“Thoughts and prayers” is basically the entire GOP platform on gun violence

Today saw not one but two mass shootings, on opposite sides of the country. In San Bernardino, California, three gunmen entered a center for persons with disabilities and killed at least fourteen people. In Savannah, Georgia, a single gunman killed a woman and injured three more people in the early hours of this morning.

The San Bernardino shooting has received the bulk of attention today, from the media and from politicians, who were quick to tweet out responses to the tragedy.

The partisan divide was…let’s go with stark:

All three Democratic presidential candidates responded to the shooting by calling for something — ANYTHING — by way of action to prevent the next mass shooting. All of the Republican presidential candidates called for prayers, and perhaps some thoughts, for the victims, their families and first responders on the scene.

It didn’t stop there, though. Igor Volsky has found 38 (and counting) Republican members of Congress — not counting the ones who are running for president — who tweeted out some version of “thoughts and prayers” immediately following the San Bernardino shooting. He also made a second pass through with said members’ contributions from the NRA. Here’s a sample:

As was the case with October’s mass shooting in Oregon, the Republican party line hasn’t even included the traditional hand-waving at the need for improved mental health services — even as there are bills currently stalled in Congress that would improve our country’s mental health services! Instead, the unified message has been that thoughts and prayers are the necessary and sufficient reaction to this shooting tragedy.

This is disgusting, and has been (deservingly) called out as such.

Religious people, mostly but not exclusively conservative and Christian, have jumped to prayer’s defenseWhat’s with all this prayer shaming? they ask, What’s the harm in genuinely expressing sympathy and good vibes?

In isolation, nothing. As I’ve written before, praying for the victims of a shooting tragedy, or their families, seems a tad misguided. But if you, personally, want to send good thoughts in the direction of someone who has just experienced a loss, go ahead. It doesn’t hurt anyone, although God’s continued agnosticism on American gun violence has made it pretty clear that it isn’t helping, either. What absolutely is hurting people, however, is the continued implicit insistence of the Thoughts and Prayers Caucus that there simply isn’t anything else we can do about America’s off-the-charts homicide rate.

Because when politicians offer their thoughts and prayers, they don’t do it in a vacuum. These are people charged with making sure that tragedies like these don’t happen again, and as pointed out in Volsky’s tweets above, the same representatives who are driven to prayer by the sheer horror of this tragedy have stopped even pretending to put any effort into curbing gun violence. Hell, they’ve blocked efforts to research the issue.

This being the case, the regular call to prayer we see every time someone takes legally-purchased guns and kills a whole bunch of people with them comes off as nothing more than a dodge. Prayer is being passed off as what we’re supposed to do instead of coming up with any ideas for how to make mass shootings happen less than once per day. Given that the number of prayers being offered by various politicians seems to be directly proportional to the size of the investment the NRA has made in their campaigns, you don’t have to be all that creative to imagine why.

Rick Santorum fixing gun violence, via Wikimedia Commons

Rick Santorum solving gun violence, via Wikimedia Commons

And here’s the thing: There are a LOT of really simple things we could do to lower the number of Americans killed in mass shootings. For starters, we could let the CDC start researching gun violence, which doesn’t restrict anyone’s right to own any kind of gun and would at least give us some clues as to what would work if we ever get the political will to pass a law. Of the policy proposals Democrats have endorsed this election cycle, the assault weapons ban, a federal gun registry, universal background checks, bans on gun purchases by the mentally ill and closing the gun show loophole all have majority support from the American public. That doesn’t even touch on policies that have proven successful in other counties with high rates of gun ownership, like Canada’s gun licensing process.

If Republican thoughts and prayers were followed up with anything by way of an actionable solution to this epidemic-level problem, it’d be one thing. But when their conversation starts and ends with an earnest, prayerful tweet, it feels like they’re sticking their fingers in their ears until the news cycle moves on. They bring no actual ideas to the table, just well-wishes. Doing nothing appears to be the line item on the party platform, but “thoughts and prayers” are scribbled into the margins in order to give candidates something to tweet out.

The Atlantic’s Emma Green is dismayed that prayer isn’t being welcomed in the political debate today, writing that “At one time in American history, liberals and conservatives shared a language of God, but that’s clearly no longer the case; any invocation of faith is taken as implicit advocacy of right-wing political beliefs.” But today, prayer really is being used to defend a particular right-wing political belief: that the only feasible solution to mass shootings is to get on your knees and ask God to let more than a week pass before the next one. One political party’s pseudo-religious commitment to that belief is indirectly contributing to the deaths of thousands of Americans every year.

