The Blood-Price Of Political Dysfunction

We didn't get here by happenstance.
10/02/2017 04:15 pm ET Updated Oct 02, 2017
Carlos Barria / Reuters

I hope Justice Kennedy watches the news.

This morning at least 58 people were murdered and more than 500 were injured when a 64-year-old civilian opened fire on a crowded concert in Las Vegas. This was the second “largest mass shooting in modern American history” in the past two years — surpassing 2016’s dreadful harvest of 49 souls in Orlando. For comparison’s sake, at the height of the Second Battle of Fallujah in November 2004, the United States lost 54 people and 425 wounded in 9 days.

This mass murder is our collective failure. Ritually, we as a society pay the blood-price for our policy inaction. In 2016 we lost 49 in Orlando; and in 2015 we lost nine in Charleston; and 20 children and six adults in 2012 in Newtown; and 32 in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007; and on, and on, and on, and on.

Let’s be clear, this is a failure of policy. This is not a failure of imagination, or of security. We have failed to set anything close to a sensible gun control policy in this country. These policies have been stymied, at every turn, by Republican legislators indentured to their NRA lobbyists.

So, I hope Justice Kennedy watches the news. Because tomorrow morning the Supreme Court hears arguments in the most important case for our democracy in a generation. Tomorrow the Court considers whether politicians can gerrymander their districts so badly, and so blatantly, that they lock in their party’s control of a legislature for decades.

Process issues like this may seem far removed from the terrifying news out of Las Vegas this morning. But our streets, our clubs, our concerts, and our schools have not been turned into abattoirs accidentally. This has been our policy choice, and it’s getting worse. In the wake of this morning’s news, the GOP leadership still plans to vote on a bill relaxing burdens on gun silencers. Think about that. In the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history, where the victims roundly reported that they ran from harm’s way when they heard the shots — the GOP wants to make it easier to silence those shots. This is a moral abomination.

We didn’t get here by happenstance. Political game-rigging got us here. Senator Chris Murphy today said “It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic.” Murphy said. “It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.” That’s true. But we all know today’s Congress won’t.

The reason why is that when a legislature is so drawn to remove its members from the full political spectrum, those members respond only to the furthest ends of that spectrum. A politically gerrymandered district removes the incentive for compromise, for conscience, and for contemplation. Instead, special interests can ensure their policy agendas win out over majority will because only the furthest extremes of the base need be catered to.

If we are going to fix our national gun problem — our compulsion to self-destruction — we need to fix our political process. If we don’t we will continue live in a world where a single 64-year-old civilian can hole themselves up in a Las Vegas hotel room with 10 separate rifles, rain hellfire down on an unsuspecting crowd, and cause death and destruction worse than Fallujah in 2004.

This is our national shame. Justice Kennedy’s vote in the gerrymandering case may be the first step to redemption.

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