Don't Just Do Something
Reason magazine|October 2019

“I don't know what the answer is,” Kacey Musgraves shouted during her set at Lol­ lapalooza on August 7, “but obviously something has to be fucking done.”

Katherine Mangu-ward

The country music star then led her fans in a chant that perfectly encapsulates the future of American politics: “Somebody fucking do something!” she screamed. “Somebody fucking do something!” the crowd screamed back.

Musgraves was, understandably, upset about the horrific back­to­back mass mur­ ders that took place the first weekend of August in El Paso and Dayton. She did not offer a specific something to be done. This may have been an attempt to appear non­ partisan, it may have been honest uncer­ tainty, or it may just have been a sensible intuition that the middle of a music fes­ tival was not the right place to workshop public policy.

But the something matters an awful lot. In this case—and in so many others—“do something” actually means “do some­ thing to other people.” It means “force other people to do something they don’t want to do, even if you’re not sure it will actually help.” The call to “do something” privileges action over analysis and man­ datory one­size­fits­all solutions over incremental, local, and voluntary action.

The list of somethings to be done post­ shooting is familiar enough: Stop the sale (or possibly possession) of certain fire­ arms, make ever­larger lists of people who are not allowed to own firearms at all, and regulate speech—especially “hate speech,” especially online, and maybe video games while we’re at it. As Reason’s Brian Doherty and Jacob Sullum have chronicled, there are good reasons to think these proposals will impose wide­ spread harmful unintended consequences while being ineffective at reducing gun deaths. But in politics, that doesn’t seem to count for much. Especially not when a bunch of politicians are in way over their heads, grappling with a highly flammable mix of genuinely troubling problems involving violence, racial hatred, inad­ equate health care, and terror.

“If we truly care about this,” said President Barack Obama after a 2015 mass shooting in Colorado Springs, “if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience, then we have to do something.”

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