Left unsaid on a day of dull shock - Macleans.ca

Left unsaid on a day of dull shock

Has America reached a turning point?


The mass murder at a Connecticut school has produced a stunned, numbed reaction: no one really knows what to say or do, and the widespread feeling might be summed up by an uncharacteristically serious article from The Onion, that ended “screw it, there’s nothing else to say.” Few people could talk about anything else, and no one knew what to say about the horror other than that it was a horror, so this is not an event where you can – or, maybe, even should – put together a highlights reel of comments. A few people embarrassed themselves instantly, like Mike Huckabee, who trotted out the familiar line that school shootings happen because we have “systematically remove[d] God” from the schools. But mostly it was a day of complete dull shock.

There were however, two issues that became prevalent in the arguments that developed after the horror took place. One issue was whether the media erred in its coverage of the story, and particularly in talking to the children who were on the scene. James Poniewozik of Time magazine wrote an article arguing that while it is within the duties of reporters to report on a tragedy, they should avoid interviewing children at the scene: “It’s difficult enough after a tragedy like this to answer how we can protect kids from violence in a safe place. We at least know how we can protect them from being exploited in the moments afterward. Turn the cameras away.”

The other issue is when it’s the right time to politicize the topic, and when is “too soon.” Obviously, guns are a political issue – in America, a constitutional issue – and people on different sides of the political spectrum have different ideas about what should be done. People who support gun control naturally point out that they believe this could have been avoided if America had more stringent gun laws. And gun supporters argue the opposite, that those laws wouldn’t stop this kind of rampage and that a gun can only be stopped by another gun. But when is the right time to start arguing about this? A lot of people argue that to make this type of pronouncement right after a tragedy is to show disrespect for the victims. Or as President Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney put it, there will be “a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I do not think today is that day.”

Gun control supporters see this as a deliberate dodge, an attempt to put off actually doing something about the culture of gun violence. Apostate conservative David Frum wrote that “every day is the day to talk about gun control after his sarcastic Twitter reaction (“Obviously, we need to lower the age limit for concealed carry so toddlers can defend themselves”) was picked up by a pro-gun site and received many disapproving responses. Slate’s Allison Benedikt angrily asked “could you just let us all know: When would be a better day?” From this point of view, the right time to talk about it is right after a tragedy when everyone’s attention is focused on the issue. In a few days, the world’s attention will wander and it’ll be too late.

The likelihood that this is exactly what is going to happen – a few days will go by, there will be some words about guns and mental health facilities but not much action – may account for some of the numbness of the reaction. Other countries have had mass shootings, but they are often followed by legislative action, like the Dunblane massacre led to major gun-control legislation in Britain. In the U.S., that’s hardly even worth discussing; whether one is for or against such laws, they’re simply not going to happen. For one thing, the U.S. has gun rights in its Constitution, and the courts in recent years have been interpreting those rights quite broadly (which means that the familiar liberal argument about the Second Amendment – that it’s a narrow right applying only to militias – has very little legal force now). For another thing, the NRA sees most gun regulations as a slippery slope to an outright ban, and lobbies effectively against them. And finally, there is simply no national party interest in gun control.

The Democrats used to be the party of gun control, but they more or less gave it up in the ’90s when they decided that the perception of being soft on crime was hurting them. The only politicians who loudly support gun control are at the municipal level, like Mike Bloomberg. So the whole question of how to proceed is almost irrelevant. The influential liberal blogger Duncan Black struck a fairly typical note of despair: “I really don’t know what can be done given our current understanding of the constitution. There are a lot of guns out there, they’re easy to obtain, and I’m not really sure what could change that.” To the extent that anyone can think of any policy prescriptions, there might be a shift from gun control to stuff that could be at least somewhat bipartisan, like trying to improve mental health care. But the potential solutions seem small and slow compared to the magnitude of the tragedy. That may be why the reaction is so depressed. Whether you’re pro-gun or anti-gun, it seems almost like there’s nothing to be done.

However, there is the possibility that this could become a turning point – not in gun control, but in bringing back gun control as an issue. As Benedikt’s article suggests, one thing liberals can do is pressure their party, which for better or for worse is the Democrats, to actually stand up for gun control again. It may not be likely, but it is not impossible. The crude political risks of supporting gun control are not quite what they were in the ’80s: crime is way down now, which has reduced the bite of the “soft on crime” accusation. And the Democrats have become mostly the party of city dwellers, meaning that their supporters are disproportionately people who are more worried about someone else having a gun than about having their own guns taken away. Again, it’s not likely that anything will change; Carney’s attempt to declare the gun-control issue out of bounds for a day indicates that it’s not something they want to talk about. But this could be the start of a more organized campaign to pressure and shame Democrats into making this a priority again. That at least could work. There’s a sense that trying to pass gun control laws probably won’t work, and even if it did, they might not even help at this point. Getting Obama to support gun control at least would be something that could theoretically happen. And at times like this, doing anything, even something symbolic, may be more satisfying for many people than simply sitting in mute horror.


