There are generally two kinds of social media reactions to heart-wrenching events like yesterday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas: one is to offer prayers and sympathy to the victims and their families, and the other is to reflexively lash out in anger at those who don’t share your political agenda. Although emotionally satisfying, one of these responses makes it nearly impossible for the country to engage in any kind of useful discussion moving forward.
No doubt, there is immense frustration after a mass shooting, and this looks to be the most deadly in American history. The unstated reality is that many of these murders probably can’t be stopped. Attempting to preemptively discern which of our neighbors are ideologically driven or mentally capable of committing mass murder is no more feasible than trying to keep every one of the 350 million guns in the country away from them. Most often, even the relatives seem to be at a complete loss as to why it happens. “We’re lost. I don’t understand this,” the Vegas shooter’s brother told the media. They never do.
The more horrifying realization is that once a person has lost his moral bearings the killing part is pretty easy. The gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, poured hundreds of bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel into a concert below. Some reports say his criminal record amounted to no more than minor traffic infractions, and other reports say he was “known” to the local police. Some people have jumped to conclusions regarding “terrorism,” though, as of this writing, there is no evidence of any political motive. Sooner or later we’re going to know everything about the man.
Maybe Paddock evaded or abused some gun law. Maybe it can be tightened. But those who reflexively call for more restrictive gun laws without even knowing how or why Paddock got his hands on guns — or what kind of firearms he used — give themselves away. Those who conflate automatic and semi-automatic guns also give themselves away.
Those in the press who mislead the public on all these issues give themselves away, as well. They are interested not merely in stopping mass shootings, but limiting gun ownership. This kind of reaction hardens the resolve of Second Amendment advocates and creates an environment that makes any realistic options moot. Rather than specifically pointing to areas of achievable compromise, the reaction of most gun-control advocates seems to be a declaration of partisan war.
“Our grief isn’t enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA,” tweeted Hillary Clinton (emphasis mine), “and work together to try to stop this from happening again.” This an example of someone — and there increasingly more like her — who can’t distinguish ideology from general decency. The NRA is a strawman for countless political activists who are too cowardly to condemn the 55-plus million Americans who own firearms and the millions of others who support their right to do so. Reflexively treating law-abiding gun owners or the organizations that represent them as if they are tacitly encouraging or cheering violence does nothing to advance the goals that gun-control advocates claim to embrace.
It wasn’t that long ago, in fact, that Democrats led by Sen. Chris Murphy, a person who’s probably done as much as anyone in recent years to ensure the failure of gun-control legislation, were accusing Republicans of selling guns to ISIS.
“Thoughts & prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference,” the Connecticut senator said today. “It’s time for Congress to get off its ass.” Other than self-aggrandizement, Murphy has never gotten off his ass to do anything about the issue. None of the legislation he’s championed would have done anything to stop the shootings in Newtown or any other events he’s decided to exploit.
In fact, when Republicans agreed to legislation that would link the terror watch list (which includes many thousands of Americans, most innocent of wrongdoing) to a gun sales ban as long as there was some semblance of due process, Senate Democrats killed it. Murphy is so intent on weakening the Second Amendment he is perfectly willing to circumvent the Fifth and Sixth, as well.
This kind of ideological stridency and partisanship feeds into the distrust gun owners have towards politicians. For many of them, gun laws feel a lot like incremental steps to undermine access. It’s difficult to disagree with this perception when you read and listen to the rhetoric of most liberal gun-control groups. The only thing this kind of partisanship creates is a spike in legal ownership. That is fine by me, but probably not what the sincere gun-control advocate was hoping to accomplish.