Don't Tell Shooting Survivors What They Should ‘learn' From Las Vegas Massacre

In a recent conversation about the survivors of the Las Vegas shootings, I ran afoul of a friend. Well, technically, a "friendly," a thoughtful reader who sometimes sends me e-mails commenting on my work or on current issues. She and I occupy the same neighborhood on the political spectrum. This time, we had a sharp exchange after she sent me this message. "Don't you imagine that a large percentage at the LV country & western music event are supporters of the gun lobby, the NRA, the Trump believers?" she asked. "Wonder if getting shot at themselves will change their mind(s)?" My quick response, was not, admittedly, carefully thought out. "I like a lot of C&W music myself," I wrote. "Does this mean I deserve to get shot?" This was disingenuous, but her question was unsettling. If not quite a case of victim-blaming, it seemed to suggest the traumatized crowd at the Route 91 Harvest festival had unwittingly colluded in their own victimhood. That, at least, was the way I saw it. I posted our exchange to my Facebook page, to see what others had to say - and was frankly surprised at how many people agreed with my reader. "Your reply was so childish," chided one FB friend. "Reader makes valid, calm point that maybe the unspoken non-involvement defense, 'It can't happen to me,' is not valid anymore." "This (reader's) comment could have been made more delicately, but I'm sorry - I'm wondering the same thing," said another. "I feel pretty darned certain there are more 2nd Amendment supporters attending country music concerts than Barbra Streisand concerts. I doubt if there were any in the Orlando nightclub last year." "I like the reader's question and think it's valid," another man wrote. "Has the horror of their experience changed their mind about lax gun laws?" Several FB responses to my post pointed out that in at least one case, it already has. They cited Josh Abbott Band guitarist Caleb Keeter, who witnessed the Las Vegas massacre. The following day, he tweeted: "I've been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life ... I cannot express how wrong I was." Keeter went on to say, "We need gun control. RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn't realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it." Look, I don't disagree. Do we need to study how regulatory measures could reduce gun violence in this country? Absolutely. Do I believe the National Rifle Association has cowed our elected officials into a paralytic suspension of policy review and good sense? Yes, you can check that box, too. But I'm uncomfortable at comments that seem to want to rub survivors' noses in a political lesson. These are people still experiencing shock, loss, why-them-not-me survivor's guilt. Is it really appropriate to, first, make stereotypical generalizations about their beliefs, and second, to lecture them about how those beliefs should change? There's an uneasy whiff here of something reminiscent of the supercilious Victorian distinction between the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor, a hint that we would feel more sympathy had lunatic gunman Stephen Paddock targeted a peace march or a yoga retreat. Those would have been victims, goes the implication, that we could identify with. A CBS corporate official was unceremoniously fired last week after posting a stunningly clueless Facebook comment saying exactly that. And it went largely unnoted by my brethren in the mainstream media when a respected CNN reporter made the observation - apropos of nothing - that "a lot of these country music supporters were likely Trump supporters." Here in the more subtle corners of Lefty-Land - ordinarily my native territory - I keep hearing these sub rosa references to the concert-goers: "Trump voters," "NRA members," "gun-toters." If "gun toters" means gun owners, that includes pretty much all of my male relatives. More to the point, though, is that I just don't think we should be making political assumptions about traumatized victims of violence, or telling them how to feel about what they have been through. For our society in general, our elected officials, for those who hold a perverse the-more-guns-the-better philosophy on life in modern America, absolutely. This hideous event, like the massacres that came before it, should give them pause. It's facile, I know, to create imaginary parallels. But indulge me for a minute: Had a radicalized Islamic terrorist or an crazed undocumented immigrant targeted a crowd at, say, Lollapalooza or Austin City Limits, how quickly would we hear a chorus from the right: "Now maybe those libruls will wise up about (terrorism/immigration)." And how quickly and predictably would we hear a righteous pushback from the left about bogus generalizations, political opportunism and blaming-the-victims? Yes, we should be talking - right now - about gun violence, and spare me the it's-not-the-time-to-talk-about-politics. It's exactly the time. When innocents are killed with guns, it's time to talk. But it's not time, it's never time, to tell victims how they should be feeling. I have nothing but respect for Mr. Keeter's candor, and for his measured personal reaction to a life-altering trauma. Likewise, I respect the many who are still too stunned and grief-stricken to even contemplate engaging in political debate. As for my original correspondent: I apologized for my snotty kneejerk response, and she gracefully forgave me. But I'm sticking with the larger premise. Yes, right now is the time to talk about the politics and policy of gun violence.Not, however, with the survivors of the Las Vegas massacre. All they need right now is support and comfort - with no strings attached.  Continue reading...

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