It happened in Tucson, Arizona in January 2011. Nineteen people were shot by a lunatic, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Americans tried to make sense of something we could never make sense of. Opportunists in Congress indulged in political theater, hoping the tragedy could be used to stifle discourse Democrats found objectionable (see: Arizona Tragedy: Only Fools Make Sense of Crazy).
Now we face another juncture in the ongoing saga of violence in America after tragic shootings in a Charleston church. Politicians are fond of self-important talk about how our actions define who we are. Do they consider how their words reflect on what they are?
Charleston church tragedy brings out the opportunists
While we heard heartbreaking words of forgiveness after a terrible loss, those with something to gain from tragedy seized their opportunity. Was it naiveté or the hubris that comes with public office that led Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky to make this remark just one day after the shootings?
But it is past time for the Congress to stop the easy access to guns so we can prevent these massacres from happening.1
Congress is not going to do anything that will prevent crazy, hateful people from committing crazy, hateful acts. Trying to understand why things like this happen is a futile exercise, but it will not stop politicians from manipulating tragedy in service to partisan politics.
From gun control politics to seeking out organized hate
Michigan Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence amped up the rhetoric by casting a net over unidentified organizations and acts:
I am speaking out today to work toward the eradication of these organizations; to work with the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to hold those responsible for these nefarious deeds accountable; to work for full support of our community leaders who are an integral part of the fight for justice.2
We expect knee-jerk responses to these kinds of situations from members of Congress. We are not surprised when a presidential candidate tries to use a terrible tragedy for self-promotion, as Hillary Clinton did when she used the church shootings to attack Donald Trump’s remarks on our south of the border problem. Sadly, even the White House can’t resist. It seems pointless to have a hate crime investigation of something that is clearly a hate crime, but the president got the word out anyway. He echoed the party line on gun control:
We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.3
No, Mr. President, that’s not what happened. Good, innocent people were killed in a senseless tragedy not because of guns in America, but because sometimes people do things we can’t explain. We won’t ever know to our satisfaction why the shooter in Charleston did what he did any more than knowing why Tim McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building will make the pain go away. If hate made sense, we’d be able to do something to stop it.
Worst Political News Story This Week published June 20, 2015.