Two mass shootings in one weekend, leaving 31 dead. And the usual suspects from all points on the political spectrum instantly retreating to — or charging out from — their familiar corners mouthing predictable platitudes.
It’s automatic weapons. A lack of background checks. It’s the fault of the NRA and the conservative politicians they are buying off!
No, none of the laws proposed would have prevented these killings. Gun control advocates just want to take away our Second Amendment rights!
It’s Donald Trump and the hatred he has unleashed. Domestic terrorism driven by white supremacists.
No, it’s mental health (we need red flag laws). Violent video games. Social media. Fatherlessness and male disconnection. And many of the shooters are actually leftists.
The President must speak out against racial division and gun violence. He should be there in El Paso and Dayton.
Trump’s calls for “unity over racism” aren’t sincere (and how dare the New York Times publish a headline suggesting he is). He shouldn’t show his lying face in either city unless he supports stronger gun control.
It’s an epidemic! There are more mass shootings than days so far this year.
Mass shootings are actually rare, and how do you define them, anyway? Plus, there were so many shootings in Chicago the same weekend a trauma center had to shut down.
“Do something!” “Get back to D.C.” And pass reforms.
There’s nothing we can really do: we can’t track each and every one of the thousands of young men fitting the shooter profile, or know which will snap and commit mass murder.
Admit it. No matter your party or ideological persuasion, you aren’t really sure what causes mass shootings. Or what combination of steps will actually prevent or reduce them in the current changing culture, within the confines of current legal structures, and in keeping with the current Supreme Court interpretation of the Second Amendment.
And neither is any of the Democratic presidential candidates, for all their bluster. And with all respect, neither is, I am quite certain, the chief executive of the United States.
“Do something,” for sure. But what?
Well, suppose I were a crisis communications consultant advising the president — and make no mistake, the issue of mass shootings has reached crisis proportions for our nation’s leadership. Instead of striking out with the usual certainty about causes and effects based on political calculation, I might advise doing something exceedingly rare for him — and politicians in general.
Admit what we just don’t know.
Then suggest that our nation take a deep collective breath — and go about pursuing some serious answers and recommendations led by serious people in a serious way.
(I.e., no suggestions that we wave a magic wand and repeal the Second Amendment nor that any reasonable regulation is a “slippery slope” leading to complete firearm bans.)
What form might this investigation take? The advice as a crisis communicator would be to revive the tried and true tradition of the investigative commission.
We’ve already had a suggestion from former legislators Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, that such a body be established to investigate “domestic terrorism.” But their specific proposal only serves to point out the current problem: it presupposes, based on political bias, that domestic terrorism is the only or even the main factor in the current plague of attacks that needs study. Which renders it unserious.
Rather, this commission would take an open-minded view of all factors contributing to the wave of attacks.
Preferably established by the president but with the House speaker given the opportunity to appoint some members, the task force would need to be led by a figure with sufficient integrity and impartiality to engender public trust. In the spirit of the Warren Commission that considered the facts surrounding JFK’s assassination, a potential leader could be current Chief Justice John Roberts or recently retired Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Who else would participate in such a commission? Not 17-year-old savants given free license to spout the wisdom of the ages and disrespect U.S. senators, based on admittedly tragic personal experience. Not posturing politicos. Nor advocates for interest groups.
But serious experts without axes to grind. Criminologists. Legal scholars. Psychiatrists and psychologists. Sociologists. Seeking public, televised testimony from equally serious peers, and basing conclusions and recommendations not on conjecture, talking points, or seat-of-the-pants prescriptions, but on authoritative scholarship and peer-reviewed research.
It’s time to take the ugly debate over horrific mass killings out of the realms of political posturing, dueling media talking heads and interest-group theatrics.
A genuine crisis demands a sober response.
Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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