We don’t own this tragedy


Over at The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg snipes at gun-control interlopers who want to stake out a claim to yesterday’s Holocaust Museum shooting:

Today shouldn’t be about the gun-control debate or any of the other usual debates. Today should be about two things: Remembering a victim of terrorism, and thinking about what in this world would make someone commit an act of intolerance and violence against a museum built to remind people of the dangers of intolerance and violence. Also, perhaps, the timelessness of the mental illness known as anti-Semitism.

Well, no; I’d imagine that the trauma suffered by the victims of gun violence would be stoked by the alleged circumstance of a felon — convicted of a violent crime involving guns, no less — getting a gun and using it against innocents. If ponderings on the perpetuation of anti-Semitism l are appropriate, so is exploring how we can prevent its awful effects.

For instance, there’s been some grumbling recently about the use of federal funds to protect Jewish institutions and others vulnerable to attack — the argument against is that the money should be earmarked to track known terrorists. Yesterday’s is an appropriate event to be used as exhibit A for the case for such funds to establish defenses against attackers who are essentially untrackable.

My peevishness on this issue dates to October of 2002, when I was working at the A.P. and seconded to sniper attacks coverage, along with much of the bureau.

I was assigned a stack of stories that now embarrass me, talking to rent-a-psychs speculating about the motives and character of the gunman. (White! Middle aged! No family! A loner! These people have no shame.)

The single speculative piece I did that was in any way vindicated had to do with whether the high-powered rifle used in the attacks should have been easily available. I called the gun control side, and then spent the day making repeat calls to the NRA that constantly ended up in voicemail limbo, until a peeved flack called me back. No, he said, he would not say anything for any kind of attribution, but off the record, and this better not appear in the story, was this really a time to talk about gun control? Families are in mourning!

Well, yes, I thought, and that sounds an awful lot like "we’d prefer addressing this issue when it’s politically convenient." (I should have told him that out loud.) I wrote that the NRA declined comment and cast desperately around for a pro-gun voice, and finally found an NRA activist who lived in the Beltway area who agreed to talk (she hadn’t got the keep shtum memo) – and who said essentially the same thing, but on the record (and good for her): Now was not the time to address this sensitive issue.

The next day, the NRA called my boss and complained that we had run a story on guns without seeking its comment. I told her that, yes, we had sought its comment, I had gone out of my way to get comment within the wire-service crunch, and that ended the matter as far as she was concerned. But it was clear that was how the lobby was going to play my story to its membership. "Bastard didn’t even call us!"

I use this story, by the way, anytime someone chimes in about the awful evilness and evil awfulness of the "Israel lobby." I’ve had great days with AIPAC, and not so great days – but they never, ever tried anything this underhand. Not even close.

As it turns out, the availability of such weapons was very much an issue in the case.

The immediate aftermath of a tragedy is exactly the right time to talk about its causes, and no single group has the right to assign itself sole victim status.

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