Don’t Lose Focus on the Gun Debate

BRANDON WARNER, PUSHING FORWARD

A practice baseball game between Republican congressmen is interrupted by a spur of gunfire. Bullets enter the bodies of five innocent human beings. Yet in the Land of the Free it never seems to be sufficient to hold wrongdoers accountable for their own actions. “Surely those who seek to take life are detestable,” comes the rallying cry of the pundits and preachers – but it is not simply they who are the true culprits! It must be their former employer,  their choice of music, their favorite video game. Conveniently enough it may even be the fault of all of my political opponents.

James Hodgkinson, a 66 year old man from Illinois used a rifle to attack a group of Republican congressmen practicing for a baseball game on June 14th, 2017. As a result, several people were wounded, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and two police officers. Hodgkinson himself died from bullet wounds which he sustained during his brief battle with the police. This attack is one more example of why a debate over firearms has never been needed so urgently in this country. Yet attention has instead turned to the fact that Hodgkinson had spent time volunteering for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign (Sanders was quick to denounce the attack and all forms of violence). His social media also became a hot talking point after it was found to be full of aggressively outspoken commentary towards the GOP as well as President Donald Trump.

The result has been a series of outbursts by conservatives who claim that liberals are encouraging violence through their language. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) went as far as to accuse Barack Obama of provoking this attack by being too “divisive” in his rhetoric. Some Republicans such as Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who was on the baseball field at the time of the shooting, are now arguing that they themselves should be permitted to carry firearms. Edging further towards the purely cynical side of the spectrum, one GOP chairman in Georgia went so far as to claim that “I think the shooting is going to win the election for us”, referring to the Georgia special election between GOP candidate Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff which was indeed won by Republicans. The conversation in the wake of an all too common tragedy quickly shifts from a discussion of why the shooting occurred to opportunistic slogan-selling, name-calling, and at its very worst manipulative attempts at political gain.

Scapegoating is and has throughout history been an effective tool for those who wish to persuade or corrupt, their morality left hastily at the door. When the Columbine shooting occurred in 1999, the gunmen, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, rose to national infamy for their gross theft of human life. Some may recall that in the aftermath of this catastrophe, the media decided that it would not be content blaming Klebold and Harris for their own actions. Instead they shifted their crosshairs onto rock artist Marilyn Manson. This sparked protests and debates over whether a musician could be held accountable for a crime he had nothing to do with.

Instead of discussing Klebold and Harris’s ability to obtain the numerous firearms they used or the psychological and social factors that contributed to the massacre the nation instead declared war on Mr. Manson – anything to alter the direction of the conversation. This is an effort to place blame on a third party; the corollary point being that focus is shifted from the real issue onto one that was conjured from thin air. Behavior of this sort is just as dangerous as it is audacious. If a mass shooting is defined as a singular event in which four people at minimum have been shot then this marks the 154th shooting of the year within the United States. That is where the debate belongs.

What would be worth discussing is Hodgkinson’s access to firearms given his history. CNN discussed a police report from 2006 which shows that Hodgkinson had assaulted a friend of his daughter. The friend’s boyfriend confronted Hodgkinson who responded by grabbing his shotgun and using it to strike the man. Hodgkinson even fired a shot which fortunately did not hit anyone. Despite numerous charges including battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm the victims did not appear in court. The case was thrown out and James Hodgkinson’s weapons remained in his possession.

Now many conservative voices have seized on this tragedy as an opportunity to reinforce their own rhetoric and motives. Eric Bolling of Fox News took to TV to advise liberals to “think before they utter those blind hateful words next time.” Perhaps Mr. Bolling would do well to ponder the differences between causation and correlation. It is far too easy to draw a line from two things at the first shallow sign of similarity. However, if you want to point your finger and spout accusations about who you think is responsible for a shooting then you had better have prepared some evidence to tie your arguments together. On their own, cries of “liberal hate” are nothing but sheer babble.

If aggressive rhetoric is the cause of violence in America then conservatives should spend some time reflecting on their own language. Of course, the rhetoric is hardly even the tip of the iceberg. When Greg Gianforte, now a Republican congressman, assaulted a reporter in May he did so due to his own lack of self-control. It was not, I may assure you, the result of listening to too much Ted Nugent. Each individual is responsible for and must be held accountable by their own behavior. The amount of gun related incidents in this country is ludicrous and demanding of our full attention. Aggressive tendencies and dangerous weapons must not be allowed to share company. That is the real debate – do not lose sight of it.

 

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