Right-wing media response to Virginia shooter strongly underscores their white supremacist values
The biggest fallout from last week’s shooting of House Republicans at a baseball practice in Virginia that grievously injured Rep. Steve Scalise, R-LA, and three others, is not the infantile war of words from right-wingers blaming Democrats; it’s from reactionary white men imposing their right to own and use guns on the rest of America.
The Republican Party is the party of an aging, shrinking, white-dominated America. It’s also the party that’s home to the majority of gun owners in America, according to nationwide studies. That same body of research has repeatedly shown women and non-whites bear the brunt of a great deal of gun violence in America.
Nearly two-thirds of America’s gun owners voted for Trump, the Washington Post reported last month, citing several national surveys that found 49 percent of gun owners were Republican, 32 percent were Independent and 23 percent were Democrats. “The strength and reliability of association between owning a gun and voting Republican is impressive,” the report said. “Across 11 presidential contests, gun ownership was more strongly linked to vote choice than such well-known predictors as gender, age and education.”
Meanwhile, other research has shown that it’s women and non-whites who are most deeply hurt by gun violence, reflecting the unsavory reality that the GOP’s white male-dominated obsession with defending guns doesn’t end up harming people like them nearly as much.
The facts are appalling. Gun violence is an ongoing epidemic, with 30,000 deaths annually—more than 80 daily—a figure that has not changed in years. While the most heartwrenching incidents make national news—like four toddlers dying after playing with guns they found—most gun deaths do not, despite reports by gun control advocates like the Violence Policy Center.
In 93 percent of homicides of women, the murderers are men who are known to their victims. Eighty-three percent of black homicide victims are killed by people using guns. Only a fraction of murders by people carrying concealed weapons have been judged to be legitimate self-defense. Guns are used more for murder and suicide than for self-defense. Guns are the third leading cause of death of children. Mass shootings have increased over the past decade, as the firearms industry has broken sales records.
One might think the almost exclusively white and male bastion that is the House Republican delegation would look in the mirror to ponder their complicity in loosening federal gun controls after they were targeted last week. But after the fusillade from a military-style rifle fired by a 66-year-old man with a history of domestic violence, what did the GOP and its allies do? The right-wing echo chamber fired off one of its most irresponsible rounds of pro-gun propaganda in years.
It began with radio raver Rush Limbaugh, blaming all media that have criticized President Trump. Then came provocateurs like Laura Ingraham, who seized on “escalating anti-Republican rhetoric.” Fact-averse Alex Jones predictably spewed hateful partisan vitriol, backed by an InfoWars TV graphic proclaiming a “New American Civil War.” Then came the National Rifle Association’s TV network, where host Grant Strinchfield followed the same line of attack.
“Certainly the shooter has accountability in this,” Strinchfield said. “But… there is culpability for those on the left that push this violent atmosphere against conservatives, against people that don’t believe in what they do. And that’s what’s got to stop.”
What doesn’t have to stop, according to the right, is white male America’s right to own and use guns—and to impose their will on everyone else. There’s more to this than the gun control community’s recitation of America’s ongoing epidemic of gun violence, the easy availability of guns, and law enforcement’s limited ability to stop access to buyers with violent histories—like the man who shot Scalise, or the federal government’s ability to track guns used in crime.
Instead of reasoned gun control, the response by a handful of white Republicans was to carry guns in the Capitol, despite evidence from four states that allow concealed carry (Florida, Texas, Ohio, Washington) that more firearms in public results in more mayhem and death. Let’s be clear: this is not just another display of the GOP’s white supremacist side; the shooter in Virginia fit an alarming national pattern of an emotionally disturbed misogynist who first goes after women and then grabs a gun.
Nancy Leong, an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, noted in the Washington Post that most recent mass shooters share “a history of aggression and violence toward women.” She cited research from 2009 to 2016, which shows 54 percent of mass shooters “involved a current or former intimate partner or family member as a victim.” Another study she cited found men who abuse their partners display other violent traits, such as harming children and animals, alcoholism and multiple arrests.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise domestic violence and mass shootings are correlated,” Leong wrote. As I have noted, domestic violence is a form of violence, but it’s one we don’t always take as seriously as other kinds. People who are likely to behave violently often start with those nearest to them, who are vulnerable due to proximity, and are often financially, emotionally or legally dependent on their abuser. The justice system also plays a role, treating domestic violence with less weight than other types of violence.
As Leong noted in the Post, the Virginia shooter was in court in Illinois in 2006 for domestic abuse. He emerged with no criminal record after a key witness didn’t turn up to testify. He legally purchased the military-style assault rifle he used in last week’s attack on lawmakers.
Meanwhile, right-wing defenders of gun rights—including women journalists who should know the difference between facts and fictions—have kept up the attack on media and the left.
“Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Are you mother-bleeping kidding me, New York Times?” complained the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, after a Times editorial noted that Republicans have long embraced guns and gun-slinging sensibilities to achieve their aims.
Like all things political, people always have a public reason and a real reason for the positions they take. When parsing the right-wing’s ongoing defense of guns, they are not just defending Republicans’ shrinking, aging, white base against a diversifying nation and its evolving values. They are also defending the majority of gun owners in America, who often are not the victims of gun violence.
Once again, right-wingers and their representatives in Congress have put power, party, white supremacy and misogyny ahead of country, even when their own members are targeted.