THE MORNING PLUM:
Another day, another mass shooting in America. Except this time, the horrific slaughter that unfolded last night at a concert in Las Vegas is being widely described as the deadliest one in modern U.S. history. More than 50 people are dead, and more than 400 wounded, after the shooter opened fire on a crowd on the Las Vegas Strip from a 32nd-story hotel window.
The shooter has been identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, who is dead and is believed to have taken his own life. He lived in Mesquite, Nev., which is 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. At least 10 rifles were found in his hotel room.
There is still an enormous amount we don’t know, yet speculation is raging out of control, as always. Here are a few suggestions for the debate that is already underway:
There is a right way to “politicize” mass shootings, and there is a wrong way to politicize them. As of now, the Clark County sheriff says of the shooter: “We have no idea what his belief system was.” Social media is awash in efforts to associate the shooter with one political worldview or another. Please, let’s not do this — even if and when that worldview becomes known. Such mass killings have all kinds of motives, from mental illness to a desire to emulate and outdo previous rampages. (There is also a related debate over whether ascribing mass shootings to mental illness is sometimes done in ways that end up scapegoating the mentally ill.)
There’s nothing wrong with trying to discern the belief system of mass killers, provided that this is part of a broader effort to learn all we can about the killer; provided that this belief system itself is not reflexively tagged as the cause of the shooting; provided that other causes are given due weight; and provided we don’t use the shooting to tar our ideological opponents and their worldviews. We all know what that latter tactic looks like. Let’s not do it.
That said, there is nothing wrong with politicizing mass shootings in a different sense: They are the right occasions for intense arguments over how to prevent them in the future. After all, if we aren’t going to talk about what to do about mass slaughter when it happens, when are we going to talk about it? Treating these massacres as inevitable or beyond the capacity for human problem-solving — something that becomes easier when they recede in the news — isn’t an option. However, a major caveat here: We need to keep focused on the crucial distinction between mass shootings and the broader problem of gun violence.
Let’s debate mass shootings and the broader scourge of gun violence as separate but related problems. The difficulty with debating gun violence in the context of mass shootings is that we lose focus on the much broader day-to-day, slow-burn carnage of gun deaths in America. Mass shootings constitute only a tiny fraction of the gun-violence problem, and if we are going to discuss mass shootings, they raise their own set of distinct issues. They don’t just occasion an argument over how to prevent mass shooters from getting lethal weaponry. They also encompass arguments over whether we need increased funding into the multiple causes of mass shootings; over how to improve law enforcement efforts to spot would-be mass shooters in advance; and over the scandalously substandard response to mental illness in this country.
The broader scourge of gun violence encompasses a host of different, though related, problems, shading into debates about suicide, domestic violence and how to reasonably regulate day-to-day access to guns that have little overlap with the mass-shootings debate. It is perhaps inevitable, and in some ways desirable, that we will argue over these issues when a horrifyingly traumatic event grips public attention — something that has served as an impetus to reform repeatedly throughout our history. But we have to take enormous care not to let mass shootings dominate and define the larger debate over gun violence, precisely because we need to do a lot more to respond to that latter problem and to make strong, evidenced-based arguments for such a response. This conflation is counterproductive and destructive.
Let’s decouple the argument over the individual gun right from the argument over gun violence. My personal preference is for liberals to acknowledge the individual gun right, while making the case that reasonable reforms — such as expanded background checks — can be implemented in ways that are not incompatible with respecting that right. As gun-debate historian Adam Winkler has noted, the Second Amendment is not necessarily an obstacle to some of the reforms that are regularly discussed and would probably not be invalidated by the courts on those grounds.
The point is, even if you want gun reforms, that demand does not have to immediately devolve into an insistence that the individual gun right is the problem. Obviously some will often argue, when a given reform is proposed, that it does run afoul of the Second Amendment. But the argument that this is wrong as a substantive matter — that the reform in question does not do this — is one that gun reformers need to be prepared to make. It’s a debate they should want to have.
* PAUL RYAN ON TRUMP’S RACISM: “HE’S LEARNING.” House Speaker Paul Ryan had this to say on CBS’s “Face the Nation” about Trump’s Charlottesville response and demagoguery about black athletes protesting police brutality:
“I’ve had some candid conversations with him about this. … I do really believe his heart’s in the right place. … But I do think he’s got a point which is– what I think a lot of people who are protesting on that don’t necessarily see is that other people see it as disrespecting the country, what it stands for, the flag and the people who died to protect it. So I think clearly people have a right to express themselves in the First Amendment however they want to.”
