American life is thoroughly politicized, to the point where there seems to be a talking points template to discuss anything that occurs. Thus, in the aftermath of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the same script is replayed in the media that was replayed from the shooting in Buffalo, which was replayed from the shooting in…
Each political tribe has its own script, with the assumption being that because these awful events are being politicized, a political solution exists (along with a political cause).
At one level, we can dismiss the actions of both men, as each was trying to score political points. However, we cannot dismiss the accusation O’Rourke levied at Abbott: “This one’s on you.” He added:
The time to stop the next shooting is right now and you are doing nothing. You said this is not predictable. This is totally predictable. This will continue to happen. Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed, just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.
O’Rourke’s self-style “solution” is to ban the AR-15, the semiautomatic rifle that often has been used in mass killings, such as Uvalde, Buffalo, and the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, with the assumption, one supposes, that once that particular semiautomatic rifle no longer is commercially available, no mass shootings will occur, a heroic assumption at best.
During his brief run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, O’Rourke, who ran on a platform of taking away tax exemptions from churches and religious organizations whose theology does not match the Democratic Party’s current position on the Sexual Revolution, told an audience when asked about gun control:
Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.
Progressive Christian college professor John Fea, while praising O’Rourke, also echoed the standard progressive line that stopping mass shootings is a relatively simple political matter in which legislators ban certain kinds of guns and place other restrictions on gun owners.
Christian writer David French, while agreeing with conservatives that gun restrictions likely will not prevent mass shootings, has placed his faith in so-called red flag laws, which attempt to identify people who might commit such shootings.
One does not have to be an old-line American Civil Liberties Union advocate to see the legal and moral pitfalls of such a policy, no matter how well intended it might be. Furthermore, the police will be very effective at enforcing the “red flag” provisions against people who probably are not real threats to the public.
There is also another aspect of mass shootings that will not be mentioned in the mass media or in the latest political response: mass shootings provide progressive politicians with opportunities not only to promote their anti-gun ownership proposals but also to take a swipe at political opponents.
Every shooting provides these groups the opportunity to demonstrate both their moral outrage and their moral superiority to the Great Unwashed who are not willing to turn in their legally owned firearms, along with the politicians that support gun ownership.
In short, mass shootings, although truly awful events are good for progressive politicians and their media advocates. First, they give progressives the opportunity to engage in cost-free virtue signaling. The mainstream press universally supports gun control measures—the more draconian, the better—and even an obviously grandstanding Beto O’Rourke is going to get the best press possible and be treated as the righteous, outraged private citizen just being an advocate for little kids put in mortal danger by gun owners.
Second, it is important to keep the progressive political goals in mind, and that means understanding what progressive politicians and the media want to achieve. Announcing one supports draconian gun control measures sends the signal to others that not only is one horrified and angered, but also is determined to do something to stop the killing. That the proposed measures won’t stop a single shooting is irrelevant; it is the show of virtue that matters.
Take President Joe Biden’s response to the Uvalde shooting, in which he presented himself as fed up with these killings and claimed his determination to “do something.” Reported Zeke Miller and Chris Megerian of the Associated Press:
It was much too early to tell if the latest violent outbreak could break the political logjam around tightening the nation’s gun laws after so many others—including the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 26, including 20 children—have failed.
“The idea that an 18-year-old kid can walk into a gun store and buy two assault weapons is just wrong,” Biden said. He has previously called for a ban on assault-style weapons, as well as tougher federal background check requirements and “red flag” laws that are meant to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health problems.
Late Tuesday, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer set in motion possible action on two House-passed bills to expand federally required background checks for gun purchases, but no votes have been scheduled.
Biden, Schumer, and most likely the journalists that wrote this account all know that the legislative measures mentioned here most likely would not prevent someone from targeting children at a school.
Yet all of them present this material as though readers automatically would understand that if this proposed legislation were put into law, then mass shootings would go away.
No one in Congress, the White House, or the media overtly makes those causal connections, but these legislative measures are presented as the correct response to a mass shooting, which implies that they really would work as advertised. But whether or not these measures would stop a single shooting is unimportant.
What is politically relevant is what the mainstream media choose to present to the reading and listening public and how it is presented. Furthermore, anyone who questions the effectiveness of these measures is portrayed in the progressive media as someone who wants people to die in mass shootings.
That is why politicians that support private ownership of guns never will receive good press following a mass shooting unless they do a John McCain and play the role of the “maverick” Republican calling for new gun control measures. (One doubts that the “mavericks” actually believe their newfound rhetoric, but they do know how to get at least temporary favorable press.)
Progressives hold to a core belief that no one but state-approved agents should own guns, with every new gun control measure being a positive step forward, toward the final goal of gun confiscation.
One has to remember that in the age of politicized progressive media, all that matters are the optics of something. Facts don’t matter; even the truth doesn’t matter, only staged appearances. Paul Krugman recently took things a step further in a recent New York Times column, claiming that the ultimate upshot of the 1981 tax cuts authored by the Ronald Reagan administration was the mass shooting in Buffalo. (One has to read the article to pick through Krugman’s logic, but it exposes the mentality of modern progressives.)
A politicized world looks like this, a world of the big lie, and the bigger the lie, the more effective it is. This is a world that provides no solutions, only more problems.
William L. Anderson is a professor emeritus of economics at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, Maryland.