There was another mass shooting yesterday at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. I was going to write about it yesterday, but I was too sad and angry. I read that this is the 45th school shooting this year. That is shocking to me. I had only heard about a few of those. Apparently school shootings only become newsworthy if at least five people die. I’m still sad and angry. I think the reason I can write about it now is reading the all too predictable reactions to the tragedy have made me even angrier. The two reactions* that have really made me angry are the one about people being too quick to politicize the tragedy and the one about mental illness being the real cause.
There are many problems with the statement that it is too soon to politicize the massacre. First of all, the statement itself is a political statement, so the person saying it sounds like a hypocrite. Also, it has the effect of minimizing the tragedy. Ten people died, but let’s all worry about etiquette. Besides, what is the etiquette anyway? Is it a longer waiting period the worse the tragedy or is it shorter? Was Lincoln too quick to politicize the attack on Fort Sumter? Was Roosevelt too quick to politicize Pearl Harbor? How about Bush with 911? You may counter that those were different, The United States was being attacked. But, this was an attack, too. And a lot more people have been hurt and killed by gun crime than all three of my examples put together. There is simply no such thing as being too quick to politicize a shooting. It was politicized before it ever happened. In many ways it was politics that allowed it to happen. And, sadly, it will take politics to stop it in the future.
The mental illness talk makes me even angrier than the people who don’t want it politicized. Depending on who is using it, it is either a non sequitor or a red herring. It’s the verbal equivalent of yelling, “Look over there!” and then running out of the room rather than engaging with the real issue. Mental illness certainly isn’t a special problem that we suffer from in the States. It is a problem all over the world. But shootings are a special problem that we deal with in the States. Here’s a quote from John Stuart Mill, “If an instance in which the phenomenon under investigation occurs, and an instance in which it does not occur, have every circumstance save one in common, that one occurring only in the former; the circumstance in which alone the two instances differ, is the effect, or cause, or a necessary part of the cause, of the phenomenon.” According to this Method of Difference, mental illness cannot be the cause. Since shootings like this only happen in The United States, the thing that is different in The United States must be the cause. And that thing is guns.
So, I very much want people to talk about this. It is a tragedy, but the best way to honor the victims is to learn and try to prevent it from happening again. That means we should all want the politicians talking about it, too. But, at the same time, we want them talking about the real issue, guns, openly and honestly. Only then will we stand a chance of progressing.
*I have a very strong hunch that the people trying to make a religious issue out of this shooting will make me furious, but I don’t have enough information yet to know for sure.