Opinion: How not to ‘politicize’ tragedies like Las Vegas

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., center, calls for gun control legislation in the wake of the mass shooting in an Orlando LGBT nightclub, June 16, 2016. (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite)

A full day later, we still don’t have many answers about the gunman in Las Vegas and why he set out to kill dozens and wound hundreds attending a country music festival. We know he had a lot of guns, both in his hotel room at a casino near the festival and at his home. There are reports he was a big-time gambler and had recently wired a large amount of money to his live-in girlfriend, who remains out of the country. But as far as clues to his motive, there are many questions and hardly any answers.

In the meantime, we are having the same argument we always have after mass shootings — or more accurately, the same argument about whether we should even be arguing. Moving straight to a policy debate is criticized as “politicizing tragedy,” a charge those doing the politicizing no longer bother to deny. We should politicize these terrible events, they say, because the “political process” is how we solve problems in our representative government.

They have a point. But in another important way, they miss the point.

It’s true that the political process is how we solve problems. It’s also true that, no matter the circumstances of a particular shooting, we hear the exact same proposed answers. That’s a big reason those who strongly oppose more gun-control laws call it “politicization.”

For example: One of the biggest gun-control proponents in Congress, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, wrote this in an op-ed for the Washington Post:

“(C)ontrary to the mythology spread by the gun lobby, there is not much real controversy around the first steps we should take to trim rates of gun crime. Large majorities of Americans support universal background checks, permit requirements for gun ownership and bans on the most dangerous kinds of weapons and ammunition. The gun lobby, and the loud vocal minority it echoes, make the issue seem like more of a hot button than it is.”

This may be true, although the Pew surveys which Murphy cites show some wide gaps between the opinions of gun owners and non-owners. But it’s also true in the case of universal background checks, the item on Murphy’s list with the most agreement by far, that a) we don’t yet know if the Las Vegas gunman passed a background check, and b) in most recent cases, the killers did pass background checks. The shooters in Orlando, Aurora and Tucson all passed background checks. The Virginia Tech shooter passed two background checks (although he likely shouldn’t have, given his history of mental illness). The Sandy Hook shooter didn’t have to pass a background check, because he stole the guns from his mother, who bought them legally (and who became his first victim). Talk about background checks, when they haven’t prevented most recent mass shootings, and are pitched as a first step toward harsher, more controversial proposals, certainly sounds like politicization.

Another hallmark of politicization is ignorance about the subject. Such as what we saw from a certain recent presidential candidate on Monday:

Subsequently corrected here:

Of course, the misleading claim was re-tweeted about 70 times more than the correction. It was much the same with this pair of missives from an actor:

From “pretty much anyone” to “almost nobody” in just two hours. This kind of ignorance about guns and gun laws makes gun owners believe gun-control proponents are, you guessed it, politicizing the tragedy.

All of this poisons the well for debate. It’s not really about whether “nothing can be done,” the attitude pro-gun folks are accused of holding, but what can be done that would be effective. Murphy’s op-ed referred to an estimated 40 percent drop in gun crimes (it appears he actually meant gun homicides) in Connecticut between 1996 and 2005 after that state passed gun-control measures. But that drop is consistent with the actual, national change in the gun-homicide rate during that time (via the Carpe Diem blog; note that in 2005 the gun homicide rate is at the minus-40 percent line):

In any event, it’s unclear that expanding the Connecticut laws to other states would result in fewer mass shootings, the impetus for this whole discussion. After all, the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., took place well after those laws were passed.

So here’s a proposal for how to talk about one of these tragedies without “politicizing” it: Wait for the facts to be gathered. Think deeply about what kind of policies might have prevented it, or at least made it far less likely. Measure those policies against other mass shootings, too. Know the issue well enough to avoid such inanities as “pretty much anyone in the U.S. can (buy a machine gun).” Recognize the due process concerns that arise when one talks about taking away others’ rights. Aim for small, incremental steps that might attain consensus rather than sweeping reforms.

Sound difficult? It should. That’s how the “political process” in our country is supposed to be.

Reader Comments 0

200 comments
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breckenridge
breckenridge

Politico, October 5 - With the GOP’s agenda at a virtual standstill on Capitol Hill, the party is contending with a hard reality. Some of the party's most elite and influential donors, who spent the past eight years plowing cash into the party’s coffers in hopes of accomplishing a sweeping conservative agenda and undoing Barack Obama’s legislative accomplishments, are closing their wallets.


The backlash is threatening to deprive Republicans of resources just as they're gearing up for the 2018 midterms. Party officials are so alarmed that North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who oversees fundraising for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told his colleagues at a recent conference meeting that donations had fallen off a cliff after the Obamacare flop. The committee’s haul plummeted to just $2 million in July and August, less than half of what it raised in June.

breckenridge
breckenridge

"John Kelly, James Mattis and Rex Tillerson are the people that help separate our country from chaos."  Senator Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, 10-4-2017


Bob Corker has always been a straight shooter.


