Editorial Page Editor
Sunday November 5, 2017
Published hours before the Sutherland Springs, Texas massacre
In a nation divided over almost everything from tax rates to voter I.D. laws, apparently we can add another category to argue about: mass killings.
You read that correctly. Even though these kinds of tragedies should produce a united reaction of sympathy and outrage, they are starting to split us along predictable political patterns.
On Tuesday an immigrant from Uzbekistan drove a rental truck onto a bicycle path in New York City, killing eight and injuring several others. The perpetrator, wounded and captured by police after the attack, proudly boasted about his allegiance to ISIS. He even wanted an ISIS flag to hang in his hospital room. Fortunately, that request was denied.
Conservatives were particularly outraged that the killer had been allowed into this country under a Diversity Visa Program they had long criticized. It allowed immigrants to come here from some countries simply because they didn’t have a lot of other citizens who immigrated here. Apparently, no one should be left out of the American Dream.
Liberals were mostly silent because the terrorist was Muslim, and he used a truck, not a gun. They didn’t want to fan any ethnic tensions. They issued no calls for new laws — or bitter complaints that “your thoughts and prayers for the victims are not enough.”
They basically reacted as if it was one of those things that just couldn’t be prevented, like a tragic crash on a busy highway or airport runway.
Just a few weeks earlier, however, the politics were reversed.
When a psychopath murdered 58 people and wounded 540 others in Las Vegas, the right was mostly mum while the left spoke out loudly. Liberals said the nightmare showed the need for stiffer gun laws, and the dangers of stereotyping all mass killers as Muslims. This time, it was their side that asked in despair, “How many times does this have to happen before we do something?”
Conservatives? Well, they basically reacted as if it was one of those things that just couldn’t be prevented, like a tragic crash on a busy highway or airport runway.
That kind of social schizophrenia isn’t helping anyone. While the left and right will never agree on some of the underlying issues, and the different types of killings can’t always be compared, some common sense would help.
A good question to ask when these tragedies occur is, “What law would have changed this?” In the case of the Las Vegas shootings, bans on weapons that could be used for legitimate purposes still make no sense. “Bump stocks,” however, change semiautomatic weapons into ones that resemble fully automatic. They should be banned.
The New York City attack proves again that radical Islam terrorism is a reality, not a Fox News invention. Surveillance of possible terrorists in this country and better vetting of potential immigrants from the Mideast isn’t bias. It’s good law enforcement.
Even with these kinds of precautions, both sides should realize that most of these attacks are virtually impossible to prevent.
Most of these mass killers are eerily quiet before they strike. Some don’t even have parking tickets. Police have no reason to suspect they’re dangerous, and neither do their neighbors. But something inside them snaps, and they get a truck you can rent anywhere or a gun you can buy anywhere and do something horrible with it.
Quite frankly, some of this is going to happen in a nation of 330 million people. We can do some things to reduce it — as noted above — and we certainly should.
But when the news of another attack breaks, we can avoid reflexively blaming the party we voted against in the last election, or calling for wholesale bans on immigrants or guns.
We might be able to do nothing more than mourn the dead and pray for the survivors. But that’s never a bad reaction, and at least it doesn’t distract or divide us any more than we already are.