In Defense of Crass Politicization

It seems to me that there's no better way to earn plaudits in the blogopshere than to slam people who deploy something like the Virginia Tech massacre as a pretext for grinding some political ax. I've never, however, really understood what the problem with this is. Most people don't pay attention to most issues most of the time. Advocates for causes need to find opportunities when it's possible to grab attention and then go out and grab it. I'm not a gun controller myself, but a high-profile spree killing is the obvious situation in which to try to make the case for gun control measures.

The only thing I would note with something like the VT shootings is that as terrible as an incident like that is, it's simply not the case that spree killings are a significant problem in American life, statistically speaking. I believe the USA suffers from more spree killings than do other non-war-torn countries, but still very few people die that way. You could completely eliminate mass-murder in the United States and you wouldn't save very many lives. Which isn't to say that we shouldn't try to prevent this kind of thing. But it is to say that it doesn't make sense to engage in policy shifts with large costs (in terms of money or even just inconveniencing tons of people) in order to reduce the risk of something that's already very rare.

Contrast that with a newsworthy tragedy like John Corzine's car accident. Normally, car wrecks and the resultant injuries don't make national news. But they happen all the time. Slightly higher compliance with seat belt laws, better compliance with speed limits, slightly less driving, etc., etc., etc. would all massively reduce the number of deaths and major injuries in the United States.