At least with Sandy Hook, they waited a nanosecond before weighing in with the divisive sniping. Maybe it was the fact that children had been executed two weeks before Christmas, and their upturned faces and expectant eyes were etched in our memory, like Cindy Lou Who’s innocence confronting the reality of the Grinch: we could not find it in our hearts to start fighting. There was a brief, ephemeral moment of suspended grace before the onslaught of recrimination. Or maybe I have a faulty memory, and the partisan sides were already drawn before the blood of innocents had been mopped up from the schoolroom floors.
But there is nothing faulty in my observational skills this week, when another massacre stole the oxygen from the room and sent us reeling, this time over unnatural evil instead of natural disaster.
Part of the script was predictable and I made a mental calculation — 3, 2, 1 — of the minutes it would take before someone raised the issue of gun control.
I didn’t even make it to 3.
The calls for legislation curtailing access to guns began even before we knew the name of the shooter, his identity, his history. It began while the bullet casings were being scraped up off the ground on the Las Vegas Strip, and families were being notified of their great losses. I have no problem with that, because you cannot look at a massacre of these dimensions and ignore the manner of its execution. If Stephen Paddock didn’t have those weapons, 58 people, as of this writing, would still be alive. It’s a simple calculation, and even someone like me who almost failed algebra can figure it out.
But while I almost failed algebra, I got a very good grade in logic, and I’m not blind to how people are using this tragedy to advance their political agendas. It started when Sen. Chris Murphy, who as a congressman represented the district where Sandy Hook occurred, took to the floor of Congress and attacked his colleagues for observing a “moment of silence” for the victims. He was careful to package his anger as frustration against the NRA, but anyone could see he was aiming his salvos at Republicans, who are much more likely to oppose gun control legislation than his fellow Democrats.
But even more repellent than the thought that politicians were going to try to gain some tactical advantage at the ballot box was the idea that praying for the souls of the departed was a shallow, calculated show. I couldn’t believe it when people started criticizing those of us who would “take a knee” to show solidarity with the dead and their loved ones. Some of these same self-righteous arbiters of morality were the first to defend Colin Kaepernick’s right to symbolic protest on the sideline, but were intolerant of grieving Americans who chose to do the same thing to honor the massacre victims. One of my friends explained that the attacks were not really against the mourners but, rather, a commentary on the emptiness of prayerful gestures as the easy way out for a Congress that consistently fails to enact stronger gun laws. Perhaps, but it doesn’t answer the question as to why gestures are good enough to protest racism, but not good enough to show respect to the suffering.
But even worse than the reflexive one-upmanship on gun legislation and the “Prayer Is Useless” preaching was the injection of identity politics into the mix. Some people wondered out loud whether we would have reacted differently if the shooter was not a white, wealthy man. People are hooked up to life support, their families don’t know whether they will be planning funerals, and we still have time to ask what would have happened if the guy on the 32nd floor wasn’t a white millionaire but an immigrant from South Asia or a black guy from Chicago.
It might come as a surprise to some people, but we are not all tuned into the Race Channel 24/7.
I am not a fan of guns. In fact, I am not a fan of the NRA, and while I think that the Second Amendment deserves as much respect as the other protections in the Bill of Rights, I have a hard time understanding how limiting the number of guns a citizen can own, depriving the mentally ill of access to dangerous firearms, mandating laborious background checks, and keeping semi-automatics out of the hands of civilians is controversial. When Charlton Heston said they’d have to pry that gun out of his cold, dead hands, I thought, “Moses, you stepped down from Mount Sinai and went around the bend.”
But, my God, people, we can do better than this pathetic performance of political posturing, finger-pointing and race-baiting. Can’t we?