Do We "Shrug Off" Gun Deaths As NYT Writer Suggests?

One of the real problems in writing about politics, even gun politics, right now is that COVID-19 has kind of sucked the air out of the room. In order to get many stories written and shared in most places, there needs to be a COVID-19 angle. Otherwise, people tend to not read them. We even see it here at Bearing Arms, to some extent.


But sometimes, the link between COVID-19 and their topic is tenuous at best and is little more than an excuse to get their story read.

Other times, the link isn’t tenuous, it’s just pulled out of their fifth point of contact. That’s exactly the case when someone tries to claim we shrug off COVID-19 deaths like we do gun fatalities.

The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about is the one where we simply get used to all the dying.

I first saw it on Twitter. “Someone poke holes in this scenario,” a tweet from Eric Nelson, the editorial director of Broadside Books, read. “We keep losing 1,000 to 2,000 a day to coronavirus. People get used to it. We get less vigilant as it very slowly spreads. By December we’re close to normal, but still losing 1,500 a day, and as we tick past 300,000 dead, most people aren’t concerned.”

This hit me like a ton of bricks because of just how plausible it seemed. The day I read Mr. Nelson’s tweet, 1,723 Americans were reported to have died from the virus. And yet their collective passing was hardly mourned. After all, how to distinguish those souls from the 2,097 who perished the day before or the 1,558 who died the day after?

Such loss of life is hard to comprehend when it’s not happening in front of your own two eyes. Add to it that humans are adaptable creatures, no matter how nightmarish the scenario, and it seems understandable that our outrage would dull over time. Unsure how — or perhaps unable — to process tragedy at scale, we get used to it.

There’s also a national precedent for Mr. Nelson’s hypothetical: America’s response to gun violence and school shootings.

As a country, we seem resigned to preventable firearm deaths. Each year, 36,000 Americans are killed by guns — roughly 100 per day, most from suicide, according to data from the Giffords Law Center. Similarly, the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund calculates that there have been 583 “incidents of gunfire” on school grounds since 2013. In the first eight months of 2019, there were at least 38 mass shootings, The Times reported. Last August, 53 Americans died in mass shootings — at work, at bars, while shopping with their children.


The problem is, no one is necessarily shrugging off anything.

Each one of those deaths represents someone with a family who now mourns, who now suffers as they deal with the loss of someone they care about to a disease they didn’t even know existed a year ago. They’re faced with the fact that the moment their loved one went into the hospital, they never got to see their family member again, they never got to say goodbye.

On the same token, no one shrugs off gun fatalities, either, and for many of the same reasons.

Yet no, we don’t internalize each and every one. Like the commie said, one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. It’s impossible to internalize each one because, well, we don’t know them. More importantly, we can’t. There are just too many. That’s probably a good thing, though, because emotionally-driven legislation tends to be bad legislation.

Of course, part of the problem is that far too many in the media think that failing to enact certain policies or to oppose certain policies means you simply don’t care about those who have died at all, which isn’t true.

It’s a variation on the politician’s fallacy or politician’s syllogism. They look at things as such:

  1. We must do something
  2. This is something
  3. As such, we must do this.

The problem is, this something–whether it’s prolonged lockdowns or gun control–may or may not be the correct something. That’s the discussion many of us want to have on guns, whether gun control is the right way to proceed. Folks on this side say no and that we should try alternatives to combat gun violence. The other side, however, has their minds made up and assumes that if you oppose their “something” then you don’t care about human life, that you’re “shrugging off” the deaths.


Well, we’re not. We’re just not ready to forfeit our rights simply so folks in the media can feel good about themselves for having done “something.”

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