Opinion

Our persistent, unresolved questions on violence

Law enforcement agents investigate the scene in Alexandria, Va., Thursday, June 15, 2017, the day after House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La. was shot during during a congressional baseball practice.
Law enforcement agents investigate the scene in Alexandria, Va., Thursday, June 15, 2017, the day after House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La. was shot during during a congressional baseball practice. AP

Perhaps the most discouraging thing that can be said about Wednesday’s gun violence at a congressional baseball practice is that there is little or nothing that has not been said before.

We mourn and grieve, of course, as we should. And about that it should be said that while grief and sympathy are a reflexive response, they nonetheless are vital, each one different as circumstances differ and those affected by violence are human beings whose stories are unique even while their suffering seems sadly familiar.

In the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy, our leaders and our fellow citizens will however briefly find an encouraging solidarity. To his credit, our president, sometimes combative at times like this, struck just the right note. “We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Donald Trump said shortly after the shooting.

Other leaders in both parties voiced similar sentiments. It’s easy to be cynical with the ritualistic response, but in the spirit of Trump’s remarks, we would like to think they were largely sincere. And much was made of the cross-aisle collegiality at the charity baseball game for which Republicans had been practicing when James Hodgkinson opened fire. Among the injured – still in critical condition Friday – was House whip Steve Scalise, whose security detail helped take down the shooter before more damage was done.

Within mere hours, though, the public statements diverged, breaking down roughly between those who argue for looser gun control and those who argue for greater limitations. Had those people on the ball field been armed, advocates of few if any restrictions on firearms argue, they could have fought back. If we were not a country with as many guns as people, counters the other side, it would be far harder for someone like Hodgkinson to have the firepower he had.

We side with the latter. As Gov. Terry McAuliffe, in whose state Wednesday’s shootings occurred, said “we need to do more to protect all of our citizens,” adding that “there are too many guns on the street.”

Beyond the gun debate, there is the painful question of whether our politics have become so toxic as to invite violence. Whether it’s a disgruntled conservative taking aim at then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona in 2011 or a disgruntled liberal shooting at Republican lawmakers in 2017, there’s a fear we’re letting our social-media-inflamed discourse spiral into dangerous territory.

We’ve not resolved these questions as a country in more than two centuries of trying, but we must keep confronting them, and what it is in our culture that keeps them aloft.

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