The Politics of Tragedy

by matttbastard

(At least) 32 33 dead. Bodies still warm, a fluid tally; ‘worst shooting in US history’. Yet, as Steve Benen notes (by way of a reader email), none of this hasn’t stopped some online pundits from mounting their preferred hobby-horses:

* One far-right blog said he was “awaiting word of the gunman’s nationality and religious leanings, that will be critically telling.” Apparently, the post implies that if the shooter was Muslim, it would suggest the massacre was related to terrorism. (Some reports indicate the shooter was a young Asian male.)

* Glenn Reynolds quickly denounced local gun laws.

These things do seem to take place in locations where it’s not legal for people with carry permits to carry guns, though, and I believe that’s the case where the Virginia Tech campus is concerned. I certainly wish that someone had been in a position to shoot this guy at the outset….

And reader John Lucas, who works with a Virginia law firm, emails that Va. Tech is a “gun-free zone.” Well, for those who follow the law. There was an effort to change that but it failed: “A bill that would have given college students and employees the right to carry handguns on campus died with nary a shot being fired in the General Assembly.” That’s unfortunate.

* Another is complaining that some are complaining about the NRA.

And it’s not just right-of-centre bloggers who can’t resist mining the incident for partisan treasure. ‘Liberal’ bloggers John Aravosis, Oliver Willis, and Steve M. all use the shootings as a springboard to jump on US gun absolutism, Republicans and the NRA. Aravosis asks:

Why is it legal in America for you to buy an AK-47? Oh that’s right, it’s your constitutional right to own an AK-47. I’m sure the founders, when considering their “original intent” that the Republicans always lecture us on, had in mind assault weapons when they were really writing about muskets. I don’t know what kind of gun the shooter had, but it is far too easy for any nutjob to own a gun in this country, and it needs to stop.

Hear, hear- preach, Brother John! Of course, the shooter reportedly used two handguns, not an AK-47. But such middling details shouldn’t stand in the way of a spontaneous, straight-from-the-heart expression of rage, grief, and cold, hard political calculation:

We need to stop trying to convince 100% of the American people that we’re right. The Republicans are content with 30% of the public supporting them. Let them have their wacky 30%, while we embrace the 70% (or however many) who are rational, normal, non-extremists who actually believe that kids running around shooting other kids is a bad thing.

It is doubtful that the majority of those opposed to gun control are irrational extremists who think kids shooting other kids is a net positive; the dispute is in the details: causes, solutions, etc. That said, aside from the divisive ‘throw the “wacky 30%” overboard’ rhetoric, I tend to lean towards the position of Aravosis et al (especially Steve M’s bitingly accurate comments on the inevitability of reflexive pro-gun apologia following a tragedy of this nature). However, with events still ongoing and details still unfolding, one would hope that these and other online scribes would be loathe to wield dead college students as a rhetorical cudgel, bludgeoning bleeding hearts or firearm fanatics before the facts are fully revealed.

At this early stage, the motivation for the shooting may have been as simple as scorned love. How this (if true) ties into gun control, conceal-and-carry laws and the 2nd Amendment will likely be hashed out via a national and international dialogue over the next few weeks, affording ample time and opportunity for ideological broadsides and policy advocacy. For now, I second Steve Benen:

Folks, Virginia Tech is still in the midst of a crisis. Students, right now, are being told to stay indoors, away from windows. The community is in a state of shock and horror.

Can we wait a few hours before using the massacre to push a political agenda?

edited and slightly expanded for clarity

Update: Via The Newshoggers, Michael Tedesco Mr M. has the most eloquent and on-point post regarding the days events. A snippet:

We’ll hear arguments from all across the spectrum on any number of topics; guns, child abuse, peer pressure, stress, academic standards, teaching standards, and our own cannibalistic culture that has evolved away from the eating of human flesh in favor of devouring the needs and emotions of our peers.

…But we’ll also forget.

We’ll forget there are dreams that have been blown out like candles, private funerals, teary-eyed parents, and televised memorials serving as that final whisp of smoke and scent of ozone that lingers before the flame is forgotten completely, and we learn to move on again.

Or maybe not. I don’t know. Over the next few days and maybe weeks we’ll have scores of pundits and professionals and experts peddling the lessons of this tragedy over the airwaves, on television sets, and splashed across computer monitors. And some will be right, some will be wrong, and most won’t even know which they are, and really it’s all a very important part of the process.

But from me, I really only have a few simple things, and you can take them or leave them, it’s up to you. Cherish your children, take this opportunity to hug them, and to love them, and to share your dreams about them with them, and likewise share the dreams they have for themselves. But don’t take this opportunity to shy from the world. We are flawed. We may never be able to prevent something like this from happening again, or if we do, the cost may be too high. No matter how hard we work to make the world better for our children, it will always be dangerous. And we have to know this, understand this, and send our children out there anyway for only then will they have the chance to become as great as we all hope and dream they can be.

And the parents of the fallen. I think it’s important to not forget them. I think it’s important to know that today twenty-nine dreams died, builders of bridges and buildings and civilizations, translators of the languages of the earth and cosmos, healers of wounds, and leaders of the free world. We should remember what they have lost as we too have the same very thing to lose.

For those parents for whom the worst of tragedies have occured, we, as part of this great national family, should offer our tears and hopes and most importantly dreams. We should offer to them our dreams and promises to the future because they have just lost theirs.

Please, read the whole thing.