Left unsaid on a day of dull shock

  1. I really am surprised that I agree with David Frum on this one. I’m certain that if just one of those children was armed this tragedy would have never happened.

    Damn, I know sarcasm doesn’t go over well on the internet.

    • You took a few seconds and you let your hate for Conservatism and Republicans and anything that Frum may stand for as an opportunity make an ignorant and false assumption of Frum`s stance on the usefulness of guns as self-defence mechanisms.

      Now let me tell you what you should do.

      Go spend a few hours and properly research the fact that Frum has stated that ” the dangers that gun owners face are traceable to the prevalence of the very guns from which they so tragically mistakenly expect to gain safety ”

      Then you can apologize for using this tragedy as an opportunity to make a slanderous and stupid remark.

  2. It won’t be a ‘turning point’ even when someone goes through a maternity ward and shoots up babies in incubators.

    • It certainly feels that way. “Arm the babies!” They’ll say. Sad.

  3. ‘Getting Obama to support gun control at least would be something that could theoretically happen.’

    He said that these shootings have happened ‘too often’. I took that to mean that he might move in that direction.

  4. Nothing will change when the news cycle prefers to stoke financial fears that are morally safe to expunge.

  5. Timing aside, because there’s no denying that comments like Huckabee’s often come too soon after a terrible tragedy like this, he makes a point that has not embarrassed himself nor anyone that reiterates it in the days to come. It may have been made too soon for some to appreciate it, but it was correct.

    People asked the same question after 9-11 and Ruth Graham delivered the same response. People want to blame God, as if these events were His fault for allowing them. Ironically, many who ask don’t seek an honest answer; they are not asking so much as they are declaring that a) either God doesn’t exist, or b) that if He does, He surely can’t be as loving and compassionate as the Grahams and Huckabess of the world make Him out to be, otherwise He would intervene in situations such as these and prevent them from happening.

    Of course, it’s convenient to smirk and to write that he’s embarrassed himself by making this statement, but no one else has been able to make sense of these terrible tragedies – not Jaime Leinman… not anyone. So is Huckabee so wrong, when no one else is able to suggest anything that is any more sensible? Why is it that any reference to God, and in particular to living our lives in obedience to Him such that we submit to His design and to His standards, has become either laughable or infuriating or both?

    Good for Mike – questionable timing or not – for saying what needs to be said in response to tragedies such as this one. He was not blaming the staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School for being a Godless bunch who invited this terrible event to occur within their school… he was making a generalization that, like it or not, makes as much sense as anything anyone else has been able to offer.

    More, actually.

    • “So is Huckabee so wrong”

      Yes, the U.S. is already the most religious of the developed nations. If a “lack of god” was the problem Sweden and Japan would be the countries with the school shootings. The only correlation between the amount of “god” and school shootings is more “god” – more shootings.

      • That’s a short-sighted correlation to make, and one that’s easily refuted as well.

        Huckabee’s comment (or Graham’s, or mine for that matter) was made to shed light on the fact that evil is real and that it exists everywhere in the world – evil that is derived from departing from living our lives according to the design and
        standards of the One who created humanity to live in harmony with Him and with each other. And as with the sinking of the Titanic, which was deemed to
        be unsinkable, we tend to scoff at this notion as if our society is just as
        unsinkable. We presume ourselves to be bulletproof, but sadly we are not
        (either figuratively or literally).

        There are many forms of evil; school shootings are not the only form. So to suggest that we should be seeing more of them in places like Sweden and/or Japan in order to corroborate this statement is to adopt too narrow a view of evil. Every place has its particular evils, and they tend to be demonstrated in
        accordance with other well-established social factors – in this case a gun-toting society in which there are far more gun-related deaths each year
        than in any comparable developed nation (on a per-capita basis).

        The reason there are virtually no gun-related deaths in Japan is not for the reason you suggest but simply because they forbid almost all forms of
        firearm-ownership (see the article in The Atlantic re. “A Land Without Guns”).

        “Lack of God” is most definitely a huge problem in America… everywhere,
        actually. And like Ruth Graham said – why should people suddenly blame
        God or ask where was He when this occurred or why would He allow it to happen when we – WE – have been the ones who have pushed Him to the sidelines and asked for Him not to interfere in our lives?

        The correlation you are looking for is as follows: not wanting God + wanting guns and defending our “right” to own them, carry them, use them, etc. =
        more shootings. In Sweden and Japan, they simply don’t want God; they
        just don’t go about shooting each other over it (or over much of anything for
        that matter).

        • “and one that’s easily refuted as well.”

          I didn’t assert that “too much god” caused the shooting. I demonstrated that the evidence contradicts Huckabees assertion “not enough god” is responsible.

          Huckabee’s comment doesn’t need your reinterpretation. He said clearly that violence in schools is due to the removal of “god”.

          “The correlation you are looking for is as follows: not wanting God +
          wanting guns and defending our “right” to own them, carry them, use
          them, etc. =
          more shootings.”

          With evidence for causation of zero.

