First things first:
Donald Trump’s white nationalist rhetoric would be repulsively disqualifying if no one ever shot anyone.
Lunatics sometimes shoot out of left field, as the Dayton killer seems to have done, and it is the coldest possible comfort that he did so without ideological egging-on from the president of the United States.
The systemic availability of lethal firepower to fanatics demands redress, notwithstanding the particulars of what the fanaticism consists of.
Of course, there’s nothing new in any of the above. Other than dates, locations and casualty counts, there’s never anything new in any of it.
True to form, since yet two more mass shooters put yet two more cities on the ever-more-densely-dotted massacre map of America, most elected Republicans have offered thoughts, prayers and hand-wringing about evil without questioning the wisdom of super-arming those in the grip of evil. (No-longer-elected Republicans, such as John Kasich and Christine Todd Whitman, did stray far from that script.) Democrats have responded with the usual mix of anguish and data, seasoning the blood of shoppers, diners and toddlers with the predictable factoid litany: the expansive legal-carry laws of Texas did nothing to prevent the massacre in El Paso; the near-instant armed intervention of law enforcement still left nine people dead in Dayton; other countries have similar rates of mental illness, video gaming and even neo-fascism but much more gun control and thus much less carnage; no one hunts or games or guards the house with a weapon of war.
No question, I could not be in greater agreement with the whole latter riff. But for purposes of political efficacy, I do wish that Democrats would place much more emphasis on its most underplayed variation:
This is one of the Democratic Talking Points for Dummies that I outlined in my last post. The others are:
The gist of the list is that even as they woo the left, Democrats should hit Trump's GOP for abandoning so many of the core values traditionally championed by the right; values that have always benefited the American experiment as a whole, and that swing voters might like someone to mention.
Nowhere is this more urgently apparent than in the realm of law and order.
Especially since Vietnam, Republicans have routinely cast themselves as upstanding, church-going, rules-abiding Americans, in clean-cut contrast to those godless, pot-smoking, sloth-enabling, Establishment-spitting-upon Democrats. Part and parcel of this image has been the notion that right-wingers love the police, and will stand by them through thick and thin – unlike the lefties, who never met an anti-cop headline, protest or lawsuit they didn’t like.
It’s amazing how long this image has outlasted reality. And it’s chilling how much of it has come to emanate solely from the Republican allergy to the whole concept of Black Lives Matter.
It’s harsh to say but it’s true: at this point, with rare exception, Republicans can be reliably counted on to defend the police when and only when the police are accused of racist brutality. The rare police officer who shoots an unarmed black man in the back can count on his own back being had by the GOP. One example of a million: In 2018, an off-duty Dallas police officer mistakenly walked into the wrong apartment, then shot and killed the unarmed, minding-his-own-business African-American man who lived there. Then running for re-election to the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz refused to “rush to judgment” on the question of whether that officer should lose her job – not her liberty, as could only properly be determined by a jury of her peers, but her job as an armed agent of the state. In a debate, Cruz actually upbraided his opponent, Beto O’Rourke, for agreeing with the man’s family that his loss of his life should automatically entail her loss of livelihood, as if that contention were somehow crazily anti-police.
Unfortunately, for all too many Republican officials – along with a small percentage of Democrats -- that sense of loyalty does not extend to police officers who manage to steer clear of such trouble. All those thousands of great men and women trying to “serve and protect,” week in and week out, with some sense of safety and authority? As far as Cruz and company are concerned, they can go straight to hell in a handbasket woven by the National Rifle Association.
Given a choice between the lives of our police and the lucre the gun lobby throws their way, almost every Republican has taken that lucre, almost every time.
This is not a new development, and evidence of it abounds. On gun-control issue after gun-control issue -- background checks, loophole closures, the renewal of the assault-weapons ban -- the lion’s share of law-enforcement organizations square off against the gun lobby. And the lion’s share of Republican lawmakers thus square off against law enforcement.
Just to save space, though, let’s make a quick example of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 – which passed the Republican-led House of Representatives and enjoyed overwhelming, if slightly insufficient, Republican support in the Senate. (Cruz and John Cornyn have already introduced a somewhat-altered version in the current Congress.)
If passed, the 2017 law would have allowed any individual permitted to carry a concealed sidearm anywhere in the United States, to carry that sidearm everywhere in the United States. The number one priority of the NRA was to promote this measure. The number one priority of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, among many other law-enforcement organizations, was to thwart it. And they weren’t conflicted about it: “cockamamie” was the term then-Milwaukee police chief Edward Flynn applied to the idea; “insanity” that of New York City police commissioner James O’Neill. And it wasn’t just big-city chiefs in blue states: opposition came, too, from Tucson, Arizona and LaGrange, Georgia; Maplewood, Minnesota and Caribou, Maine.
Of course, any such idea makes a mockery of another once-operative GOP ideal, which was to place decision-making power as close to the local level --- what they like to call “the people” --- as possible. Under this act, the people of Chicago, Pittsburgh and Baltimore would have to subordinate their views of gun rights to the views of the people of Wyoming or Alaska. The will of residents who value stringent controls on the ability of ordinary citizens to carry firearms would be forced to bow to the will of visitors from places that value few such controls. One’s feeling of safety on one’s own streets would count for less than the convenience of the gun-toters passing through.
But I digress; the point here is the effect of this measure, and others like it, upon police. Echoing the sentiments of the two-thirds of Texas police chiefs who opposed the aforementioned 2015 liberalization of the concealed-carry laws in their state -- but foreshadowing the police chiefs nationwide who supported the background-checks measure recently passed by the Democratic House, then ignored by the Republican Senate -- the police strenuously argued that the effect of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would be Bad. Those representing our men and women in blue argued that the NRA's favorite law would add stress to their already-stressful jobs– obliging officers to distinguish who was carrying legally from who was not, or more dramatically, in bloodbath scenarios such as those of last weekend, to distinguish the good ordinary guys shooting to save lives from the bad ordinary guys shooting to slaughter. It would potentially expose officers to personal liability on account of inevitable confusion. That’s wholly apart from the dim-witted cruelty of increasing the odds that an officer will confront lethal force in scenarios from traffic stops to barroom brawls to domestic-violence calls.
The Controlled Carry Reciprocity Act is just one measure, and for the moment, it’s dead. But it suffices to illustrate that the Republicans’ reputation as the “law and order party” does not deserve to live.
It is way past time for Democrats to take aim and shoot at that grossly undeserved image. Shoot it right between the eyes. Shoot it to kill.