For the last two weeks, I’ve been focused, I think rightly, on those who are proposing some form of gun safety in light of the Uvalde mass shooting. I say rightly because my focus has been on effectiveness, and since they are the persons most interested in proposing actual policy, I feel the need to address the effectiveness therein. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t turn my attention to the other side, because they do have proposals, too. In fact, I detailed in an entire post my concern with red flag laws as proposed by the more serious Second Amendment proponents. But we must also deal with the less-than-serious proposals, too.
In short, Second Amendment proponents are not good at arguing for their position, either. Worse than arguing for policies or even cultural solutions that would be ineffective at dealing with the specific problem of public mass shootings (or to the chagrin of the gun safety side, gun violence more broadly, too), as “mascots” for the importance of the Second Amendment and self-defense — if you are such a person, which I would count myself among them — they are dreadfully inadequate and do the cause active harm.
To the latter, I’m talking about the clowns who cosplay as soldiers, showing up at a Walmart openly carrying an AR-15. Or Kyle Rittenhouse (yes, that Kyle Rittenhouse) Tweeting out a video of him shooting a machine gun telling President Joe Biden to, “Come and take ’em, Joe.”
Gun culture is completely odious and quite frankly, gross, and yet, also the loudest “voice” within Second Amendment/self-defense circles. You are not winning “hearts and minds,” as it were, acting like that. Of course, that presumes that they are interested in winning hearts and minds, which I don’t think they are. Which is another problem in and of itself.
In fact, I referenced my recent post on red flag laws, which are proposed by some conservatives, like David French. French has also recently written against this sort of odious gun culture in a piece called, “Against Gun Idolatry.” As French points out, the biggest threat to gun rights culture in the United States is not from those who want to enact gun safety laws, but from gun rights culture itself.
The threat is gun idolatry, a form of gun fetish that’s fundamentally aggressive, grotesquely irresponsible, and potentially destabilizing to American democracy,” French said.
French includes more examples of this gun fetish culture in his piece, so I won’t keep bringing up examples, but yeah, it’s gross.
But what about actual policies and/or cultural “solutions” proposed by Republican politicians?
- Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas (and I’m sure others have said similarly; I think I recall seeing Rep. Marjorie Greene of Georgia Tweet a similar sentiment) said this today (verbatim), “Maybe if we heard more prayers from leaders in this country instead of taking god’s name in vain, we wouldn’t have the mass killings we didn’t have before prayer was eliminated from schools.”
- I’m not even sure where to begin with such silliness. For starters, the Supreme Court ruled in the 1962 case, Engel v. Vitale, that the Establishment Clause prohibited the recitation of a school-sponsored prayer in public schools. Good! You would think Republicans would respect the separation of religion and school. But then connecting that to more violence in American society, particularly public mass shootings? How does one arrive at that conclusion? When violence went down by nearly half after peaking in 1993 — without bringing prayer back into public schools — what caused that? It’s a culture war talking point with no basis in actual fact.
- I’m going to go ahead and lump some of these other ones mentioned by Gohmert into one item: Popular media influences. So, Gohmert mentioned the problems of social media, violent video games, and Hollywood.
- Again, I would point to the fact that we saw dramatic decreases in crime (across the board, mind you) at the same time that video games and social media became more ubiquitous. And Hollywood has been around for more than a century. I think we can get can safely put that boogeyman to bed. As far as I can tell, there is no convincing evidence that video games lead to violence, or these particular sorts of public mass shootings.
- Drug use. Huh? But beyond my bewilderment about where the connection here is, I do have more to say related to this issue in a future blog post.
- Fatherlessness (Sen. Mike Lee also commented on this).
- Ah, another favorite culture war talking point to “fix” violence in America: solve the fatherlessness problem. I do not dispute that children growing up without their fathers is a problem in American society. But what are the causes of it, solutions for it, and what is its relationship to negative outcomes in society? None of that is examined when this talking point is thrown out. The Office of Justice Programs, an agency under the United States Department of Justice did a 2004 study on the matter. One data point that is of note: From 1960 to 1995, the percentage of children living without a father more than tripled from 12 percent to 40 percent. But again, a massive decline in crime was already underway and would continue for more than a decade thereafter. Nonetheless, it is further worth pointing out that the study does say that the results are “clear and robust” that father absence remains a potent predictor of community violence levels, even after “controlling for a range of disadvantage measures (and other community variables).” But public mass shootings? Seems tenuous at best, given that a number of mass shooters have come from homes with fathers. In other words, a complex, rare phenomenon like public mass shootings is not going to have an easy explanation as “fatherless.” [Also, just because a father is not in the home does not mean he is not being a father.]
- Mental illness. Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are among the slew of Republicans who have opined on the relationship they see between mental illness and public mass shooters.
- I would hope at this point that attempts at ending the stigma around mental illness has at least enlightened people to the point that most people afflicted with a mental illness are not violent. Just think about it: Most people aren’t violent, so it holds that a majority of a subset of people would also not be violent. Again, violence is complex, even among those persons with a mental illness who commit violence. Plus, one has to take it a step further, if they are going to go with the analysis that mental illness causes gun violence: That psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens. As this study indicates, there are all kinds of problematic assumptions with both of those assumptions. In short, “History suggests, however, that psychiatrists are inefficient gatekeepers in this regard,” and that diagnosis is an “observational” tool, not an extrapolative one. Anyhow, so, what are the proposals related to mental illness? I can’t find ’em from a cursory Google search. That seems indicative of this not being a serious effort to solve mental illness issues in the country.
- “Hardening” schools. Another proposal of a kind is to “harden” schools. We’ve heard this from Republicans for years as well. Cruz is one of them. He suggested a “one door” security measure, where there is one way in and way out. He also said the “most effective tool” is armed law enforcement on the campus. I would be curious to see the studies he is using to make that argument. As a general proposition, I do not support “hardening” the schools because I don’t want to make schools more militaristic and police friendly. There are all kinds of reasons to be against police presence in schools, mainly that like police on the streets, police in schools abuse their mandate, and disproportionately so among minority students (see more here). As for the one one-door policy, I don’t find that to be a realistic and implementable solution.
- Accepting the reality of doing nothing. Some lawmakers and Republicans have apparently resigned themselves to “we can’t do anything about this.” So, I’m very skeptical of the “do something” advocacy of governance because it leads to bad policies often, but I also think “we can’t do anything about this” is also problematic from a defeatist standpoint. Even if you don’t think, and I’m sure many Republican think this way, there is a policy solution, that doesn’t mean there aren’t myriad cultural solutions. But I can think of some policy solutions, too. More on that in a later post. Also, though, from the standpoint of being a good “mascot” for the Second Amendment, saying there is nothing we can do about public mass shootings is another way to lose “hearts and minds.”
All in all, both from a policy and cultural standpoint, Republican lawmakers and regular citizens who claim to be defenders of the Second Amendment and self-defense rights only do that movement or cause harm by being such unserious defenders, who propose vacuous “solutions” that are rather easily dismissed.