(Providence, Rhode Island) – The movie theater tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, continues to be the talk of the nation. It is the focus of prayers and remembrances in places of worship and elsewhere on this Sunday, as it should be. Discussions about politics seem trivial by comparison, but here are some thoughts and observations:
“Getting it Right” – I was impressed by both President Obama and Governor Romney, who suspended their campaign activities Friday. In the past, I have seen too many politicians open a political rally after a tragedy with a moment of silence, a prayer, a brief pause, and then launch into talking points or attacks on an opponent. On Friday both candidates were in the awkward position of having rallies already scheduled. I was with the Romney campaign in New Hampshire, and I can’t remember a more somber event in all my years of covering politics (photo above). The President was in Florida. At each event, the candidate chose to deliver remarks of sympathy and condolences, with calls for national grieving. It was a day of mourning, and there would be no campaigning. Politicians often get it wrong; Friday President Obama and Governor Romney struck the right tone.
“The Public Outcry” – It’s probably human nature, but Friday’s tragedy prompted calls for more laws – from both sides of the aisle. Talk radio was especially busy with chatter. There were calls from the left for more gun control, and calls from the right for more lenient “concealed carry” laws so citizens – including theater-goers - could better arm and protect themselves. I even watched one TV reporter make the ill-conceived suggestion that the public was clamoring for “airport-style” metal detectors and security at the entrances to all movie theaters. None of this is likely to happen.
“No Knee-Jerk Reactions” – Why are such proposed laws unlikely to see the light of day? It’s because the legislative procedure in this country was set up to be a deliberative, contemplative process, with checks and balances. I know legislation in the United States – whether in Congress, the Statehouse, or City Hall – seemingly takes forever. That’s by design! The idea was that laws should be shaped by reasoned debate and not by raw emotion. So, progress and proposed legislation move at a snail's pace. When I worked in Congress, a noted scholar once told us: “Yes, the slow pace of Congress interferes with good legislation; but it also prevents bad bills from becoming law.” Of course, we can find many exceptions to that rule, but his point was well taken. Seldom does haste make for good public policy.
“On the Other Hand” – In due time, there may be a need for legislation to help prevent mass murders. After the Oklahoma City bombing, procedures were put in place to prevent large-scale purchases of fertilizer (since those seemingly innocuous chemicals could be combined with other components to make huge bombs). Also, since other shooting tragedies in the early 1990s, there are ways to tag gun powder and ammunition lots, so they can be traced back to accused criminals without infringing on the rights of others to use such items lawfully. Again, these weren’t laws that were made in haste. They took time and deliberation, as well as a weighing of citizens' rights.
“In Memory” – All of these discussions will come at a more proper time. As mentioned, we are still a nation in mourning. Now is the time to grieve and to comfort, not to campaign and to legislate. The latter activities will happen in due course. In the meantime, we offer our prayers and condolences to the victims, to their families, and to their loved ones.
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