“President Donald Trump and GOP leaders offered thoughts and prayers to the victims of a Texas church shooting Sunday, setting off inevitable complaints about their dodging of gun control talk after yet another deadly mass shooting.” – Newsweek
My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families…
That tired, predictable, and canned refrain is uttered ritualistically by politicians in response to the latest American mass shooting.
Count on it.
We heard that hackneyed phrase yet again on Sunday, as we listened to reports on the most recent example of people losing their lives at the hands of a gunman in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Not to be outdone by Donald Trump, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott offered this statement.
“Cecilia and I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act.”
But wait, there’s more:
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement, “The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Sutherland Springs as tragic reports come out of First Baptist Church.”
And what about Congress in its use of this platitude?
Since the start of the legislative session on January 4, 1995, the Congressional Record identifies some 4,139 instances in which a congressperson took to the Senate or House floor to express their “thoughts and prayers.” Given that the House has averaged 138 days in session a year and the Senate 162 since 2001, this equates to close to one “thoughts and prayers” entered into the record per workday on the Hill.
That paragraph was written more than a month ago. We await the update.
I’m sorry to put it this way, but let’s cut the bullshit. Enough is too much.
There is no question that we’re drowning right now with thoughts and prayers, of hearts going out to the victims and their families. Yet in spite of endless mass shootings this year, the spectacle of politicians mindlessly offering up thoughts and prayers never changes.
With Congress under the thumb of the National Rifle Association, nothing ever changes, including the language used to describe sympathy for those whose lives have been ended by assault weapons of various types.
But there is also another descriptor that isn’t used very much when describing mass shootings in the United States. That’s the term terrorism, or more specifically, domestic terrorism.
One non-profit organization does track the incidence of what we call mass shootings.
According to the Gun Violence Archive there have been 307 mass shootings so far this year. That’s an increase of 27 in just one month. Surprisingly, the term mass shooting itself has not achieved a common or widespread definition. One news report defined the problem this way:
There doesn’t seem to be an official definition for a “mass shooting” in the United States, but … a mass shooting is described as four or more individuals being shot or killed in the same general time and location.
The F.B.I. has defined “mass killing” and “mass murderer.”
The F.B.I. defines a “mass killing” as the killing of three or more people in a public place, but the federal agency also defines a “mass murderer” as someone who has killed four or more people in the same location.
Amid an environment where the FBI offers up a definition of when multiple murders become a mass killing, as a nation we are still avoiding the obvious. With this seeming lack of precision or consensus on what we really should describe, define and otherwise call what happened in Las Vegas, Newtown, Charleston, and now Sutherland Springs, let alone hundreds of other places in the United States, let’s cut the bullshit and call it what it is.
It’s terrorism. Domestic terrorism. Let’s not be shy in using this term.
Understand that the executioner of innocent churchgoers, armed with an assault weapon, adorned with body armor and dressed menacingly in black, was not named Muhammad. No, his name was Devin Patrick Kelley, a 26-year-old white man with a name that doesn’t sound at all Middle Eastern.
“If a guy named Muhammad blew up that church yesterday, oh my God. Oh my God. This morning, Washington would be on fire,” Joe Scarborough said on Morning Joe.
No, his name wasn’t Muhammad, and that seems to be one factor in our elected leaders’ predictable word choices, be they mass shootings, thoughts and prayers, or other inane babble.
Joe Scarborough and others are on to something, and there is no doubt that leadership on this issue cannot wait on NRA-enabling politicians suddenly having an epiphany. Instead, it is up to we the people to start leading on this issue by our careful choice of words and the purposeful language we use.
A clear example of the need for leading from behind is the case of Texas Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat. Asked in an interview amid the atmosphere of thoughts and prayers he theorized that in spite of the number of lives that were lost, “I don’t suspect this being terrorism.”
We suspect that the congressman needs a reality check. When someone intent on senseless slaughter shows up dressed in black at a church in body armor and brandishing an assault weapon, that is a terrorist act, irrespective of American zipcode or country code.
It won’t be in our thoughts and prayers but instead deeply seated in our hearts and minds for us to start demanding a war on terrorism – domestic terrorism, to join the other war already underway in the international arena.
Words are important, for they convey meaning and purpose. It’s time for all of us to educate the politicians that it is past time for the war on terror – homeland version – to begin.
Join me in contacting Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and your Member of Congress and telling them that we’ve had enough of domestic terrorism as well as the support of domestic – and foreign – terrorists provided by the NRA, an organization that supports both kinds of murderous activity by its stranglehold on any type of meaningful firearms reform, including an expansion of background checks and bans on assault weapons.
Frank Luntz, the Republican communications guru who helped coin the use of the word death tax to replace the long-established term estate tax, would certainly agree that if we all start using the term domestic terrorism, that would be a fitting example of the “message discipline” necessary to end the thoughts and prayers babble and thus put every Member of Congress on notice that enough is too much.
Donald Trump said that what happened in Texas was “a mental health problem at the highest level” and not a “guns situation.” It’s time for all of us to tell his enablers in Congress that we will no longer let them pivot as they talk about the “threat of radical Islamic terrorism.” Instead, we need to inform them that they need to do something about domestic terrorism practiced by guys named Devin Patrick Kelley, Stephen Paddock (Las Vegas) Dylann Roof (Charleston), and their ilk.
Indeed, enough is too much. Let’s tell Congress our thoughts. They don’t deserve our prayers.