“Ain’t anybody in front of me?” A man called out to me from his pickup, a large white affair high off the ground. I was trying to wrangle three little boys into an average minivan, and I didn’t quite understand him. “What?” He tried again: “Ain’t anybody in front of me?” Finally, I understood. He didn’t want to run over some other little person but couldn’t see well enough to know if one was in the path of his mammoth machine. “Oh, no, we’re good. Thanks!” He rumbled on, and I was left to sort out the metaphor.
A few days earlier, I had sneaked a peak at the final season of Downton Abbey on British television. (It’s not illegal and not very expensive.) The Dowager Countess was in a battle for home rule of the local hospital. Her foe, Isobel Crowley, had taken the opposite tack, in favor of government assistance for the greater good. Maggie Smith’s character had a particularly telling line: “Does it get cold on the moral high ground?” Of course, Mrs. Crowley could only purse her lips and carry on.
Things are rough these days. Both sides in our country, the liberal left and the conservative right, believe themselves to be on the higher moral ground. My brother calls me every time there is a mass shooting. I often respond by sending off the latest abortion news. We have periods of time when it’s best just to be silent or voices will be raised. All is not lost, however; we’ve almost agreed to oppose capital punishment. In his work as a photojournalist, he once covered an execution and was changed forever. While I have no personal or anecdotal experience, evidence seems to suggest that capital punishment is not a deterrent. Pondering these two lofty perspectives led me to some new considerations.
My proposal seems almost too simple: Life itself is the higher ground. Could we agree on that principle and work toward solutions that don’t involve Constitutional affronts?
Is there anyone whose heart doesn’t ache when innocent students die at the hands of a crazed shooter? Yes, there are many guns in this country—112 per 100 residents by one count. In spite of that fact, gun ownership is actually down since 1978. Yet the United States is not first in gun-related deaths but 14th. Suggesting that’s a good thing is a weak argument, but the vast number of gun owners are careful, concerned, and conscientious. Changes can be made that do not affect their rights.
On one hand, we can improve the systems already in place for gun control: background checks, better security at high risk locations, training for specialized police units, waiting periods, Internet loopholes closures. The NRA already offers liability insurance for gun owners as protection against suits arising from accidents. A legislator from New York introduced a bill that would require liability insurance for all gun owners. Opponents warn that criminals wouldn’t get it anyway. Of course not. They’re criminals. But parents might secure their guns more carefully if they knew they could be sued if their gun was used in a crime their child committed. It’s a radical idea that no one may like, but the same was true of automobile insurance when it was new.
On the other hand, changes need to be made for better mental health care, often cited these days as a major contributor to gun violence. Many psychiatrists do not accept insurance; only 55% accept private health coverage, compared to 89% of other kinds of doctors according to a 2010 study. While there may be no easy way to induce higher participation rates, insurance companies need to recognize the problem and either pay more for mental health services or provide better patient access via vouchers or reimbursement procedures.
Valuing life, though, has deeper implications that are more far reaching. Might reducing abortions be done some way other than legislating a reduction in availability?
November is National Adoption Month. One worthy goal of this designation is to highlight the need for adoptive homes for the 100,000+ children in foster care. However, only a small number of those children are infants. Before abortion restrictions were eased, 9% of children were released for adoption by their mothers at birth. That figure is now only 1%. One source cites the ratio of parents waiting for babies at 36 for every baby that becomes available. Yes, foreign adoptions are still possible, though reduced dramatically by the Russian ban. But the cost is staggering: Holt International advises parents to budget $30,000 minimum for an adoption in China, with an upside figure approaching $50,000. It’s time for adoption to be preferred over abortion.
What else is at stake? Capital punishment is legal in 31 states. Yet in 2016, 20 inmates were executed in the entire country. If it is intended to be a deterrent, it’s not particularly daunting: over 3000 inmates are sitting in death row cells across the country. Even setting the legality aside and acknowledging the risk of executing the innocent or mentally deficient, the process continues to grow more difficult as methods of death decline in efficacy. Currently, a shortage of sodium thiopental limits the number of lethal injections possible. Drug companies have, in effect, taken a stand against the use of their products for ending human life. Technically, other methods are available. In 2017, I do not believe we as a country have the stomach for electrocution, the gas chamber, a firing squad, or hanging.
What might be the result of all this? It would be very bold indeed to suggest that a society that values life might actually lead to a reduction in gun violence, abortion, and capital punishment. It hasn’t been tried, but it’s time to let the moral high ground be common ground.