Of the many potential arguments available in support of the lockdown, self-quarantining, mask wearing and, as will soon become ubiquitous, an army of apps and hireling to “trace” people, linking the means of controlling further outbreaks of COVID-19 to gun control is likely the worst. It’s unsound on a theoretical level. It’s needlessly divisive. It’s destined to further distinguish the deplorables who need to work to keep their businesses alive and feed their families, and who in the minds of urban editorial writers, are the sort of people who love guns.
Yet, the New York Times’ Opinion Writer at Large,* Charlie Warzel can’t control his worst impulses.
I first saw it on Twitter. “Someone poke holes in this scenario,” a tweet from Eric Nelson, the editorial director of Broadside Books, read. “We keep losing 1,000 to 2,000 a day to coronavirus. People get used to it. We get less vigilant as it very slowly spreads. By December we’re close to normal, but still losing 1,500 a day, and as we tick past 300,000 dead, most people aren’t concerned.”
This hit me like a ton of bricks because of just how plausible it seemed.
Much as it’s admirable that the Warzel’s epiphanies come from twits, the holes were chasms, obvious to anyone who cared to see them. Treatment for COVID-19 is being desperately sought. Vaccines are being developed. Whether here or elsewhere, serious efforts are being made to address this virus. In the meantime, people need to eat.
But Warzel’s epiphany ignored the search for a solution that thoughtful people considered, and focused instead on how society could grow inured to thousands of deaths daily.
Such loss of life is hard to comprehend when it’s not happening in front of your own two eyes. Add to it that humans are adaptable creatures, no matter how nightmarish the scenario, and it seems understandable that our outrage would dull over time. Unsure how — or perhaps unable — to process tragedy at scale, we get used to it.
Like car crashes. Like medical malpractice. Like . . . guns.
There’s also a national precedent for Mr. Nelson’s hypothetical: America’s response to gun violence and school shootings.
As a country, we seem resigned to preventable firearm deaths. Each year, 36,000 Americans are killed by guns — roughly 100 per day, most from suicide, according to data from the Giffords Law Center.
To the extent there is anything analogous here, it’s Warzel’s view that we tolerate gun violence, and the ensuing deaths, even though he believes they are easily preventable with gun control.
In every case, the death tolls climb but we fail to act. There are occasional marches and protests but mostly we continue on with our lives.
And so he links our failure to use law to end gun violence with our failure to use law to end coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic and gun violence are by no means perfectly analogous calamities. The federal government, which has the power to pass stricter gun laws, has more limited powers to control states’ public health responses to Covid-19. And while other countries have curtailed gun violence, most are struggling to contain the virus.
“Perfectly,” in this context, means “not even remotely.” but it’s close enough for the Times where its readers tend not to be particularly knowledgeable about or interested in guns, tend to elevate their personal safety (and anxiety and depression) over all else and truly believe they are possessed of a higher moral consciousness that empowers them to dictate the hierarchy of concerns to others. It also helps when you get a paycheck while working from home.
Warzel notes that states are opening up, contrary to medical advice, which is Trump’s fault even if the governor is Democratic, no matter what the conditions on the ground are or what the people who don’t get checks from the New York Times choose to do.
As in the gun control debate, public opinion, public health and the public good seem poised to lose out to a select set of personal freedoms. But it’s a child’s two-dimensional view of freedom — one where any suggestion of collective duty and responsibility for others become the chains of tyranny.
There are some who scream “tyranny,” but Warzel’s new deplorables, those who hold “a child’s two-dimensional view of freedom,” aren’t the fringe crazies, but the working stiffs who do the work that puts avocados in Warzel’s kitchen. Is this the deplorable child you’re talking about, Charlie?
The judge told Shelley Luther she
could avoid jail time if she apologized, admitted she was wrong, and agreed to close her hair salon until it was allowed to open.
— Andrea Lucia (@CBS11Andrea) May 5, 2020
Is Shelly Luther a criminal to be incarcerated for choosing to feed her children, for giving her employees the opportunity to do the same?
Warzel is right that there are authoritarian means to force those who think differently to do as he wants. And no doubt he’s certain of his moral superiority, so their concerns are childish and unworthy of concern to deep-thinkers like Warzel, who gets his epiphanies from twitter. And he’s not wrong that we quickly become inured to death, and that’s a problem.
There is much that could be accomplished if we let go of our “childish” belief in freedom. Maybe it would help with coronavirus. Maybe it would reduce gun violence. Maybe the trains will run on time. Certainly Shelly Luther will go to jail for the crime of opening her salon when guys like Charlie don’t think she should, and with that bludgeon, Warzel will solve our problems.
*That’s his title. Don’t blame me.