What Is Life Worth?

Twenty-five days ago, seventeen people died in a matter of minutes at the bullets of a single person. I refuse to say “at the hands of”, because it belies the violence of the crime. More on that in a moment.

Shock, but not surprise, was the dismal response from the country, the murders becoming quickly and heavily politicized as parties both left and right tried to turn it to their agenda and advantage. Mourning was forgotten, tears wiped away, and the world kept turning.

There are only so many times a heart can break before it has nothing left to bleed.

There have been fourteen shootings on school grounds this year, including the one in Parkland, Florida. Several were fatal; most were not widely publicized. Many involved people under the age of eighteen.

Most people, I think, react negatively to death; it’s considered sad, hurtful, and tragic. Life, by contrast, seems to be considered the gold standard, the ultimate value of a person. Living people have value, purpose, and worth; they can make us smile, make us cry, make us forget tragedy. Living people have power. Dead people have nothing.

But few people, I think, stop to consider why they feel this way. At its basest level, of course, survival is its own reward; life’s biological purpose is to perpetuate itself, and death is the only hurdle. But that’s a somewhat animalistic way to think; I’d like to believe humans can consider each other’s worth as more than just being alive. After all, we react more strongly to a young person’s accidental death than to an old person’s natural one. And people can justify this—the old person lived their life; the young one had so many more years ahead of them.

Hence why school killings feel so much worse than backstreet gangland thug hits. As a society we tend to cherish innocence, trying to preserve it in our children for as long as possible. But I think we’ve reached a point where innocence is no longer a part of the world; when kindergarteners practice hiding from gunmen, there is no innocence left.

Yet if we strip away our innocence, what are we left with but a dark, cynical outlook on the world? The world is not good, or evil; nor are the people who inhabit it. The value of the world is in how we’re taught to perceive it. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School learned in less than ten minutes that the world is violent, and terrifying. They learned that life is a commodity.

And it shouldn’t be that way. People should not have to live in fear of imminent, violent death. Accidents will always happen, and so will death—but if we truly value life as much as we claim to, then shouldn’t our mindset be one that sees violence—and its tools—as a threat? And if so, shouldn’t those threats be removed?

I’m quite a passive person by nature; live and let live, and all that. But I firmly believe that devices intended to end lives have no place left in our world today. You can kill someone with a baseball bat, or your bare hands; but you can do it so much more easily with a bullet. I can’t pretend to have all the answers, and I refuse to argue this point with anyone, but guns—all guns, everywhere, the world over—should be destroyed. They serve no purpose in a modern, technology-driven and enlightened society. For those who would argue that a madman will always get their hands on a weapon, then let them get their hands on a steak knife. Trust me, it will do far less harm. For those who would argue that they would only use it to hunt—what are you hunting for? Humans have been farming both meat and grain for thousands of years. Without going into the ethics of modern farming, you can get your t-bone at Shoprite, not in the woods.

What of tradition? What of respecting the past? What of the second amendment? The breakneck pace of development in the modern world has killed old traditions faster than new ones can emerge. I would no more ride a horse to work than I would kill my own chicken for dinner.

No; guns are a useless legacy, a reminder of the blood-soaked birth of the human race—something which I’d like to believe we are beginning to grow out of. A world without them would by definition be less violent, and without the fear of violence we just might be able to focus more on cherishing that which we profess to love: life.

Because at the end of the day, life is worth so much; it’s worth joy, worth tears, and worth the experiences of a lifetime. It’s worth love and loss, and the inner reflection that comes with those things. Life, in its most essential form, is worth living.

It isn’t worth destroying.

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