If that’s what prayer is being used for, it deserves to be shamed.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • Rusty Shackelford

    When it was polio killing this many people we did something about it.

  • rwlorenz

    Republicans are thinking! Funniest comment of the year.

  • rwlorenz

    “Thoughts and prayers” — the socially acceptable description also known as “meaningless daydreaming.” Worthless.

  • DoverBill

    If there ain’t, I can assure you that Scalia will invent one.

  • DoverBill

    Who needs prayer when ya got golden idols and multiple orgieisms?

  • DoverBill

    Bless me, father, for I have sinned.

    And I get squat if I haven’t sinned?

  • ComradeRutherford

    Look how well praying worked for the people of Moses’ time!

  • ComradeRutherford

    “Gun control … has nothing to do with public safety.”

    Demonstrably false. A brazen lie.

  • You’ve had it your way for more than a generation. It’s easier now to acquire firearms — including semi-autos, large clips, and all the ammo you can eat — than ever before. We did have a rather lax assault rifle & large magazine ban for a few years, but you and your lot managed to ensure the law expired. Now assault rifles and large magazines are a common feature at the most recent mass killings.

    We’ve waited for decades, spending blood and tens of thousands of lives to appease your position that more guns would equal more safety. You’ve insisted we can’t have universal background checks and shouldn’t have waiting periods. You won’t let the gun show and private sales loopholes to be closed. You refuse to require competence checks and training for CCPs. You won’t even allow legislation to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill or those under serious felony charges or who have threatened to harm others. And the top kicker: You and your allies won’t even allow gun violence to be studied and analyzed.

    Your solution has been an abject failure. We now have, on average, at least one mass shooting every day. More guns (and you absolutely cannot in truth deny there are more guns than ever before in America) has not resulted in more safety — and before you bleat again about gun-free zones, how about you talk with your NRA and Republican leadership friends to have THEM agree to let guns into their major events? Let them put their lives on the line to prove there’s no danger inherent in letting everybody present be armed. Let’s have an open bar, too, to prove conclusively that guns + alcohol are no danger to anybody.

    Blaming gun-free zones is a red herring anyway. Why? Because in the immediate aftermath of the Oregon Community College mass murder, your type immediately tried to blame it on the college being a ‘gun-free zone’ but guess what? It oh-so-inconveniently wasn’t. There was even a guy there — ex-military — with a carry permit and he was smart enough to know if he waved his gun around, the cops were quite likely to shoot him. Why? Because there is no white hat declaring in a shooting situation that you’re the good guy and not the bad one. Yesterday, the cops were chasing down everybody who looked suspicious because they had no clue who the shooters were. Anybody visibly armed and not sporting a uniform or badge probably would’ve been shot dead.

    The supermarket at Tucson, where Giffords and others were shot. The churches in Savannah. The salon at Seal Beach California. The Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The streets of Isla Vista. The movie theater in Aurora Colorado. All of them not gun-free zones, all of them the scenes of mass killings.

    So your claim that “all mass attacks” are the result of gun-free zone laws is complete bullshit. Personally, I find it disgusting you won’t even consider reasonable gun control legislation, and how your guns-for-everyone solution is nothing but its own pro-violence political crusade, having everything to do with promoting fear and paranoia and nothing to do with public safety.

    Like I said, we’ve tried it your way for far too long and all you have to show for it is more and more mass shootings and mass murders. It’s long past time to try something different.

  • Stephen Noyes

    The GOP is owned by the gun industry. Of course they even want the terrorists to buy guns if they come to America. They can stuff their “THOUGHTS and PRAYERS” down their own throats.

  • jon moorehead

    You are all sorts of stupid.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Here’s my hot take on Emma Green’s “prayer shaming” nuttery at The Atlantic: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2015/12/prayershaming-meet-atlanticshaming-and.html

  • Damned_at_Random

    How about a 25% tax on gun and ammo sales to fund mental health services and victims compensation fund? Is there a 2nd amendment argument against that?

  • mysticl

    Did they offer thoughts and prayers to the Planned parenthood victims? I didn’t think so …

  • 2karmanot

    OhMyGawd (pardon the pun) is Mr. Jeebus bored and making fart sounds?

  • 2karmanot

    Slight correction F: For Rethuglicans all white killers are mentally ill.People of color (usually men) never make it to trial because they are murdered by being shot in the back while resisting arrest.

