Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29. The views expressed are her own.
Just hours after news broke that a domestic terrorist killed more than 50 people in a mass shooting in Las Vegas, conservatives were already raring to go over not turning the awful situation into a “political” one. National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch — who recently tried to incite violence against The New York Times over negative coverage of Donald Trump — was an early passenger on the “don’t politicize tragedy” train. Others, like Fox News host Howard Kurtz, soon followed.
There’s no doubt numerous Republican pundits and congresspeople (who — shocker! — are bankrolled by the NRA) will continue their damage control in the hours and days following this shooting. It’s insensitive to speak up about gun control at this moment, they’ll claim. Right now we want to honor the victims, they’ll tweet. It was a “lone wolf” and an isolated incident, they’ll argue.
God, they need to shut up.
There are many problems with this idea that mass shootings shouldn’t be “politicized,” starting with the fact that tragedy — especially gun tragedy — often strikes because we don’t have sensible laws in place. The decision by our lawmakers on all levels to consistently deregulate the gun industry, and resist gun control, is entirely political. The government’s job, at the end of the day, is to keep its citizens safe, and our current representatives are actually working to not do that. This intentional lack of action affects us all. Whether it’s a mass shooting like what we saw unfold in Las Vegas today or in Orlando just 16 months ago, or the toddler who got his hands on a parent’s gun and accidentally shot himself this weekend, these instances would be a lot less likely to occur if we didn’t let everyone own whatever weapons they wanted short of a nuclear arsenal. Studies prove it, as do other countries' laws.
The decision by our lawmakers on all levels to consistently deregulate the gun industry, and resist gun control, is entirely political.
So, what is our problem? It’s our messed up ideology. There’s no good reason why the Average Joe needs to be able to buy semi-automatic weapons and silencers, and explanations around ideas of “freedom” and the Constitutions are misguided fantasy at this point. The lack of critical thinking from conservatives when talking about the 2nd Amendment and the context for why it was created is just tired. Dana Loesch, for example, has been retweeting unconfirmed reports that the shooter allegedly used an illegally obtained weapon bought on the black market. Guess what? Plenty of people who’ve committed acts of violence with guns used weapons that they were legally permitted to buy and carry. In the sale of guns in the U.S., the line between the legal market and the black market gets blurrier by the day as our representatives continue to legalize more and more deadly weapons and traffickers get around the ever-decreasing number of laws that are intact. Stocks for weapons manufactures are going up in the wake of the attack as investors anticipate stricter gun laws; there’s money in violence in more ways than one.
Additionally, it’s hard to not politicize something when what’s being defended serves no other purpose other than killing. When it comes down to it, guns don’t do anything else; it’s what they’re designed to do. And trying to pretend that there’s some “American pride” in loving weapons is perverse and disturbing. It’s not just “how it is” in certain parts of the country; we need to unpack the fact that a large part of the U.S. population has a much more ingrained, pathological problem. And it’s not only the gun owners themselves, of which there are 55 million legal ones in this nation; it’s also in speaking out against our country’s pervasive gun culture.
As someone who grew up in the South, I’ve heard all of these flimsy (and downright troubling) “arguments” for years. When I was younger, I knew people whose parents who’d talk about their “gun closets” the way celebrities discuss having an entire room for shoes. “But the door is always locked!” these parents would say after admiring their stash, thinking that somehow made it better. No one ever deconstructed this argument as to why these people in suburbia needed weapons in their houses, or the fact that if their kids (or others) really wanted to get in that gun room, there were a million ways to do it. It’s not about safety; it’s about gun culture.
When it comes down to it, the whole “guns make us safer” argument makes no sense; the whole reason we’re unsafe in the first place is because so many people can get their hands on a firearm with little effort. And if Republicans really believe that this or any of their arguments are true, why are they actively defunding research that studies gun-related deaths and weapon-specific legislation? What are they so afraid of? (I mean, we know the answer.)
I also went to school with people who were excited to turn 18 so they could get permits and buy their first guns. During my senior year of high school, my parking space was behind a kid who drove a monster truck complete with holsters on the back of it to hold down his guns when his family and friends went hunting. “It’s a hobby!” my peers would all say. My hobbies are things like reading and exercising. Can we talk about how messed up it is if killing is your hobby? It was even more screwed up that no one batted an eye at any of this.
Instead, it’s time for us as a nation to face some incredibly hard truths that are painful to swallow. We get to decide what “culture” is in America; we don’t have to pretend it’s some sort of predetermined thing. We can also decide what should no longer be part of our culture, and that includes taking guns out of the equation.
Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer for changing the psyche of a country; that can’t be fixed overnight or with a single string of gun control legislation. But publicly saying that enough is enough, actively taking down people like Dana Loesch, doing our own research on gun violence, and holding our representatives accountable is a start. And to anyone who tries to say we shouldn’t politicize tragedy or take on this issue, I say screw your hobbies, because you can find new ones that aren’t inherently about violence and death. Screw your feelings, because they’re rooted in not wanting to face terrible facts and your own messed up beliefs. And screw your “culture,” because it was never what you claimed it was anyway.
Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29. Her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Glamour, Allure, TIME, Newsweek, Fast Company, and Mashable. Follow her on Twitter.