A Tragedy Like Newtown Should Be Politicized, But Changing Anything Will Take Different Politicians

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Newtown residents Claire Swanson, Kate Suba, Jaden Albrecht, Simran Chand and New London, Connecticut residents Rachel Pullen and her son Landon DeCecco, hold candles at a memorial for victims on the first Sunday following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 16, 2012.

I haven’t read any stories about the innocent children and teachers whose lives were cut short because they went to school at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday. I couldn’t read about the innocent victims who died because they went to a movie in July, either. It’s just too hideous. It would make me too angry. I know that at times like this I’m just supposed to hug my kids and think about the fragility of life, but you know what? I hug my kids all the time. I’ve been thinking about politics.

I explained after the Aurora movie-theater murders why I think this kind of tragedy ought to be politicized. Politics is serious business. At least it ought to be. The kind of people who believe politics is inappropriate at times like this tend to be the kind of people who believe politics is trivial entertainment. But politics matters, even though it’s typically covered like a game. I think Mike Huckabee’s remarks blaming the Newtown murders on restrictions on God in schools were absurd, but I agree with him that public policies have consequences. Now is a time to debate them, not to STFU.

(MORE: Full Transcript – Read the President’s address)

I’ve noticed that after the latest horrifying massacre, Beltway pundits (and not just liberal gun control advocates, the usual targets of the don’t-politicize-tragedies crowd) seem more receptive than usual to the idea that it ought to spark a policy discussion. To me, the carnage in Aurora seemed just as horrifying, the fates of the slaughtered at that Christian college in Oakland (no restrictions on God at that school, Governor Huckabee!) and Virginia Tech just as unfair. But apparently the specific targeting of small children makes this particular abomination different. Now it’s apparently OK to talk politics, even gun politics.

Well, here’s what I’m thinking: The politics of this particular abomination probably won’t be different at all. I explained last year after a psychopath shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and a bunch of bystanders in Tucson why Congress was unlikely to pass even modest gun restrictions, even after an attempted assassination of a colleague. Part of this was about Democratic uneasiness about guns; some Democrats with large rural constituencies are quite gun-friendly, while President Obama, an urban guy who supports gun control, avoided the topic for most of his first term to avoid alienating gun-friendly voters. But the main obstacle has been the modern Republican Party, which caters almost exclusively to its base. In 1994, dozens of Republicans supported President Clinton’s ban on assault weapons like the one used to mow down children in Newtown; in 2012, GOP congressmen who deviate from the party line become ex-congressmen.

(MORE: A City in Mourning: The View Inside Newtown)

Anyway, Republicans still control the House of Representatives. And even if Democratic leaders do get aggressive about gun control, they don’t have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, much less a filibuster-proof anti-gun majority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gets along fine with the National Rifle Association. Maybe Obama will start pushing for restrictions now that he doesn’t have to worry about reelection, but he doesn’t have a magic bully pulpit. Maybe Republican leaders will have a change of heart, or enough Republican back-benchers will defy their leaders to tip the scales, but I doubt it.

The point is that elections have consequences. And as I’ve written over and over in the Obama era, legislation that doesn’t pass Congress doesn’t make change. In his first term, liberals complained about Obama’s reluctance to push for a bigger stimulus, a second stimulus, a public option for health care, a cap-and-trade regime to combat global warming. But he didn’t have the votes for any of that stuff. In 2011, he finally launched a public campaign for a second stimulus, the American Jobs Act, but it went nowhere, because Republicans didn’t want it, and Obama’s public campaign made them want it even less. He doesn’t have superpowers. And a party unified around reality-defying ideas has a virtual veto on domestic policy legislation.

(PHOTOS: Connecticut Community Copes After School Shooting)

Still, Obama did manage to get a big and transformative stimulus, including $90 billion to launch a green energy revolution that is helping to combat global warming. He got a universal health care bill, including unprecedented support for the mental health resources that gun advocates keep saying are more important than gun controls. His Environmental Protection Agency just enacted new pollution regulations on soot that could save more lives than renewing the assault weapons ban. Change is hard, not impossible.

Of course, soot regulations aren’t going to comfort heartbroken families in Newtown. But they’re another reminder that politics is more than gaffes and memes. It’s life and death. And if this massacre really is different, if Americans decide they really do want to do something about guns, they’ll need to elect different politicians to Congress.

MORE: Funerals at Christmastime: Newtown Prepares to Mourn

223 comments
dontn123
dontn123

Something evil part 2 being played out on the heart strings of the public? Watch this video about Sandy Hook
http://youtu.be/dvq2zABOtL8

CAUGHT red handed WHY would THEY do this kind of coordinated mass media campaign with bad actors?