  • 2karmanot

    Well done Becca. I have been saying for years now that the NRA, its administrative officers certainly, have turned the organization into a domestic terrorist provocateur and should be considered a clear and present danger to the well being of the nation and its citizens. The DOJ should take a stand, but I can’t ‘pray’ for intervention because Attorney General Loretta Lynch is even more ineffectual than the last dimwit who held that job.

  • 2karmanot

    “Gun control is a political crusade, and has nothing to do with public safety.” ….It’s people like you who…..oh, never mind………………….

  • nicho

    That plot line would be so ridiculous that an editor would throw it right back in your face. No supposedly advanced society could be that dystopian.

  • nicho

    When you lose the Daily News….

  • gratuitous

    And what may be most distressing is how cheaply they can be bought. For as little as a $1,000 campaign contribution from the NRA, a Republican office-holder will happily watch dozens of people slaughtered.

  • If you wrote a dystopian novel that involved a mass shooting every day followed by national leaders calling for thoughts and prayers for the families of the victims, you would have chilling and sobering concept for a literary endeavor — except that we are there now in real life.

  • nicho

    Idiot. The “thoughts and prayers” mantra just is a knee-jerk reaction. And it’s a scam too since most of the GOP is too stupid to think and too corrupt to pray.

    GOP — idiots led by traitors.

  • nicho

    If thoughts and prayers were candy and cake, we’d all have a merry Christmas — but I paraphrase.

  • nofauxnews

    The only thing the GOPers are “thinking” about is the $thousands the NRA donated to their last campaign.

  • The_Fixer

    Yeah, I doubt he can make anything happen. It was stupid for him to take that position, he’s not even a likable guy.

    The beard? Na, it’s hunting season in Wisconsin, lots of guys grow beards (or try to) for that reason.

  • The_Fixer

    Oh, I think that they would propose some kind of legislation, but as I state in my reply to Houndentenor above, it would only exist if somebody could make money from it. Without seeing such legislation, and there is supposed to be something pending in the House (I know, “pending” does not equal real), I can safely say that it benefits corporate-owned mental health care and drug abuse treatment facilities. Because as you know, the government can’t do anything right, the Rs tell us. And what good is government money if corporations can’t grab it?

    As to your second point, of course they will never actually do anything to prevent anyone from getting a gun. Hell, the Benghazi committee members, during their “downtime”, were busy showing off their guns and talking about what they’d like next. How to you fight a wingnut gun ownership base when they’re the ones in charge?

    Besides, the NRA is out there demanding their money’s worth, by glock gosh, they’ll get it.

  • Ryan can’t deliver votes from his own caucus. Neither could Boehner.

    Maybe I’m reading to much into this, but I think Ryan’s new beard means he knows he’s done and doesn’t have to pretend to give a fuck any more.

  • The_Fixer

    One article I read said that there was some pending mental health reform legislation, but it has been ignored. I am not familiar with the nature of the legislation at this point, but my cynical side tells me to think that it would, in some way, be a giveaway to corporations or be deficient in a major way.

    Regardless, it remains to be seen whether this proclamation by Ryan will result in anything happening. A true test of Ryan’s power as speaker? Only if he presses the issue. Now we know that the perpetrators of the most recent shooting were of Middle Eastern descent and were followers of Islam, well, that changes the narrative and lets Ryan off the hook. It’s the Scary Mooslimms again (forget that there could be mentally ill people of any ethnicity), shot deflected.

    Nutshell version: It matters not even if there any legislation proposed; if there was, it would be bad and it wouldn’t even be acted on now due to current events.

  • David J Welsh

    so very, very true

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    62

  • Of course there was no bill proposed.

  • Pretend prayers allow them to pretend to be caring about mass murders happening more than once a day in our country.

  • DGT

    Riiiiight, if there’s anything today’s GOP is known for, it’s their thoughtful intellectual approach to problem-solving.

    And your comment is priceless. You write a paragraph whining about how “every Dem candidate” started pushing for “irrelevant” gun control laws (because, of course, gun legislation has absolutely no relevance to gun massacres) as a “knee-jerk” response (because, I suppose, each mass shooting resets the clock on responses, so it’s always too soon) “before they had any idea just what had happened.”

    And then, two sentences later, you proclaim that the attack was a result of “gun free zone laws” and advocate more guns as a solution.

