Prayer won't stop guns: The cruel hypocrisy behind the right's refusal to talk about gun violence

We respond after a bridge collapse or a terror attack. Only after gun violence must we stall for weeks in prayer

Published July 27, 2015 7:31PM (EDT)

  (Jeff Malet,
(Jeff Malet,

In her 2014 book, “A Fighting Chance,” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren puzzled over our culture’s maddening indifference to gun violence. “We lose eight children and teenagers to gun violence every day,” Warren wrote. “If a mysterious virus suddenly started killing eight of our children every day, America would mobilize teams of doctors and public health officials. We would move heaven and earth until we found a way to protect our children. But not with gun violence.”

Warren is right. The only deaths in America we must not discuss or address with any urgency are those caused by guns.

We saw this insane sentiment on display last week after the latest mass shooting – this one in Lafayette, La., where a demented 59-year-old drifter shot and killed two young women and injured nine others in a movie theater.

In the immediate aftermath, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made one thing perfectly clear. “The best thing we can do across Lafayette, across Louisiana, across our country, is come together in thoughts, in love, in prayer,” Jindal said the night of the shooting.

Asked about what this meant for changing his state’s gun laws (among the weakest in the nation), Jindal pushed back hard. “Let's focus on the victims right now,” he said. “Let's focus on their recoveries. There'll be a time, I'm sure folks will want to jump into the politics of this. Now is not the time."

Jindal is not alone in his desire to stall and procrastinate after a mass shooting. He’s only repeating the standard Republican/NRA mantra after similar tragedies: Now’s not the time. This is a period for mourning and prayer. There will be time to talk about how to address the problem later, but not while people are burying their dead. For now, let’s pray for them and hug our kids.

For example, Jindal responded with outrage to President Obama’s call for federal action on gun control after the June 17 shooting deaths in a Charleston church. “I think it was completely shameful, that within 24 hours of this awful tragedy, nine people killed at a bible study at a church,” Jindal fumed, “we have the president trying to score cheap political points. Let him have this debate next week. His job as commander in chief is to help the country begin the healing process.”

Funny, I don’t recall Jindal suggesting anyone wait a week to start discussing how to address the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April 2010, which killed 11 people (most of them his constituents).

Immediately after that disaster, Jindal demanded immediate action on “three challenges: stopping the leak, protecting the coast and cleaning the coast.” No one suggested that Jindal’s quick call to clean up the Louisiana coast was a “shameful” effort to “score cheap political points.”

Instead of prayers, Jindal demanded prompt action. "Officials at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority are also working with the state's oil spill coordinator's office to monitor any potential environmental impact," Jindal said within 24 hours of the explosion.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, did anyone suggest we should wait a few weeks to pray and mourn before responding to the terrorists who murdered thousands?

On the night of the attacks, then-President George W. Bush appeared on national television to vow swift action. “I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice,” Bush said that night. “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

Did Jindal or anyone else suggest that Bush was politicizing these murders by vowing to avenge them?

Three days later, Bush stood on the rubble at the site of the attacks. “I want you all to know that America today is on bended knee, in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn,” Bush said through a bullhorn to the assembled workers. When someone called out, “I can’t hear you,” Bush replied, “I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

Did anyone call Bush “shameless” for suggesting we do more than pray?

In August 2007, when the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people and injuring 145, then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty demanded prompt inspections of other bridges in his state. “The first thing we’re going to do is make sure that we immediately inspect and check all bridges of this design and that fall into this category on the assessment scale,” Pawlenty said.

Did anyone suggest that Pawlenty was politicizing this disaster by acting decisively instead of pausing for a week of prayer vigils?

When the Upper Big Branch Mine exploded in April 2010, killing 29 coal miners in West Virginia, state and national leaders quickly began discussing mine safety. Then-Gov. Joe Manchin urgently demanded answers about the cause of the blast. "When we get the findings, we'll take action immediately – whatever it takes to correct it," Manchin said.

"This incident isn't just a matter of happenstance, but rather the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct," Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and former head of the United Mine Workers of America, said. "Many mining companies have given too little attention to safety over the years and too much to the bottom line."

Did anyone pounce on Manchin and Trumka as “shameless” and accuse them of politicizing the situation?

Just this past June in Baton Rouge, a 22-month-old child was found dead in a van parked at an unlicensed day care center. Two employees of the center were arrested after police said the workers left them in the vehicle. Louisiana officials responded the child’s tragic death by moving quickly to close at least 16 other unlicensed day care centers.

Did Jindal chastise the state’s Department of Education for its swift, appropriate action? Did he suggest pausing for prayer before asking questions about how to prevent other deaths at day care centers?

Of course not.

In America, mass shootings are the only tragedies that we must not discuss in their immediate aftermaths. In the world of our NRA-owned political cowards, to respond to a mass shooting with anything other than prayer is to politicize the tragedy.

Guns take the lives of more than 30,000 Americans each year in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings. That’s an average of more than three deaths an hour every day in this country. Even more stunning, the Washington Post reported last week that there have been 204 mass shootings in the U.S. this year alone.

The website Mass Shooting Tracker is a grim and staggering chronicle of the violence that Jindal and his GOP allies will not allow us to address during our perpetual periods of mourning.

And therein lies the scandal and the scam of our leaders’ dishonest, cynical refusal to permit any discussion of gun violence following every mass shooting. In their world, it’s never time to debate gun violence because there is never a day in America when we aren’t digging a grave for someone who died in a mass shooting.

Perhaps if gun violence were as rare as plane crashes, bridge failures or mine explosions, we would do something about them. If they were as rare as deaths at day care centers or on oilrigs, mass shootings might shock us into action.

Instead, the sound of gunshots has become America’s background music – so familiar and repetitive that we cease to notice it. But the NRA and its lapdogs like Jindal notice it. And they know if they allow tragic events like Sandy Hook, Charleston and Chattanooga to spur us to an earnest discussion of the causes and cures of gun violence, it is a debate they cannot control and contain. So, they demand our silence and urge us only to pray and comfort the survivors.

That is all we are allowed to do in the NRA of America.

Like most Americans, I believe in prayer and have prayed all too often for the victims of gun violence and their survivors. “Pray for the victims and their families” is a fine sentiment, but it’s insufficient in the face of our nation’s deadly reality.

Like the famed activist Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, our new refrain must be, “Pray for the dead; fight like hell for the living.”

By Robert Mann

Robert Mann is Manship Chair of Journalism at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and author of “Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater and the Ad that Changed American Politics.”

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Bobby Jindal Charleston Elizabeth Warren Guns Lafayette Nra Sandy Hook Tim Pawlenty