“This is not the day”

Not long after learning of yesterday’s horrible news of a mass shooting, I thought about the post I’d started writing after earlier horrible news of a mass shooting, then finished after still other horrible news of a mass shooting. I referenced it in a tweet, and was promptly called out by a couple of people who objected, strenuously, to bringing up anything with a whiff of politics. Why?

This is not the day.

I should have expected replies like that. But why? What is the logic of that reflexive responseeven from people who don’t support loosening gun regulations–every time some sad individual takes a gun and kills a dozen or more of his fellow human beings?

I am not talking about self-serving commentary by those looking to cash in politically or financially. Think of Mitt Romney grotesquely distorting recent American public diplomacy in the Middle East hours after the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens or, on a lesser level of offensiveness, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) demanding publicly that Apple “set the record straight” about the reception of the iPhone 4’s antenna or all of those foolish publicists who think calling out a recent tragedy in a PR pitch will get reporters to cover the client’s product.

No, I am speaking of citizens who want to know what went wrong and what we could have done to prevent it. What other reaction could we possibly have to an atrocity like the murder of 20 children? (As the father of a two-year-old, I was almost shaking with rage at one point yesterday.) Wondering what we could have done differently is, as Maggie Koerth-Baker noted astutely, is part of the bargaining stage of grief.

This is what we’ve done after a hurricane floods subway tunnels and shuts out the lights across much of New York City, a highway bridge collapses, a space shuttle breaks up on reentry, and hijackers fly airplanes into buildings. We would be less than functioning, inquisitive human beings if we did not ask if we could have done anything different, even on The Day.

That may “politicize the tragedy.” But so does attempting to short-circuit any discussion about our options because This Is Not The Day. And in a democracy, politics is how we have to solve some of our biggest problems.

So to those of you who want to use your First Amendment rights to defend your Second Amendment rights the next time, please find another talking point. Because this one does not help your cause. And this discussion could use your reasoned input, not your denial.

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Questions about the gun conversation

So it happened again this week: Some nutcase with a gun killed a bunch of people he’d never met before. Three weeks ago, it was 12 dead in Aurora, Colo.; on Sunday, six died in Oak Creek, Wisc.

Stylized close-up of cover art from George Pelecanos’s “The Sweet Forever,” an excellent detective novel that involves a great many guns.

(Disclosure, part 1: I started writing this post after Aurora, got distracted and set it aside, figuring that news would make it relevant again eventually. I didn’t know the wait would be so short.)

(Disclosure, part 2: I have shot guns a few times at targets, once including popping off a few rounds with an M16, and I enjoyed those experiences. I have also had a gun put to my head during a mugging. I did not enjoy that.)

For the second time in three weeks, we are talking about firearms regulation and the Second Amendment with few expectations of things changing. I have some questions about this unproductive conversation.

Could we have a little more context about the relative scope of the problem? Violent crime overall is down, way down, even as we’ve steadily loosened gun regulation; you face a higher risk of death from a car than a gun, and the majority of gun deaths are self-inflicted. (Mass shootings, however, have remained stubbornly steady; why is that?)

Can we agree that, NRA-engineered paranoia aside, nobody is going to confiscate everybody’s guns in the United States? (I will strikethrough the preceding sentence when Democrats launch a serious campaign to repeal the Second Amendment.)

Can we also agree that the Second Amendment permits reasonable limits on who can own a gun, what kinds of guns they can own and where they can take them? Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller striking down D.C.’s handgun ban is clear about that. So can we move on to debate Second Amendment-compliant limits from a public-health perspective, assuming we ever get conclusive data?

Do news stories provide an accurate picture of what most gun owners are like? (One of my neighbors is a competitive target shooter and Navy vet; he and his wife are the people we trust with a spare key to our house.)

To those who have written, sometimes convincingly, that no current or politically plausible gun regulations would prevent an Aurora or an Oak Creek: Are these just unavoidable random tragedies, much like the far higher casualties we tolerate on our roads? Or do you have suggestions for a more effective response by government–like, say, better mental-health care?

If those suggestions instead boil down to “more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens in more places”–well, don’t we have enough in circulation already? We are already the most heavily armed country in the world. Should I not regard the idea that security lies in individual citizens packing heat on their daily errands, staying in a state of perpetual alertness, as a confession of a failure of civilization?

If a post like this counts as “politicizing the tragedy,” when would be a better time? Is there a mandatory waiting period for this sort of thing?