Americans went to sleep on Saturday night with heavy hearts, having learned of the horrific shooting at an El Paso, Texas Walmart that left 20 innocent people dead. Many woke up on Sunday morning to the news of yet another mass casualty public rampage, as nine people were murdered by a gunman in Dayton, Ohio. Both perpetrators were young white men, as was the previous weekend's killer at a festival in California. As details emerged, it became clear that the monster in El Paso is a rage-filled racist and white supremacist -- just like the aforementioned California shooter (the Dayton killer appears to have been a registered Democrat from a left-leaning family -- see updates). Rather than engaging in the typical, ugly partisan recriminations that almost always accompany these horrors, including ritual sneering at politicians who offer prayers for those affected, I'll offer a few thoughts of my own:
(1) As I said on Fox News Sunday, something the media can do under these terrible circumstances is decline to name, identify, or promote the assailants, at least to the greatest extent journalistically possible. We've written about this in the past: "More news directors and editors should carefully contemplate adopting editorial guidelines to deny virtually any and all notoriety to school shooters. There's a raft of data demonstrating that the 'copycat' effect is real, and that troubled youths may see horrific events like this as increasingly normalized opportunities to leave a mark and be remembered. What they deserve is relative anonymity and disgrace." This phenomenon must not be ignored:
Saturation coverage of mass shootings may increase their frequency. In periods where the news media heavily covered a mass shooting, additional mass shootings followed, suggesting a contagion effect. https://t.co/NZzUcwqyKl— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) August 4, 2019
These facts present a dilemma because the news media have a responsibility to cover the news, and 29 human beings being senselessly slaughtered in major American cities on consecutive days is undeniably and highly newsworthy. Events such as these cannot be ignored or downplayed, even if the coverage may actually be partially fueling the problem. Perhaps the least bad option for media outlets is to report heavily on what happened, with a deliberate eye toward not sensationalizing or glorifying the bloodshed, and without naming or showing images of perpetrators' faces (beyond initial, perfunctory mentions). If anyone's names should be famous or remembered, it should be people like these:
A 25-year-old woman who was shot while apparently shielding her 2-month-old son, her sister said. “So when she got shot she was holding him and she fell on him, so that’s why he broke some of his bones. So he pretty much lived because she gave her life.” https://t.co/obibEjo5c2— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 4, 2019
Meet the hero soldier who saved children's lives during the El Paso Walmart shooting https://t.co/fJsbp9VUwp— Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol) August 4, 2019
(2) One of the refrains from many conservative figures during the Obama administration was that political correctness must not prevent government officials from calling out radical Islamist terrorism by name. The same standard should apply to the metastasizing cancer of violent white supremacy. The Texas shooter reportedly told authorities that he intended to murder as many Mexicans as he could, leaving behind a vile manifesto (we won't link to it) that explicitly underscores his racist ideology and motives. He is the latest in a string of mostly young white men who have become radicalized by extremist communities, often online, then unleash their poisonous anger on innocents. They maim and kill in the name of a twisted ethno-political agenda. This is, by definition, terrorism. It must be treated as such by law enforcement at every level of government.
Relatedly, deflections about Islamists, or inner city violence, under these circumstances are just that: Deflections. Those are genuine threats and problems, too, of course, but they're too often invoked in moments like this as a means of shifting the conversation away from the uncomfortable reality that an ascendant far-right extremism is an acute societal menace. While we should avoid naming these terrorizing bigots for reasons mentioned above, we must not shrink from naming the problem they represent. This is exactly right:
George is right. Killing random civilians to spread a political message is terrorism. FBI classifies it as domestic terrorism, but "white terrorism" is more precise. Many of the killers are lone-wolf losers indoctrinated to hate through the internet, just like Islamic terrorists. https://t.co/uyyjkoh1fR— Rod Rosenstein (@RodRosenstein) August 4, 2019
(3) I've been consistent in my refusal to blame political rhetoric for the actions of unhinged madmen. I neither blamed Bernie Sanders for his supporter's mass assassination attempt against GOP Congressmen, nor AOC for an armed Antifa assault against the type of ICE facility she's referred to as a 'concentration camp.' I did not castigate pro-gay marriage activists for the attempted massacre at the Family Research Council, and although I think it's fair to have tough debates about immigration policies, I do not blame the political Left for the refugees recently arrested for seeking to join ISIS or plotting terrorist attacks against Americans. Along the same lines, I've argued that the liberal media figures praised in a spree killer's manifesto should not be held responsible for the actions of the man who penned it. I avoided that blame impulse here, too. The counter-examples go on and on and on.
