In the aftermath of the heinous New York City truck attack last week, President Trump came under a fair bit of heat for some comments he made regarding a certain immigration lottery program that allowed the suspect to enter the country. Most notably, Senate minority leader went after the President stating, “President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution.”
As it happens, I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Schumer’s sentiments but, unfortunately, it seems that he, and most of those who agree with him, are not willing to expand this principle to their own set of partisan talking points after a terrible tragedy. Anyone watching the news or perusing social media will see a slew of gun control debates break out almost immediately after a mass shooting occurs like the horrific attack on those at a church in Texas on Sunday, Nov. 5. President Trump was wrong to politicize a terrorist attack. But it was also wrong for partisans on the other side to use the same tactic to further their own policy agenda, as is Chuck Schumer’s wont. The immediate aftermath of a tragedy is not the time for policy discussion. The time for policy discussion will come, but the first few days should be for solemn contemplation and, if one is so inclined, prayer.
The first issue with politicizing tragedy is that we simply do not have the facts. In the wake of the Mandalay Bay shooting, Joe Scarborough took to the airwaves of his news program, Morning Joe, to call for universal background checks. It soon came to light that the killer had indeed passed a background check, making Scarborough’s policy prescription seem foolish at least for that particular shooting. It seems that pundits always need the time to bone up on the relevant law before they begin to make specific arguments about preferred policy.
Senior editor at The Atlantic, David Frum, for instance tweeted in the wake of the Texas church shooting, “Crazy thought: lifetime gun ban for anyone who raises a hand against a woman or child.” Before seeing what is wrong with this, some background is needed. The shooter was a member of the United States Air Force who was court marshaled in 2012 for two counts of Article 128 UCMJ (domestic assault). The result of this court marshal was a conviction and “Bad Conduct Discharge” in 2014, which is different than a dishonorable discharge. A dishonorable discharge brings with it an automatic disqualification from owning a firearm in the future, while a bad conduct discharge does not. However, the underlying crime and conviction of the relevant discharge did disqualify the shooter from possessing a firearm.
As one can see, David Frum’s tweet was ill informed on the basis that his “crazy thought” is already federal law. The time between a massacre and the larger politics around it is important. Therefore, the media needs to marshal the facts and brush up on the laws relevant to the situation in order to discuss the topic in a meaningful way. More importantly, however, is the need to treat the victims as individuals of infinite worth whose lives have been snuffed out. The need to jump to one’s partisan corner after mothers, sons, fathers, and daughters have just been exterminated is vulgar at best and malicious at worst. The time must be taken to mourn those who have died as individuals and not treat them as statistics or pawns in the everlasting partisan war.
Yet another reason to refrain from internecine political bickering the direct aftermath of a massacre is the simple fact that empathy does not always make good policy. Too often do we see people jump to conclusions on both sides after these sort of events. After a terrorist attack, someone on the right might be all too willing to entertain a Muslim ban; after a shooting, someone on the left might be too willing to take a box cutter to the Constitution. The time must be taken to cool down and leave emotions out of the policy discussion. Emotion has its place as noted above. The cri de Coeur to mourn the fallen is human and necessary, but in the realm of policy, cooler heads must prevail. The better argument, not the better visceral emotional appeal, must be the winner. After a horrible attack, mourn, cry, cherish what you have, and understand that the time to talk policy will come, but not yet.
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