Nobody can ‘politicize’ the tragedy in Nashville. It’s already political.

Like all mass shootings in America, it emerged fully politicized, enabled and abetted by our politicians in power.

People participate in a community vigil at Belmont United Methodist Church in the aftermath of the school shooting March 27, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville police identified the victims in the private Christian school shooting Monday as three 9-year-old students and three adults in their 60s, including the head of the school. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

(RNS) — In the immediate wake of Monday’s Covenant School shooting here in Nashville, a photo started circulating online of Tennessee Rep. Andy Ogles’ family Christmas card. Ogles, his wife and his three kids are smiling in front of the tree, brandishing rifles — making merry with that “own the libs!” energy that has become as core to Republicans’ holiday celebration as candy canes and Bing Crosby.

Ogles represents the district where the same type of weapon he and his family posed with for their little stunt was used to kill three kids and three adults at school on Monday (March 27). The adults’ names were Cynthia Peak, Mike Hill and Katherine Koonce. They were all in their early 60s. The kids’ names were William Kinney, Hallie Scruggs and Evelyn Dieckhaus. They were each 9 years old.

Nobody can “politicize” the tragedy in Nashville. Like all mass shootings in America, it emerged fully politicized, enabled and abetted by our politicians in power. When we fail to respond politically, we only show how little we care.

Ogles’ Christmas card was seized upon as the bitter and ugly irony that it is, emblematic of our lawmakers’ unhinged love of guns. Guns are a powerful tool in the culture war. They are also the leading cause of death among American children and teenagers. Politicians like Ogles utilize them as the former and studiously ignore the latter. No mean feat, but it’s electoral gold if you can pull it off.

This is why the liberal obsession with gun lobby donations is misplaced.

It would be nice if the issue were as simple as money. Then wealthy liberals like Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer could just outspend their pro-gun rivals and we’d be done with it. But, as Noah Berlatsky points out, Ogles isn’t sending this Christmas card to the NRA. He’s sending it to constituents who see guns as a part of their white Christian identity and want that represented among their elected leaders.

The location of those constituents is important, in this case. Ogles represents Nashville, but he doesn’t live here. He’s about an hour away. The reason he “represents” a city he doesn’t actually live in is because last year Republican lawmakers successfully gerrymandered Nashville off the electoral map. In what The Guardian described as a “masterclass in election rigging,” Republicans carved Nashville from one congressional district into three separate, cunningly constructed slices that stretch across the state. They did this because Nashville is solidly Democratic and we kept tanking Republican dreams of remaking Tennessee into a MAGA paradise.

The newly gerrymandered congressional districts that split up Nashville's voting block. Courtesy image

The newly gerrymandered congressional districts that split up Nashville. Courtesy image

And since they couldn’t just deport us all, they did the next best thing and effectively erased our vote. The pesky liberals, moderates and people of color who make up the bulk of Tennessee’s capital city have been parsed out into several noisy but inconsequential minority voices that state leaders no longer need to mind. Biden won the district by 23 points in 2020, but Trump would have easily carried all three of these new ones (and may well get his chance). Jim Cooper, the Democrat who had represented us for almost 20 years, didn’t even bother running for reelection in 2022.

So now, when Gov. Bill Lee signs his “constitutional carry” bill into a law that allows anyone over the age of 21 to buy a gun, no permit required, the people in his largest city have virtually no say. This matters because, by and large, Nashville did not want such a law and told Lee over and over and over that such a law would lead to more gun violence. And now that this utterly obvious prediction has come to pass in the very city his party has moved heaven and earth to undermine and ignore, you’ll forgive me if his sympathetic words ring hollow.

So, no. There is no “politicizing the tragedy.” The tragedy is already political. Politics caused it. Politics sustain it. Politics guarantee it will happen again. So we respond politically. What else are we supposed to do? What other serious response could we possibly offer?

In fact, what many of us are actually asking from Bill Lee and Andy Ogles and every other idiot Republican lawmaker who uses their obscene idolatry of guns as a “vote for me!” prop is to stop politicizing these tragedies. To stop seeing their guns as fuel in a political game and our voices as liabilities to be gerrymandered away and our very lives as acceptable collateral in their electoral project. If they would be human about these things and treat them with a fraction of moral seriousness then we wouldn’t have to be “political.”

But when Republican Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett tells a reporter “it’s a horrible, horrible situation and we’re not gonna fix it,” that is a political statement. Burchett is saying that while politics can arm people who want to kill us and can prevent those of us who don’t want these people to have AR-15s from getting in their way, politics will not attempt to protect us from them. If Burchett has the absolute gall to make such a political case, surely we’re within our rights to respond in kind.

Because, obviously, this could be fixed. It’s not like our politicians have tried to fix it and decided it can’t be done. They’ve decided that fixing it would cost them politically, so they’re not going to try. Every developed country has violent video games, fatherless kids, Ritalin prescriptions, antidepressants and people with violent impulses. Only one country has easy access to guns good at shooting a lot of bullets in a short amount of time. That’s our country. The one with all the mass shootings. So, yeah, it’s the guns. Fix that and you stem the tide of your tragedy. But our politicians refuse to even consider it (Republicans, loudly; Democrats, apologetically).

But I don’t particularly think even Rep. Burchett believes what he’s saying here. I don’t know that I believe Gov. Lee either. I definitely don’t believe anything Rep. Ogles says, since the guy’s penchant for self-mythology has made him the Santos of the South. But I do know that regardless of their sincerity, these guys want to stay in power and they believe the best way to do that is to talk about how much they love guns and no matter how many guns are used to kill how many innocent people, they will still love guns — and anyone who doesn’t love guns just doesn’t love America which, to be clear, means loving guns.

“He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus said that, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t apply to guns. And we certainly live by the gun here, in this country. Our politicians used their politics to make sure of it. The students at Covenant have no say in the matter. Their governor conscripted them into living by the gun. The city of Nashville had no say in it. Our voice was splintered as a sacrifice to the political project. 

And so now we die by the gun, a few every day and sometimes a lot all at once, the human payment for a political victory. And our politicians shame us into accepting this as a reasonable expectation for a good patriot. And on top of that, they tell us not to politicize the tragedy, because doing so would force them to reckon with it. This is the only hint we have that they have any inkling of what they’ve done.

(Tyler Huckabee is a writer currently living a nomad’s life with his wife and dog. This article was originally published at his Substack, where you can read more of his writing. Or for every thought that comes into his head, find him on Twitter. This column does not necessarily reflect the views of Religion News Service.)

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