In the wake of the horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton (ahem–not Toledo), President Trump robotically read the sort of statement Presidents are supposed to issue in such situations.
When questioned, Trump denied that his rhetoric had anything to do with the increase white nationalist violence, despite the fact that his language was echoed in the “manifesto” posted by the El Paso killer. According to media reports, Trump’s reelection campaign has run 2,199 Facebook ads referring to immigration along the US-Mexico border as an “invasion,” the same word used in the manifesto.
The massacres have re-ignited efforts to pass sensible gun regulations, regulations that are critically needed. They have also highlighted the connection between gun violence and the white supremacy this administration encourages.
Why does the United States refuse to pass new gun control laws? It’s the question that people around the world keep asking.
According to Dr Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and sociologist at Vanderbilt University, white supremacy is the key to understanding America’s gun debate. In his new book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, Metzl argues that the intensity and polarization of the US gun debate makes much more sense when understood in the context of whiteness and white privilege.
According to Metzl, white Americans are attempting to defend their status in the racial hierarchy by opposing gun control, healthcare expansion or public school funding. Of course, to sane people, that makes no sense; those are positions that end up injuring white guys as much or more than they hurt people of color.
The majority of America’s gun death victims are white men, and most of them die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. In all, gun suicide claims the lives of 25,000 Americans each year.
In an interview, Metzl explained the link.
So many aspects of American gun culture are really entwined with whiteness and white privilege.
Carrying a gun in public has been coded as a white privilege. Advertisers have literally used words like “restoring your manly privilege” as a way of selling assault weapons to white men. In colonial America, landowners could carry guns, and they bestowed that right on to poor whites in order to quell uprisings from “Negroes” and Indians. John Brown’s raid was about weapons. Scholars have written about how the Ku Klux Klan was aimed at disarming African Americans. When African Americans started to carry guns in public – think about Malcolm X during the civil rights era – all of a sudden, the second amendment didn’t apply in many white Americans’ minds. When Huey Newton and the Black Panthers tried to arm themselves, everyone suddenly said, “We need gun control.”
When states like Missouri changed their laws to allow open carry of firearms, there were parades of white Americans who would carry big long guns through congested areas of downtown St Louis, who would go into places like Walmart and burrito restaurants carrying their guns, and they were coded as patriots. At the same time, there were all the stories about African American gun owners who would go to Walmart and get tackled and shot.
Who gets to carry a gun in public? Who is coded as a patriot? Who is coded as a threat, or a terrorist or a gangster? What it means to carry a gun or own a gun or buy a gun – those questions are not neutral. We have 200 years of history, or more, defining that in very racial terms.
Metzl noted that the period after a mass shooting is often very telling; if a white man was the shooter, the narrative focuses on the “disordered” individual. When the shooter is black or brown, the disorder is cultural and the narrative is about terrorism or gangs.
Or invasions and “caravans.”
Trump and his voters have told us who they are in no uncertain terms. The 2020 election will tell us how numerous those voters are–and how many of the rest of us are sufficiently concerned to vote.