For President Donald Trump’s administration, sensitivity in the face of tragedy hasn’t been the norm — just last week, Trump took to Twitter to insult the mayor of an American city ravaged by multiple hurricanes.
So when voices everywhere — from the conservative blogosphere to Washington, D.C., — condemned some responses to Sunday’s tragedy in Las Vegas as tactlessly politicized, their argument came across a bit flat.
It’s one thing to urge politicians to have respect for the victims of senseless tragedies. It’s a completely different argument to say that public officials shouldn’t be allowed to offer policy proposals — or even suggestions for how to avoid the next shooting.
In an address to the Senate yesterday, majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told his colleagues that the aftermath of the shooting — in which a gunman killed 59 people at a concert on the Las Vegas Strip and injured more than 500 others — was more “a moment for national mourning and prayer” than anything else. Going even further, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that calls to action from Democrats on gun control were inappropriate.
“This isn’t a time for us to go after individuals or organizations,” Sanders told reporters at a press briefing yesterday. “I think that there will be certainly time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment.”
Gun violence in the form of mass public murders, like what happened Sunday in Las Vegas, is obviously an extremely emotional issue — and one that’s becoming an increasingly regular feature of American life. But that doesn’t mean it’s ever wrong to talk about how to solve the problem.
Just because some politicians are unwilling to extend their response to gun massacres to anything beyond “thoughts and prayers” doesn’t mean that others in the public eye shouldn’t be allowed to propose real solutions.
The difference between these two approaches is easy to spot. President Trump delivered a prepared statement Monday morning calling the incident “an act of pure evil,” but didn’t propose any policies to prevent a similar incident from happening again. In contrast, Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., tweeted that “thoughts and prayers” were “not sufficient” to solve the gun control problem. Casey suggested that Congress “take up and vote on legislation to ban military-style weapons” — a call echoed by others, including Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Hillary Clinton, who tweeted that Congress should “stand up to the NRA.”
Whether or not changes to the specifics of gun control policy based on critiques from Casey, Murphy or Clinton would have helped avert Sunday’s horrifying tragedy is mostly beside the point. Our country should debate these proposals and others today — not after “thoughts and prayers” tweets are weeks old and lawmakers forget about the tragedy until the next one.
To suggest that responding to a social ill with policy proposals is “politicizing” the issue is the same as saying that the status quo is acceptable. On the question of gun violence, it’s clearly not.