Joe Biden wants to stop the coarsening of society. Great. But how?


During a talk to the United States Conference of Mayors today that centered on President Obama’s gun control efforts Joe Biden said,

We’ll not be able to stop every act of senseless gun violence or any other kind of violence, we know that in the future. … I think we can begin again, not because of guns alone, but I think we can begin an endeavor that stops the coarsening of American culture and society. I think we can begin to turn this around. It’s not all because of guns, it’s a lot of other things. But maybe what happened in Newtown is a call to action about more than just gun violence, [it’s] about civility in our society.

I’m all for reversing the coarsening of our culture and society. I’m glad the Vice President acknowledges that violence involving guns isn’t the only kind of violence that should be addressed.

But this call for civility and less coarseness came in the context of a serious effort for gun control. If we’re addressing the problem of coarseness and trying to restore civility, why is the first and flagship effort aimed at restricting the rights of millions of people who have caused no coarseness or incivility with their guns? No gun ever fired itself; it is fired by a person who chooses to pull the trigger.

What about pornography? Scads of pornographic images of consenting adults as well as children are taken every year with high-resolution cameras. Those children are violated by those pictures being taken. Even the consenting adults are injured by being so exposed and objectified. Pornography hurts families—ask marriage counselors. Are we going to push for a cap on the number of megapixels cameras can have and how many pictures it can snap in a short period of time to reduce the ability of pornographers to take those awful photos? Does the First Amendment prevent any such action? Why is the Second Amendment open to an interpretation that reduces rights so greatly but not the First?

Blaming the tool for the bad action of the user makes no sense. If you’re paddling a canoe down a river in the direction everyone has told you is the right way to go and suddenly you realize you’ve been paddling toward a waterfall, you do yourself no favors by blaming the paddle, tossing it away, and picking up a smaller one.

The coarsening of culture is a coarsening of the hearts and minds of the individuals who live in and make up the culture. Each person’s heart and mind is coarsened by the decisions that person makes and the decisions people around them make. We reverse the coarsening of culture by calling people to be better, not by taking away inanimate objects.

The only place where removing an inanimate object to prevent coarsening makes sense is in the home, raising children. Limiting your child’s ability to browse the internet, locking out certain stations on the television, monitoring the music your child listens to, and screening your child’s friends are just sound parenting tactics. Children need the guiding hand of a wise, learned adult precisely because they are not yet wise and learned. Lessons can be learned at the appropriate time, when the child has enough of a foundation of knowledge, wisdom, and emotional stability to handle the information.

But the government is not, nor should ever be seen as, our parent or our big brother.

We all should welcome actions that reduce the coarsening of culture and society—indeed, we all should pursue such actions whenever we can. But just as “hate laws” do not stop people from hating, anti-gun laws will not stop crime. If they did, Chicago, where they have some of the nation’s strictest gun laws would be the among the safest cities in the nation. They’ve already had 82 shootings this year.

This is not to say that government can do nothing. Expanded background checks for sales and stiffer penalties for straw buyers would be a good start. Laws that prevent persons known to be prone to violence due to a criminal background or mental instability from getting their hands on guns of any sort can be a good thing. But these laws cannot be as slip-shod and rammed through as Obamacare. They must be crafted so as to protect the rights of those who pose no threat to anyone but an unjust attacker or a usurpatious government.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Tom Crowe is a cradle Catholic with a deep love for and commitment to Holy Mother the Church, colored by a rather interesting life-long relationship with her. Born during the great liturgical upheaval of the 1970s, Crowe was brought up in a parish that continued using the Missal of 1962—the Traditional Latin Mass—for which he developed a love. Crowe learned the faith as a child from the Baltimore Catechism, and didn’t stop learning and wrestling with the Church’s teachings at his Confirmation. Through reading and many conversations with friends and converts far smarter than he, Crowe came to know, accept, and love the Church and what she proposes far more intimately. For three years these conversation took place in seminary before Crowe, with the blessing of the formation team, determined that seminary was not right for him. In the wild and humorous ways of God, Crowe landed on his feet in Steubenville, Ohio, where he manages the online presence for Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he also trains altar servers and is the head master of ceremonies for the Mass in the Extraordinary Form on campus.

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