There’s no doubt that we have hobby horses we love to ride. Redistricting is a huge one, along with voter suppression, income inequality and the improbable perfection of Mark Warner’s teeth. But, believe it or not, we do not relish yet another opportunity to write about gun violence. Especially in a week when our patron saint Virgil Goode endorsed walking punchline Donald Trump for president, the last thing we wanted was to spend yet another column decrying America’s gun problem.
But here we are. In a year where there has been more than one mass shooting a day (defined as four or more people shot in one incident), we thought perhaps there was no level of violence that could truly shock us. But then, beginning on so-called Black Friday (the biggest shopping day of the year, and a day on which applications for new gun permits broke all previous records), two heinous acts of mass murder happened in such quick succession that they simply could not be ignored.
The first took place at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where a deranged domestic terrorist named Robert Dear killed three people and wounded nine with a semiautomatic rifle before surrendering to police. The second occurred five days later, when husband and wife Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik lay siege to a holiday party being thrown by Syed’s employer, the San Bernardino County Health Department, and were subsequently shot and killed by police.
The political response to the first attack was typical, with a chorus of politicians offering their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families, but the legislative prospects for even minor gun control measures nonexistent.
The reaction to the second massacre was more vocal and varied, but only after it was revealed that the shooters were Muslim-Americans. (Syed was born and raised in Riverside, California, while Tashfeen was a Pakistani naturalized through marriage.) Then the floodgates opened, and formerly silent NRA-backed politicos rushed to label this an ISIS-style terrorist attack. Former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor E.W. Jackson, for instance, quickly tweeted: “San Bernardino shooting sounds like planned, coordinated attack. Shooters are missing. Could it be Paris-like Islamic terrorist attack?”
This twisted logic—where homegrown mass shootings are greeted with platitudes and inaction, while any attack with even a whiff of Islam about it is immediately considered an act of war (and thus an excuse to manufacture even more guns)—is just one more symptom of our country’s ongoing sick obsession with deadly firepower.
But while some Virginia politicians, like Senator Tim Kaine, were refreshingly blunt (“It’s past time for Congress to quit hiding and address what is a real sickness in this country,” he said during an interview on WTOP radio, “…but you’ve got a political class, frankly, that will not listen to the voters, because they’ve been buffaloed by gun manufacturers and the NRA.”), the consensus opinion in Congress is much closer to that of Richmond’s U.S. Representative Dave Brat, who told Politico, “At some point you have to decide as a nation what your first principles are. And the Second Amendment has been fundamental for a long time.” He then went on to perfectly demonstrate just how little compassion he—and, by extension, the entire Republican Party—has for the daily victims of gun violence in America by insisting that acting “on the basis of the Oprah Winfrey-ification of culture, of short-term feelings, that would be a very flawed model.”
On the word “feelings,” the Politico reporter noted, Brat mimicked the playing of a violin.
Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.