On one of the deadliest and most devastating weekends in US history, I found myself back in the South, celebrating my friend’s 22nd birthday in Nashville. The day after El Paso and Dayton my friends and I were discussing the deadly shootings while in an Uber on our way to lunch. The driver, an older white male, joined our conversation, sharing what he thought should be done in response to so much violence.
It’s easy to guess what an older white man from Tennessee, a state where almost 40% of the population owns a gun, had to say. He first expressed his confusion on why no one in a Texas Walmart would be armed and explained to us how everyone in Nashville is armed for their “protection”. He followed up by suggesting that the government should perform tests on the shooter to understand why he would do such a violent act, insinuating the “mental illness” argument that has become a talking point for many conservatives and pro-Second Amendment enthusiasts
The ride was about eight minutes long, but when I stepped out onto the pavement in front of the restaurant, I felt like I had just repeated the past 4-8 years of my life. The driver’s words echoed in my head throughout lunch and continued into the evening. Although the right-wing views of gun reform were not new to me, to hear the opinions come from the mouth of a person, rather than an avi on my Twitter feed, struck me more intensely.
What exactly does he believe more guns would have done to improve the situation in El Paso? Why is he talking about mental health when just about every news outlet has confirmed the shooting to be racially motivated? Is he ignoring that part on purpose or is his ignorance really that blinding?_________________________________________________________________________
The aftermath of these tragedies often follows the same route: people looking for who and what to blame and arguments over ways to stop this from occurring again. While the political left argues for more gun control to protect citizens, the right aims to protect their Constitutional right to bear arms.
Conservatives have often tried to frame the argument against gun control as a matter of civil and state’s rights claiming that they don’t want that “freedom” taken away from them. By framing the gun control issue as a constitutional one, pro-Second Amendment voters are allowed to argue that they are protecting an American lifestyle, when in truth, what they are trying to protect is their whiteness.
White Americans have made desperate efforts to protect their claim to power since they were still taking orders from King George nearly three centuries ago. Policies initiated by president Ulysses S Grant to fix America’s “Indian Problem”, scientific studies and experiments performed on black people in an attempt to prove their inferiority, strategies used to ensure slaves would never learn to read or write, and even the extreme amount of racism European immigrants faced in the early 20th century.
Not only do white supremacists try to protect the hierarchy of their power, but they also (at least in the pre-Trump era) try to deviate from their beliefs being presumed racist by rearranging the argument. Stating that the Civil War was fought over money/state’s rights instead of slavery, claiming the War on Drugs was actually about drugs, and arresting leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Huey Newton because they had reasons to fear what they may do.
After the shooting at Columbine High School, media channels ignored the racist beliefs of the shooters that inspired their actions, focusing instead on the influence of violent video games and emo music. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has made it their mission to acknowledge and change the killings of unarmed black men at the hands of racial profiling, while opponents such as #AllLivesMatter argue that the killings were justified and non-racial. Trump supporters argue that their dislike of immigrants is based solely on the fact that they are a threat to the nation’s safety, and deny that anything about that belief is racist.
See a pattern?
As I spent the day thinking about how the driver focused on his projected positive effect of more guns and treatment of mental illness while ignoring white supremacy and racism, I began to see the same pattern of denial. It would not matter if the driver had received a handwritten letter from the shooter explaining that he was a full-on white supremacist on a mission to kill every Latinx person in Texas; things like racism and white supremacy do not affect his life. His concerns were focused on making sure that his guns, and therefore his power, would not be threatened in the aftermath.
When we ask white people who have a long history of denial to consider gun reform, we are asking them to admit that the American Constitution, one of the most important texts in establishing white men’s freedom, has to be changed.
We cannot expect a group of people who have been focused on maintaining their power and privilege since they declared their own independence to suddenly start caring about what happens to everyone else. It is America we’re talking about.