Robert Freeman
Robert Freeman

how many times are you going to try to exploit newtown? youre pathetic

Alejandro F. Martinez
Alejandro F. Martinez

The real problem is that politicians all over the world are more concerned about their own or their groups opinions and views than the concerns of the people they represent. And it is unbearable in this age of over-communications that most don't even reach out to their constituencies for opinion. So politics today is a failed business

Thet Win
Thet Win

stable -Simple Maths.. Happy New year 2013

BuzzBayless
BuzzBayless

In the discussion about how to stop all this, one question that has yet to be answered. Namely; Why do people who commit these acts think that  shooting up a school is a reasonable course of action? Why so many? Perhaps figuring that out is the key to preventing it from happening again. We may be looking at this problem from the wrong end here.

CIFAMARSA
CIFAMARSA

@MikeGrunwald @time The US can't live demanding human rights abroad and being hesitant about arms control within.

Sue_N
Sue_N

Oh, hey, look, while we were all grieving over the latest horrific shooting in this country, another shooting took place.

So after we arm our school kids, we'll be arming patients, right?

This country is sick.

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

Enjoyed having a civil conversation, DQ.  You are a gentleman and a scholar.  Have to run.

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

DQ, you are quite justified in questioning gun ownership.  It's just that the issue is so damned complex, no simplistic answer is available. 

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

You have a point there, DQ.  But if you look at number of gun deaths per unit of population (i.e. 100K), many other countries have much higher rates of gun deaths...Sad, but true.

Denise Isaac
Denise Isaac

I agree with many of the post gun control is something that can be tweaked but mental illnesses, psychiatric counseling, and over prescription in the medical industry is a subject that must be addressed in the new era of universal healthcare. Many of these mass murders are from a number of people who are suffering some real issues that if treated accurately or diagnosed could have stopped the actions.

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

By the way, DQ, no reasonable person believes in "unfettered access" to guns...That's a red-herring argument.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@BuzzBayless Because in addition to having a national discussion about gun control, we also need to have a national discussion about mental health. And we need to restore spending at the national and state levels for mental health care.

But we're not going to do either. And this is going to happen again. And again. And …

JimSage
JimSage

@CIFAMARSA I disagree. These children are not victims, but heroes. They laid down their lives to defend our freedom. We should be proud of them just like our soldiers in the revolutionary war who gave their lives for our freedom. We should not mourn but celebrate their deaths.

jmac
jmac

@Sue_N  Keller's Riverside Gun Store near Austin is offering a discount to teachers.  Maybe they can add nurses.  

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@LoneRanger 

I know, that's why I would like a balanced approach.  

1) A national effort to combat mental illness.  Think of the War on Drugs but more like a War on Depression, with programs like D.A.R.E. for kids except promoting mental well being.

2) Closing gun loopholes that allow easy access to firearms, like gun trade-show rules.

3) No civilian access to assault weapons - we don't need them to protect ourselves.  The only purpose they serve are going on shooting sprees.

I think if we could do those three things we would see a vast improvement in our societal well being.  I don't want to take away regular handguns from responsible citizens, thought I might like to add as a #4 that I'd like to see more required gun safety training (and responsible storage training to keep them out of the hands of kids) for the public.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@LoneRanger 

Just like nobody wants to take away everyone's guns, or simple firearms from law abiding citizens.  That's also a red-herring argument.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@Sue_N

One of the things to remember is that there is a difference between mental illness and behavioral disorders.  

There will never be a screening process that is even 99% correct, which means that 3.45 million people will be incorrectly screened.  

It looks like though, some encouraging signs are that this particular shooting has blown a gaping hole in yet another GOP* meme.

*The NRA is a part of the GOP in my view.

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

@JimSage @CIFAMARSA Complete and utter B.S., and a very frightening point of view. In what manner does their death defend our freedom? These bright young kids and their courageous educators were killed because sombody had faulty wiring, and that person had unfettered access to a weapon of mass destruction. No freedom, no right, no justice, nothing of the sort was advanced by these people's murder. To suggest otherwise is perverse.

jmac
jmac

@JimSage @CIFAMARSA Your freedom to own any weapon you want ended with the Second Amendment and the right for States to arm to fight a revolutionary army should the need arise.   Those children were victims.  You are one sick person.  

fitty_three
fitty_three

@JimSage

You seem to be trying to legitimize the freedoms of unfettered gun ownership by installing them as "heroes" for a cause they never knew about.

