Roundtable – More Shootings

The Roundtable is Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The text has been lightly edited for clarity, and some links were added after the fact. This conversation happened on August 5, 2019.

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

Hello and welcome to our Roundtable, Torchlight staff’s discussion of recent news and events. Today we can’t help but talk about the recent spate of high profile mass shootings, particularly in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in which single gunmen killed 30 and injured dozens more. These incidents are only related by time and space and an upsetting normalcy in this country. To start with, how are you feeling about all this?

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor (aka Christo)

The ironic Bojack “thoughts and prayers” reaction is now too much for me even beyond the actual “thoughts and prayers”. The first thing that hit me was the routineness of it all. We know what needs to be done. We know we need to get the guns out. We know that white supremacy and white nationalism are the problem. It is difficult not to be discouraged.

David Spitzley, Senior Contributor

There are too many parts to grapple with it effectively. You’ve got the upwelling of white supremacy, you’ve got incels, you’ve got a president dehumanizing the political opposition, and you’ve got the problem of how, if it’s actually likely to be effective, you remove millions of weapons from the hands of people who may take that action as reason to use them en masse.

Plus, these high-profile events are unrepresentative of gun deaths in general, so at one level we aren’t even focusing on the heart of the problem. It’s very difficult knowing how to respond except sadness and anger.

Ann Anderson, Contributing Writer

How am I feeling? Sad, angry, and violated. We just did this a week ago. Our president’s rhetoric encouraged what happened in El Paso, for which neither he nor his cronies will ever take responsibility. Then today, Trump fell back on the same old talking points that mean nothing will be done (and we know effective things that don’t infringe on the Second Amendment can be done). To top it all off, Mike Huckabee had the gall to write in his blog today that thoughts and prayers are the only things we can do. As someone who lived through an active shooter in her office building decades ago (and fortunately the gunman came nowhere near our office), I am deeply offended by the response from Trump and others of his ilk at a time of national trauma.

Christo

I have trouble deciding right now who is worse, McConnell who is one of the most cynical political operators alive, or Trump, an out and out white nationalist.

Josh

Personally I feel almost numb to it at this point. Mass shootings are literally a daily event in this country. So are demonstrations that Trump is unfit to be president and bad for the country. I empathize completely with Beto’s frustration and exasperation when asked what the president could do to make things better. He can resign, is the answer. Or sincerely repudiate his past rhetoric. Or other things Trump will never do. It’s no coincidence that the El Paso attack comes on the heels of a national discussion about how the president’s racism is an admitted political tactic. He stokes fear and anger and those people who are inclined toward violence get the nudge they need to inflict it on people of color. I want to talk about Dayton too, the virulent strain of misogyny and hate that lives on our internet. But first, what can be done about fighting white supremacy with one of its chief proponents in the White House?

David

The most important thing for white people to be doing is call it white supremacy and continually make it clear that white politicians who do not speak up against it are complicit. The periodic cleavages that form within the GOP over this issue is one of the primary weapons we have to weaken its hold before 2020. If even a couple of congressional retirements are triggered by the continual pressure it may help.

Christo

Speaking on that, even Ted Cruz is talking about white nationalism, and I think we are up to 3 retirements in the Texas delegation alone. It’s pretty clear they are feeling pressure. We need to make them feel their complicity in every aspect of this issue. 

Ann

On a personal level, I call it out as much as possible. And I use almost Socratic methods to explain to Trump supporters that his rhetoric is, indeed, racist. Of course, it only has limited effect.

On a broader scale, it’s hard. I agree with what you both said. I also just saw an article today indicating that de-platforming truly racist/hate-speech groups does work, but I didn’t get a chance to read the article fully, so I don’t know how accurate the article is. Plus, in this country, there is the slippery slope argument against it. But de-platforming has limited effect when the biggest visible platform is the bully pulpit of the POTUS himself. I just don’t have a good answer to that except to vote him out, and then, when supporters complain about reclaiming the country from the racism that’s been allowed to spread, we tell them “You were told this was unacceptable all along.” 

Christo

I think the President talking white nationalism at these people is awful, but deplatforming removes the interactivity of a conversation, which is probably important.

David

“Conversation” implies equal power between the participants.

Christo

We are talking about 8chan and the like. I think. 

Ann

I understand your concern Christo, but I would caution that giving a platform is how we have gotten 9/11 conspiracies, chemtrails, anti-vaxxing, and the increase in flat-earthers. A lie that sounds good will spread far and wide and in many minds get set in stone, before the truth can be explained or that interactive conversation started.

Also for clarification, I am not just talking about 8chan, and I am also hesitant before giving the green light to de-platforming.

Christo

To be very clear, you said that deplatforming has limited effect when the President is a White Nationalist. I agree, but I think there is a significant benefit to deplatforming, especially stuff like 8chan, which is the dregs of the dregs of the internet. That is all I was saying.

Ann

Okay, sorry. I got confused since I mentioned it can be something of benefit too before I mentioned the president.