Similarly, I'm repulsed by the Left's frequent attempts to assign blame for atrocities on the views espoused by conservatives. I routinely wish that the president were less demagogic and more circumspect in his rhetoric on a number of issues. Too often, he raises the temperature of the national mood, which some unstable people may interpret as a tacit permission slip to escalate. But his critics, by leaping in to assign responsibility in crass partisan attacks, also guarantee that the atmosphere will only grow hotter, with each tribe digging in further. This critique is dispiritingly accurate and insightful:
This is why nothing gets done. There is more than enough we can do to make it harder for these things to happen by focusing on where we agree. But here's where tribalism costs actual lives; nobody has any interest in doing anything except *win* the narrative.— The Meturgeman (@DraftRyan2016) August 4, 2019
(4) On the issue of guns, I'm a supporter of the Second Amendment and a critic of the "do something" mentality. It's not fair or right to curtail the rights of law-abiding citizens because of the actions of a tiny fraction of the population. And yes, it's a tiny fraction. Paradoxically, US crime and murders remain at or near multi-decade lows, even as the number of guns owned in America has exploded. That said, even within that more optimistic context, deadly mass shootings are on the rise:
Half of the deadliest shootings in American history have happened since 2012. At the same time the country has experienced near-record-lows in the murder rate. More needs to be done to figure out why this is happening. https://t.co/rEcNlep6Zf— Stephen Gutowski (@StephenGutowski) August 4, 2019
The overall crime and homicide rates are still at twenty-five year lows, give or take. What has proliferated is mass shootings like the two yesterday. They have to be treated as a specific disease with its own etiology. H/t @AviWoolf. https://t.co/dtRySaustr— Varad Mehta (@varadmehta) August 4, 2019
That being said, consider the appalling reality of this "successful" police response in Dayton, early Sunday morning:
#OregonDistrict #update Mayor Whaley: Suspect opened fire in the Oregon District wearing body armor.— Dayton Police Dept. (@DaytonPolice) August 4, 2019
There are 10 people dead including the shooter, 26 others injured.
Officers neutralized the shooter in less than a minute.
The police should indeed be commended for their swift action, which undoubtedly saved lives. But in less than one minute, this deranged person murdered nine people and wounded dozens more. The deceased shooter carried a powerful rife with a high-capacity magazine (reportedly with 'refills'), which helped him inflict as much carnage as he possibly could in a very short period of time. He was evil, but his tools helped him act on that evil with more lethal efficiency. That's just the truth. I'm not sure how more bans or restrictions could actually prevent future tragedies like this -- and I'm skeptical of such regulations, both constitutionally and practically. But gun rights advocates need to understand that arguments like this will continue to resonate with many, many Americans, well beyond the precincts of the anti-gun Left:
The mayor of Dayton says the shooter killed 9 and injured 26 in less than a minute before being killed by police. Again, I'm not a "gun control will solve everything" type, but please explain the social utility of widely-available .223 caliber rifles with high-capacity magazines— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) August 4, 2019
(5) In my opinion, it is preferable to say nothing at all than to spout off superstitious, unsupported theories about video games in the wake of disasters like these. It's unserious, and very much looks like a flailing effort at misdirection. I'll leave you with an illustration of the kindness and goodness of Americans, in the face of unspeakable tragedy:
UPDATE - It would appear that the Ohio shooter was a self-described leftist:
Report: Social media footprint suggests the Dayton shooter — unlike the right-wing white supremacist El Paso shooter who adopted Trumpian tropes/language — was a socialist, a Satanist, an Elizabeth Warren fan, and...an opponent of gun violence. https://t.co/4FcNHZYhQA— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) August 4, 2019
Furthermore, it seems the Texas shooter was also partially motivated by environmentalism and paranoia about overpopulation. The point of raising these details is that trying to fit these awful attacks into neat little boxes, in order to score political points, is wrong and disgusting.