I'm inclined to take it a different way...

Sue_N
Sue_N

@jmac @Sue_N You watch. Our idiot legislature, which has been trying for so long to get guns onto college campuses, will now consider laws allowing teachers and principles to start packing heat. And right after that will be hospitals and daycare centers.

Hell, probably the only place they won't allow guns will be the statehouse. Don't wany any enraged citizens exercising their 2nd Amendment rights there.

Ohiolib
Ohiolib

@DonQuixotic @LoneRanger You missed a few. 

4. Actively campaign to destroy the idea that guns are recreational toys. They are tools, no different than saws or hammers. We wouldn't suggest going out and sawing things for the afternoon. Why should we shoot them instead.

5. Remind people that the second amendment explicitly states that that there shall be well-regulated militia. We may disagree about what that means, but "unregulated" and "well-regulated" are not the same thing. 

6.

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

About to run out the door, but I like all of your solutions, especially the gun-show loophole that allows evasion of background checks.

One thing though, a basic hunting rifle is usually semiautomatic - is that an assault rifle?  And as for magazine size, that's a red herring.  It only takes seconds to reload smaller-capacity magazines.  All 28 at Newtown were murdered in about 3 minutes.  Smaller magazines would not have helped.

Another point about the white-male stat:  Generally the crazy massacres are perpetrated by 15-25-year-olds.  What does this tell us?

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

OK, India.  How about all the others?

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

What's a pro-gun state?  Those 43 that have gun ownership as a state constitutional right?  I think those same states have the highest per-capital rates of crimes prevented by gun ownership...

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

SO not true, DQ.  Many people are advocating that no one have access to guns except military, militia and lawenforcement.  Not all are as reasonable as you.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@53_3 @Sue_N Believe me, fitty, I know. We've got family and friends who struggle with everything from cutting issues to depression to autism to bi-polar disorder to developmental issues and so on. Throw in some ADD or ADHD and Down's syndrome and, well, you have American society. Each of these things is common. Most of us probably know at least one family dealing with one of them, or one of a host of others.

But we as a society aren't dealing with them. We aren't funding, advocating, raising awareness, providing services. We're issuing a blanket "suck it up, snowflake" and marching on. And all the while, we're cutting funding whenever we can because who the hell wants to spend money on crazy people? Just lock 'em up and be done with it. Or let their families deal with them.

My daughter used to spend one week every summer as a "counselor" at a daycamp for "special needs kids" – mostly developmentally-impaired people and very few of them kids. Five days during the summer when the parents or caregivers got time to themselves, got some rest, got to cut their own food first and not have to wrestle their 45-year-old son or daughter out of the wheelchair to go to the bathroom. For some of those families, those five days, eight hours a day, were the longest break they got all year.

We've got to do more. We're failing at so many levels it's heartbreaking. And dangerous.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@BuzzBayless @53_3 @Sue_N I own guns, too, though nothing fancy. And I would be more than willing to jump through as many hoops as necessary to buy another (provided I ever wanted another).

But there is a huge difference between owning a gun and fetishizing guns, which seems to be a real problem these days. A gun is a tool, in the same way a hammer or shovel is. It has one purpose – to shoot something, whether it be a buck, snake or person. That's it, that's all it does. But it is one of the very few tools (maybe the only) I can think of that, when used as directed, kills. Because that's its purpose.

Guns were never meant to be entertainment, or a fashion statement, or a testerone-booster. But that's what we've made them. Somewhere along the way, we've transformed guns from those things we used to use to hunt our supper and protect ourselves from dangerous varmints into a national icon. Strap on a gun, and we become John Wayne.

Except John Wayne was an actor playing roles in movies. And when he shot somebody, or somebody shot him, they all got up again after the director yelled "cut." Nobody yells cut in the real world, and the victims don't get up.

As much as we need to look at our gun laws, we have to change our mentality about guns in this country. We have to break off our love affair with them and stop looking at them as the answer to every problem. And we have to stop thinking that our guns define us.

There is a role for the NRA in this. But the responsible, rational membership – which overwhelmingly favors stricter background checks and refistration laws – have to throw out the leadership, which exists now only to raise money and advocate for weapons manufacturers.

This isn't the Old West. We're not John Wayne. And we as a nation have got to decide once and for all which we love more – our guns or our children.