    This is the classic move of the gun nut crowd after each of the frequent mass shootings. Criticize any talk of gun legislation as “knee-jerk reaction”, along with some version of “it’s too soon to talk about solutions”, then turn around and call for more, more, more guns — and, of course, the obligatory blaming of “gun-free zones.”

  • spencer60

    And that’s the difference between the GOP and the Dems.

    The Dems call out for ‘anything’… typical knee-jerk response.

    The GOP is starting out with ‘thoughts…’, as in think about what you say next.

    Personally, I find it absolutely disgusting how every Dem candidate (and our current administration) started pushing irrelevant gun control laws before the body’s were even taken away, and before they had any idea just what had happened.

    Gun control is a political crusade, and has nothing to do with public safety.

    Like all mass attacks, these people were victims of the gun free zone laws that would have kept them from being armed and protecting themselves.

  • Fortunately no, and this isn’t the first time she’s written something that I found to be straight up nails on chalkboard: http://americablog.com/2015/07/gay-rights-may-come-at-the-cost-of-religious-freedom-if-you-redefine-religious-freedom.html

  • KarenJ

    Indeed. The purse-string holders in the GOP-controlled Congress talk about throwing money at mental health care, but they never actually do more than shuffle papers in some committee where a feeble bill dies. Same with anything having to do with veterans’ health care, or 9/11 first responders.

    The GOP is all talk, and they’re sure good at that!

  • KarenJ

    No relation to the misguided Emma Green, eh, Jon?

  • You_Dirty_Rat

    Hey Green, shut the fuck up. Now is not the time for mindless partisan attacks.

  • Aye, but have you noticed how while Ryan and his GOPer friends are paying lip service to the notion of better mental health care they (1) have no plans to spend a single taxpayer penny on improving it and (2) they adamantly don’t want to take any actions which could result in deranged individuals being unable to easily acquire arsenals of firearm-based mass destruction.

  • Unfortunately, the Republicans and their far-right supporters have poisoned the word ‘prayer’ and turned it into an empty gesture of fecklessness and an excuse to do nothing. A pablum platitude. The way they use it, ‘prayer’ is the only acceptable reaction to these horrors—which basically means nothing but “wishing really hard the victims and their families aren’t too visibly saddened by what happened to them.”

    It’s become the spiritual equivalent of signing an online petition. A prayer isn’t going to take away the
    horror of losing a loved one to a violent murder.

    And as soon as these victims display not just broken sadness, but voice anger and demand that something more than mere praying be done, the conservative wingnuts turn on them, savagely.

    A few years ago, the admonition from the right was it was always “too soon to politicize a tragedy” to call for gun reforms. Now they don’t even wait—the ammosexuals now use the tragedies as soon as possible to call for MOAR GUNZ EVRYWAREZ. Inevitably, gun sales skyrocket. And in one of the single biggest perversions of all that is decent, it’s firearms of the same make and model as the ones used to mass murder which always see the biggest increases.

    I’m tired of it. I’m tired of inaction. I’m tired of the assholes who insist ‘thoughts and prayers’ are the
    only politically and socially allowed response to acts of monstrous violence.

    I’m sickened and dismayed by any asshole who will suggest we need more guns, not fewer of the most lethal kinds of firearms. How many mass shootings has Australia had since they properly recoiled with horror in the 1990s after a particularly bad one, and they basically banned civilian ownership of semi-automatic weapons and strictly regulated the rest? None. Not one. Even their suicide rate plummeted, because most suicides are indeed impulse actions.

    Here in America, we’ve had two mass murders in as many weeks. According to the Boston Globe, so far this year there have been 355 mass shooting incidents—which is more than one each day. Tens of thousands more people are killed every year in incidents that don’t rise to the label ‘mass shooting,’ defined as bullets hitting four or more people in the same attack.

    Children shooting each other with unsecured handguns isn’t felony negligent homicide, but just regrettable accidents. Murders are excused simply by asserting a claim of being afraid of someone, even if they posed no threat at all or were running away. Violent domestic abusers are routinely allowed to keep their firearms, even if they’ve threatened to kill their partner or spouse.

    Yet instead of enacting meaningful gun control laws, we in America offer “thoughts and prayers” to the victims.

    Isn’t the proverbial definition of insanity doing the same failing thing over and over, but expecting different results?

    Wishing really hard isn’t working!

    When I see a wingnut commentator on TV or on the Internet claim these horrible crimes are being
    committed by liberals and feminists and LGBT rights activists and Black Lives Matter protesters—when it turns out NEVER to be members of any of these groups—I want to kick them in the groin so hard, they’re tasting nut blood for days.

