Facts Behind the Tragedies

I’m watching CNN now, and it’s very clear the initial reports of minimal casualties at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were grievously erroneous. Local police are confirming 27 dead, including 18 children; no reports yet on the injured.

Remember: This is an elementary school. One report suggested the shootings began in the kindergarten section of the school. Aside from the ineffable tragedy of such young lives lost, you have to figure the traumatization of the survivors will be extraordinary.

I doubt this time we’ll hear many claims that the victims should have themselves been packing guns.

There’s little to say in a situation like this, but do want to pass along some facts posted by Ezra Klein:

Mother Jones has tracked and mapped every shooting spree in the last three decades. “Since 1982, there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii,” they found. And in most cases, the killers had obtained their weapons legally….

The Harvard Injury Control Research Center assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders. This holds true whether you’re looking at different countries or different states….

Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive.

Now I’m not much in the mood right now for a “debate” over gun laws or much of anything else. But when the time for that comes, Ezra is exactly right on a key point:

When we first collected much of this data, it was after the Aurora, Colo. shootings, and the air was thick with calls to avoid “politicizing” the tragedy. That is code, essentially, for “don’t talk about reforming our gun control laws.”

Let’s be clear: That is a form of politicization. When political actors construct a political argument that threatens political consequences if other political actors pursue a certain political outcome, that is, almost by definition, a politicization of the issue. It’s just a form of politicization favoring those who prefer the status quo to stricter gun control laws.

Now’s a time for reflection, prayer and sympathy. But when it’s time to think, nothing should be placed arbitrarily off the table.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.