After Mass Shootings, Late-Night Hosts Are Our Best Politicians

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Thank you, Jimmy Kimmel.

Mass shootings are a daily occurrence in America. Major mass shootings are becoming a monthly one. Major mass shootings that set historical records are becoming yearly ones. This time, as we all know, a lone gunman with a massive arsenal of semi-automatic weapons jerry-rigged to function like automatic weapons killed 59 people at a country concert in Las Vegas. The man’s purchase and possession of such weapons, capable of penetrating police armor, was “legal in every way.” Nobody seemed to notice that one man was stockpiling several dozen of these weapons for an unspecified purpose.

And why would anyone notice? Many who knew the shooter claims he was a “kind, caring man” who showed no violent inclinations. (Some of the reporting now suggests otherwise.) Either way, experts agree there is no way to predict these attacks. They just sort of happen. We only really know two things. One: mass shootings will keep happening. We can confidently predict even deadlier mass-shootings in America to come. That’s been our trajectory for years. Nothing suggests it will stop.

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Two: after every mass shooting, absolutely nothing will change. We will be collectively outraged as a country for a few days, and perhaps a few politicians will loudly declare now — nownownow is the time for common-sense gun regulation. Congressional Republicans and their masters friends at the National Rifle Association (NRA) will do their best to blame this on literally anything but the military-grade firearms that are readily accessible to the public and the gun manufacturers who actively make it easier to illegally circumvent whatever regulations may exist on high-capacity magazines. There will be radio silence until another psychopath murders 20 little kids in their classroom, another psychopath murders 49 people in a gay bar, another psychopath murders 59 country-music lovers in the open air. America has adopted a “battered-wife syndrome” to mass shootings: we exist in a constant state of meek helplessness, silently praying it won’t happen again, yet knowing full well that nothing will change and that it will happen again. And again. And again. And from our leaders we will get what we always get: “thoughts and prayers.”

Make no mistake, whether you believe that gun violence is caused by an excessive firearms market that is easily abused and poorly regulated, or because of poor mental health treatment in America, the only reason that nothing will change is because a lot of people make a ton of money by being good at getting you to look the other way. Executives from large gun manufacturing companies openly admit that mass shootings are great for business. The NRA has adopted a carrot-and-stick marketing strategy, stoking fears about dangerous criminals and peddling the fantasy of the “good guy with a gun” who will stop them. After Sandy Hook, the NRA’s membership dues skyrocketed to a record $157 million; they used that money to funnel millions of dollars into the campaigns of the servants crony politicians they own in Congress. Ever wondered why assholes like Bill O’Reilly can go on the air and say that the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans from gun violence every year is the price we pay for freedom? Or how Mitch McConnell can look into a camera and say it’s “premature to talk about legislative solutions” after dozens of innocents are mowed down? Or how Paul Ryan can look at you with his dead, beady little blue eyes and declare mass shootings a mental-health issue — and do nothing about mental health? There’s a reason money is called the root of all evil. And O’Reilly, McConnell and Ryan sure do like their money.

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Of course, you’ll never find a shortage of these same people telling you that it’s Hollywood to blame, that it’s the “media elite” causing mass shootings; they’re perfectly happy to attribute mass shootings to the degradation of societal decency caused by anyone not in their political party while professing not to politicize 20 or 49 or 58 murdered people. The thing is, in a country that seems to be paralyzed by the phenomena of mass shootings, the demonized “Hollywood elite” actually seems to be one of the few areas of society acting with appropriate moral outrage over the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dead Americans that O’Reilly, McConnell and Ryan would appear to celebrate. In addition to using their platforms to constantly plead with our politicians to do something about gun violence, there seems to be, now, perhaps a culture shift as well. Some movie stars are demanding that scenes with graphic gun violence be removed from the films they star in. Films like Miss Sloane are meant to directly portray and take on the underbelly of gun money in Congress. Call it right, wrong, or too-little-too-late, at least Hollywood is doing something.

Most impressive are the late night TV comedians. Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, James Corden, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers and Conan O’Brien all addressed the Las Vegas shooting head on, and they did not spare any emotions. Some, like Noah, offered their usual fodder to the already-converted about the hypocrisy of Fox News on gun violence being predicated on the shooter’s ethnicity. Colbert was far more leveled and calculating, offering potential legislative solutions and saying out loud what people across the political spectrum are thinking: it doesn’t matter what our elected officials do, they need to do something. Meyers’ frustration was more poignant: “If it’s just going to be thoughts and prayers from here on out, the least you can do is be honest about that,” he said to the camera, but really to our non-representing representatives in Washington. O’Brien, arguably the most politics-averse late-night host, recognized that the frequency of mass shootings has changed the role of late night TV, and that he must address these issues because something desperately needs to change.

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The most moving monologue was Jimmy Kimmel’s. A native of Las Vegas, Kimmel nearly broke down when discussing the violence. His teary-eyed howl about seeing such evil in his hometown felt like the inner id of America escaping for a painstaking few moments before retreating back into suffocating silence. Just like when he spoke about healthcare, Kimmel’s research on gun violence was on point, and he did not hesitate to directly call out the politicians who voted against closing gun loopholes. Kimmel offered real facts, back up by statistics that showed majorities of both Democrat and Republican voters supporting stricter gun control measures. In just nine minutes, Kimmel comforted us, channeled our inner rage, showed what all Americans agree needs to be done, and exposed those who stand in the way of making sure these mass shootings stop.

Imagine an America in which politicians are half as effective as our late-night hosts. An America in which Donald Trump, in a rare moment of clarity, uses his oratorical skills to tap into our rage and shows that he truly feels our helplessness. An America in which Paul Ryan immediately offers, on TV, half a dozen legislative paths forward, either through gun regulation or mental health assistance, to combat gun violence. An America in which Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer hold a joint press conference to promise that Congress will remain in session until an agreement on bipartisan legislation addressing mass shootings passes the Senate. An America in which Jeff Sessions promises not to rest until the people who make it easy to break the law and to modify firearms are brought to justice. An America in which our local politicians come out against gun violence with the same intensity with which they have opposed all American having healthcare.

That world will never happen. Not until we elect comedians to be our political leaders. Until then, we are stuck in the worst time loop imaginable. And that’s not funny.

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Robert Burney

Robert Burney is an attorney, actor, writer, and political activist. After studying theater and training in Meisner technique at the renowned William Esper Studio, Robert went on to graduate from St. John’s University School of Law, where he was the 2016 Writing Editor for the St. John’s Journal of International and Comparative Law. When he is not on stage or writing for The Clyde Fitch Report, Robert pursues his passion of advocating for the legal rights of artists and performers throughout the northeast.