    You truly don’t want to know what I wish for the inevitable soulless trolls who will insist—usually anonymously—this was an Obama / Democrat / UN false-flag operation and further that nobody actually was killed, like the Sandy Hook deniers.

    I actually don’t care if this was politically-motivated terrorism or religiously motivated or some kind of
    bias crime or just some disgruntled psycho who decided to shoot a bunch of people because he was angry at them. Motive doesn’t even matter; what matters is opportunity and means to commit mass murder are constantly being provided to any who want them, on demand.

    The Constitution’s Second Amendment has been interpreted—wrongly, in my opinion—to guarantee an almost limitless right to “keep and bear arms” (with the “well-regulated militia” part entirely forgotten). It’s a shame there is no similarly guaranteed right not to be shot to death.

    Reports now are these mass murderers may have been wearing body armor. Why the fuck is this allowed to be purchased by civilians? And of course they had what are called “long guns”—which these days is code for semi-automatic assault rifles.

    Assault weapons are not appropriate for hunting game animals, not even bears. They are suited only for those who want to shoot other humans, in large numbers. Large ammo magazines are for those who want to kill on a wholesale level, without needing to pause to reload. (When I was hunting with my father, decades ago, firing more than twice at any one animal was deemed an abject failure, and even two shots was suspect.) And body armor is only for those who expect their targets might shoot back…which, last I checked, bears and deer haven’t learned to do. So why do we allow civilians to buy this kind of military-grade equipment? (Even if these murderers didn’t have body armor, nobody is even questioning the theory they could have been, legally.)

    It’s because the right-wing media fear-mongers, the radical conservatives and the gun manufacturers and the racist xenophobes have been feeding the entire country a steady diet of poisonous terror, including a belief that our own elected government is an enemy to be resisted violently and lethally. And further, that lethal responses for grievances, however minor, only represent acceptable losses, regrettable incidents, or justifiable homicides.

    God will not help us with this.

    God will not fix this.

    We humans have free will, and the worst among us have decided to feed on that fear, paranoia, and hate. I will not pray to God to intervene, when there are so many bloody-minded violence worshipers who actually believe God himself has commanded them to terrorize, maim, and kill.

    I refuse to waste a single second wishing for some omnipotent super-deity to do what we refuse to do for ourselves—which is to be better people who embrace peace and love rather than hate and murder. To recognize that guns are the opposite of making anybody safe. To view those who worship at the altar of retribution and violence as uncivilized barbarians, sociopaths, and psychotic monsters, and not as people to be placated or compromised with.

    I will pray no more because the murderers are praying, too, that they manage to kill as many people as possible before they themselves are killed or taken into custody.

    I will pray no more because praying carries with it the risk of my foolishly believing my prayers are
    action, when it is in fact the opposite of action.

    I will pray no more because radical fundamentalist Christianists and pandering politicians have degraded and perverted the word.

    I will pray no more because praying without following that up with doing is meaningless.

    I will pray no more because God is never going to magically intervene to stop this horror we insist on
    inflicting on ourselves.

    I will pray no more.

    I will try to DO. And if I fail to DO, I think it only appropriate I have to live with the full measure of
    shame and guilt for that failure.

  • The_Fixer

    After Richard Dear did his bit of terrorism, Paul Ryan did, in fact, get on TV to tell Congress that they have to get to work on reforming the mental health system. In a way, it’s an attempt (for appearance sake, of course) to “follow through” on all of their proclamations that all mass shooters are mentally ill. Of course, it’s a dodge in service to the NRA, because it deflects from any attempt to regulate gun ownership.

    To sum up the Republican 3-pronged approach to dealing with mass shootings:

    1) Throw some money at mental health care, because there are no bad guns, just bad owners.
    2) Have more “Good Guys With Guns®”
    3) Thoughts and Prayers™ when it all inevitably does not work.

  • Shorter NRA/GOP: Are the guns OK?

  • Baal

    They must be praying to the wrong god, since it’s not fucking working!!

  • FLL

    One thing that President Obama noted today was that even people who are on the official terror watch list and are not allowed to fly on planes can go into any store and buy guns, including assault rifles. Considering how stringent security is at airports and how carefully they search passengers, this situation is crazy. People on the official terror watch list can’t buy an airline ticket even if they go through an extensive search. But if they want to buy an assault rifle? No problem. Yes, the NRA has that much power, a situation that needs to change.

  • Doug105
  • Doug105
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