Wednesday, much of Washington, D.C. was shocked by the news of a shooting at Navy Yard. Some buildings went into lockdown. At least one intern got a frightened call from her father. A fellow employee asked me if my husband was safe. But 12 people are dead, and their loved ones now mourn. It was shocking and tragic.
But from media, we hear a familiar regurgitation of anger and disdain. Every time there’s a tragic shooting, the pro-gun and anti-gun commentators raise their voices. The “I told you so!” messages ricochet off each other, with finger pointing and lambasting on both sides. Commentators respond to these deaths as they have to so many—at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and others—with an upsurge of political debate on gun control. In addition, there always seems to be an in-depth psychoanalysis— sometimes akin to morbid fascination—of the killer.
It is true that, in light of the tragedy, some consideration of gun policy is probably a matter-of-course. But to launch into this debate within hours of the shootings seems insensitive and careless. We forget that killing is messy and erratic, and killers even more frighteningly unpredictable. We forget that there is no way to stop all evil people from ever doing evil things, as long as the human mind is possessed with creativity and cleverness. We forget that guns can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and that something must be done to protect the vulnerable.
But most of all, we forget the killed: the people with mourning loved ones, lives cut short. There were 12 of them Monday—NBC News shared their names and stories:
Michael Arnold, 59
Sylvia Frasier, 53
Kathy Gaarde, 62
John Roger Johnson, 73
Frank Kohler, 50
Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46
Vishnu Pandit, 61
Arthur Daniels, 51
Mary Francis Knight, 51
Gerald L. Read, 58
Martin Bodrog, 54
Michael Ridgell, 52
Kenneth Proctor loved the Redskins. Vishnu Pandit was a native of Bombay, India, who “took great pride in being employed by the United States Navy.” Martin Bodrog had three daughters and taught Sunday School at church. Arthur Daniels’ wife and family shared their story on a local TV channel last night: “Priscilla says her husband Arthur had worked at the Navy Yard off and on as a handyman for 17 years. She says he left for work on Monday at 6:45 a.m. and wasn’t heard from again.” The couple had been married for 30 years, with five children and nine grandchildren.
There are responses to the shootings worth praising for their genuine concern. Rev. Andrew Royals at St. Vincent de Paul, blocks away from the Navy Yard, opened the church doors for mass. Attendees prayed for the victims.
In our democracy, we can be happy that public discourse and media give us the right to comment on important policy issues. But perhaps we need reminding that such a right comes with the responsibility to use it well, for the sake of all those who grieve today.