Christo

So far, deplatforming seems to be the most effective tool we have right now. We aren’t talking about anything besides stuff like 8chan or Daily Stormer, or that sort of awfulness.

Ann

True.

Josh

Let’s move to talk about Dayton, where the shooter seems to have been motivated by misogynistic impulses. Discounting the president’s unique brand of sexism and sexual predation, this is an equally toxic ideology, also spread on the internet and also appealing to disaffected young men predisposed to violence. Are the methods for dealing with this problem the same as with white supremacy?

Christo

It is basically the same ideology, just with some values swapped out, as far as I can tell. I think the methods of dealing with it are similar.

Ann

On this issue my personal efforts to educate run deeper because there are a lot of things baked into our culture, regardless of political divides, that are misogynistic. So I find myself explaining to people on all parts of the political spectrum who simply were not aware. That’s not to say racism isn’t baked into our culture as well. It obviously is, and I agree that right now, on the broad scale, the methods of dealing with it and misogyny are largely the same. I am just also noting well-meaning folks whom I can reach when I speak to them tend to be more aware of when the racist line is crossed then when the toxic one regarding women has been crossed.

Josh

So both of these ideologies are deeply concerning, inspiring acts of terror and quotidian violence. But other countries are suffering from these cultural afflictions, and don’t have anywhere near the rate of mass shootings that we do here. The difference isn’t video games or mental health care; it’s the ubiquity and availability of guns. What can possibly be done about guns, given GOP intransigence? Do you find that decades of zero advancement on this issue makes you more willing to embrace more extensive proposals for gun control?

Christo

I am much less enamored of incrementalism, both because we have one chance, and because we will be accused of extremism etc anyways. We can get a better result in whatever political compromise, but we need to now start trying with abandon. We have the House, we need to have even more votes. These measures are popular. We can make progress.

Ann

I understand folks’ frustration, but I still am trying to stay on the side of not violating the Second Amendment. That said, lots can be done within that framework and have been proven to work. These include mandatory gun/trigger locks, longer waiting periods, red flag laws, a revised and better assault weapon ban, and similar.

As for the intransigence of the GOP in allowing that to happen, there are a couple of things that have been slowly moving the dial. One of them is the rise of various groups that stand as a counter-point to the gun lobby, and thus votes for politicians. I am referring to groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Meanwhile, the NRA, which is the gun lobby’s biggest political sledgehammer, is showing cracks. Another is the foot-in-the-door steps that the majority of Americans, across party lines, agree upon, such as better background checks and closing the gun show loopholes. Trauma surgeons have also mentioned that lawmakers should be forced to see the mangled mess these guns make of bodies after a shooting, to force the issue.

Another option is learning to work with the GOP lawmakers to get what is needed done. For example, a Democratic politician’s aide recently explained that the politician was able to get support from across the aisle for certain gun reform measures by adding a codicil that provided for research to see if law was effective after so many years, thus giving the GOP folks an out, while at the same time actually getting them to agree to gun violence research. Obviously, however, the biggest step forward is to vote the obstructionists out.

Josh

I find myself much more willing to take extreme measures once we have the ability to do so. We can’t repeal the 2nd Amendment, but we can pack the Supreme Court and rewrite Heller to redefine the right to bear arms as applying to militias only. Just like on a lot of issues progress on which are routinely murdered by Graveyard Mitch, at a certain point you can only respond to an unwillingness to compromise with an unwillingness to compromise. We have to get the vast majority of guns out of our country, and we have to make sure that those which remain are not in the hands of the kinds of people who are going to commit these kinds of crimes. We reached a breaking point on this years ago. We are well beyond that point now, still broken.

Josh

Let’s wrap up today’s discussion with final thoughts. Or rather, final thoughts for now, because we all know we’ll be having this same talk again all too soon.

Christo

It is hard to continue taking this, but at the same time, it’s hard to see a way out. SCOUTUS and Republicans have unquestionably caused a great deal of harm with regard to firearms. The White Nationalism issue is so fraught, the FBI is reluctant to investigate. We need leadership, and we need to know the next president will act on this.

David

I don’t see much short term hope for change. I sure hope some of the measures discussed here can make headway, particularly if the optics of these shootings put the GOP more visibly into the company of violent white supremacists. But ultimately I don’t see the political influence being there until (hopefully) Inauguration Day 2021.

Ann

I am frustrated and angry. I just wrote on this topic a few days before these latest shootings. As you say, I’ll be writing on it again all too soon. But I am trying to channel that frustration and anger into moving the ball forward and voting the roadblocks out so we can finally make progress in America regarding both gun violence and hatred.

Josh

As terrible as these events are, I do think there’s hope to be found in how angry people are, and how much need there is to translate that anger into action. We saw it with the Parkland kids, and we’re seeing it now—many people are simply done tolerating the violence. 2021 isn’t so far away, and neither is November 2020, when people will finally have a place to put their anger and their sadness. The problem is vast, but there’s work we can do to move forward. We’ll get there eventually.

And that’s all the time we have today. Thanks all for a lively discussion, and thank you for reading.

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