BuzzBayless
BuzzBayless

@53_3 @Sue_N I am a gun owner and am sickened and appalled by this as much as anybody else. I do not belong to the NRA.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@BuzzBayless

Ther many pathways to gun violence without exception have one feature in common:

acquisition points 

Therefore, the control of access to guns must remain a consideration.

outsider
outsider

Seriously; that was so cynical, I feel sick. Totally self-serving

@53_3 @JimSage

Sue_N
Sue_N

@AlistairCookie @Sue_N @jmac There won't be. Not in his district, anyway (which, unfortunately, is my district – yes, Louie is my Congress cretin). Look at the responses here to the question from our local TV station. I seem to be the only one appalled by the very notion.

These people don't want to pay teachers, don't want to fork over the money to build new schools, they don't want their precious taxes to go up for any reason, but they are more than willing to see our schools turned into armed camps just so no one lays a finger on their stash of precious guns.

And here is our idiot governor echoing those sentiments. He doesn't want to spend a dime insuring children or educating them, but, by God, he'll make sure they're surrounded by guns.

My state sucks, and until the DNC starts supporting Democratic candidates down here with real money, that's not gonna change. We had a very good Dem candidate for Senator this time, a real policy wonk who has been dedicated to improving education his entire career, and he got nothing from the DNC. The DNC gave us Ted Cruz.

AlistairCookie
AlistairCookie

@Sue_N @jmac Allowing?  If people like Rep Louis Gohmert R-TX have their way, guns and tactical training will be mandatory for teachers.  His quote was in our local dead tree paper, but he said that if only the principal had her own M-4 to go run down the shooter with, the precious children would have been saved.  What a fantasy, and how disgusting.  I hope there is public backlash against that sort of talk.

jmac
jmac

@Sue_N @jmac Right.  We should make sure those conservative justices are armed and quit using our tax money to scan anyone entering their court.  

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

I think it has more to do with, "Where is the father?"

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@LoneRanger 

The only thing I could assume it tells us is that they have more readily access to the weapons to perpetrate their crimes.

dancollins10
dancollins10

@LoneRanger 

Lol. Look at the countries you have listed and tell me if that is where you want the US to be. Then look at the gun homicide rates of every other western country.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@LoneRanger 

No, it ranks #8, ahead of countries that we have no business having higher gun fatalities over.  Even those that we're most behind are extremely unstable ones.

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

Because the U.S. is so big, it's better to compare the frequency of firearm homicides per capita, usually expressed as firearm homicides per 100,000 in national population.

According to the U.N., the U.S. had 3.0 firearm homicides per 100,000 in population in 2009. But there were 14 other nations that had higher rates in 2009, primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean: Honduras (57.6), Jamaica (47.2), St. Kitts and Nevis (44.4), Venezuela (39.0), Guatemala (38.5), Colombia (28.1), Trinidad & Tobago (27.3), Panama (19.3), Dominican Republic (16.9), Bahamas (15.4), Belize (15.4), Mexico (7.9), Paraguay (7.3) and Nicaragua (5.9). Three other nations had higher rates in 2008: El Salvador (39.9), Brazil (18.1) and Ecuador (12.7).

So the U.S. doesn’t rank no. 1 when firearm homicides are adjusted for population.

There you go, DQ.

dancollins10
dancollins10

@LoneRanger Think the correlation between Gun Ownership/Gun Control Laws and Gun related deaths is fairly obvious...In terms of homicide gun deaths, The US far outranks any Western developed nation.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@LoneRanger 

Did you read the article?

States in the South and West with weak gun laws and high rates of gun ownership lead the nation in overall firearm death rates according to a new analysis issued today by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

Do you have a statistic to back up your second claim?

LoneRanger
LoneRanger

Hey MO, check out the repartee between DonQuixotic above - we attempt to address some of the additional solutions/regulations needed - common ground.  You make a very important, astute and sensitive point.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@LoneRanger 

How about we skip the generalizations and talk about what you and say I think (or Don) about something.

The 'you people' only works if you can point to a majority consent in any given subject.

In regards to 'unfettered access' among most gun proponents I see very little restrictions suggested.

I don't know if you have an alternative meaning of the word 'unfettered access' but to me it sounds just like most gun proponents wants; no restriction on the guns they can buy. Some even say 'if I want a tank I should be able to buy it'. The extreme cases are for sure rare but few seem to find a upper limit on what they can or should be able to buy.

chupkar
chupkar

Please show me one piece of serious legislation ever introduced or even tabled suggestion univeral disarmament.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@LoneRanger 

Ok, you kind of just invalidated your point about red-herrings if you're allowed to play that type of generalization to us but we're not allowed to do so to you.