And no, Rex Tillerson did not call Trump a moron.  He called him a f-ing moron.

breckenridge
breckenridge

“I love truth.  Pastor Manning said, ‘Hey, we can deny this all we want to but God killed those people in Nevada.’ He let the attack happen, He killed them. And he said, ‘You go back to the Old Testament and you go through that Old Testament all you want to and you know what you’re going to find out? God ordering people to kill people.’ He said, ‘God orders people to be killed.'”

“We’ve reached the point here in America where a lot of people are going to be killed. There are a lot of people gonna be killed. Why? Because it’s the judgment of God coming on America.”  Religious Right activist Dave Daubenmire, 10-4-2017


Well just a couple of things.......


1. Only a complete idiot would believe this was an other-worldly authored event.


2. We already have plenty of people shot to death each year in America. 11,747 people have been shot to death so far in 2017.  The US death-by-gun rate is about 10 times that of other developed nations.


The good news? Or gun murder rate compares favorably with that of both Syria and Iraq.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Tony Shaffer, a respected voice on military affairs said his contacts who viewed the video tapes recorded in the L.V. shooters room revealed a political motive. He wouldn't elaborate but said we would learn soon.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@SGTGrit Hope this guy was not a copy cat of the Alexandra shooter, both crazy old white men.  Shooting Rep Congressmen and shooting Rep voters?  Time will tell, I think we will know something within a week, seems things are breaking.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@RafeHollister @SGTGrit 

LOL!

What a bunch of foolish nonsense.

You want to know what's wrong with the republican party as it exists today? Go look in the mirror.

Starik
Starik

@breckenridge @RafeHollister @SGTGrit  "n 2012, Shaffer claimed President Obama was "in the White House Situation Room in real-time watching" the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a claim that has been denied by the Obama administration.[7] He further implied the White House was conspiring to prevent charges against released American POW Bowe Bergdahl." Wikipedia. Respected? 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Criticism here from the progs over 2nd Amendment supporters taking an absolutist position, which they find extreme.


Do the progs not take the same position on abortion?  Can we ban abortions in the delivery room, oh no, that would infringe on women's rights, they would say.  They will not accept any "common sense" limits on abortion. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

See that folks here are sooo interested in discovering the shooters motive. Ready to point that finger. 

bendedknee
bendedknee

Interesting when you mention reasonable regulations of guns; the cons here go into  pedal to the metal mode  on rabid left wing hatred and frothing at the mouth . 


Scalia called for reasonable regulations. He must be a left wing lackey I guess.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@bendedknee


Once we stop with the ridiculousness, we can get to actually discussing sensible gun control. Seems we are all in agreement that bump stocks should be illegal. Wonder if the NRA will issue different marching orders.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@bendedknee I haven't read ALL the posts, but I suspect characterizing a rational political viewpoint (something other than a personal attack or character smear) as "hatred" is over the top, and very directly reinforces the 2nd Amendment supporters argument.


This is a world that has given us, recently, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Fidel, various third-world murderous regimes and war lords, etc. etc. In our own current/recent history we have criminals, gangs, organized crime, drug dealers, and terrorists. Most of us understand the history and rationale for the 2nd Amendment. There is legitimate, rational cause for concern over 2nd Amendment infringements. If there were not, the Democrats would have prevailed on tighter gun control when, not too long ago, they controlled Congress and the Administration. Yet, I remember them SELLING guns to some very bad people.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

All we're hearing on here from the far-left anti-gun crowd is just hot air rhetoric. They say the whole issue of the criminal use of firearms is due to gun huggers who buy assault weapons the NRA and questionable statistics they toss out. No specific solutions or suggested legislation that would prevent people like the shooter in Las Vegas from carrying out horrific acts of violence.

bendedknee
bendedknee

@SGTGrit Only constitutional right is for  self defense and hunting  with reasonable regulations. No one needs an arsenal like LV shooter for constitutionally protected use. In Georgia and Nevada your neighbor could be armed just like this dirtbag in LV and ready to wipe out the neighborhood. Obviously that does not bother you.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@SGTGrit 

I'm not anti-gun, in fact I am a gun owner.  But I see no reason whatsoever that bump stocks should be legal.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge @SGTGrit 

There isn't any real application for using the bump stock. I'm an AR owner and a bump stock adversely effects accuracy, so I wouldn't have any use for one. The Las Vegas shooter wasn't interested in accuracy he was only interested in a high volume of fire. The bump stock could be banned but anybody who wanted one would be able to obtain one regardless of any ban. Same for firearms. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@SGTGrit @breckenridge There you go introducing logic into the argument.  I have never seen a bump stock, but it seems they are pretty simple/unsophisticated devices that could easily be fabricated by ingenious individuals intent on slaughter.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@McGarnagle @RafeHollister @SGTGrit @breckenridge I would agree with your conclusion. The only counter-argument I can see is making these drugs illegal theoretically has more overall positive effect than negative, but it does represent an infringement on liberty when the focus should be on enforcing personal accountability.


