Thoughts and Prayers and Guns. Again. The American Response Is Never Enough.
*Originally posted on my blog after the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, 2017. Note how much is unchanged though this shooting happened in another country with far less gun violence than the U.S. The rise of white supremacy is terrorism but the media still isn’t calling white supremacists terrorists.
“Another deranged white man has gunned down another group of innocent people.
And once again, a comedian has diagnosed one of our society’s diseases more masterfully than our politicians.”
When I wrote this in November of 2017 I was referring to comedian Jim Jefferies. It is unfortunately still true. But today, I refer to Drew Morgan, another comedian with a more succinct diagnosis of how we react to mass shootings than our politicians. He says:
“The height of privilege is offering up “thoughts and prayers” when people get murdered for how they think and pray.”
The rest of this article is as originally posted. It is heartbreaking how applicable it is to the mass shooting of innocent Muslims in New Zealand, the willful inaction of politicians and the uniquely American from-my-cold-dead-hands defensiveness of those against gun control.
While our elected officials stand solemnly before flags and cameras and issue invective about not politicizing tragedy and “disrespecting the victims’ families” by making the aftermath of a mass shooting about the gun control debate, Australian comedian Jim Jefferies deftly took down American hypocrisy in less than 10 minutes on a comedy special a while back. He can do that because he actually wants a solution. Politicians don’t want to search for what they know does not exist, cannot coexist — a unicorn who leaves in its rainbow-cloaked wake innocent civilians unriddled with bullets, gun owners armed to the teeth and lobbyists relieved that regulation will only decrease — all singing John Lennon together. Poly couples on dating apps have more luck finding actual unicorns.
Because this cartoonishly absurd Venn diagram is impossible politicians offer magic that no one asked for and not everyone believes in — thoughts and prayers. And that ad nauseam looped reel needs to roll to a stop. Not least because thoughts and prayers are both comprised of words. But politicians never regurgitate anything more specific than “thoughts and prayers”. Like policy change. Words mean something. So if they say anything more specific than empty condolences they might be called to action. And they do not want to be held accountable for anything too specific.
So if you’re able to hear anything over the din of anachronistic Americans raging about the Second Amendment after every mass shooting, you might have caught the Australian’s Netflix special called Bare a few shootings ago. I am not trying to be flippant about the victims of each shooting. But I am trying to be flippant about the absurdity of politicians posing in mournful camaraderie after each mass shooting, the frequency of which is unconscionable, gathered in hand-wringing solidarity about the impossibility of preventing another such tragedy. How could this happen??? Each one of them poses in sanctimonious ceremony within their constituency. Silent as votive candles. They are trying to emote and evoke the same sacred glow of invocation and intention that actual votive candles do. If they do speak, they increasingly seem to prefer minister-like roles, holding hands with their congregation to comfort them during these difficult times. Except that their sworn (and overpaid) duty is not to spiritually advise. It is to legislate. This is an active verb. They forget that they are not paid to bow their heads and quietly pray with the faithful — not to seek healing with the seekers. They are elected to be the doers, the agents of change — our public servants need to serve us, not themselves.
Jim Jefferies has no time or patience for “bullshit arguments and lies” when it comes to changing gun regulation. He does give the obligatory disclaimer about believing in everyone’s Second Amendment rights because it’s in our Constitution. A statement which must be made before anyone, especially a foreigner, (gasp!), dares to suggest that 200-year-old legislation about muskets and regulated militias might be ripe for modernizing.
After genuflecting before this, one of those most hallowed of Americanisms, Jefferies allows himself to get to his point — that the only honest argument for guns is just simply that you like them. That’s it. Although his bit is hilarious and worth watching just for the comedic value, his succinct points are solid. The transcript reads like an amiable think piece.
He swiftly debunks the protection/home security argument. If you are a “responsible gun owner”, as most gun owners will proudly boast, you keep your guns locked in a safe. But if you are using guns to protect yourself and your family how are you supposed to access those guns in time if someone does break in? He further goes on to remind people that most break-ins are attempted robberies, not premeditated attempted murders. But if you are anticipating murderers who are targeting you specifically, he wonders what kind of person you are. “How many fucking enemies do you have?!” Good question. Acts of random violence, as far as I’m aware, are far less common than targeted attacks among people known to each other.
And if home security and protecting the family were what truly amped people up they’d be reading Padlock Monthly and posting enthusiastic pictures of themselves posing in front of secure doors, posturing like they’re bad-asses. To hear him say this in a flawless American accent is even funnier.
Joking aside, civilians simply do not need military-grade tactical weapons. Ever. Literally for anything. Except that people think they’re cool. Which is all Jim Jefferies is asking people to acknowledge — their true motivation.
Here. I’ll go first. I think guns are a lot of fun to shoot. I like shooting a pistol more than a shotgun. And I like shooting rifles even more than pistols — I especially dislike the hand cannons that feel like a reckoning. I like plinking bolt action .22s as much as bearing down on a target with an AR-15 or zeroing in on clay pigeons with the old AK. But I do not need to own them to define myself.
I’ll leave it to the experts to further probe and diagnose the masculinity crisis in this country. But I will say that both the quietest gun owners and vehement second amendmentists (is that a word?) seem to self-identify as “proud” gun owners. Guns aren’t just something they have, it is who they are. So why is this particular item an identity? There is something so profoundly defining that they are unwilling to part with it. Even those perplexing gun owners who are neither hunters nor skeet-shooters.
All I have to say about the latest shooting is that it seems like labeling gun violence a mental health problem is just the latest way that those financed by the gun lobby compartmentalize another mass shooting so they can disregard it each time. It’s a sidestep. The last few times (because of course it happens enough to create a shooter profile) we’ve heard the “mental health issue” explanation it is only applied to the oxymoronic “lone wolves” — the disgruntled white guys who never get labeled as terrorists, domestic or otherwise. And it is never followed up with, and that’s why we’re introducing this $10B mental health care package for work in specialized prevention and treatment.
The media coverage of mass shooters is predictably disparate when the shooter is foreign, Arab, Muslim or any of the above. For an excellent dissection of this unfortunate phenomenon and how it reflects even deeper systemic inequality throughout our culture read Rebecca Traister’s “Why Do We Humanize White Guys Who Kill People?” She wrote this two years ago and its continued relevance is lamentable.
I don’t see this changing anytime soon. So I’ll leave you with another quote from Jim Jefferies preempting predictable backlash against a foreigner daring to suggest gun control: “If you don’t like it, go home! If you don’t like it, go home!” And my answer to that is,
“’No.’ I came here legally. I pay my taxes. I’ll say whatever the fuck I want. Your First Amendment means that I can say the Second Amendment sucks dicks. And … unless you’re an American Indian, you’re a fucking immigrant as well, so fuck off. People get so precious about it.”