I don’t know the motivation or situation of the Batman movie shooter, James Holmes, but I do know that schizophrenia most often manifests itself in late adolescence or early twenties. I know that what Holmes did is not incompatible with schizophrenic delusions such as those that led Jared Loughner to shoot Gabby Giffords. I also know that no matter what impelled his behavior, he had no difficulty arming himself with lethal assault weapons that serve no other purpose than rapid-fire killing. So much for a summary of all that I need to know abut this latest mass shooting.
Reactions from our political leaders have been all over the board, ranging from tight-lipped silence to absurd efforts to make ideological hay where no hay has been planted. (I am alluding, of course, to statements like those of the imbecilic Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx) who was among the first to strap on his ideological waders when he attributed the Aurora tragedy to the lack of institutionalized Christian prayer in schools.)
To date, Missouri pols are no exception. Many, of course, have not yet said anything – and some may never address the event; it will be interesting to see who wants to sweep it under the rug. Those who have acknowledged the shooting, however, seem to fall into one of three categories.
First are those who have been careful to avoid the appearance of politicizing the event. On Facebook and via Twitter pols such as Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-4), Rep. Lacy Clay (D-1), Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, and Senatorial candidates John Brunner and Sarah Steelman have simply expressed sympathy and concern about the families of the victims. While this response is entirely appropriate, it is also convenient for embattled Democrats like McCaskill who has good reason to avoid riling up 2nd amendment fanatics unnecessarily. It is equally convenient for her opposite ideological numbers, such as Sarah Steelman who’s made a big deal about her NRA loving proclivities and her support for such extreme measures as conceal-and-carry legislation.
It will be interesting to see if any of these folks feel compelled to address the issue of gun control policy in the coming days. There will certainly be pressure to take up the defense or go on the offensive since some of their more avid supporters are not waiting. Witness this comment on Steelman’s facebook page:
… The so called “GOOD People” of Aurora allowed this to happen by allowing a theater to BAN guns. Now who is going to abide? Only the murderer will decide who dies. No sympathy here. You reap what you sow. Deal with it.
Steelman and others on the right should quickly distance themselves from this type of callous and ugly drivel if they feel the need to cultivate any credibility beyond Tea Party confines. It ought to be easy to do since this rhetoric is basically nothing more than stupid, macho swagger with no basis in fact – as Dave Weigel demonstrated in his takedown of the this meme in regard to the Aurora shootings.
The second type of response is exemplified by Rep. Billy Long (R-7) who has chosen to take the creative route à la Lois Gohmert. He has attempted to place himself on the moral high road while avoiding the issue of guns and managing to get in a swipe at the mainstream media – all at the same time. He wants “media” to “show some leadership” and stop showing photos of James Holmes; the news media should, according to Long, reserve their attention for the victims. He apparently thinks that the news coverage should be restricted to sensational exploitation of the dead, wounded and grieving, rather than probing the whys and hows of the tragedy. The latter, of course, might lead to uncomfortable questions about such things as legislation to ban assault guns which Billy, a long time NRA cheerleader, is on the record as opposing
Third and last, only one Missouri politician – at least as far as I am aware – has had the moral wherewithal to confront the elephant in the room, the outsize influence of the National Rifle Association. State Rep. Stacy Newman (D-73) has had the guts to call it the way lots of us see it:
As a Million Mom Marcher who has worked since 2000 to prevent needless gun violence, I am outraged that the gun lobby has continued to negatively influence our legislature. Instead of passing sensible gun laws, the NRA has taken our legislature hostage with the passage of less restrictive and less prohibitive firearm laws. The gun lobby has consistently turned their backs on efforts to pass common sense legislation which could save lives. Their motive is simple – increase gun manufacturers profits. Tragedies like the Colorado theatre shooting should not happen in civilized society. They happen because legislatures let the N.R.A. write our gun laws.
This type of leadership isn’t just courageous, it’s essential. You want to know what Newman’s up against, read Randy Turner’s indictment of NRA influence in Missouri. You want to know what we’re all up against, just consider that last Saturday night, the police escorted a man out of an Ozark theater after he entered with a gun strapped on his hip. He did nothing illegal, though, according to the local Sheriff, since he was “just exercising his right to carry a firearm.”
I wonder how many other wannabe cowboys are going to use the Aurora incident as an excuse for showing off their guns. And how long it’ll be until an innocent bystander gets caught in some stupid shoot-out. It may be true that guns don’t kill people, people do, but it’s also true that people use guns to kill people, often lots of people, quickly and easily, no fuss, no bother, sometimes without even meaning to do so.
UPDATE: Steve Benen also considers the conservative refrain that an armed populace can best defend against crazy shooters – specifically noting how, during the shooting of Gabby Gifford, an armed responder came close to mistakenly shooting an innocent person. A greater disaster was only averted because he had the sense not to use his gun. Benen also points us to reporter Laura Conaway’s efforts to verify stories about “armed heroes” who save the day – most of which she concludes don’t stand up to close examination.
If, on the other hand, you’re interested in a case where possession of a firearm made a situation worse, you need only look to the recent road-rage shooting incident in Missouri.