The shooting of Representative Steve Scalise at a baseball field in Virginia while the Republican team was practicing should be very disturbing to all Americans. Regardless of one’s views on the second amendment, gun regulation, the Republican Party, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump or any other politician or political issue, it should be clear that we will not solve our problems by shooting our elected officials or other people with whom we disagree. Moreover, that kind of political violence will only increase the disunity, anger and rancor that already threatens the republic.
Despite the violent and unusual nature of this event, it was immediately politicized along very conventional lines and in entirely predictable ways. Progressives again argued that the shooting is yet another compelling argument for the need for stronger gun regulations. Conservatives, drawing on the left of center views of the assailant, James Hodgkinson, asserted that this shooting is evidence of the violence and irrational hatred that mobilizes the left today.
Much of the media, again predictably, fell into the false equivalency trap. Presenting both these arguments as if they were equally fact based and rational. Perhaps if one looks at this entirely through a political lens, this false equivalency makes sense. However, if one eschews a misplaced effort to achieve political balance, whatever that means, and instead grounds one’s analysis is reality and empirical evidence, the relative accuracy of each of these arguments are hard to ignore.
Political violence in America has taken many forms, but in contemporary America left wing violence has not been a major problem. The days of the Weather Underground, for example, have now receded into history. State sponsored killing of innocent African Americans, on the other hand, continues to be a major problem. Just last week, we saw this ugly phenomenon once again as, Jeronimo Yanez, the killer of Philando Castile, was acquitted. The word for being concerned about left wing violence but not the killing of innocent African Americans is racism.
The threat of Islamic terror is consistently dramatically overstated by conservatives in the media and in politics, but it is also agreater concern than left wing political violence. The most glaring flaw in this argument about the dangers of left wing political violence is that right wing political violence, whether it takes the form of shooting doctors who perform abortions, blowing up federal office buildings or violently opposing federal laws is a much more grave issue in America over the last quarter century than anything the left has done.
On the other hand, gun violence of the kind that occurred at that baseball diamond in Alexandria, Virginia last week, regarldess of whether or not is grounded in any ideology, has reached epidemic proportions. This year alone there has already been over 150 of these incidents. No other country suffer from a gun epidemic on that scale. That is not a political opinion or response to the most recent shooting. It is an empirical reality.
The shooting at the baseball field in Virginia was obviously not even close to being the worst mass shooting in recent years, but because the victim was a Member of Congress, it had a more immediate impact in Washington as politicians from both parties expressed their sorrow, discouraged the use of violence and called for unity. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan added to this by suggesting that Congress, despite the high level of rancor there, was essentially like a family. This is probably more of reflection of the deterioration of the American family than of any partisan unity in Congress.
Upon hearing all these remarks it is difficult not to wonder whether there is another solution to this problem. One cannot help but ask if there is some policy, maybe one that other countries have tried, that would reduce the likelihood of these kinds of shootings occurring. Of course, such a policy exists. It is called gun regulation. If we regulate how guns are sold and who can buy them, there will be fewer incidents like this, or any of the other horrific shootings that most Americans now just accept as part of our lives. The proof of this is that mass shootings rarely in occur in the many other countries where stronger gun regulations exist.
Opponents of gun regulations can make arguments that guns make people feel safer, are a protection against tyranny or that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own guns. Those in favor of gun regulations can make the almost too easy counterarguments. However, people on both sides need to recognize that the uniquely American scourge of mass shootings is a result of our uniquely lax gun laws. If you are against regulations guns, now is not the time for pious for calls for unity but to be honest enough to say that the cost of your position is frequent shootings like this. There is simply too much evidence to ignore that reality. On balance, most of us know that the tragedy in Alexandria is not going to change our gun laws, but maybe it will make the issue a bit more clear.
Photo: cc/Elvert Barnes