Slate has a tendency to be make bold proclamations and generally I appreciate their confident assertion of their beliefs. But not today (or really yesterday). Within hours of the shooting in Newtown, Slate had called the President out on his failure to politicize the tragedy:
Right, right, today’s not the day because we wouldn’t want to politicize a tragedy. That might make you look crass. And more important than stopping future elementary school students from being shot in the face and head and chest and little legs is for you to show a little tact by rising above your unseemly urge to make this country better. Also, you don’t want to offend anyone directly involved in the shooting. Like the parents of the kids who were murdered this morning while learning basic addition and how to write their ABCs.
I understand Benedikt’s push for action. It feels better to be doing something, or clamoring to do something, rather than waiting for more bad news and feeling sorry for your country. I agree with the sentiment that action is necessary. But not today–or tomorrow or the day after.
First of all, the President absolutely should tread carefully in order to avoid unintentionally offending the parents of victims. We should not assume that all of the victim’s parents are for gun control. They may be lifelong members of the NRA. And while it is possible that on the day they lost their child they immediately switched sides the odds are they didn’t take time out from mourning to re-consider their stance on the 2nd Amendment. Regardless of their view on guns or their feelings about the President they are undoubtedly wondering what they could have done to protect their children better. Their elected officials should not be compounding that guilt and blaming anyone other than the shooter, at least not today.
But if sensitivity towards victims is not reason enough to avoid politicizing the lives of 20 children and 7 adults, then the desire for rational debate and effective legislation should be. It is not only heartless to ask the President to make a political stand today, it is also pointless. How can you learn from this incident before all the facts are in? Benedikt (and many others) are calling for tougher restrictions without knowing how the guns were acquired in the first place, without knowing which guns were used, without even knowing the shooters identity or the full scope of the shooting spree. On the other side, political pundits are already crying foul and trying to blame everything but gun regulation. But we can’t use this incident to defend (or blame) the policies in place until we know what happened.
As a liberal and a scholar, I believe that policy should be based on information and not emotion. Polices and promises made in the shadow of tragedy can not be rational and as such have a greater risk of failure–we saw plenty of that after September 11th. There will be time for action but not today. Not while parents are planning funerals and not before the investigation is finished. And if that wasn’t reason enough, the reality is it takes a lot of time to draft any legislation (contentious or not). That fact alone should be enough to prevent political pundits from demanding knee-jerk reactive political promises from our representatives.
I am willing to wait for well-written, effectual, and fact-based legislation. I will wait for the trauma to recede and for the facts to be collected. But I will not wait forever. I will expect the President to offer a response that demonstrates his desire to make our country a better place. Just not today.