As everyone knows by now, last Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina, a white man walked into a historically black church, sat and prayed with some of the congregants there for an hour, and then, using a gun, murdered nine of those congregants.
He fled the scene, but has since been apprehended. As of this writing, he's sitting in a Charleston jail.
Much has been written and said about this attack, most of which is focused on two main areas:
1. The racial component, the mass murder of African Americans by a white man.
2. The gun violence component, the use of a gun in that mass murder.
I'd love to be able to say that I have an insight into how to change the unthinking hatred that fills the hearts of some people, but I've got nothing here. People doing evil things to other people who have done no harm to them, but are just "different" in some way, is something that has been happening throughout recorded history and, sadly, will almost certainly continue to happen in the future.
Having said that, I *do* have a few general thoughts -
...There is a serious groundswell of opposition to using Confederate symbols as part of any official activity - moves to take down the Confederate battle flag flying outside the capitol building in South Carolina, removing the stars and bars symbol on license plates in Virginia, etc. - that threatens to make people forget that there are nine murder victims here.
Not nine "symbols", but nine human beings, with family and friends who are also human beings.
Human beings who have had huge, gaping holes ripped in their worlds.
On the other hand, having some of the glare of the national spotlight moved elsewhere may just allow enough breathing room for the family and friends of the victims to mourn their loved ones.
For the record, in my opinion, at no level of government - state, county, local, or other - should that symbol and the evil it represents be given official sanction of any kind.
However, that leads to...
...Companies are banning the sales of merchandise the Confederate symbol or are Confederate-related. Where the companies are private retailers (such as Walmart or Target), it's their choice - they can stock their shelves, or not, with whatever merchandise they wish to sell, or not.
Where the companies are essentially just conduits for individual sellers (such as Ebay), the move runs close to being censorship. I don't think it steps over the line in this case, but it is something to keep an eye on.
If it becomes a movement by a governmental entity to officially ban such items, it will become a First Amendment issue
And I am a BIG supporter of the First Amendment.
That means I support the freedom to express unpopular ideas, even ideas that I find to be utterly repugnant.
Of course, that's an idealistic view; there is also a pragmatic view.
The stars and bars symbol is not only a symbol of bigotry and hatred in general, specifically, it is the emblem of a group of violent and bigoted traitors.
And if someone wants to voluntarily declare their affinity with that group, we shouldn't do anything to discourage that.
If nothing else, it's an efficient way of identifying the assholes of the world.
...Lastly, there is the "gun" aspect of this.
In the immediate aftermath of the mass murder, there was an attempt by the NRA, in the person of one of the members of its board of directors, to blame the victims for their own murders.
All that proved was that one doesn't have to rack up a body count in order to prove that one is a vile human being.
The victims didn't pull the trigger; the murderer did.
As for ideas to prevent this from ever happening again, I don't have one, and I'm not sure that there *is* one.
What can be done is to take steps to reduce the ease with which this was done.
One idea: end concealed carry in public.
People would still be allowed to possess firearms, but concealing one would carry a minimum of, say, a year in prison, to be consecutively with the sentences for any other crimes committed while possessing a concealed firearm. And if no other crimes were committed while possessing a concealed firearm, it would still mean a year in prison.
Oh, and change guidelines for use of force in self defense from the use of force being OK when dealing with a "perceived" threat to OK for dealing with an "actual" threat.
Call it the "do what you gotta do...just don't be wrong" doctrine.
Failing that (and face facts - the NRA and other gun fetishists would do everything in their power to curb any attempts to stymie their dream of turning us into a "kill at will" society), change use of force doctrine to allow perceiving the carrying of a concealed weapon as an imminent threat that can be responded to with any level of force that the threatened person deems necessary.
The NRA and gun fetishists want to create a world where civil society is as afraid of them as they are of us.
They should be careful of what they wish for; they just might get it.