Three obvious but important thoughts on the Scalise shooting.

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.

Ondelee Parteet, by Kathy Shorr

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

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.

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.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

10 thoughts on “Three obvious but important thoughts on the Scalise shooting.”

  1. Let's go through the checkboxes:

    Republican fault: "For years a paranoid right-wing fringe" check.

    Has no clue what weapon was used: less lethal weapon than an AR-15, check (The weapon used was an SKS rifle. The AR-15 is usually chambered in 5.56×45mm, while the SKS is 7.62×39mm)

    Grind political ax: "Imagine the additional burdens Rep. Scalise…" check.

    I guess it could have been worse, you could have blamed Ondelee Parteet's shooting on white supremacy, like The Nasty Coates would have.

    1. O Mr Gun Expert, how is it that a rifle chambered for a larger calibre round can be less lethal in semi-automatic mode (making rate of automatic fire irrelevant) than a rifle chambered for a smaller round? The Wikipedia article suggests that the SKS is more accurate at longer ranges than the AK-47, explaining its popularity with the Chinese PLA.

      The display of trivial and irrelevant gun lore to try to discredit commentators advocating gun control is a particularly irritating fallacy.

      The Second Amendment was dishonest and false at the time it was adopted, and has not got any better. The evidence that a militia was essential to the preservation of republican liberty consisted of Switzerland. The English militias had become militarily useless social clubs long before the American Revolution, in which American militias played a very limited part. (OK, they were useful to Morgan at Cowpens, as a designed-to-fail second line of defence). The true postwar reason for maintaining state militias was catching fugitive slaves, which was impolite to mention.

      1. I am not a gun expert. I am simply cognizant of the fact that the website it called samefacts, and if you look at the top of the page:

        The Reality-Based Community
        Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

        1. Since we're litigating what the facts are, James' point is valid, which you seem to concede in your reply. I went on a deep dive on the shooter forums, and there are plenty of comparisons of the SKS to the AR-15. It's possible I missed something, but the common complaints against the SKS vs. the AR-15 are accuracy and cheap construction. At the point blank range of the incident in question, those are immaterial.

  2. I have corrected the post regarding the weapon. The remainder of your comment exemplifies why sensible people often avoid reading comment threads.

    1. The RBC is privileged to enjoy with very rare exceptions a civil and informed group of commenters that make us a community. Keep visiting and keep contributing!

      Pro tip for 225backtobe: corrections of fact are even more welcome here than good arguments for and against. Example: "The rifle used by the assailant was not an AR-15 but an SKS, a larger-chambered Soviet-era carbine rather like the US Army's WWII M1 Garand."

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