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Republicans Keep Missing the Point About Gun Violence—Even When They’re the Targets

Posted on Jun 16, 2017

By Sonali Kolhatkar

  Police investigate the playground in Alexandria, Va., near where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot Wednesday during a congressional team’s baseball practice. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)

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Gun rights activists for years have fought for the free proliferation of firearms throughout the U.S., perhaps subconsciously imagining they were only arming themselves. But a shooting incident in Virginia on Wednesday, in which a 66-year-old white man named James T. Hodgkinson fired a rifle multiple times on a baseball field and seriously injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others, illustrated this point: Liberals, who traditionally support gun control, also may use gun violence when they feel helpless.

Hodgkinson, apparently a strong critic of President Donald Trump, reportedly inquired before shooting whether “the team practicing was a Democrat or a Republican team,” and he was informed that it was made up of Republicans. National Rifle Association proponents including Scalise—who has an A+ rating from the gun-rights group—may do well to acknowledge that living in a society flooded with guns is dangerous for them as well as for the rest of us.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., one of Trump’s most ardent backers in Congress, wasted no time blaming Democrats for the shooting, saying, “I can only hope that the Democrats do tone down the rhetoric. ... The rhetoric has been outrageous: The finger-pointing, the tone, the angst and the anger directed at Donald Trump, his supporters, really then, some people react to things like that, people get angry as well, and you fuel the fires.”

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Collins, who has now vowed to carry his gun in public, acts as if gun fatalities spurred by right-wing rhetoric did not exist—and he is not alone. For example, when Robert Lewis Dear Jr. fatally shot three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in November 2015 while heated anti-abortion debates were taking place in Congress, Republican leaders refused to link their rhetoric to Dear’s actions. And over the past year, violent right-wing rhetoric and hate crimes have risen concurrent to Trump’s presidential campaign, his election and the early months of his tenure in the White House.

The Democrats have been strong in their language against the GOP and Trump’s agenda—it is easier to be principled when one is in the minority. But the nominally liberal party pales in comparison to its rival, which took the concept of an opposition party to new depths during the Obama administration. Add guns to our politically polarized society’s volatile mix that conservatives have stoked harder than anyone, and you have an explosive situation—literally.

Like many mass shooters, Hodgkinson had a history of domestic violence, which because of Republican intransigence over gun control laws, had no impact upon his ability to legally obtain a deadly weapon. Upon finding out that Hodgkinson volunteered for his campaign and supported his presidential bid, Sen. Bernie Sanders said he was “sickened by this despicable act [the shooting].” While the progressive response to gun violence has usually been to push for stricter gun control, the Republican reaction has been to lay the blame anywhere but on the easy availability of guns. In essence, we are expected to tone down our rhetoric and walk on eggshells lest we piss off our gun-toting fellow Americans or tempt them into using their weapon to obtain “justice.”

It has been just over a year since the deadly mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where nearly 50 mostly black and brown queer Americans were gunned down. Because the shooter happened to be a brown-skinned Muslim man, that incident was dubbed “the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11,” even though there was no evidence of actual collusion between the shooter, Omar Mateen, and outside political organizations. Apparently the only requirements for labeling an incident “terrorist” are the skin color and/or religious background of the shooter. In the wake of that mass shooting, Republicans ardently professed their “thoughts and prayers,” but thanks in large part to their unwavering allegiance to the NRA, they remained silent on the shooter’s ability to easily and legally obtain an AR-15 assault rifle.

When coordinated attacks took place on London Bridge and Borough Market in the U.K. recently, Trump took to Twitter to comment on the incidents, saying, “Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!” In addition to insulting the victims with his offhand remarks, Trump failed to recognize that if guns were as easily available in the U.K. as they are in the U.S., the perpetrators would have likely used them to far deadlier effect than they did with a van and knives. It is likely that strict gun control laws in the U.K. greatly reduced the potential death toll. (The issue of how the West’s foreign policy provokes such actions in the first place is another matter entirely, one that politicians of almost all stripes tend to avoid.)

Everyday gun violence is far more devastating than all the “terrorist” incidents in the U.S. put together. On the same day Hodgkinson fired on the Virginia baseball field injuring several people, a disgruntled UPS worker shot and killed four people, including himself, at a delivery center in San Francisco. That incident got far less attention than the baseball field shooting, perhaps because we are numb to gun-related fatalities that have no obvious political aspect. Americans are expected to swallow the fact that more than 30,000 people die of gun violence in the U.S. every year (from homicides and suicides) as an acceptable sacrifice to protect the sanctity of the much-misinterpreted Second Amendment.


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