Probably the most widely viewed Twitter trending topic in the United States right now is "#prayfornewton." The ad hoc hashtag is indicative of both the public's desire to show support for the victims in today's Connecticut school shooting—most of whom were children— but also our ignorance of what exactly happened at Sandy Hook Elementary: the shooting was in Newtown, not "Newton."
Making sense of these things is complex to the point of impossibility. Most of us, blessedly, can't imagine raising a gun to anyone's head and pulling the trigger. Even some trained soldiers report having difficulty shooting to kill their enemies, and these are people with their lives on the line. Given that context, it seems unconscionable that someone could walk into a school full of children and quickly execute dozens of innocents. And yet.
Overwhelmed by emotions, all of which give a dangerous opacity to our thinking, the impetus of many people today is going to be to say, "Now is not the time to have a talk about politics." The ostensibly empathetic sentiment is all over Twitter, and even President Obama's own press secretary, Jay Carney, deflected talk of gun control in a press conference on the shooting, saying, "I don't think today is [the day to talk about gun control polices]." To be frank, that is bullshit, and it's time for everyone, but especially our politicians, to stop being pathetic cowards about getting the absurd and deadly glut of guns off of American streets once and for all, starting now.
Believing that it's somehow offensive or "politicizing a tragedy" to talk about the laws—or lack thereof—that precipitated a crime in the wake of that crime is absurd on its face. What more appropriate way to honor victims than to try and ensure that they didn't die in vain, that we as a country will quickly and tirelessly work to make sure the ways in which we failed them will be amended as soon as possible? Besides that, if you don't think that every single instance of gun violence in the United States isn't already political to its core, you haven't been paying attention.
Here is a list of every single politician who received campaign money from the pro-gun National Rifle Association this election cycle. The NRA gave a more than $700,000 largesse to candidates, the vast majority of whom were Republicans. Here is a list of studies from the Harvard School of Public Health that say, plainly, when nations have fewer guns, they also have fewer homicides. The tremendous difference in the number of gun deaths in much of the rest of the West, where gun control tends to be more stringent, compared to America supports those findings: "Among the world's 23 wealthiest countries," reported ABC News earlier this year, "80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids."
There is another pertinent reason to politicize this latest mass shooting right away, of course, and that's because there is absolutely no indication another one of them won't happen tomorrow, making speed of the essence. Americans get together and weep and pray and hold candlelight vigils for the dead after every gun massacre, because that is what you are supposed to do in times of horror. But the grim truth no politician seems to have the balls to say is that, anymore, this kind of thing is expected. You can go ahead and say that 18 dead children in Connecticut in one fell swoop is appalling, and something that shouldn't happen in a nation that enjoys calling itself "civilized." But surprising? Not really.
Since last year, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on an Arizona parking lot, killing six and severely wounding Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, America has suffered several other high-profile gun slaughters, including the one in which a heavily armed gunman named James Holmes stormed a movie theater, killing 12 and injuring 58. These are not uncommon occurrences, and treating them as such by saying "there will be a time to talk about the politics of them at a later date," as if they're only happening once a century, is wrong, and removed from reality.
This year, following Holmes' Colorado shooting, New York Representative Peter King told the New York Times, "The political reality is at this point the American people have made the decision that gun control is ineffective, that people have the right to have weapons, and the government can't be trusted and they'd rather trust themselves with a gun." Sadly, Congressman King is right. Studies show that, after high-profile shootings, significant portions of Americans remain unwilling to agree that controlling gun ownership is more important than maintaining people's right to bear arms. These are the people who look at news stories about dozens of dead kids and think, "We mustn't politicize this tragedy; this isn't anyone's fault."
To hell with all that, though. There is a massive pro-gun, anti-gun-law organization in the United States whose sole purpose is to ensure as many citizens as possible continue getting unfettered access to implements of destruction. That organization does this by donating money to politicians who vote on gun laws. It also hides behind an amendment to the Constitution predicated on the idea that a well-regulated militia is necessary for national survival, not that any mentally ill person who wants a handgun should be able to buy a pistol or semiautomatic rifle and carry it with them absolutely everywhere. No constant American failure could be more political than our continued and intentional inability to talk about disarming American citizens, and no constant American failure deserves to be even more politicized, either.
I say we politicize the shit out of this shooting. Let's broadcast it on every TV news station day in and day out, and force President Obama, every congressperson, the heads of the NRA, and every NRA supporter to explain why it makes sense to continue living in an America in which the barrier for entry to gun ownership is this low. While we're at it, let's also ask why, in virtually every instance, mental-health services remain considerably more difficult and expensive to obtain than handguns. Until the day we begin doing those things, it will not be those of us calling for politicization who are failing the victims of gun violence; it will be those who sit, weep, and consistently promise to get started on the gun problem tomorrow.
Photos via Getty, AP.