The president doesn’t get to determine the etiquette for addressing delicate topics. We actually need more timely debate, not less, which is why the NRA absolutists shrink from debate at the precise time their arguments sound most inhuman and out of touch.
I guarantee you that if a Muslim jihadist opened fire on a crowd in Las Vegas, President Donald Trump wouldn’t wait a nanosecond before invoking his Muslim ban. After all, that is precisely what he did after the London subway attack, when the nationality of the bomber(s) was still unknown. If a mass killing had been perpetrated by an illegal immigrant, do we imagine Trump’s press secretary would implore us not to discuss immigration in the wake of the violence?
And yet, the NRA-approved mantra that we should not even raise the subject of guns after a mass shooting has become an entrenched talking point for Republicans. Asked about the implications of the shooting for gun policy, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared, “Today is a day for consoling the survivors and mourning those we lost. Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with all of those individuals. There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country.” On behalf of a president who rarely waits for facts she intoned, “A motive is yet to be determined, and it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t fully know all the facts or what took place last night.”
After again admonishing the country that Monday was “a day of reflection, a day of mourning, a day of gratefulness for those that were saved,” she insisted that “there will be, certainly, time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment.” However, when pressed again she could not resist seizing on her pro-Second Amendment talking points. “I think one of the things that we don’t want to do is try to create laws that won’t stop these types of things from happening,” she lectured. “I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn’t helped there … ” The conversation continued:
“Question: So related to gun control, what would the president like to see Congress do — is the question I want to get at.
“Sanders: Again, we haven’t had the moment to have a deep dive on the policy part of that. We’ve been focused on the fact that we had a severe tragedy in our country. And this is a day of mourning, a time of bringing our country together, and that’s been the focus of the administration this morning.
“Q: Can you explain where that’s different from Orlando, though, Sarah — when at that day he was talking about the travel ban, saying he didn’t want congratulations, essentially? Why is this —
“Sanders: I think there’s a difference between being a candidate and being the president.
“Q: Thanks, Sarah. I do want to ask — because before last night’s massacre, the bill was advancing through the House; Republicans cleared it through the House Committee on Natural Resources that would, among other things, make it easier for people to buy silencers. Hillary Clinton tweeted about it this morning. She said that, ‘Imagine the deaths in Las Vegas if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.’ Does the White House have a position on this particular legislation?
“Sanders: Again, I haven’t spoken with the president about that specific issue, but I don’t think that that is something that would have changed. Again, I think before we start trying to talk about the preventions of what took place last night, we need to know more facts. And right now we’re simply not at that point.
“It’s very easy for Mrs. Clinton to criticize and to come out, but I think we need to remember the only person with blood on their hands is that of the shooter. And this isn’t a time for us to go after individuals or organizations. I think that we can have those policy conversations, but today is not that day.
“Q: Sarah, are there any policy prescriptions that the president considers to be out of bounds on the policy debate that will happen in the next few weeks? Could you articulate a little bit what his position on gun control is?
“Sanders: The president has been clear that he’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and I don’t have anything further at this point.”
So it’s fine to inveigh against counterproductive gun laws and reaffirm support for the Second Amendment; it’s always acceptable to attack Hillary Clinton. Just don’t talk about whether we might need better enforcement or new legislation? It’s all preposterous, a smoke screen for avoiding a political discussion at a time absolutism on the Second Amendment sounds the most bizarre.
The president (and certainly this president who has trashed all rules for civil discourse) doesn’t get to determine the etiquette for addressing delicate topics. We actually need more timely debate, not less, which is why the NRA absolutists shrink from debate at the precise time their arguments sound most inhuman and out of touch. We actually have a good deal of consensus on guns. As Axios reminds us, 89 percent of both Republicans and Democrats oppose allowing the mentally ill to purchase guns, more than 80 percent in each party would ban those on the no-fly list from purchasing guns. Even 77 percent of Republicans (90 percent of Democrats) would require background checks for purchases at gun shows. Surely, we can at least reach agreement on those sorts of items before launching into more contentious matters.
Moreover, the argument that no post-shooting legislative response is appropriate unless it would have stopped the particular shooting we’ve just experienced is nonsensical. Trump proposes all sorts of measures (banning refugees, barring immigrants from Chad and elsewhere, building a wall, attacking funding of so-called sanctuary cities) that have little to no connection to any actual crimes or real threats. If we can reach agreement on some measures that might prevent some shootings, we should proceed promptly to a legislative debate.
In sum, no one should be deterred by the administration’s or the NRA’s tut-tutting about the ground rules for debating an issue they don’t want to discuss at all. We are a country that rarely addresses big problems before they happen, so for once let’s at least have an extended, serious debate after gun violence again rears its head.