|Photo credit: NewtownBee.com|
The senseless deaths of 20 children as a result of an elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT are heartbreaking. I feel sick. I’m going to hug my child extra-tight. My thoughts and prayers go out the victims are their families. I applaud the teachers and first responders who behaved so heroically under such difficult circumstances.
That’s genuinely how I feel. Yet my reaction doesn’t seem satisfactory somehow because this is what everybody always says after a mass shooting. If you repeat a series of phrases often enough they begin to come across as rote sound bytes rather than meaningful responses. And Lord knows we’ve reacted to more than enough mass shootings to make that the case here.
I am so sick of the “now is not the time for politics” refrain. I agree that now’s not the time to quibble over who had an affair with whom or who’s flag pin is bigger. But we’ve got an epidemic of mass shootings happening in this country. The whole point of politics and civil society is to create dialogue and craft policy to face giant shared problems like this. We need to address mass shootings with something other than, “Why didn’t anyone notice the shooter was troubled?” and “Criminals will always find a way to do harm regardless of the law.”
After the news coverage today I am dismayed to find the phrase “out of respect for the victims” used in conjunction with “now is not the time for politics.” Nothing about this scenario is respectful to the victims. Half the nation is watching the media stalk shell shocked parents and elementary school kids, shove cameras in their faces, and ask them how they feel. How is this respectful? Twenty children they know were just violently shot to death in front of them. Their community has been shattered. How the hell do you think they feel?
Discussing possible ways to prevent another mass shooting – because we all know it’s only a matter of weeks before there’s another one – doesn’t disrespect the victims. Treating their unfolding heartbreak like passive viewers of a reality TV show does.
Invoking “respect for the victims” and “not the time for politics” is a very effective way of silencing anyone who wants to question the status quo and is in that way a political statement itself. The phenomenon of school shootings isn’t a new one. Having a reasonable discussion about policies to stop this insanity is hardly a knee jerk response.
“Thoughts and prayers” are great. We need to mourn. But that’s not enough. Because the status quo isn’t cutting it. We need to engage in meaningful political discussion about the increasing prevalence of mass shootings and enact policy to address the issue. Yesterday would have been better time for it but today is way better than tomorrow.