A tried and true trope of conservatives faced with the grim outcomes of their cockamamie schemes is to attempt to shame everyone into ignoring the human cost of their policies — ironically — out of respect for the people hurt. Something horrible happened, but it’s unseemly to try to explore why it happened, just sit back and let the moment pass and enjoy some bread and circuses until you forget.
We’ve seen it countless times before. It’s rhetorical standard operating procedure. After Sandy Hook, the usual suspects from Senator Rand Paul to the Washington Times decried the “cruel” and “shameful” “exploitation” involved in pointing out that putting military assault rifles on the street makes it easy for someone to kill a lot of kids very quickly. The tactic worked as it always does and time passed, people forgot, and nothing happened. It was only a week ago that Senator Ted Cruz suggested it was disrespectful of Trayvon Martin’s mother to lobby for changes based on her son’s death. I guess it was disrespectful to… Cruz? One would have thought his mom would be the right barometer of how to honor her son.
Now this trope is the subject of Tamara Tabo’s criticism of my article yesterday regarding the recent shooting of Renisha McBride because I noted the uptick in the “shoot first” culture brought on by Stand Your Ground laws (regardless of the fact that the law isn’t technically at play here).
Let’s unpack this and also look at some other misdirection being flung my way, shall we?
The tactic of casting shame on those who see shootings and say, “Hey, maybe we should do something about this,” comes from a place of immense privilege. It comes from the privilege of basing a political philosophy around aggressive inaction in the face of injustice. Delaying action and hoping the pressure of the moment subsides works when someone has the privilege of either not caring about injustice or is at least more interested in preserving the status quo that favors them than in redressing social ills.
I have no doubt that Tamara’s criticism is sincere, but it is also programmatic. This was a predictable response because it fits the rhetorical procedure. Hers will not be the only article to avoid the hard political questions about the empirical evidence of increased killings in jurisdictions boasting Stand Your Ground laws and instead try to draw the discussion off into calling for respecting the dead. A call that is so categorical that — as we saw in the Cruz instance — it extends to scolding the families of the dead for not “properly” grieving. Which is about the most privileged thing one can do.
The second misdirection in the post is sowing the seeds of character assassination. Not directly, because that would be uncouth. But “where was Renisha for a couple hours after getting into an accident?” It’s an actual question. It’s also irrelevant to taking a gun to your front door and shooting someone. But foregrounding this “question” makes you wonder what she was doing in that time, or more precisely, it implies she was up to no good. Just because it’s a real question doesn’t mean it needs to be contextualized to cast doubt on the victim’s motives. This is all part of building the case that everyone should forget about this incident. This time not because it’s unseemly to talk about it, but because the victim might have done something to bring this upon themselves, negating the ethical obligation to do something about the larger issue.
Finally, others tried desperately to sever the link to Stand Your Ground laws in order to quarantine this event from inspiring someone to ask hard questions about gun policy. They feel this way out of either commitment to the conservative cause or just intellectual laziness. For example, Scott Greenfield, who writes what is ostensibly a blog about justice, scoffed at the idea of linking this shooting to the expansion of Stand Your Ground laws. As I’d noted, the law is not applicable here, but these laws have the impact of increasing gunplay. In other words, people feel more secure in provoking a showdown whether or not they meet the requirements of the law. Scott Greenfield thinks this is connection is ridiculous. Disciplined statistical analysis disagrees:
These laws lower the cost of using lethal force,” says Mark Hoekstra, an economist with Texas A&M University who examined stand your ground laws. “Our study finds that, as a result, you get more of it.”
Hoekstra recently decided to analyze national crime statistics to see what happens in states that pass stand your ground laws. He found the laws are having a measurable effect on the homicide rate.
“Our study finds that, that homicides go up by 7 to 9 percent in states that pass the laws, relative to states that didn’t pass the laws over the same time period,” he says.
As I suggested in my article, these laws incentivize seeking out violence. For example, even if we were to assume George Zimmerman was entirely justified in shooting Trayvon Martin, it still is a killing that never would have happened if he didn’t feel emboldened to ignore the police and engage the kid with his gun. That’s how these laws cause shootings even if the law isn’t directly applicable.
It’s all about Legal Expressivism, as Professor Louis Schulze notes:
Given this recent advertising time in the mind of the public, a condition that is particularly helpful to foster norm changes vis-à-vis the expressive function of law, it is unsurprising that Americans seemed amenable to presuming Zimmerman’s right to use unnecessary deadly force. This is especially true given the historical background of such laws and the messages they send. There is very little difference between what SYG laws actually do and what they are perceived to do. For instance, because SYG laws subordinate the value of human life to the value of honor, it is unsurprising that Americans might internalize a message that the law subordinates the value of human life to the value of protecting one’s territory. Because SYG laws impact the way citizens mediate their perception of the danger posed to them by “others,” it should not be shocking that Americans might digest the message that Zimmerman had a “right” to shoot first and ask questions later. Finally, because SYG laws discharge the personhood of the “wrongdoer” and subjugate that person’s life to the whim of the “true man,” it is not surprising that Americans might accept the principle that Martin was a “wrongdoer” by being someplace he shouldn’t and set aside his personhood accordingly.
In any event, if this story gains increased coverage, keep on the lookout for the pattern: shaming the messenger, raising “questions” to undermine the specific story, and always ignoring the mounting evidence that, whatever happened in this case, people are getting shot by gun owners who feel emboldened.