Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Rebecca Cook/Sara Stathas)

The GOP's shocking Charleston doublespeak: How Republicans managed to hijack the gun-control conversation

By ranting and raving about "politicizing a tragedy," GOP contenders served their own craven political purposes


Heather Digby Parton
June 25, 2015 8:05PM (UTC)

We have all been harshly schooled by the right wing in recent days about the inappropriateness of talking about policy in the aftermath of a mass murder. It's very rude. Possibly the worst thing anyone can do at times such as these is to try to find reasons for the actions and attempt to find some way to avoid tragedy in the future. This is known as "politicizing" a tragedy and it's very upsetting to the delicate sensibilities of our conservative patriots.

In the wake of the Charleston murders last week, both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made strong statements renewing calls for gun safety legislation. Republicans candidates joked about how much they loved their guns. And the pundit response was predictably hysterical. The usual suspects made the predictable vacuous observation that other countries have mass shootings too, as if that somehow mitigates the fact that the United States is the only western nation to turn it into a national pastime. They believe there is no need to acknowledge the fact that Americans are 20 times as likely to die from gun violence as citizens of other developed countries. And we certainly needn't worry about trifles such as this:

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Rather than simply tallying the yearly number of mass shootings, Harvard researchers Amy Cohen, Deborah Azrael, and Matthew Miller determined that their frequency is best measured by tracking the time between each incident. This method, they explain, is most effective for detecting meaningful shifts in relatively small sets of data, such as the 69 mass shootings we documented. Their analysis of the data shows that from 1982 to 2011, mass shootings occurred every 200 days on average. Since late 2011, they found, mass shootings have occurred at triple that rate—every 64 days on average.

To even mention such things in the wake of the latest round of killing is boorish and disrespectful to gun owners.

Interestingly, none of them seem to think that the commentary blaming the victims for failing to be like movie heroes and shooting the gun out of the perpetrator's hand before he even had a chance to fire and hurt someone is out of line. (That must be the scenario they see or they would be endorsing the idea that the best we can hope for is for there not to be quite so many dead bodies. But they wouldn't say that would they?)

Still, most of these gun proliferation advocates aren't as bad as this South Carolina elected official, who said, "These people sat in there and waited their turn to be shot. That's sad that somebody in there with the means of self-defense could have stopped this... why didn't somebody just do something? I mean, you got one skinny person shooting a gun. I mean, we need to take and do what you can."

(He did apologize later, so that's good.)

That official was hardly alone with that sort of victim blaming commentary, however. Even setting aside the obtuse NRA board member who blamed the Reverend Pinckney for the murders, because he failed to allow his congregants to carry weapons in church, there were plenty of people within hours of the event who made the case that more guns would have prevented the killings. So clearly, the prohibition against "politicization" of mass killings only runs one way.

It is good to see that the confederate flags are coming down in the wake of the Charleston massacre. It's long past time. And yes, right wingers are kvetching about that too. But lest they become too despondent, there is some good news for them. The defense of gun rights is continuing without even the slightest pause to allow the grieving families to bury their dead.

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Now it's true that there's been some rumbling among Senators about bringing back the background check bill that failed back in 2013. But as Chris Cilizza in the Washington Post pointed out yesterday, the numbers simply do not add up:

Add it all up and you have, at most, 48 votes for a gun control measure. Could Toomey, as Manchin suggested to Colby, convince a few Republicans to be for a very limited piece of gun control legislation? Sure. Could he (or anyone) convince 12 Republicans (or 11 if you can somehow get Heitkamp on board) to be for it? Absolutely not possible. The simple fact is that the votes are not there in the Senate (or the House) for gun control legislation. And it's not even close.

So, it appears that there will be no gun control movement on the national level. The NRA can breathe easy (and keep those checks coming.) The real action is going to be in those laboratories of democracy, the states. And Governor Scott Walker showed how a real gun rights leader does it:

After signing two bills that loosen Wisconsin's gun laws, Gov. Scott Walker defended the timing of his public eventWednesday, saying it had been scheduled before nine people were shot and killed last week in a South Carolina church.

With his signature, the all-but-certain Republican presidential candidate eliminated the state's 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases and allowed off-duty, retired and out-of-state police officers to carry firearms on school grounds. Both measures passed earlier this month in the GOP-majority Legislature with bipartisan support.

Walker explained that if he had postponed the signing, which included a ceremony featuring Republican officials and their families, that he thought it "would have given people the erroneous opinion that what we signed into law today had anything to do with what happened in Charleston." Obviously, it would be very wrong for anyone to think that a mass murder might influence someone to hold back on eliminating practical, moderate gun safety laws. The last thing anyone should want is to send a message that rampant gun violence might have something to do with guns. That would be "politicizing" the tragedy and conservatives are the first to tell you how disrespectful that is.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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