In the aftermath of Sunday night’s massacre outside the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas by Stephen Paddock, 64 — a massacre that ended with at least 50 dead and more than 400 wounded, making it the bloodiest mass shooting in American history — the political actors got right to work promulgating their various agenda items. Gun control advocates sent the hashtag #GunControlNow soaring on Twitter. The president of Media Matters tweeted snarkily, “9 AM. Time for the parade of right-wing chorus of ‘now is not the time to talk about gun control policy’ to begin.” Famed British atheist Richard Dawkins was even less tactful:
1. The Motive Of The Shooter Is Still Unknown. At the time of this writing, we still don’t know the shooter’s motive.
He apparently had no criminal record, and was 64 years old. He’d been staying in this hotel room since September 28. Police say he likely acted alone, and the Department of Homeland Security has no other information on other possible attacks. We cannot call this an act of “terror” technically until we know the motive. The jump to making policy based off such lack of information is stunning.
2. How The Shooter Acquired His Weapons Is Still Unknown. We still don’t know how the shooter acquired his guns. We know he had at least 10 guns in the room, and there is a real-time debate taking place regarding the nature of the weapon he used in the attack. Some say he had a fully automatic machine gun, which has been illegal to purchase in the United States for decades; grandfathered weapons were still allowed, but purchase of a weapon requires over $10,000 and a serious FBI background check. As Charles Cooke of National Review points out, legal automatic weapons have been used in a grand total of three crimes since 1934. Modifications to semiautomatic weapons are possible, but they require planning and aren’t always reliable. We need to know such information before we can determine policy. People aren’t waiting.
3. Making Policy On The Heels Of Horror Is Rarely Wise. Good policy is good regardless of timing; bad policy is bad regardless of timing. But when something horrific occurs, it’s in the interest of those pushing a related policy to suggest that those who oppose the policy somehow don’t care enough about victims. We heard this from gun control advocates after Sandy Hook, after Pulse, after Virginia Tech, after Columbine — after every mass shooting. Passion doesn’t make policy good or worthwhile. And injecting emotional accusations into the process never makes policy — or the country — better. Usually such accusations merely end with more heavyhanded government policy that doesn’t actually achieve the end for which it supposedly aims.
All of which is to say, now is a good time to shut up. Now is a time to contemplate the nature of human evil, to gather information, and to stay silent. Now isn’t a time to push your favorite policy talking point, or to use people’s justifiable emotional response as gas in the tank for your legislative push. We have a republic, not a democracy, in order to separate emotion from policy. Let’s not fall into the trap of re-injecting it out of supposed moral righteousness. If your policy is a good one, it’s still worth discussing without exploiting national heartbreak.