Three obvious but important points.
1. Most important, very best to Rep. Scalise and to others wounded in this atrocity. Very best to Capitol Police officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner. The bravery and sacrifice of Capitol Police prevented a tragedy from being much worse. And best wishes for a full recovery to Zack Barth and Matt Mika.
If you want to gain a small sense of what these individuals and their families are going through, you might peruse photographer Kathy Shorr’s beautiful recent book, Shot. Shorr’s book provides portraits and brief stories of 101 survivors of gun violence. Shorr’s photographs convey the lacerating damage firearms inflict. Shown below is Chicagoan Ondelee Parteet. He was shot in the face by a 14-year-old boy after an incident at a party.
2. Imagine the additional burdens Rep. Scalise and others would face if they were uninsured+facing multiple surgeries, rehabilitation, and other intense needs that come with serious gunshot wounds. This happens every day across America, and will happen with much greater frequency if AHCA is enacted into law. (More here, at healthinsurance.org).
3. Incremental improvements to US gun policy probably would not have stopped this shooter, though he might have gained access to a less lethal weapon than an
AR-15 SKS 7.62.* I know no specific reason why he would have been denied legal access to a gun. As so often with mass shooters, the red flags look far redder and more actionable ex post.
But one aspect of American gun politics made this tragedy more likely: The poisonous cultural and political narrative of an insurrectionist lone hero resisting tyranny by exacting second-amendment remedies with his gun.
.@Judgenap: Why do we have a Second Amendment? It’s not to shoot deer. It’s to shoot at the government when it becomes tyrannical!
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) June 23, 2016
For years a paranoid right-wing fringe has promoted these memes to express its distrust of liberals. A quick google search will yield zillions of chilling images of rifle-toting men and women wearing disgusting tee-shirts, Ted Nugent–he among those recently invited to the White House–telling President Obama to suck on his machine gun, and so on. Every day for eight years during the Obama presidency, I was terrified that some truly unhinged person or fanatic would pull the trigger.
Gunshots actually rang out last week. But the gunman, James Hodgkinson, arrived from stage-left rather than stage-right. Within his disturbed political eschatology, perhaps he regarded himself as a lone hero, acting to thwart a right-wing tyrant. This self-conception is all-too-seductive given the dubious circumstances of the 2016 election, Trump’s shadowy Russian connections, and the enormous policy consequences of Republican political control.
The insurrectionist formulation of the Second Amendment belongs in the dustbin of history. In an angry and polarized nation, we need an absolute norm against putting an unkind hand on any political opponent. The image of a lone gunman fixing American politics is too dangerous, too undemocratic, too seductive to a lunatic fringe from Lee Harvey Oswald to Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray, to James Hodgkinson.
In this global communications age, we run real risks when we babble about how the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants. We can pretty much guarantee that that the wrong people will listen, and they may act on these words. The blood of more good people will be spilled.
*The first commenter is correct. I relied on inaccurate initial reports claiming that the weapon was an AR-15. It was apparently a legally-purchased SKS 7.62. This doesn’t change the policy argument, but apologies for the error. readers can judge for themselves the quality and civility of the commenter’s other intercessions.