Friday, December 14, 2012

When Is It "Politicizing" to Talk About Gun Laws?

In the wake of the shooting earlier today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, many people have been discussing gun control and gun rights.

And, in response, there have been accusations that such talk amounts to "politicizing" the tragedy.

What are we to make of this? Is it necessarily "politicizing" the shooting to talk about issues of gun control and gun rights?

No. It can't be that simply discussing gun policy is inappropriate in the wake of a shooting. These tragedies are horrible, and it's entirely sensible that they should prompt a discussion about what can be done to prevent them.

In fact, it would be strange to argue that, because these incidents are so devastating, it's inappropriate to discuss how to stop them.

But -- even if the content of the discussion is appropriate -- there is arguably an issue with timing and proximity.

These tragedies evoke sorrow and fear, and -- in the aftermath -- people rightly seek comfort and refuge. Discussions about gun policy may be important and necessary, but they're reliably contentious. Not only do they fail to provide comfort, they actively upset attempts by people to find solace and relief.

Probably it's best to create some space between the tragedy and the discussion about what policies we should enact in response to it. Especially for people who are strongly affected by it, either because they live near where it happened, or because they're related to those involved in it.

However, even out of respect for those affected, these discussions cannot be put off indefinitely. It's vague exactly how much of a postponement is appropriate: 24 hours? A weekend? A month? Different people cope with tragedy at different paces, and some will be prepared to shift from mourning to policy debates more quickly than others.

So, it's not inappropriate -- in the form of "politicization" or anything else -- to talk about policy in response to tragedy. After all, one of the main reasons we craft political policies is to address matters of life and death.

But it is appropriate to prioritize things in terms of timing. Unlike policy discussions, feelings of shock and the act of mourning are very difficult to put off until a later date.

A brief pause in discussing gun policy is arguably a good idea, if it provides room for those affected to recover from such a shock.

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