Chris Hayes, host of All In, is generally thoughtful and one of the few MSNBC evening hosts who regularly welcomes conservative guests. But addressing the Navy Yard shooting in last night’s monologue, starting around 3:30, he made one of the least analogous comparisons I’ve heard in a while:
We spend billions of dollars on cancer research every year because we refuse to accept that cancer will continue to steal people in their prime from us. And we have developed laws and engineering solutions to make cars and roads safer and safer over the years. Heck, we even work to prevent deaths from lightning. The NFL showdown between the Niners and the Seahawks this Sunday, the most watched TV event of the week, was put on pause for an entire hour while a thunderstorm rolled through the area. They stopped the game to protect the players’ safety. But, then again, lightning doesn’t have a lobby, now does it?
It’s true that one of the differences between lightning and guns is that lightning doesn’t have a lobbying operation. Here are other differences: Lightning can’t be wielded in self-defense against other thunderstorms; lightning can’t be used to protect your family against home invasion; there aren’t at least 18 studies showing that carrying a concealed lightning bolt helps reduce crime; there aren’t 310 million lightning bolts already circulating around the country; the right to bear lightning isn’t enshrined in an amendment to our Constitution; a high-voltage militia isn’t historically considered a check on federal power.
Yet these sorts of facile comparisons have been common since the Navy Yard shooting on Monday, employed both by unctuous quacks like David Frum and more heedful voices like Hayes. The message following a mass shooting is always that more gun control is a logical—simple, really—solution. The dual nature of firearms, their potential for safety as well as destruction—to say nothing of America’s deep-rooted gun culture—is rarely addressed. Guns are just like cars and outdoor sports games, you see. Now let’s see some regulations.
If you’re going to use a shooting as an emotional springboard for a policy argument, you have to demonstrate how your specific policy would have stopped that specific shooting. So which of the proposals on the congressional ledger would have foiled Aaron Alexis? Background checks? Alexis passed two of those. A ban on assault rifles? Alexis tried to purchase an AR-15 but couldn’t get one promptly, so he rampaged with a shotgun and pistol instead. Even if you advocate for a sweeping ban on firearms, Alexis committed the crime at the Navy Yard, a gun-free zone, in Washington, D.C., which has some of the tightest gun laws in the country.
Tragedies like the one at Navy Yard are stark matters of simplicity: good vs. evil, life vs. death. Consequently we want solutions rooted in equally stark dichotomies: gun anarchy vs. gun control, reactionary populism vs. social progress, delaying a football game vs. playing in the rain. The actual nature of the problem is always far more complex. And sometimes—perish the thought—there isn’t anything that Congress can do about it.