Tragic Irrationality

Jewish Light Editorial

Insanity is a very tricky proposition.

There’s insanity as defined by psychiatrists, insanity defined under the law, and the more generic definition of “extreme foolishness or irrationality” that we loosely use to describe behavior that makes us, in the Internet vernacular, SMH (“shaking my head”).

On the heels of an atrocity like the shootings in a historic Charleston, South Carolina, church last week that left nine dead, there are always going to be debates about the reach of the first two definitions. We typically discuss the mental state of the shooter, and whether anyone who walks into a place of worship and slaughters adults and children alike could pass any conventional test of sanity, either medical or legal.

But that last definition, the SMH one, often rears its head when the public debate begins about the root causes that lead to a mass murder.

That takes us to Texas attorney Charles Cotton, who appears to have been listed online as a board member of the National Rifle Association. Multiple news sites reported that Cotton wrote the following about one of the victims, Clementa C. Pinckney, a pastor and a state legislator in South Carolina. in a discussion thread (later deleted) on a Texas gun forum site:

“And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

The Washington Post indicated that Cotton, in an interview, explained that the context was a   “ ‘discussion we were having about so called gun-free zones,’ he said when asked about his remarks. ‘It’s my opinion that there should not be any gun-free zones in schools or churches or anywhere else. If we look at mass shootings that occur, most happen in gun-free zones.’ ”


Our question is a simple one:

How is this not an insane statement?

Put aside the gross insensitivity to suggest this of a recently murdered public official and man of the cloth. The vulgarity of such a comment is deplorably beyond anything common decency might suggest.

But we’re not here to degrade Cotton or anyone else for their lack of respect; if so, we’d have to indict the entire media and blogosphere environments.

No, what we can’t understand is how Cotton, or anyone else, for that matter, could take a rational position that there ought be no gun-free zones because apparently in every instance, in every location, in every situation, the presence of unlimited guns makes things safer. 

So if you take Cotton, another in an endless series of overzealous gun advocates, at face value, we should feel great comfort since he essentially assures us that:

• A teacher in a classroom, possessed of a gun, could and would never kill students or other teachers or staff, because all others would have guns as well (including students?)

• A parent at his kid’s sporting event, irate at an official over a blown call, would be deterred from acting out his fury because as soon as he lifted his weapon, he would be instantaneously blown away (with no innocent lives taken?)

• A teen in his youth group at church, feeling alienated or disaffected, wouldn’t have the chance of taking his angst out on his peers because those same peers would have the smarts, training and sense to disarm him or, perhaps, to shoot him first (without knowing if the gun was loaded?)

These are three of a million examples that show Cotton’s street-level insanity. He and his guns-at-all-costs brigade pay zero attention to factors, real-life factors, that play into when and how guns are used. Factors like insanity of the medical variety (schizophrenia, delusion and other psychoses), or heat-of-the-moment passions, or other environmental factors or causes that result in people’s minds and hearts being temporarily altered for the worse.

It’s absurd for Cotton or anyone to insist that guns will always make people safer. But they believe as long as they shroud their arguments in constitutional cover, it will make all the real-world problems go away.

They’re not going away. Charleston, and the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and the JCC in Kansas City, and BSKI in St. Louis were incidents beyond any sane comprehension. And they happened because of racial and religious hatred, and in some cases because of actual medical insanity.

But they definitely happened in part because of a gun. Which means that Cotton’s comments, at least to us, seem squarely in the realm of the insane.