It has been four months since Ryan last excused Trump’s destructive behavior by making some variation on the claim that he’s “learning.”
* CONGRESS BLOWS DEADLINE FOR REAUTHORIZING CHIP: The Hill reports that over the weekend, Congress missed its deadline for reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which helps cover 9 million kids nationwide. But the Hill notes:
States won’t run out of CHIP funding in the immediate future. Three states and Washington, D.C., are expected to run out of money by December, and the majority of states will run out by March, according to a July report from the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission. Another study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 10 states would run out money by the end of the year.
Maybe now that Republicans have dropped their crusade (for now) to leave tens of millions uninsured, they will get around to scheduling a vote on covering these 9 million children.
* DEMOCRATS MIGHT “TAKE A STAND” IN ALABAMA: The New York Times reports that national Democrats are deliberating whether to invest in Doug Jones, who’s taking on religious-right extremist Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. Note this:
Henry R. Muñoz III, the finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the party’s top fund-raisers conferred about the race at a meeting in Washington last week … “People said: O.K., maybe at first blush, you wouldn’t look at Alabama as a place we can win,” Mr. Muñoz said of the meeting last week. “But maybe we can, and it’s important that we take a stand.”
This decision should not turn on any Democrats’ fear of being labeled losers by Beltway commentators. There is an argument for putting in resources if only to show what the Democratic Party stands for.
* REPUBLICANS BRACE FOR PRIMARY CHALLENGES: The Washington Examiner reports that Moore’s victory has top Republicans bracing for more primary challenges backed by Stephen K. Bannon and his insurgents, including some targeting safe GOP incumbents:
Senior Republican strategists are begging incumbents in safe red states, including Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., to prepare early for a primary that could be a lot more formidable now that the activists and donors who fund conservative challengers believe that their investments might pay off.
It’s hard to say how much this could matter, but if it drains away resources and ends up saddling Republicans with one or two extreme candidates, that could help Democrats.
* A MOMENTOUS TERM FOR THE SUPREME COURT: Adam Liptak has a terrific overview of all the big cases the Supreme Court will hear this year:
One of them, on political gerrymandering, has the potential to reshape American politics. Another may settle the question of whether businesses can turn away patrons like gay couples in the name of religious freedom. The court will hear important workers’ rights cases, including one on employers’ power to prevent workers from banding together to sue them. … A leading candidate for the most important case of the term is Carpenter v. United States … which will consider the privacy of location data held by cellphone companies.
If the Supreme Court does rule with the challengers who are arguing for extreme gerrymanders to be declared unconstitutional, it could reshape the congressional map in the next decade.
* REPUBLICANS ONLY KNOW HOW TO DO ONE THING: E.J. Dionne Jr. goes big on the new Trump/GOP plan to cut taxes deeply on the rich and corporations:
The only thing today’s Republican Party knows how to do is cut taxes for the very rich. … The party of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell has abandoned the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, who championed the Homestead Act and land-grant colleges; Teddy Roosevelt, who protected vast tracts of nature on behalf of future generations; and Dwight Eisenhower, who pushed for student loans and the Interstate Highway System. … And imagine this: Republicans want to use this deficit-bloating, inequality-enhancing, inflation-courting, social-justice-insulting monstrosity to prove they can actually govern.
Yes, and worse, they have decided that passing this huge boon to the rich is essential to quieting the anger among the “conservative populist” base, which was supposed to hate economic elites, remember?
* AND TRUMP WANTS HIS STAFF TO PORTRAY HIM AS “CRAZY”: Axios reports that Trump privately told a roomful of advisers to portray him as “crazy” as a way of increasing pressure on South Korea in negotiations over the U.S.-South Korea trade deal:
“No, no, no,” Trump interjected. “That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t tell them they’ve got 30 days. You tell them, ‘This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute.’ ”
It is tempting to believe Trump is employing a “madman” strategy on multiple fronts — note that he signaled to North Korea that it should ignore whatever his secretary of state promises. But the better explanation is that he actually is a madman, and this “strategy” also reflects this.