Today, America woke up to the news of the biggest mass shooting in our history. Chances are you have seen the numbers, watched snippets of horrific footage with torrents of gunfire and innocent people running for their lives. It should be clear that we need to do more to prevent this type of domestic terrorism from happening again.
But before you ask, no, I’m not in the “don’t ‘politicize’ this” camp.
We will always have hurricanes, and there is nothing we can do about that. We can only try to take measures to lessen their disastrous effects. But we haven’t always had mass shootings, and the ones we have presently aren’t inevitable. Mass shooting is a social phenomenon, which makes it something we can change. But in order to do that, we need to have serious conversations about our gun laws and culture.
“Set politics aside for now” far from apolitical. The things we deem “off limits”, whether holistically or for a certain period of time, is informed by our personal politics. Saying someone is “politicizing” an issue manipulates that word, and assumes one point of view as being neutral when it is not.
A clear example is this rationale is not offered uniformly for different mass shootings. Imagine if the Las Vegas shooter had been a Muslim terrorist, and you saw politicians saying “let’s just come together, leave politics aside.” It isn’t reasonable to think that would be the case, as a critical mass of Americans see Muslim terrorist as the preeminent threat to our country’s security, want to ban Muslims, and think Islam is incompatible with “American values.”
How do we rationalize the difference in tone based on the identity of the shooter? How do we rationalize “don’t politicize this” cautions, when the White House’s press secretary brings up Chicago? How do we rationalize a no-politics-zone when machine guns are legal in the state of Nevada? How do we rationalize putting off a gun debate when a man with a reported 18 firearms killed or injured almost 600 people? How can we rationalize tabling a conversation about gun laws when this week, the GOP plans to vote on NRA-backed legislation that eases gun restrictions, including concealed carry across state lines and making it easier to buy suppressors (also known as “silencers”)?
And for all the feigned concern over violence in Chicago, think about how much that would exacerbate its problems. Set aside a debate about mass shootings for a moment and think about more “regular” gun violence. Last year, the homicide clearance rate for Chicago was 19.8, a historic low. What happens the number of guns flowing in from Wisconsin and Indiana not only increases, but shooters wreak more havoc under the cover discharges that aren’t as loud. therefore harder (to whatever degree) to detect? This stuff matters in our everyday realities, not just in mass shootings that make it to national headlines.
We change things based on critical self-reflection that spurs action, not just thoughts and prayers. We can’t succumb to hate, but we definitely can’t succumb to guilt. James Baldwin once called guilt a “peculiar emotion”, because it stops you from doing anything. But even worst is this insistence on our innocence. That is the bigger sin of all this. Guilt at least ties your hands, but innocence says we should just keep doing what we are doing. One stops us from washing our hands, the other insists that our hands aren’t dirty. We owe it to the people who were killed to do something different.
Politicizing things isn’t the issue at all. The issue is the aims for which and the extent to which we politicize things.