Progressives’ Cynical Exploitation of Mass Shootings

The callous privileging of one sort of death over another.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

The second multiple-victim shooting in Texas in a week brought out the usual clichés and useless policy prescriptions from the progressive media and Democrats running in the presidential primary. And also as usual, the protestations of being “heartbroken,” and the demands for banning and confiscating certain weapons, are rote responses that apart from having little material value, display a cynical exploitation of suffering for political gain.

One wonders, for example, why all this “heartbreak” and “thoughts”––“prayers” are now verboten for progressives––are never publicized about the lethal violence in Chicago, Baltimore, and other blue-state fiefs. Fifty-three people died in August from mass shootings, an unusually high amount. The August toll in the Windy City was 46 murdered––almost a quarter fewer than last year. And these sorts of numbers happen every month of the year in Chicago totaling 539 dead in 2018. But do we hear politicians preening their “heartbreak” over these deaths? Are not those lives as precious as those of mass shooting victims? Aren’t those families of the victims just as devastated?

Most of the victims in Chicago and Baltimore are black, as are most of the murderers. I guess “black lives matter” only when the police are involved, or the perpetrator isn’t black. Black-on-black crime doesn’t fit the narrative of “racism,” “white privilege,” or “white supremacism”––unless one wants to depict blacks as helpless victims of “racism,” powerless to control their behavior. By the way, that claim has been an argument for slavery and segregation going all the way back to Aristotle. And just who created the character-degrading, family-destroying, federally subsidized blue-city hell-holes that comprise the “environment” manipulating black people into crime? No wonder race-industry progressives don’t want to call attention to these grisly facts.

More useful for the left are the deranged white losers who make up most mass shooters. No doubt environmental factors or mental illness somewhat account for their actions, but deterministic arguments always collide with the fact that millions of individuals with the same environmental or psychological challenges don’t go on murder sprees. In the end we don’t know why these shootings occur, because for all our pseudo-scientific “knowledge” about human behavior, it is still a mystery. Dostoevsky is closer to the mark than are deterministic explanations: Such horrors happen because a soul alienated from God is free to choose even murder simply because he can.

All that, however, is mere religious superstition and obscurantism to our enlightened “brights.” Talking about our spiritual alienation created by more than a century of radical secularism is so old-fashioned and unsophisticated, the argument of “smelly” Wal-Mart shoppers and “bitter clingers” to guns and religion. How much easier––and politically useful–– to focus on the material cause: guns and “gun violence.” After the latest Texas shooting, Dem primary candidates pounced on the opportunity to exploit the killings. Corey Booker hit every stale gun-control nostrum in his tweet: “Beginning on Day One in office, I will take executive action to reduce gun violence—closing dangerous loopholes in gun sales, cracking down on gun manufacturers, and investing in communities impacted by gun violence.”

The banality of these threats is equaled by their complete emptiness: what “loopholes”? “Cracking down” how? “Investing” in what? Since 1965 we’ve “invested” $20 trillion in dysfunctional “communities,” and little has changed other than the size of the redistributionist feds and the debt used to finance these “investments.” At least “Beto” O’Rourke is more honest, if also incoherent: “I want to be very clear. The government will not take away your guns. But if you own guns, you will be forced to sell them to the government.” And that logical contradiction is “very clear”?

For decades we’ve heard these gun-control mantras, yet none of them offer anything that could either pass Second Amendment muster of be effective. As I wrote a few weeks ago,

The argument that more gun control laws will lessen substantially such murders has been disproven with facts over and over. In the Nineties, gun homicides fell by half, even as the number of guns increased 56%. The reason has been obvious since Prohibition in the Twenties: if enough people want something, black markets and criminal gangs will exist to get it for them. We’ve spent about a trillion dollars on reducing the availability of drugs, yet any savvy teenager in America can get just about any drug in less than a day. Likewise, someone bent on mayhem can circumvent the most stringent gun control laws. Just look at the crime rate in Democrat-controlled cities like Chicago, D.C., or Baltimore. They have some of the most restrictions on guns, and some of the highest murder rates.

Then there’s the “assault rifle” hysteria, the demonizing of legal, semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 merely on the basis of appearance. I addressed this anti-gun chestnut last February:

The left, of course, thinks “smarter” gun control is the answer. They want to ban “assault rifles,” a scare-term that confuses semiautomatic with automatic weapons, the sale of which is already strictly limited. Then they sell the bait-and-switch by highlighting sinister-looking add-ons like silencers or high-capacity magazines. But if anti-gun nuts were concerned with gun deaths rather than the relatively rare but more politically fungible multiple-victim school-shootings, they’d know that very few murders involve rifles. In 2016, murderers were 19 times more likely to use handguns than rifles. And more murders were committed with hands and feet than with rifles.  Demonizers of “assault rifles” forget that they were banned from 1994 to 2004, and that the ban was ineffective, failing to stop the Columbine shooters in 1999, or even to reduce firearm killings.

It gets tiresome having to say the same thing over and over, but as Orwell once said, restating the obvious is sometimes the highest duty in times of ideological passions.

Finally, we all know why the Dems circle mass shootings like buzzards. Progressivism is founded on the principle of serial “crises” that our Constitution and its divided government are incapable of resolving. Technocratic elites in federal bureaus and agencies armed with new “sciences” must be empowered to bring their superior knowledge to bear on such crises. The people who are supposed to be sovereign and self-governing also can’t address a “crisis” through their state and local governments, or with civil societies outside of government’s reach. To progs, their common sense and practical wisdom are relics of a less enlightened age in which tradition, faith, and experience guided action and set the limits to which improvements or solutions are possible given a complex, flawed human nature.

And if there is no crisis? Then create one, and offer intrusive government policies and regulations as the solution to the crisis. Mass shooting are frightening and tragic for the victims and their families. But as a cause of death, they are a tiny portion of even murders, let alone other causes like automobile accidents and heart disease. Astrophysicist and card-carrying progressive Neil deGrasse Tyson was savaged by the progressive media for comparing the 34 people murdered over 48 hours in El Paso and Dayton to the number of dead from other causes in the same time period: “500 to Medical errors, 300 to the Flu, 250 to Suicide, 200 to Car Accidents, 40 to Homicide via Handgun.” And he made the obvious point that “Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to dataIn a therapeutic age where sentiment and emotion, ginned up by endless commentary and dramatic videos from the media, such facts are not the “truth,” as Joe Biden might put it. Of course, deGrasse Tyson issued a groveling apology for being “insensitive.”

Yet forming policy for over 330 million people that preserves and protects their freedom should look to facts, not emotions, and to what benefits the most people now and in the future. It should proceed  on a recognition of what can and cannot be accomplished by politicized government bureaucracies. And we should be rational about what constitutes a “crisis.” Privileging one sort of death over another to create emotional spectacles is usually a tool of political opportunism that will do nothing to reduce the photogenic tragedy du jour.

Mass shootings are a problem, not a crisis to be exploited by politicians. Of course we the people should do whatever we can, but draconian gun control has decades of failure that suggests we should look to our families, churches, communities, municipalities, and states, rather than to a distant, overweening federal bureaucracy. That solution is merely a device for aggrandizing partisan political power at the expense of our freedom.


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