OP-ED: Mass shootings require political response

Leland Nally
Tribune News Service
U.S. President Donald J. Trump makes a statement at the White House in Washington, D.C. in response to two separate shooting incidents on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. (Chris Kleponis/Pool via CNP/Abaca Press/TNS)

Aug. 3 was a historic day for the United States. In the morning, 20 people were killed and more than 25 others injured in a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. (As of Monday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 22.) Later Saturday night, nine people were killed and 27 injured in another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, these were the 250th and 251st mass shootings — defined as any gun incident in which four or more people are injured or killed — so far in 2019.

Following the El Paso shooting, just hours before another would take place, the political response fell cleanly on partisan lines. Democrats were calling out Republicans for their inaction on gun reform, and pundits on the right were pulling out their go-to strategy of shaming Democrats for “politicizing” the tragedy.

For instance, hours after the El Paso shooting, Fox News commentator Steve Rogers was shaming Democrats for calling for new gun laws, saying “now is not the time to politicize a horrific incident like this.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was endorsed by the NRA and currently has an A rating, said in front of cameras “we need to focus more on memorials before we start the politics.”

This is a favorite technique of the Republicans, designed to paint Democrats as disrespectful of the mourning process by “using” these mass shootings to push forward their political agenda.

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The absurdity here is that in a world where there’s a mass shooting in the morning and a mass shooting in the evening, there seems to be never any time at all in which it’s appropriate to talk about gun control. Instead, opponents of gun control are making the ridiculous assertion that our political agenda should not be informed by an increasing number of public mass murders.

Let me be clear: “Putting politics aside” is the most disrespectful thing to do in the face of a mass shooting. Ignoring the political reality that affects gun violence outcomes is not a form of mourning; it is simply a way to block efforts to keep them from happening again.

If you’re not pursuing actual material change in a world where mass murders come in pairs, your words are empty.

Mass shootings in the United States are a public health crisis, one that it will take politics to address. Our present “solutions” — sending children to school with bullet-proof backpacks, watching test scores and enrollment drop following school shootings, and traumatizing children with active shooter drills — all constitute an absurd normalization of nightmarish mass murder at the expense of politics.

A staggering 97% of U.S. residents support requiring background checks for gun purchases. If you polled the roundness of the Earth, you might not hit 97 percent. But Republicans have instead pushed in the opposite direction, with Mitch McConnell blocking the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which passed the House earlier this year and would require such background checks.

The dysfunction of the government is nowhere as clear as in its gun policies, and this bad-faith moralizing by Republicans is their last-ditch effort to retain control of a position that is radically out of sync with the American people. They want to continue taking money from the National Rifle Association and passing laws that explicitly protect gun manufacturers.

Republicans want you to believe that gun violence is just an elemental force of the universe, not a growing phenomenon that is happening specifically in America and that is within our power to prevent. Don’t let them.

— Leland Nally is a writer and filmmaker living in Koreatown, Los Angeles. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by the Tribune News Service.