Gun violence and terrorism happen too often in America. This piece isn’t to convince you why particular violence happens or how to end mass shootings, but mainly to illustrate how broken America is that there are expected responses to these kinds of tragedies that are unpalatable and unsatisfying.
This isn’t a universal response, but enough people have these responses that what I have written below is as familiar as it is disturbing upon closer examination.
Let’s walk through how events play out in modern American gun violence.
Twitter trends with the location of a new incident. Drudge and CNN battle to break the story first. City name and shooting are all the facts available for the first half hour.
The collective Internet winces. The death count is unknown but early reports show above five deaths and from experience we know that number is soft and will increase. For now, the situation is developing and America is still receiving the news. Above five deaths, the Internet relaxes into rage.
The speculation begins. Will the shooter be an ISIS wolf or a white male assailant? Those are our options lately and there is almost a sense that America awaits the outcome to determine the next steps of how the body politic will debate.
The ISIS weapon of choice in 2017 has been a vehicle and early indications from our current incident are that it occurred inside. Must be a gun.
Many gun advocates don’t wait. Some celebrities and commentators race off at the gunshot and have doubled down on the gun control debate (“We need to ban automatic weapons!” Yes, we know; we did.) That’s hasty though considering if the shooter is found to be an ISIS member or have shown a proclivity for radical Islam. Then, America’s debate will be about immigration and diversity visas. Never mind the fact that our full-throated debates happen as victims are still receiving life-saving resuscitation.
The left signals their abhorrence for gun violence through faulty gun knowledge. Some confuse automatic, semi-automatic, and assault weapons as if the average American can walk into a Wal-Mart and without a background check, leave with a Gatling gun and 1,000 hollow point rounds. Others take a more nuanced approach and outright call out Republicans as if all shootings in America were drawn up by a joint session of the RNC-NRA (see generally Chelsea Handler). They peddle in virtue while casting out those that disagree with their positions on firearms a part of the problem that led to the latest massacre.
Not to be outdone, enter the outspoken Right. This comes in a variety of forms. First, there’s the admirable thoughts and prayers crowd. The sort that attends church and genuinely believes that faith can provide national healing from the brokenness of man from whence this sort of violence cometh. Though, some of their compassionate lot breaks with the fold when, upon provocation of those that put no stock in T’s & P’s, they react viscerally to those who go after Christianity.
Still others begin to make the “let’s not politicize tragedy” argument. Conservatives have been better about being slow to politicize post-ISIS attacks, but are quick to make the slow to politicize argument when gun violence occurs.
The Right voices that step past prayer and engage the political tend to focus on the peripheral argument: this crime would not have been prevented by those policy prescriptions. From great conservative minds, thoughtful arguments are made about how the gun used is already illegal or background checks wouldn’t have captured this type of guy. These are good arguments, but they lack answers for injustices that did occur and not the hypothetical ones that didn’t or couldn’t have been prevented.
The first phase is complete.
The next step of modern, crazy gun violence analysis is who did the terrorist support in the 2016 presidential election? If Trump, discussion flows to the rise in white nationalism, the Trump’s alleged collusion, or Trump’s ‘deplorable’ followers. If Bernie, the right will discuss ANTIFA, the Arlington shooting, and how gun violence knows no particular political identity, in no particular order. If Hillary, well, shouldn’t she be in jail, anyways?
The final step is the most important one: Americans move on to the next news story. We vaguely remember the shooter’s name and the death count. But, we are prepared for the next story for we know there will be one.
There is something genuinely terrifying about the fact that the steps just laid out before resonate even a shred of truth for some. The concept that some Americans might be relieved that the perpetrator of a horrendous crime isn’t a Muslim extremist or worse, disappointed that the shooter is a white male, spells out darkness in America’s political discourse. The thought that some Americans hold out hope that maybe if the assailant isn’t ISIS, maybe he’s a leftist supporter, speaks to something deranged going on in our culture that needs to be gutted out.
Letting our political outcome desires blacken our humanity when grappling with new and horrifying shootings quickly sets America down the path of unsolvable division. There are real debates to be had. There is significant healing to be done. There are too many new residents of heaven today. The fact that I can trace how our debates go, however, means it’s time for an examination of our hearts in how we look across the aisle to our fellow American.
Alas, in a matter of months, weeks perhaps, we will follow this process again. I have written this guide so you can be prepared.
Debate accordingly. May God have mercy on us.