American Culture

A brief word on “politicizing the tragedy” at Sandy Hook Elementary

sandyhookWe have heard, over the last 24 hours, all kinds of comment on the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Predictably, much of the public response has taken the form of outrage over the broad availability of the weaponry used in these murders, to say nothing of other high-profile mass killings in places like Aurora, Colorado. And Chardon, Ohio. And Seattle. And Oak Creek, Wisconsin. And Minneapolis. And Fresno. And New York City, near the Empire State Building. And how many more?

We’ve also heard, every bit as predictably, that we shouldn’t “politicize” these tragedies. Somehow, arguing that gun policy needs to change is disrespectful to those killed as a result of our current gun policies. If those children had been killed by terrorists, though, we’d need to make martyrs of them before their bodies were cold – so that “we’ll never forget” or so at least we could “give their sacrifice meaning.”

Listen. I’m a gun owner. I have explained why, and nothing in that explanation suggests that I’m eager to hand over my weapons. I understand that this is a complex issue.

But this trope, this “politicize” meme, is utter silliness. Those who say we shouldn’t politicize the Sandy Hook tragedy are missing the point. It was, by definition, a political tragedy. The availability of guns is a political decision. It derives from laws that legislatures have passed. Lax regulations surrounding gun show purchases are a function of laws that elected politicians passed. The 2nd Amendment, whatever you may believe about its intent, was explicitly embedded, by the politicians we call “Founding Fathers,” in our nation’s most foundational political document. You might just as sensibly argue that we shouldn’t be politicizing elections.

I know we’re all tired of the corrosive effect that our politics have exerted on the society in recent years, and the deluge of campaign ads we had to endure throughout the course of this year was enough to test the patience of a saint. I know we’d all like our leaders to act in our best interests and to stop being so, well, political.

But pretending that something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. When you get right down to it, there is very little about our lives that isn’t, in some respect, political. How we engage the politics of our world, our nation, our communities, is up to us. But let’s stop with the counterproductive, self-delusional denial. Let’s especially stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by those who have a vested interest in us not “politicizing” these tragedies, because if we don’t, it buys them more time to work with their hired legislators to make sure that no more laws are passed. And that’s political, isn’t it?

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary yesterday was the direct result of political decisions our society has made. You’re not politicizing anything when you recognize and acknowledge something that was already politicized.

5 replies »

  1. Good comment. Thank you for it. I have shared it with a group of friends and colleagues.

  2. I see your point. But maybe the political comments, holding up the incident as proof of one thing or another, could wait at least until the parents have buried their children … out of respect.

    • If I’m ever a victim in a mass murder spree of this sort, please – PLEASE – demonstrate your respect by beginning the political protest IMMEDIATELY.

    • How long did we wait after 9/11 to talk about the causes and ways to prevent another 9/11? As I recall, Bush stood on the still-smoldering rubble of the Twin Towers and vowed that “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” Why do we react with such immediacy to other tragedies but when it involves gun violence, talking about the causes and the prevention is somehow disrespectful? What’s the difference? Is it the scale of the tragedy? If 3,000 kids had died instead of just 30 would it be okay to talk about it then? We waited “out of respect” after Columbine. We waited “out of respect” after Virginia Tech. We waited “out of respect” after Aurora. It’s time to stop waiting. It’s time for the adults in our government to come together and figure out a way to fix this problem. If 30 dead children isn’t a reason to talk about this, I don’t know what is.