We don’t talk much about moral responsibility, or culpability, these days. We are big on “rights” but we fail to acknowledge that rights imply responsibilities. If I have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that imposes a responsibility on my part to acknowledge your rights to the same. There’s no such thing as one-sided rights — except in the cases of  children or the mentality challenged who cannot possibly be expected to acknowledge their rights to those who are responsible for their welfare.

But in failing to acknowledge responsibilities, we have become experts at pointing fingers at others to avoid blame. “Mikey made me do it, Mom.” We expect that in children, but we have arrived at the point where everyone seems to be acting like a child, pointing fingers when blame is due. The N.R.A., and those gun manufacturers that support that group, are a case in point. They like to say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. This is a half-truth. It’s not altogether false, but it is not altogether true, either. To see this we need to distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions when assigning causes. For A to be the cause of B (and therefore responsible for B) A must be the necessary and sufficient condition for B. For instance, in order for me to have killed Sam who lies dead on the floor it is necessary that I have been there when it happened. If I was there holding a gun and there is sufficient DNA evidence that I shot Sam, then there would appear to be both necessary and sufficient conditions for me to have been the killer.

The N.R.A. is right in that if there were no people there would be no gun deaths. But, then, if there were no guns there would be no gun deaths, either. Guns are the necessary condition for the gun deaths to occur. There need only be a nutter or two, along with fear and rage, in order to realize the sufficient conditions for gun deaths to occur. And there are plenty of nutters, as we are finding out daily. Thus, those who provide the guns are at the very least partially responsible, culpable, for the gun deaths and cannot simply point the finger elsewhere. To be sure, many of those nutters would find another way to wreak havoc, but the consequences would not be nearly as catastrophic as they are when the nutter is armed with an automatic weapon supplied by the gun manufacturer who is at the very least partially responsible for those terrible deaths since he provides the shooter with a weapon.

The Republican Convention runs this week and we are told that, since Ohio is an “open carry” state, there is a number of New Black Panthers and White Supremacists on hand, fully armed and ready to fight if the occasion arises. It’s a volcano primed to erupt and we can only hope that the occasion does not arise. But if it does and if people are killed, as they most certainly would be, then those who provided those militant people with weapons are at least partially responsible for the results. They will have provided the necessary conditions for the event to happen, if not the sufficient condition. Those who promote this sort of behavior with inflamed rhetoric must also be regarded as partially responsible for the results.

When we are screaming about our “rights” we must remember that those rights imply responsibilities as well. And we might do well to recall that the so-called “right to bear arms” is a right, under the Constitution, that is guaranteed to militia — not White Supremacists or Black Panthers (New or Old).


11 thoughts on “Culpability

  1. Good post. I do not like when a politician’s point is Legislative Act A would not have stopped Specific Gun Crime B. It is obvious inaction is not helping the problem, so why don’t we pass various steps and see if they work.

    I pray nothing bad happens in Cleveland with the open carry and strong feelings, but I will not be surprised either if it does.

  2. The argument that people do the killing, not the guns gave me a funny ‘reverse’ image – to solve our gun violence problem, we populate our country with guns, and no people. Problem solved????

  3. Excellent post! So many speak of their rights, but rarely of their responsibility to their fellow humans. With every right is associated a responsibility to not use that right to infringe on the rights of others, but people often seem to forget that part.

  4. This is an excellent post and to the point. No one is asking these people to give up their liberties. We’re asking them to grow up and participate in the community known as the United States. We’re asking them to give up their fantasies and hatreds and participate in making our world safe for Democracy.

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