The first to mention it was the Associated Press, in its breaking news report on the Uvalde school shooting:
“The shooting came days before the National Rifle Association annual convention was set to begin in Houston. Abbott and both of Texas’ U.S. senators were among elected Republican officials who were the scheduled speakers at a Friday leadership forum sponsored by the NRA’s lobbying arm.”
Then Texas gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke piled on by way of Twitter:
“Governor Abbott, if you have any decency, you will immediately withdraw from this weekend’s NRA convention and urge them to hold it anywhere but Texas.”
Not to be outdone, the Houston Chronicle filed an earth-shattering update: “Trump, Cruz, Abbott still set to speak at NRA meeting in Houston.”
Efforts to demonize the NRA as part of America’s greater gun debate aren’t new, of course. Every cause needs a boogyman, and the NRA is the nation’s largest pro-gun advocacy group, making it the perfect poster-child for gun control proponents to rally support.
But that doesn’t make the effort to pin every mass shooting on the NRA any less weird. If anything, the mainstream media’s shrinking divide between straight news coverage and advocacy that would’ve once been relegated to the op-ed section makes it even weirder.
Think about it like this: Before the bodies have been removed from the school building in Uvalde, before some parents have even learned whether their children are safe, the AP is crowing about the NRA’s upcoming convention and which “Republican officials” are going to speak there. And it’s supposedly straight-laced news coverage of a major national tragedy.
Several thoughts came to mind as I read the AP’s report: 1.) It’s little wonder that a diminishing number of Americans trust this nation’s “free press.” 2.) How can any news writer or editor with half a conscience use dead elementary school students in an effort to undermine a political party while those students are still bleeding on the floor of their classroom? 3.) If the first call to arms is not against the shooter (in fairness, he was dead) but against Republicans and the NRA, are the ones issuing the call to arms even interested in solving the problem?
I wondered the same thing when President Joe Biden spoke and failed to condemn the shooter or whomever might have enabled him while attempting to frame the 2nd Amendment as being only about hunting and throwing the same old predictable shade at the NRA.
It seems really silly to even have to point this out, but stories like the AP’s seem to leave doubt: The NRA has never killed anyone. The NRA has never encouraged or enabled a mass murderer. The NRA is merely a political organization that lobbies for the interests of the millions of Americans it represents. A Republican politician is no less human for speaking at a convention of an organization that lobbies for gun rights than a Democratic politician is for speaking at any convention of any organization that lobbies for any right that is at the heart of the Democratic Party.
Attempting to fan flames of resentment against the NRA and its members cheapens the gun control debate — though perhaps not as much as the tired old tactic of framing the 2nd Amendment as being about hunting. Biden’s comment about deer running through the forest in kevlar vests was as shallow and silly as any comment he’s made since becoming president.
The truth is that all gunmen in America’s mass shootings have had one thing in common. Some would say “Yes, guns!” And that’s not inaccurate, but it’s also not that simple.
Some mass murderers purchased their guns legally. Some purchased them illegally. Some carried semi-automatic rifles. Some carried handguns. Some attacked in so-called “gun free zones,” like the shooter in Uvalde. Some did not, like the shooter in a Buffalo supermarket.
New gun laws should not be off the table when it comes to discussing how to fix America’s problem with gun violence. But here’s the problem with framing the issue as being solely about guns: Unless you believe that gun laws could totally eliminate guns (an obvious pipe dream, since there are hundreds of millions of guns in circulation in this country), gun laws alone aren’t going to stop mass shootings since a not-insignificant percentage of the gunmen purchased their guns illegally, in violation of laws already in place that were designated to prevent the very thing they failed to prevent. And because a not-insignificant percentage of the gunmen used handguns, which gun control proponents — at least, those in the mainstream — are not calling to outlaw, a so-called “assault weapons ban” isn’t going to stop mass shootings, either. (Besides, need we be reminded that this nation already attempted an assault weapons ban with no measurable decrease in gun violence as a result?)
There’s something else, besides guns, that the gunmen had in common: Red flags. Many of them — not all, but almost all — also had documentable mental illness.
America needs to have a long, serious conversation about how to reduce our gun violence. It is going to have to involve uncomfortable examinations of things that fly in the face of the individual liberties that this nation has always stood for. How do we identify, trace and deal with individuals who throw up those red flags, since most of them are never going to actually shoot someone? How do we deal with individuals suffering from mental illness, since most of them are never going to actually shoot someone? And, yes, how do we deal with America’s saturation of guns, since most of them are never going to be used to actually shoot someone?
Obviously it has to be a multi-faceted approach that transcends ideologies and causes. But when someone is attacking Republicans and NRA before the last echoes of the gun blasts have even died away, it’s fair to question whether they’re at all interested in a solution or whether they’re simply using tragedy to promote political ideology.