“The Right Times” To Talk About Gun Control
In the immediate wake of the Las Vegas tragedy, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared:
“Today is a day for consoling the survivors and mourning those we lost. Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with all of those individuals. There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country.”
Video footage (aired by Stephen Colbert) shows other politicians invoking the same “now is not the right time” message many times, after gun violence tragedies in recent years:
The “now is not the right time” message ostensibly has two main parts:
(1) immediately after a tragedy, it should not be politicized; rather, attention should initially be focused on the deceased victims, the injured, and the mourners; and
(2) efforts at reform should be undertaken with a more rational mindset after some time has passed, rather than in the emotionally-charged immediate aftermath of a tragedy.
Yet history tells us to be skeptical of politicians’ “now is not the right time” messages. The second part of the message’s ostensible meaning (i.e., the pledge to revisit the issue of gun control, after some time has passed) is not really intended. Rather, “now is not the right time” is simply meant as a pithy line to evade the topic, with no sincere intent to ever return to it. That is why, in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, former New York Congressman Steve Israel penned a meaningful op-ed piece entitled, “Nothing Will Change After the Las Vegas Shooting”.
The piece sets forth various reasons for the continuing government failure to meaningfully address gun violence:
First, just like everything else in Washington, the gun lobby has become more polarized. The National Rifle Association, once a supporter of sensible gun-safety measures, is now forced to oppose them because of competing organizations. More moderation means less market share. The gun lobby is in a race to see who can become more brazen, more extreme.
Second, congressional redistricting has pulled Republicans so far to the right that anything less than total subservience to the gun lobby is viewed as supporting gun confiscation. The gun lobby score is a litmus test with zero margin for error.
Third, the problem is you, the reader. You’ve become inoculated. You’ll read this essay and others like it, and turn the page or click another link. You’ll watch or listen to the news and shake your head, then flip to another channel or another app. This horrific event will recede into our collective memory.
That’s what the gun lobbyists are counting on. They want you to forget. To accept the deaths of at least 58 children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends as the new normal. To turn this page with one hand, and use the other hand to vote for members of Congress who will rise in another moment of silence this week. And next week. And the foreseeable future.
The piece’s ”[t]hird” reason for inaction – i.e., the public’s failure to follow up – is troubling, as it mirrors the politicians’ failure to take action.
Before the topic passes from the headlines (in the rapid news cycle), let’s make it a point to calendar some dates that are “THE RIGHT TIMES” to follow up on the issue of gun control reform. As a start, we can put together a list of some of the most deadly incidents of U.S. mass shootings in recent decades, taken from compilations by ABC News, The Daily Mail, and drawing on individual articles of other incidents. Here (for reasons explained below), the mass shootings are listed in order of the months and dates — within the calendar year — on which they fall:
• April 16, 2007: Virginia Tech University (Blacksburg, Virginia)
• April 20, 1999: Columbine High School (Columbine, Colorado)
• June 12, 2016: Pulse Nightclub (Orlando, Florida)
• July 18, 1984: McDonald’s (San Ysidro, California)
• July 20, 2012: movie theater (Aurora, Colorado)
• Aug. 1, 1966: University of Texas Tower (Austin, Texas)
• Aug. 20, 1986: Edmond Post Office (Edmond, Oklahoma)
• Oct. 1, 2017: Las Vegas
• Oct. 16, 1991: Luby’s Cafeteria (Killeen, Texas)
• Nov. 5, 2009: Fort Hood, Texas
• Dec. 2, 2015: Inland Regional Center (San Bernardino, California)
• Dec. 14, 2012: Sandy Hook Elementary School (Newtown, Connecticut)
The mainstream media often focuses on the identities of the perpetrators and numbers of victims (as if it has become some sort of demented competition to become “deadliest”). Here, those details are omitted – as only dates and locations are provided. Additional incidents (where gun violence has occurred) can be added to the list. Tragically, this list is already long and quickly growing.
Each YEARLY ANNIVERSARY of each of these dates is an instance of “THE RIGHT TIME” to address gun violence. Milestone anniversaries (1st anniversary, 5th anniversary, 10th anniversary, etc.) provide especially strong instances of “THE RIGHT TIME” to address gun violence.
On the many occasions when it is “THE RIGHT TIME” to address gun control, the public should pressure politicians to do so. Responsible media sources (mainstream and not) should join the chorus. Reasonable people may disagree about some of the details of gun control reform, but none can disagree that the topic needs to be addressed — after all, mass shootings occur in the United States vastly more commonly than in other developed countries.
As this piece is posted, thankfully, the gun control dialogue still continues, in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting. If the dialogue soon stalls, it will again be “THE RIGHT TIME” to discuss gun control reform on October 16, which is the anniversary of a mass shooting that occurred in Texas in 1991. It will be “THE RIGHT TIME” again and again — including on December 14, 2017, which will be the 5th anniversary of the Newtown tragedy. Of course, once we start the dialogue, it will have to spill over into other days, besides the above-mentioned anniversaries. But, if/when reform efforts lag and attention focuses elsewhere, those anniversaries will provide milestone reminders of the need to continue to seek gun control reform. With enough public attention, let us hope that we achieve reform — so that we can stop the growth of the list of dates on which mass shootings have occurred.
Let’s pledge to keep the calendar’s other dates free of mass shootings — and, in the process, save many innocent lives. It is “THE RIGHT TIME” do so.