In the days after the deadly June shooting spree in Charleston, S.C., in which nine members of that city's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church died, Gov. Bobby Jindal attacked President Barack Obama's calls for stricter gun control laws as "completely shameful."
Instead of doing something about the proliferation of guns and gun violence, Jindal offered only prayer and hugs. Anything else, he suggested, was inappropriate and overtly political. "Now is the time for prayer, now is the time for healing. As far as the political spectrum, this isn't the time," Jindal told reporters after a speech in Iowa, where he had begun his remarks by praying for the victims and their families.
"I think it was completely shameful," Jindal said of Obama's call for a national discussion about gun control. "Within 24 hours we've got the president trying to score cheap political points."
Now that people have died in a mass shooting in his state — three dead and six injured at a movie theater in Lafayette on Thursday (July 23) — it was, again, not the time to talk about the problem of gun violence. On Thursday night, Jindal, who happened to be in Baton Rouge on a rare visit to Louisiana, rushed to Lafayette to offer prayers and hugs.
When it comes to doing something about the gun violence that afflicts Louisiana, Jindal also offers shrugs. In Jindal's world, it's never the right time to debate gun violence or talk about how government should address the problem. And with a mass shooting almost every week, it will never be time in Jindal's estimation to talk about it. Only hugs and shrugs.
Jindal's press secretary on Thursday night accused me of politicizing the situation. Among other things, I had taken to Twitter to suggest that Jindal's sympathy for the victims and their families was cold comfort to a state for which he had done nothing to make us safer from gun violence. If anyone was politicizing the situation, it was Jindal and the NRA leaders he has shamelessly courted for so long.
On Thursday night, as many people were also praying for the victims and their families as they tucked their kids into bed, they also prayed that these deaths, for once, might not be in vain. Maybe this time, they prayed, political leaders like Jindal might be scandalized enough to do something. Maybe this time, they prayed, we might get more than hugs and prayers.
Jindal had every right – and maybe an obligation – to visit Lafayette, although rushing into the teeth of an active crime scene seemed more a distraction than a help just hours after the shooting. Perhaps he should have gone to the hospitals, instead, which he eventually did.
Jindal and his staff, however, have no right to tell the rest of us to park our First Amendment rights and remain silent about the scandal of gun violence while they remain free to defend their Second Amendment rights by attacking any suggestion of stronger gun control laws as "shameful" and badly timed.
Today is exactly the day we should talk about how to stop the violence. But the reason Jindal doesn't want to talk about gun violence today – or any other day – is that his record is nothing but support for the NRA's blood-soaked political agenda.
Jindal has opposed every sensible restriction on gun purchases. He's slashed mental health services in Louisiana. He's paraded around the country, filling his Twitter feed with odd photos of himself fondling various firearms.
Back home, meanwhile, his state leads the country in gun violence. And it took a mass shooting 60 miles from the Governor's Mansion to finally stir him to talk to some of its victims? Jindal didn't need to drive all the way to Lafayette to do that. Mere miles from where he rests his head on the rare occasion he's in Baton Rouge, people are dying from gunshots almost every day.
Does Jindal ever go to the mean streets of north Baton Rouge or into the violent neighborhoods of New Orleans? Does he ever look into the sad eyes of kids who've lost fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to gun violence? Where are their hugs?
For every person who's died in a Louisiana movie theater this year, there are dozens more who've perished in street violence, stoked by all manner of events but made possible in almost every case by all-too-easy access to handguns. And Jindal has done nothing to make it the least bit difficult for anyone to get his or her hands on those guns.
At his press conference following the Charleston shootings, Obama did rightly suggest that we do something more than offer just prayers and hugs. "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," Obama said. "It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it."
Like you and me, Obama knows that nothing will happen after the shootings in Charleston, Chattanooga and Lafayette. He knows it for the same reason that you and I know it.
In December 2012, after 20 children died at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Conn., Jindal – like so many others in his party – offered nothing but prayer. If the gun deaths of 20 innocent children didn't change our nation's attitude about the need for tougher gun laws, nothing will.
The nation's reaction to Sandy Hook is scandalous evidence that we've decided that we can live with thousands of guns each year. Sandy Hook proved that when it comes to gun violence, our leaders can only muster the energy and courage for hugs and shrugs.