Navy Yard vs. Sandy Hook — Had Enough Again?

I think I’ll put up the below link to “Had Enough Gun Violence?” every time this happens, for whatever good it will do.  But first, something else is bothering me, which is why the latest gun massacre isn’t bothering me as much as Sandy Hook did.  Why on earth would that be?  Both involved the slaughter of innocents in a public place by a lone lunatic armed with automatic weapons.  Yet I’m undeniably less moved by this latest incident than the last national disaster of this type, and maybe you are too.  Why?  What is different about the Navy Yard shootings?  In particular, what makes this incident less motivational (as it surely will be) in terms of demands for better gun control?

There are several possibilities, none of them particularly flattering, but which may shed some light on how we define tragedies, and how and when we as an electorate are motivated to do something about them — or not.

1. The Navy Yard victims were adults, whereas Sandy Hook involved children.

This should be a distinction without a difference.  Yes, there is arguably greater sadness in the snuffing out of very new lives than ones that have had at least a chance to flourish.  Any parent feels a vicarious protective rage when confronted with the malicious death of any child, yet the sibling concern we extend to other adults isn’t nearly as strong or primal, even where murder is concerned.  We believe we know every child we meet, and that they are fundamentally innocent, whereas grown-ups are complicated, unknowable and frequently blameworthy in some way or another, and therefore less commanding of our sympathy even when, as here, their deaths are utterly reprehensible.  And there is this: we’re used to adults dying; they do so by the thousands every day, often in public, for a host of good or very bad reasons.  We’re used to it.

Still, from the perspective of advancing gun control, this should make no difference at all.  Some people might be alive if Aaron Alexis had not had access to an AR-15 assault rifle.  We’re less emotional about it than in the case of Sandy Hook, but that should be no excuse.

2. The shootings took place in an urban setting, whereas Sandy Hook is a suburb. 

This is a variant of the “we’re used to it” explanation.  Scores of people, most of them young, black men, die from gunshots in cities across this nation every day – the District of Columbia being a shameful leader in this regard — and most are not even reported, let alone fodder for 24/7 news cycle pundits.  We think of cities as inherently violent, potentially dangerous places, whereas we think suburbs are or should be places of refuge.  Hence it’s more shocking when the refuge turns out to be no refuge at all.

Again, however, this should make no difference to our sense of outrage when it comes to the inadequacy of current gun control.  In fact, it should be all the more shaming that we ignore those hundreds of gun-inflicted deaths.  We do have a complicated excuse: urban gun violence is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as endemic, with a host of intractable social causes; whereas gun violence in the suburbs is seen as an aberration that should be remediable.  But if we’re really interested in effective gun control, it has to be informed by, and address, urban black-on-black violence and the demand for guns that it creates.

3. The shooter was a black adult, whereas in Sandy Hook he was young and white.

This variant on the urban/suburban distinction is where our suppressed racism becomes most pernicious.  As soon as the photo of Aaron Alexis flashed on our TV screens, an explanation for this latest tragedy was at hand: angry black man shoots people.  No news there.  And for the abovementioned intractable social reasons, no solution either.  Much harder to explain the offspring of a privileged, suburban, white family going haywire and using the guns that his misguided white mom made available to him to shoot a bunch of little kids.  That, surely, is a problem confined and outrageous enough for us to remedy (even though we proceeded to do essentially nothing to remedy it).

Let’s remind ourselves: it’s all one problem.

4. Sandy Hook happened first; nothing changed; now we’re tired of the issue.

Call this the “Syria” effect: we’ve got domestic combat fatigue and can’t bear to pay any more attention to the gun control issue.  The NRA and Republican conservatives won the day for the right to bear assault weapons yet again earlier this year, and there’s no point in going up against that wall again.  It’s all talk and no action.  We’re tired, we’re numb, it’s going to happen over and over, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

And all that is required for evil to continue to triumph is for good people to continue to do nothing.

See: Had Enough Gun Violence? at

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