Watching the Second Amendment in Action

Like many of you, no doubt, I watched the studio-produced live video of two local television journalists being murdered in Virginia yesterday pretty soon after it happened. I might have also looked at the vastly more graphic killer-generated cellphone video of the event, but chose not to. Most media outlets soon stopped posting or linking to either video before long. At TNR, Jeet Heer explains why: there was no doubt who the perp was, and thus no real reason to distribute the video.

But also at TNR, Brian Beutler thinks otherwise:

The line between informing the public and macabre gratuitousness is murky, and staying on the right side of it requires great discretion and judgment. But rather than cleanse newscasts and websites of the on-air killing, producers and editors should make it easily available to their viewers and readers, because our society unfortunately needs vivid reminders of the awesome, life-stopping power of firearms.

In an abstract sense, everyone knows guns are deadly, in the same way everyone knows cigarettes are deadly. But our political culture—the conservative faction of it, at least—sanitizes the way guns end life in a way that sets gun violence apart from other public health risks….

When a bullet pierces human flesh, that body becomes extremely ill right away, no less than when a body flies through a windshield or experiences a severe electric shock. But where government actively regulates cars and construction sites—indeed is applauded for doing so—it simultaneously takes steps to abstract guns from the harm they cause, and silence public officials who refuse to play along. Last year, dozens of senators opposed President Barack Obama’s Surgeon General nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, on the grounds that he described gun violence as a public health issue and, in his private capacity, had supported efforts to further regulate firearms.

Murthy was eventually confirmed, but barely, and only because Democrats had disarmed the filibuster as a means of blocking executive branch nominees.

What Beutler doesn’t mention here is that he was a gunshot victim not long ago; his was the body that became “extremely ill right away,” and he might well have died. He wrote about the incident at Salon back in 2013, mainly to rebut the idea that gun violence justified racial profiling. But his descriptions of the shock he went into and his gradual horrifying realization after surgery of the damage wrought by three bullets was unforgettable.

So this is one person who has experienced the downside of the Second Amendment rights that make America a uniquely gun-toting country and wants the rest of us to get at least a small glimpse of it as well, instead of treating the shooting of human beings with guns as an abstraction or glorifying it as the essence of liberty.

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.