The Corner

Politics & Policy

Slow Down and Think

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve written columns, blog posts, or G-Files lamenting the instantaneous politicization of mass murder.

Note: The important word there is “instantaneous.” There is nothing wrong with making crimes such as the one in Las Vegas the subject of political debate. Indeed, it’s pretty much obligatory. Public safety is the first obligation of the state. What I can’t stand is partisans’ gleeful rush to use the horror to stick it to their political opponents. This applies to Islamic terror attacks, mass shooters of the left and right, and every other kind of horror show. Twitter makes this tendency worse, of course, and I am the first to admit that I too have committed this sin in the past. That’s why when these horrors happen, I now try to stay off Twitter or at least restrain myself.

Waiting for the bodies to be cleared seems like a useful standard.

There are probably lots of reasons why this would be a good policy. I can think of a bunch. The early reporting is often wrong. When you spike the football over a tragedy, you cause people you should want to persuade to lock in to their positions, not to listen. Only people who already agree with you admire your virtue signaling. Everyone else probably thinks you’re an ass.

But the two most important reasons to take a breath are 1) simple decency and 2) the dangers of passion in politics. The point about decency should be pretty obvious. If your first response to murder and shattered lives is “Hah! Take that, you right-wing nutjobs!” or “Your tears are delicious, you left-wing snowflakes!” you’re turning recently murdered loved fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters into props.

The second point is less obvious. After mass shootings during his administration, then-president Obama openly defended politicizing these murders on the grounds that it is only when the horror is fresh in the mind and disgust still churning in the gut that Washington can break the logjam. This always struck me as wrong on the merits. When madmen go on killing sprees, the response from millions of Americans isn’t “We gotta get rid of the guns” — it’s “I gotta get a gun!” or, probably more accurately, “I gotta get another gun!”

But there’s a more generic point to make. Most decisions made in a state of terror, panic, or rage are not optimal. “Just do something” is rarely the wisest advice. Indeed, our entire constitutional system is designed to allow passions to cool before any permanent decisions are made. That’s why we have a Senate. That’s why the Constitution is hard to change.

When a mass-murderer is an Islamist fanatic, liberals suddenly recognize the dangers of political passion. Donald Trump’s initial call for a Muslim ban in the wake of the San Bernardino attack was made in the heat of the moment and it was a hot mess. His proposal for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering our country” was wholly unconstitutional and unworkable (which is why his executive orders looked nothing like his campaign promise).

Similarly, most of the proposals in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting wouldn’t have done anything to prevent it (as Rich notes today).

I am actually open to the idea that we might need tougher or better gun-control regulations. That’s an easy concession for me to make. The hard part is figuring out what those reforms would look like. One place we might start is making it harder to convert semiautomatic weapons into fully automatic ones. If it’s okay to ban machine guns, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to make it harder to turn guns into machine guns. Again, I’m no expert, but this looks pretty automatic to me:

Similarly, I have no objection to being more discerning about who we admit into this country. But discernment, like legislation, should be done deliberately and conscientiously. That’s what the Founders intended — and they were right.


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