourselves. Issues of the law belong to the government, but issues of humanity belong to the people. Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Are we concerned with cementing our legacy in the government archives, or in the hearts of men?
The hour has come where our generation must decide if the law of government or the nature of humanity is to blame for the violence and oppression we see — and subsequently, decide who is called to action.
Stefan Kleinhenz is a freshman studying the liberal arts.