Shortly after 10pm on October 1st, 2017, Las Vegas police responded to reports of “shots fired” on the Route 91 Harvest Festival, staged on the Las Vegas Strip. For 10 to 15 minutes, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock rained bullets on the county music crowd in a torrent of rapid-fire from his hotel sweet on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bar Resort and Casino. Before a SWAT team broke down the door to his sweet, Paddock shot at one officer and then cowardly turned the gun on himself. Less than 24 hours later, 527 people are wounded and 59 people are dead – though that number is expected to grow.
In a press conference the following day, President Trump expressed his shared feelings with the Nation of “sadness, shock and grief,” and called the mass-killing “and act of pure evil.” Former President Obama took to Twitter, saying “Michelle & I are praying for the victims in Las Vegas. Our thoughts are with their families & everyone enduring another senseless tragedy.”
The “thoughts and prayers” rhetoric has become somewhat of a generic expression of mourning in the social-media age. But this is probably the correct response. It is best to first lower the flags, bury the dead, console the bereaved – and then we can carry on fighting as usual. The improper response is what we’ve seen from the break of dawn: using this act of pure evil as a means to push a political and/or social agenda.
One of the most notable offenders was former presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton who angered many Americans with her tweets, “Our grief isn’t enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.” and, “The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.”
Her first tweet began with the correct response and ended with the contrary. To say that politics must be set aside, only to press a very sensitive political position, sent shockwaves throughout the electronic world. Not only was her tweet incongruous, it immediately placed blame on the public policy group, the National Rifle Association. Her following tweet dealt more with misguided conjecture and the use of a hypothetical to further demonize the NRA.
But biologist and writer, Richard Dawkins went even further with his satirical tweet, “Durn tootin’, great shootin’. Cool dude sertin’ he’s 2nd Mendment rahts. Hell yeah! Every country has its psychopaths. In US they have guns.” This mockery landed heavy on the victims of the shooting as it scoffs at the clichéd gun-slinger of the wild west.
Worst yet, Hayley Geftman-Gold, a top legal executive at CBS tweeted, “If they wouldn’t do anything when children were murdered I have no hope that the Repugs will ever do the right thing. I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans are often republican gun toters.” She was promptly fired.
The politicization, the mockery and the hatefulness of inappropriate rhetoric must be avoided at all costs. That is not to say that people are not entitled to an opinion or even that they’re being disingenuous in their outrage. On the contrary, in a free state, individuals have the God-given right to speak their minds openly and without the fear of censorship – no matter how offensive or deplorable it may be. Rather, I mean that it’s improper and unbecoming of a civil society to make this strictly about any number of political, social or even mocking objectives before the bodies are cold. It is especially improper to rush to conclusions and place blame well before all the facts are in.
And when that time comes, we will be sure to address those facts and the policies that accompany them. But this is not that time. This is a time to weep, and a time to mourn. It is a time to unite as Americans against hatred and violence. Thoughts and prayers are proper, but still more we can do. The day after the shooting, leading to late hours of the night, men and women stood in lines for hours ready to give blood to help save the lives of their fellow citizens. In fact, there are a few ways we can contribute to the cause:
There will be plenty of time for debate and general disagreement – but not now. Take this time to focus on the actual victims of this heinous crime. They need all the help and support they can get. We will be talking policy soon enough. But let’s get all the facts before we jump to conclusions. And be sure to show decency to those who oppose you – no matter how distasteful their tweets may be to you.