Speaking at conservative gathering in Greenville, South Carolina on Friday, Jeb Bush explained why he didn’t support government action to address mass shootings like the one that killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon this week.
“We’re in a difficult time in our country and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this,” he said. “I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. It’s very sad to see. But I resist the notion—and I had this challenge as governor, because, look, stuff happens. There’s always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something and it’s not always the right thing to do.”
The words “stuff happens” ripped through Twitter before video of the full statement was available, leaving many thousands of people with the impression that Bush had responded to tragedy with gross insensitivity.
Let’s stipulate that Jeb Bush is tin-eared and totally wrong about the appropriateness of a government response to mass shootings. Even so, his comments clearly imply that we should interpret the term “stuff” as a shorthand for tragedies and other crises.
And it’s true: The incidence of tragedies doesn’t necessarily imply obvious or appropriate or feasible government responses that would prevent them from happening again. If you’re of the mindset that guns are great and that mass killings are the price of freedom, then you probably apply that truism about crises to the question of gun regulation, and find Bush’s comments unobjectionable.
I think that’s a badly, fatally mistaken view. We reduce road fatalities not by dropping the speed limit to zero, or banning cars, but by modulating speed limits and regulating cars. We could take an analogous approach to guns. But decontextualizing “stuff happens” makes it seem like Bush shrugged off a mass killing as something akin to stepping in a dog pile. There are plenty of problems with his statement, but he didn’t do that.