on legislative violence

If there is one recurrent nightmare that plagues us under the Trump regime, it’s the thought of a major terror attack and the kind of leverage it would give to the administration. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that crude mismanagement of virtually every policy the administration can control serves just this purpose, to provoke a few lunatics to stage our very own version of the Reichstag fire.

So far they – and the deranged Bernie bro who showed up at the Republican baseball practice early morning of June 14, – failed. James Hodgkinson’s life is over, several people he shot are facing painful recovery from their wounds, but the attack was not the big, history changing event the shooter (and the Bannon wing in the administration) were counting on. The crazies this administration managed to incite are too disorganized and inept to provide the carnage it needs.

But there are ripples. What the reactionary wing manages to squeeze out of the shooting is feeble and contorted, but by no means harmless. Already, as a GOP hack gleefully claimed,  the shooting would help his Party win the special House election in Atlanta, and it probably did. Right wing commentariat started anew the cycle of “left wing violence” propaganda. And, close to home, Representative Rodney Davis found a whole slew of new, shiny tropes to use on the campaign trail.

Zero order effect is trivial: Rodney got a new argument as to why he deserves sympathy. We predict, not too afraid to be proven wrong, that Rodney will be referring to himself as the assassination attempt survivor with the same mind-numbing frequency he used to remind us that his wife is a cancer (colon cancer, 2nd stage, in case you forgot) survivor. He has already told us about his experiences here, here, here, here, here… (Google if you want more, and you get plenty more – or just wait: Rodney won’t be missing his chance to tell about his escape whenever there is a listener. Humans, aren’t we all like this…)

There is however a much uglier development spawned by the shooting, that Rodney personally contributed to – the drive to relabel political speech as a kind of political violence.

Let’s go back to that morning of June 14. Rodney, as you may remember, was on the Alexandria, VA YMCA baseball field, for practice. Once the gunfire started, he jumped into the dugout, and once the action moved away, ran to a neighboring house to wait there until it was all over. Then he went directly to his office, and, about 4 hours after the shooting, resurfaced at the entrance to talk to the swarming reporters, still in his dirty practice clothes, making sure they noticed his “bloody elbow and hand.

It does not take much to reconstruct what he was busy with during these intervening hours. Catching his breath, for sure, but also talking to the advisers at Speaker Ryan’s office, or at the NRCC. They were hastily adjusting the (no doubt, existing as templates) messaging as to what actually happened. The results can be best seen in the interview Rodney gave to FoxNews. It is cringe-worthy, but deserves being watched.

In that interview Rodney repeats over and over the phrase “political rhetorical violence”. “Political violence?”, incredulously repeats FN reporter – “Rhetorical political violence” emphasizes Rodney.

This is obviously a puzzling construct, of rhetorical violence, and even the friendly reporter from FoxNews kept questioning our tongue-tied Representative. Just at the very end of the interview Rodney lets out what he – what the GOP propaganda apparatus, – actually means by the rhetorics they equate to violence. The fact that the left say, Rodney complained, that “the policies are killing people”, – that is the main offense the GOP wants to eliminate from public discourse.

This blatantly, nakedly reactionary regime hellbent on setting up policies so harmful that they will literally kill people – this regime wants no one talking about it.

Yes, this is a shameful charade. Yes, this is 1984 and Animal Farm rolled into one. And no, we should never ever allow Washington politicians like Rodney to silence those who say it like it is: their policies kill people.

The spectacle of Rodney trying out fake martyrdom to suppress freedom of speech is revolting and depressing, and I do not want to waste time on it. Let me use this space to describe just one policy that does kill people. Quite a few people – every day, rain or shine.

Let’s talk about firearms.

Don’t roll eyes yet, my dear gun aficionados – people kill people, not guns, etc, – bear with me. I certainly agree that most of the legal gun users put them most of the time to good, legal use – hunting for game, or intimidating would-be leftist terrorists. I hear you. And so does Rodney.

For all the centrist, bland, meek aura Rodney tries to project, his standing with NRA is sterling. They just love our Rodney:

“Based on your consistent and proven voting record on Second Amendment issues in the U.S. House of Representatives, you have earned an “A” rating from NRA-PVF for this primary election.  An “A” rating is reserved for a solidly pro-gun legislator who has supported NRA positions on key votes and issues,”

the National Rifle Association of America Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) said in its endorsement of Davis.

The endorsement letter noted Davis’ support for gun rights by:

  • Consistently standing strong against President Obama’s and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control agenda
  • Opposing President Obama’s anti-gun Executive Actions
  • Cosponsoring H.R. 986, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2015
  • Voting for the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act
  • Cosponsoring H.R. 766, the Financial Institution Customer Protection Act of 2016.

(All this is quoted verbatim from ElectRodney website.)

We’ll skip the much highlighted irony of Hodgkinson using the laxity of guns laws to acquire the weapons he used in the shooting. Let’s look beyond the single cases, however much they improve the narratives of politicians. Let’s look at the policies and their impact on the country as a whole.

You know perhaps, and if you don’t you should, that the majority of gun inflicted deaths in the US are suicides – roughly two in three firearm deaths, to be precise. About twenty thousand people each year kill themselves using firearms; roughly another ten thousands are murdered. And as you might imagine, having a firearm around makes it far easier for a desperate person to commit suicide.

You would be right to dismiss this reasoning as armchair psychologizing. You, perhaps, have a version of the “people not guns…” argument ready: if the suicidal folks were not killing themselves with firearms, they would find some other way.

Let’s look at the studies then.

(There aren’t many, by the way, despite suicides being quite an acute public health problem, and you know why, of course, right? Because NRA pressured the Congress to cut funding to CDC for doing some firearm related studies in 96, and the scare – to be deprived of research funds for wrongly chosen topic of research – survived even Obama’s attempt to remedy the situation. Still, studies do exist: here’s a sample)

This paper is a good example. It summarizes most of research done on causal relationship between firearm ownership and suicide rates in the area and is doing quite comprehensive statistical analysis,

The results the authors arrive at are striking. They found that for women, the firearm ownership rates do not seem to lead to the higher rates of the total number of suicides (meaning that while the gun suicide rates among women grow with firearm ownership, it is about offset by the decrease of the suicide rates by other means). However for men – and the suicide rates among men dwarf those among women – the growth in firearm ownership unquestionably leads to higher total suicide rates. The study shows that 10% higher (legal) gun ownership in a state leads to about 1.6/100000 increase of the total suicide rates among men. More guns means more suicides – not suicides by firearms, – suicides, period.

Let’s digest this. When Mr. Davis says “I look forward to continuing to work with the NRA on behalf of gun owners in the 13th District.” he is advancing policies that would raise the legal ownership of firearms in Illinois. What would happen if it indeed grows to, say, the national average level of about 40%, increasing it by 15% from Illinois’ current level? It is easy to compute. On average, Rodney Davis’ preferred policies would lead to an extra 7-8 suicides a year just in his District, with perhaps 130-140 extra deaths in all of Illinois. And that’s among law-abiding, mostly white, mostly rural men.

Violets are blue, Rodney, roses are red. And policies, Rodney, can kill. Your policies – kill.

We wish you long and boring life, Rodney Davis. But at such a cost, we cannot afford you to represent us. Get yourself another job, Rodney. Your legislative violence – and this is the correct term for what you are doing – kills people. Not rhetorically. In real life.

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