Monday, November 6, 2017

Mass shootings and the legitimacy of the state

Not that it matters in the larger scheme of things, whether I contribute anything to the sporadic conversations triggered by a mass shooting, suspended in a few days in the wake of other events, and picked up again after the next shooting, not that it matters in a world that sees entire families wiped out in seconds and offers prayers in response, blind to the realization that prayers provide ineffective protection against bullets, that these families were in fact praying at the very moment of their destruction, not that any of this matters.

But I was thinking that the advice and conclusions of some government officials (Paxton of Texas, of course and others) that citizens need to be armed and prepared to protect themselves and others with these arms against gun wielding attackers undercuts the very rationale of the state they lead. States, after all, and the governments they institute, gain and retain their justification for limitations of individual free range of action by creating and maintaining zones of relative safety in public and private spaces for citizens to work, play, love and live their lives, reasonably secure in the persons and property. You don't have to be a social contract theorist to hold a view that sees this as an essential function of a legitimate state.

For Paxton and his cohort to now devolve that responsibility to individuals is for them to surrender one strand of the argument legitimating the power of the state. Each mass shooting, each official offering thoughts and prayers and no policy proposals to use the law to lessen the carnage, each person, school and church pushed to resort to private arms and security services, is a sign that the state has surrendered its legitimate authority and one of its main rationales for existence.

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