          • So if I understand you correctly, you were not asserting that as our collective interest in God increases so too do the number of shootings; you were simply trying to refute Huckabee’s suggestion that as our collective interest in God decreases the number of shootings increases. You were not offering a new assertion – just trying to demonstrate that there’s no sound basis for his.

            Fair enough – I can see your point and agree with it, if that is all that it was, however that is not how your previous comment came off sounding. You drew a correlation between the “amount of God” and the number of shootings – “more ‘god’ – more shootings” was how you put it… similarly with evidence for causation of zero. It now appears to me, though, that you were not necessarily suggesting cause and effect (perhaps my assumption) – just noting the coexistence of facts… related or unrelated.

            I can accept what you are saying there – that Huckabee has no solid evidence to support his claim. However, contrary to what you may think, neither have you demonstrated that his assertion is false. It is simply unproven. Therefore you have not demonstrated any contradiction… you have just served to remove any cause and effect relationship within his assertion. The fact is, though, that your reference to Sweden and Japan as places where we should expect to see more of these types of shootings if his argument is correct was ill-conceived on the basis that it is not “lack of God” alone, but easy access to firearms that leads to so much gun-related violence in America. Those places may not be as “religious” as you put it, but they are also not places where you are going to pick up the paper tomorrow and read of this sort of atrocity (in general – anything’s possible, of course).

            I simply think, Lenny, that we each hold differing views of what constitutes religiosity vs. surrendered living. In Huckabee’s view, and in Graham’s and in mine, America is not as God-honouring as we’d like, nor near as much as you and many others may believe. Regardless, none of us ever wants to turn on the news and hear of events such as yesterday’s shooting. It is heartbreaking beyond words.

            In the end I still believe Huckabee made a valid point that is an urgent one for Americans to consider. Disinterest in, and refusal to submit to, God is a problem of immense proportions and immense concern for the nation… whether we agree it has a bearing on these school shootings or whether we agree to disagree on that.

            Anyway, I will leave you to your beliefs, with respect, and thank you for clarifying what you meant. All the best.

          • ” It is simply unproven.”

            Sure. Inasmuch as unicorns are or the causual link to the decline in powdered wigs is “simply unproven”.

            “America is not as God-honouring as we’d like America is not as God-honouring as we’d like, nor near as much as you and many others may believe. ”

            Seriously? Let me know when a president can get elected in the States without proclaiming his or her belief in God, or when half of Americans no longer believe creationist fantasies. It may be less religious than it was back in the days of slavery, genocide, criminalization of homosexuality, white-male-only “democracy”, etc., but it sure isn’t godless.

          • Again, you confuse religiosity with surrendered living – about which you evidently know not. God is not honoured with our lips but with our lives. Just because someone professes with his mouth to honour God does not make it so any more than you professing to be a unicorn would prove the existence of unicorns. America honours God with their lips for the most part… not with their lives. Huge difference. Religion is not the key, Lenny; true surrender to Christ and His ways in our daily lives is the key. Nobody needs more religion; we do, however, need more of Christ and His way in our lives.

            I can tell that that is not who you are or what you’re about. That’s okay. I’m glad to have had this opportunity to present this message to you. May you one day come to see God for who and how He really is – not the unfortunate image you’ve conjured in your mind of a God that is most likely the product of fantasy but, if He does exist, is apparently so awful that you don’t seem to want to have anything to do with Him; a God you’d rather pin society’s evils on rather than acknowledge the truth concerning those evils.

            It was good talking to you, Lenny. Take care.

    • It makes about as much sense as postulating that this results from how we’ve stopped putting out milk for brownies to drink.

      Why do these things happen? There are two reasons for it:
      1. People suck.
      2. People allow other people to suck. (which is really just a proof of point #1)

      Now, why is Huckabee wrong? Because he’s a massive part of #2. When you divert blame to either God or a lack thereof, you are taking it away from where it really belongs, on us right here and now. Saying “it’s because we don’t teach enough god in schools” is idiotic, as it allows each and every one of us to go, “Yeah! Not our fault! It’s those damned schools!”

      No. It’s not. It’s our fault. More teaching of God is not going to help people who have chemical imbalances — who can get to their relatives gun closet and grab a gun and head down to take out their frustrations.

      After all, they were teaching a whole helluva lot of God during the inquisition, the crusades, the witch trials, etc.. Jim Jones was teaching God too. And before you say, “Well not the real version of it..” I’ll point out that’s exactly the rub, isn’t it? Because there’s no proof of jack squat when it comes to God, anybody who claims they’ve got the real version of it might be correct.. or might just be Jim Jones again, and the only way we have to tell is after they’ve drunk the Kool-aid.

      That’s just a bit too late in my books, so lets stop giving ourselves this easy out and saying it has anything to do with God. It has to do with us. Just us.

  6. Gun control is just one issue….also needed, addressing issues of mental health

    • Agreed; however, the two are not mutually exclusive propositions.

  7. I’m confused abuot Huckabee’s comment too.
    Is he saying that if there was “more god” in the schools then derranged gunman who have nothing to do with the school would be turned away like vampires from a church?
    No really, what is that crackpot saying anyways?