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Scott Bruun: Gun Laws, Politics, and Hearts of Darkness

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Aristotle wrote that that man is by nature a political animal. Bismarck wrote that politics is the art of the possible. Clausewitz wrote that politics is war by other means.

Truisms all.

Yet maybe the most accurate overview of politics came from a more contemporary figure. William F. Buckley, a man who spent his entire life as a public political philosopher, surprised friends later in his life by disclosing that he never loved politics. Buckley found politics “awash in sordidness and banality.”

Yes it is. And while it does occasionally deliver policies that improve human lives, politics will never fix the human condition.

For those of us who gravitate toward politics, for those of us who work in politics, for those of us who depend on politics, last week’s carnage in Roseburg must bring pause. And humility.

There are no political answers for Roseburg.

In our world, given the horrors of Roseburg, Aurora and Sandy Hook, it’s understandable that millions of Americans call for more guns laws. It’s understandable that people believe if something is broke, if something is not working, than a change in laws – through politics - is needed to fix it.

In his genuine anguish, President Obama embraced this mindset last week when he prescribed the “politicization” of gun issues.

At the same time, it’s understandable that millions of other Americans reject the notion that more gun laws will solve the problem. Restrictive gun laws have been increasing over the years, after all - not decreasing. Oregon, as one example, has some of the nation’s most restrictive gun laws. Yet gun crimes continue.

Given this, it’s understandable why people believe that more laws will do little except impinge on the rights – and perhaps exacerbate the vulnerabilities - of law-abiding citizens. Thus understandable why people work - through politics – to defend gun rights.

Regardless of the position on guns we find ourselves drawn to, or repelled by, we all share the heartbreak and anguish of Roseburg. We all want “answers,” as they say, and we all want this insanity to end.

It’s time we look past politics for those answers.

The question of Roseburg, Aurora, Sandy Hook and others is bigger than politics. It’s bigger than guns. It’s even bigger than the issue of mental health, although radical changes in our approach to mental health must be part of the answer.

In looking at Roseburg, are we now prepared to acknowledge the growing ‘heart of darkness’ within the human condition? Can we acknowledge the real issue of human brokenness, and the very real evil which feeds upon that brokenness like a parasite? Finally, are we ready to acknowledge that human brokenness - and evil which feeds upon it – is exacerbated by cultural and societal trends? That human hearts are darkened by trends which have eroded faith, family and community?

For whatever twisted motives or personal demons, there will always be men compelled by death and destruction. Evil is real, and it’s immortal. People have usually acknowledged this. Just as people have usually acknowledged that the way to limit evil, the way to keep evil from taking root, is to maximize faith, family and community. In fact, many of us grew up believing that our nation was in many ways built upon protecting and celebrating those fundamental institutions.

We need not go into too much detail to see how those institutions are now suffering: Divorce and broken families are rampant and multi-generational. Attendance at religious services, and even belief in God, has fallen dramatically in recent years. And our consumerist, self-gratifying, violence-and-vice-glorifying culture erodes the pillars of community.

Is it then reasonable to assume that cultural atrophy feeds the social pathologies we all loath? Does cultural decay and the erosion of faith, family and community heighten the problem? Does it intensify mental illness? Does it fuel lone-wolf anger and destructive narcissism?

In other words, do we create sociopaths?

If so, there is no button to push or law to pass that provides an easy fix. “Politicizing” the issue will not fix the issue. The problem is now generational. Shakespeare (channeling Scripture) wrote “the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” Even if somehow we all agreed on the cause of the problem, the solution may take generations.

In the meantime, there can be no excuse for those who perpetrate these crimes.

Yet we must also ask ourselves “what if?” What if, for example, there had been just one more available father in the life of a deeply-troubled son? What if there had been one more faith-based mentor? Or one more community-based role model?

How many more people would be alive and thriving today?

What if faith, family and community were expanding rather than contracting? What if more of us - through faith, family and community - were looking out instead of in? What if, indeed.

Scott Bruun is a fifth-generation Oregonian and recovering politician. He lives with his family in the 'burbs', yet dutifully commutes to Portland every day where he earns his living in public affairs with Hubbell Communications.


Related Slideshow: The Victims of the Umpqua Community College Shooting

Prev Next

Rebecka Ann Carnes

Rebecka Carnes, an 18-year-old freshman at Umpqua Community College was killed in Thursday's shooting, according to a Facebook post from her cousin, Lisa Crawford.

"I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to have watched Becka grow up," she wrote. "She had just started a new job and college classes. This isn't how life is supposed to work and I am struggling to wrap my mind around the entire situation."

Photo: Rebecka Carnes photo via Facebook

Prev Next

Lucero Alcaraz 

Lucero Alcaraz was killed at the age of 19 in the Umpqua Community College shooting. Alcaraz hoped to become a pediatric nurse, according to a Facebook post from her sister.

Photo: Rebecka Carnes, center, via Facebook

Prev Next

Jason Dale Johnson

Jason Johnson was killed during the Umpqua Community College shooting at the age of 33. He was in class when he was killed and had just started school on Monday, according to his mother, who confirmed his death to NBC News.

Photo: Jason Johnson via Facebook

Prev Next

Lucas Eibel

Lucas Eibel, 18, was killed in the Umpqua Community College shooting on Thursday. He was a quadruplet, with two sisters, according to his brother Mitchell, who confirmed Lucas' death to CNN.

Photo: Lucas Eibel, far left in the black shirt, via Facebook

Prev Next

Kim Saltmarsh Dietz

Kim Dietz was killed in the shooting at Umpqua Community College, according to a Facebook post from her husband, Eric. Dietz' daughter is also a student at the school, but was unharmed in the shooting, according to Dietz' mother-in-law.

Prev Next

Quinn Glen Cooper

Quin Cooper, 18, was killed in Thursday's shooting at Umpqua Community College. His father, Cody, established a GoFundMe page in his memory.

"Quinn is everything and he was loved by everyone," Cody wrote on the GoFundMe page. "He will be missed greatly by many, many people please remember him for his fun and witty nature and all of the fun he had with everyone."

Photo: Quinn Cooper via GoFundMe

Prev Next

Lawerence Levine

Lawerence Levine, 67, was shot and killed during the attack at Umpqua Community College on Oct. 1.

Levine was the teacher in the class where the shooter began his rampage.

Photo: Larry Levine via Facebook

Prev Next

Sarena Dawn Moore

Sarena Moore, 44, was killed in the shooting at Umpqua Community College on Thursday.

Moore resided in Myrtle Creek, Oregon.

Photo: Sarena Moore via Facebook

Prev Next

Treven Taylor Anspach 

Treven Taylor Anspach, 20, was killed in Thursday's shooting at Umpqua Community College.

Anspach lived in Sutherlin, Oregon. He was the son of a Douglas County firefighter.

Photo: Treven Anspach via Facebook


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