Danielle McLaughlin: America's national pastimes - baseball and mass shootings
OPINION: Baseball is "America's pastime", a term coined in the 1850s by propagandists for the sport wanting to make it as popular in the US as cricket in the UK.
Baseball is hot dogs and Bud Light and long, languid summer evenings. It is crowds of sunburned Americans singing the national anthem and Take Me Out To The Ballgame. It is rabid Red Sox fans waiting 86 years to lift a curse and win a championship. Baseball is many things, but it's generally not political, and it's almost never violent.
This week, America's pastime clashed with the national obsession with guns (perhaps, cynically, America's other past-time), and a toxic political environment.
A baseball diamond in Alexandria, Virginia, just 11km from Washington, DC, was the scene of a mass shooting with four injuries and one death (the gunman). Republican Congressmen were attending an early morning practice ahead of the 2017 Congressional baseball game, an annual charitable event pitting Republicans against Democrats. The gunman, who was carrying a rifle and a handgun – in compliance with Virginia law – was reportedly a Bernie Sanders supporter upset at the election of Donald Trump.
* Scalise's hip wound could have been life-threatening
* From baseball practice to 'killing field'
* Bullets rain down on politicians
* Healthcare nightmare could end in socialist pipedream
* Trump didn't just throw the FBI boss under a bus
Many hoped that this violent act might serve as a wake-up call to American leaders, from the president down, who have sunk to new lows in vilifying – even dehumanising – members and supporters of the opposing political party. There was some of that. Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority House leader Nancy Pelosi appeared together at Thursday night's baseball game with a shared message of toning down the rhetoric.
President Trump, in a moment of reflection and calm, called for unity, although his advisor Kellyane Conway in a tone-deaf TV appearance later suggested that the shooting stemmed from the fierce resistance to Trump – a politician who has coarsened political dialogue like no other in modern US history.
Outsiders have long scratched their heads at America's gun culture – even understanding that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is an important and foundational American right, born of revolution against English oppressors. At some point in the past 200 years, though, things went sideways. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to own or use a gun. But their easy availability, sometimes without background checks, to violent criminals, gangs, domestic abusers, and the mentally ill have created a culture of death.
Speaking of which, just weeks ago, President Trump relaxed Obama-era rules on allowing people with mental illness to buy guns. This week, Congress debated legislation to free up the availability of silencers. Since 2011, in excess of 100 bills seeking to circumscribe the free flow of arms and ammunition have been introduced, but went nowhere, in part because of the close relationship between the National Rifle Association and the GOP.
I swear the founding fathers are rolling in their graves. Should everyone exercise every right, unfettered, regardless of the cost?
And the cost is high. Although the NRA has been successful in halting government attempts to collect data on gun ownership and crime as a public health issue (which it most certainly is), a Harvard study collecting various data points over time was overwhelmingly stark: more guns means "more gun suicides and more total suicides, more gun homicides and more total homicides, and more accidental gun deaths".
Sandy Hook, Pulse Nightclub, Virginia Tech, Columbine. Frequent horror stories about six-year-olds accidentally shooting their siblings. And now, Alexandria.
House Speaker Paul Ryan addressed Congress this week, saying ""You know, every day, we come here to test and challenge each other. We feel so deeply about the things we fight for and believe in. At times, our emotions can get the best of us. We are all imperfect. But we do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber ... for all the noise and fury, we are a family. These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire. These were our brothers and sisters who ran into danger and saved countless lives".
One wonders if now, because the victims are connected to the levers of power, American politicians – particularly Republicans – will turn away from NRA dollars and think carefully and pragmatically about the right balance between gun rights and safety. They didn't do it for 20 children at Sandy Hook. They didn't do it when Democratic congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in the head.
If not now, when?
- Sunday Star Times