Too Soon? (or, When Is It OK to Comment on Tragedy?)

While on vacation in San Diego this week, we heard the news on Wednesday evening of the murder of nine people in a black church in Charleston, SC.

(One story that has gotten somewhat lost in the coverage of the shooter and the political debates has been the forgiveness extended to the murderer by the victims’ families–a remarkable story that I am ashamed to relegate to a parenthesis in this post. But that’s not my present purpose.)

In the aftermath of the murders, I noticed that both gun rights advocates and gun control advocates used the situation as an opportunity to further their ideas. On the one side, we heard, “See? This is why we need more restrictions on the possession of guns.” From the other side, we heard, “See? If someone in the church had been carrying a weapon, this could have been stopped.”

If you know me or have been following this blog, you can probably guess where I stand on the gun control issue. That also is not my point here. What I found fascinating was that there were responses to both sets of advocates, complaining that it was too soon to make policy statements, and accusing the advocates of using tragedy to further their agenda. There were advocates on both sides, and critics on both sides who said, “Too soon.”

On the one hand, I completely understand the criticism that says: Let’s allow an appropriate, respectful period of mourning for the victims before making any statements about policy.

But let me briefly defend the “immediate advocates.” Everybody agrees that there are problems in our society, and advocates are people who have very strong opinions about what solve those problems. Most of the time, most people aren’t thinking about gun policy; it is brought into the public eye at these moments of terrible pain and tragedy. Advocates have a brief window of opportunity to make their points convincingly while people are actually paying attention. Whether you believe the answer is more guns or fewer guns, you want to offer your preferred solution while people care. “How many times,” they say, “does this have to happen before we wise up and [encourage concealed carry] or [crack down on gun sales]?” For a week or so, the rest of the public feels the urgency that the advocate feels all the time.

And, how long is long enough? One day? Three days? After the funerals for the victims? A week? A month? We don’t mourn well in our society, and we don’t have a set period of mourning like other cultures do. In cultures with mourning rituals or customs, the mourning period determines which activities are appropriate: wearing certain clothes, abstaining from celebration, celibacy, etc. Then, the period of mourning has a definite end point, at which the individual/family/clan/town/nation in mourning is expected to return to normal patterns of living.

If we had a universally agreed-upon mourning period, then the answer would be simple: first, lament; and then discuss the policy issues afterward. But we have no such period, so advocates will continue to feel that they need to jump on an issue quickly while the public is paying attention, and they will continue to be accused (probably rightly) by others (usually of the opposite opinion) of commenting too quickly.

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
This entry was posted in Bible-Theology, Culture-Economics-Society. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Too Soon? (or, When Is It OK to Comment on Tragedy?)

  1. Pingback: Best of 2015 | think hard, think well

  2. Pingback: Links: 17 June 2016 | think hard, think well

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