In terms of that, relative to Las Vegas, if this was a lone wolf it is now impossible to enforce personal accountability in any satisfactory manner. Point being, liberty and freedom comes with a cost, a cost which at times is very hard to swallow.

blinky40
blinky40

@SGTGrit Better to do nothing and repeat this tragedy because specific laws cannot prevent specific tragedies. Kinda sad.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Nobody knows at this point, or at least its not been made public, the motive of the shooter.

A white guy shooting mostly whites that are mostly Cons.

Odds are the shooter will be Prog Never Trumper.

Is the Left prepared for that? 

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@JohnnyReb 

The L.V. shooter was atypical of mass gun killers. He was a self made millionaire with no history of mental illness or a criminal record. He was a pilot and clearly a highly intelligent individual. He was obviously very knowledgeable about firearms and a meticulous planner. He wired 100k to his girlfriend who was in the Philippines just before he carried out the killing. They found weapons and explosives in all of the homes he owned that were all unoccupied except for the one he lived in with his girlfriend. It was almost like he was planning some kind of insurrection. There's a lot more to this story and to the shooters motivation.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@SGTGrit @JohnnyReb 

I'm wondering if it might go back, might have something to do with his old man being a bank robber and wanted fugitive who made it to the FBI most wanted list. Sort of a payback thing.  Because the guy had money and was fairly bright, no political or religious convictions. 

There had to be something..........

Starik
Starik

@breckenridge @SGTGrit @JohnnyReb  Maybe he was mad at the world, was suicidal and wanted to take a bunch of people with him. Maybe it's that simple. Maybe he didn't like concerts outside his window. Who knows? 

bendedknee
bendedknee

Kyle- Your right to attend an outdoor concert or sporting event  is being infringed by the right of gun huggers to buy assault weapons and cause mayhem particularly if there are any tall buildings nearby. 

If you think that was the intent of the framers was that individual should have the type of arsenal that this dirtbag had in LV then the entire preamble of the second amendment about security of the state [and its citizens} is garbage.


Only due to influence of the NRA did a political hack on SCOTUS decide contrary to judicial precedent [rule of law] that 2nd amendment is a fundamental individual right. Pure judicial activism which conservatives claim to oppose.

bendedknee
bendedknee

@BeOfService @bendedknee Like Bush v. Gore. Scalia said poor W's civil rights were being violated a by a state Supreme Court.  Guy just made crap up to suit the cons.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@bendedknee

What a ridiculous position.

Under your theory murder by terrorist vehicle would mean banning automobiles and trucks.

As to judicial activism, enlighten us on the Constitutional Right to gay marriage?

The founders are still spinning in their graves over that SCOTUS decision.

It's not the weapon, it's the person.

If Dims want results, start backing profiling instead of turning it off like a switch.

bendedknee
bendedknee

@JohnnyReb @bendedknee Gay marriage was based on judicial precedent in the Georgia case on constitutionality of anti-sodomy laws written by Kennedy.  Too complicated for a right wing  homophobic  to understand.

bu22
bu22

@bendedknee @BeOfService  Gore was trying to steal the election by a selective recount and changing the rules after the fact.  Just like Hillary tried this time (and it uncovered Democratic cheating in Detroit) and she tried in 2008 against Obama.  The Supreme Court just insisted the law be followed, not made up as you go along.

LionelTwain
LionelTwain

Why isn't anyone questioning how someone got into a hotel with that many firearms?

breckenridge
breckenridge

@JohnnyReb @LionelTwain 

 Being that I do frequent casinos let me add 2 cents here.

The North Carolina casinos employ a number of retired people, frail women and terribly out of shape men as security personnel.

The Biloxi casinos do take security more seriously, especially the Beau. 

But at the big Vegas casinos on the strip, the men - and some women - working security usually come from law enforcement or military backgrounds.  They are very professional and very serious about their jobs.  And fortunately it took just 9 minutes to locate the shooter's room at Mandalay Bay or the carnage would have been much worse.  They are to be commended.

SouthernHope5
SouthernHope5

I agree about allowing all of the facts to be gathered first. But I'll note that it was only 14 months ago that we also had the "largest mass shooting in U.S. history" and its accelerating .  The U.S. has the highest rate of civilian guns of 178 countries around the world. We also have the highest rate of civilian mass shootings in the world.  We are not doing something right and I wish we could openly talk about this topic and make changes -- have fewer guns, increase mental health help, find a way to decrease the rage....staying the course is doing nothing for us. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

@SouthernHope5 

Our firearm death rate far exceeds any other developed country in the world.

Per 100K population...Canada 1.97, France 2.83, Finland 3.25, Germany 1.01, Greece 1.52, Ireland 0.8, Norway 1.75, New Zealand 1.07, Spain 0.62, UK 0.23, etc etc.

And the US? 10.54.  Yet anytime there is talk about sensible  adjustment to gun laws the NRA goes into full take-our-guns-away mode.