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Why it’s never ‘the right time’ to discuss gun control

Hand guns that were turned in by their owners are seen in a trash bin at a gun buyback held by the Los Angeles Police Department following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, in Los Angeles, California, December 26, 2012. REUTERS/David McNew

Last Friday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was in no mood to talk gun control in the wake of the Lafayette theater shooting. "There will be an absolute appropriate time for us to talk about policies and politics," he said. But it wasn't then.

He didn't want to talk about it a month earlier, either, in the aftermath of the Charleston church shootings. "Now’s not the time," he said, criticizing President Obama for "trying to score cheap political points" for bringing up gun control in a speech.

But it's not just Bobby Jindal. In recent years, politicians and commentators from across the political spectrum have responded to mass shootings with an invocation of the phrase "now is not the time," or a close variant. The Obama White House said it in response to the Newtown shootings, though it later made an unsuccessful push for tighter gun laws. Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of, invoked it in response to the Washington Navy Yard shootings. It's a refrain the NRA finds itself singing often.

There are good reasons for legislative restraint in the aftermath of emotional tragedies. You probably don't want lawmakers drafting bad legislation in a panic to do something, anything, in response to a public outcry.

On the other hand, as the shootings continue and the body count rises, the inevitable counter-argument becomes: if not now, when? Jindal didn't want to talk gun laws last month, after Charleston. He doesn't want to talk about them this month, after Lafayette. It's only a matter of time before the next national tragedy strikes and sets the national gun clock back to zero again. And it will likely happen sooner than you think.

The Mass Shootings Tracker, a crowd-sourced tally of mass shootings maintained by the GunsAreCool subreddit, shows that we haven't gone more than eight days without a mass shooting in the U.S. since the start of 2015 -- that doesn't leave a lot of time to grieve and regroup between shootings. We've averaged exactly one mass shooting per day since the start of the year. Forty eight days saw more than one mass shooting take place. On 18 days there were at least 3 shootings. On three days this year -- April 18, June 13 and July 15 -- there have been five shootings.

Of course many of the incidents in the Mass Shooting Tracker fly under the national radar. The Tracker intentionally defines "mass shooting" (4 or more people injured by gunfire) more broadly than the federal government does (3 or more victims killed by gunfire). This allows it to incorporate more of the garden variety gun violence that happens due to gang and other criminal activity, particularly in urban areas.

This has caused the Tracker to come in for some criticism from some quarters. It counts "a lot of shootings where people aren’t killed, criminal gangs are involved, and cases take place out of public view," according to a recent blog post by John Lott, an independent researcher and Fox News columnist who is generally opposed to stricter gun regulations. He'd prefer to "focus on the cases that people are most concerned about, in the way the government defines them."

But there's an implicit assumption here that only some types of gun violence really deserve such attention or policy focus -- that we should only closely look at it when gunshots ring out in say, suburban schools and movie theaters, rather than on urban streets.

Lott argues that gang members killing each other over turf are motivated by different reasons than disturbed individuals who decide to shoot up theaters. But the outcomes -- people dead, people wounded -- are the same. And if we want to understand the full extent of gratuitous gun violence in this country, it makes sense to consider the full range of examples of gun violence. It's worth pointing out that the Lafayette theater shooting doesn't even meet the federal definition of a mass killing, which requires three or more victims to die at the hand of a gunman.

In the end, it often seems that the goal is to put off the conversation about the role of guns in America or quibble about methodology while the number of people killed or injured by guns rises. On the other hand, some people, like the Telegraph's Dan Hodges, argue that we've already had the conversation, and that it's already over. They may be right.