The human heart cannot be broken on a weekly basis; instead, it becomes accustomed. For what seems like forever, that’s where we have been with gun violence.
As of Monday afternoon, there had been 378 shootings of four or more victims in this country in 2017, eight of them in the month of November. Remember the Las Vegas slaughter of 58 country music fans all the way back in October? A month later, “It’s like it never happened,” wrote a woman who lived through it.
A month from now, will those of us who weren’t touched personally by this latest affront to humanity in Sutherland Springs only vaguely recall that dude in Texas who gunned down a bunch of people in church with a Ruger AR-556? (FYI to aspiring shooters: If you’re doing this for attention, keep in mind that we will not even remember your name.)
American resilience is so much a part of our national character that you could say it’s why we’re here. And certainly all those who are suffering losses from which they’ll never fully recover need all the thoughts and prayers we can send their way. But just as “faith without works is dead,” so too are thoughts and prayers that never inspire any other action.
On “Fox and Friends,” presidential aide Kellyanne Conway argued that “the rush to judgment” following the Texas shooting “doesn’t help the victims” and is “disrespectful to the dead.” “There is evil among us,” she said. There is, but what’s truly disrespectful to the dead is to throw up our hands and pretend that there’s nothing we can do. Since when were we so easily stumped?
Conway’s assessment is also a bit at odds with her boss’ quick take, which was that “mental health is your problem here.” Unless Conway was conflating evil and mental illness, then what both she and the president were really saying was only this: Not now. Never now.
It’s “a little bit soon,” for that, the president said. It’s always the perfect time to talk about Islamic terrorism. Immediately after last week’s attack in New York, Trump tweeted that the Uzbekistan-born suspected “terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty.” (The New York Democrat helped create that “beauty” in 1990. But he also pushed for the comprehensive immigration overhaul that would have done away with it in 2013, when it never came up for a vote in the GOP-controlled House.)
But why is “right this minute” a perpetually disrespectful time to talk about how to minimize future deaths in churches and schools and malls?
All we so far know about the mental health of the shooter, 26-year-old Devin Kelley, is that 1) killing dozens of people is never a hallmark of wellness, and 2) he did time in the Air Force for domestic violence against his wife and child. Is it an OK time, then, to talk about the domestic violence that is a recurring backdrop to these tragedies?
The president also said this on Monday: “We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level.” Is it an OK time to note that those who don’t want anything done about guns never do anything about mental illness, either? Like expanding treatment, which costs money and which would have been further limited by Medicaid cuts in the failed GOP health care bill? Is it an OK time to mention that Trump signed a bill that made it easier for those with a mental illness to buy a gun? Or that legislation that would have expanded background checks and limited gun sales to terror suspects was blocked last year? An OK time to acknowledge that a bill to ban “bump stocks,” which made the Las Vegas shooting so deadly, does not have a single Republican co-sponsor?
Can we really not acknowledge the world of room between the massive gun confiscation that the NRA is always warning about, and the most tepid attempt to make it more difficult for the unstable and the evil alike to gun down a toddler in church? If to act is to “politicize it,” then let’s do. It’s time.
Melinda Henneberger is a Kansas City Star columnist.
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