Commentary

GOP’s approach to gun violence: Stupidity, cruelty, fear of ‘replacement’

A ‘sad and ultimately doomed attempt to prop up white male insecurity’

June 8, 2022 7:00 am

People visit a makeshift memorial outside of Tops market on May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A gunman opened fire at the store killing 10 Black people and wounding another three. The shooter has been charged with federal hate crimes. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

It took Ron DeSantis 11 days to say anything publicly about the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde (and Tulsa and Ames and Chattanooga and Philadelphia).

Maybe he was too busy disenfranchising Black voters or boasting about how Florida is rolling in money (a lot of it courtesy of Joe Biden) while also vetoing contraception programs for poor women, a food bank in Florida’s poorest zip code, and Everglades restoration funds.

Finally, at a press conference last week, he went on a reality-challenged and often-incoherent rant short on empathy and even shorter on solutions to the routine slaughter of Americans.

Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the May 24 Texas elementary school shooting and similar atrocities during a press conference in Orlando on June 3, 2022. Source: DeSantis Facebook page

DeSantis apparently had some kind of telepathic communication with the Buffalo shooter who told him, “I’m going places where I don’t have to worry about people, conceal carry, or anything like that.”

Actually, the suspect in Buffalo, a racist who believes in the “great replacement theory” (as pushed on Fox “News,” DeSantis’ favorite channel), went to a place where there were lots of Black people to murder.

We don’t talk about lethal white supremacy in Florida. It hurts Republicans’ feelings.

To be fair, DeSantis did build on Florida’s 2018 “red flag” law, widely regarded as a success, ordering the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop a “Threat Assessment Strategy.”

He’s also signed a “school safety” bill which mandates at least 80 percent of school personnel undergo youth mental health training and requires law enforcement to be “present and involved” in active shooter drills.

This is all fine as far as it goes — which isn’t very far.

The root of the problem

Despite galloping gun terrorism across the nation, DeSantis refuses to get to the root of the problem: guns.

After 17 students and staffers died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, former governor Rick Scott — yes, that same guy who is now Florida’s waste-of-space U.S. senator — read the room and signed a package of laws including the “red flag” provision, raising the age for buying a gun from 18 to 21, and instituting a three-day waiting period.

One Year Anniversary Parkland tragedy
A memorial at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, following the mass shooting on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Fla. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

DeSantis says he would have vetoed both of those laws.

Ron DeSantis is not a stupid man, but he plays one in public, perhaps because he knows his political base is allergic to thinking and largely motivated by pure hatred of anything or anyone they define as “woke” — you know, anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-science, pro-rationality, pro-human decency.

They get off on cruelty. And they don’t care if DeSantis often makes no sense.

In his press conference the other day, he deflected blame to those darn libs, serving up a past-its-sell-by-date word salad garnished with absurdity: “It just seems like in our society now if you commit like some infraction against, like, political correctness you will have the mob descend on you. They will try to get you fired from your job and all that other stuff.”

You’d think he’d at least pretend to be interested in serious solutions for mass shootings. DeSantis has three young children, two of whom school-aged. Maybe they’ll go to a school with resource officers, surveillance cameras, steel gates, pistol-packing math teachers, bullet-proof glass — the full NRA diversionary package.

Full body armor

But unless they go in full body armor, they won’t necessarily be safe. We’ve seen children killed despite armed SROs, big fences, 911 calls, and constant lockdown drills. There was a veritable army of law enforcement outside Robb Elementary in Uvalde, failing to intervene. A Texas police spokesman said that if they’d gone in, “they could’ve been shot, they could’ve been killed.”

Or maybe they could have done their jobs and maybe saved two teachers and 19 fourth-graders.

The alleged “good guys with guns,” couldn’t handle one disturbed 18 year old, so why do these barrel-licking Republicans think that teachers will miraculously become sharpshooters capable of taking out somebody with an assault rifle?

If DeSantis and the other worshipers in the Church of the AR-15 really gave a damn, they’d admit America has a deadly cultural problem.

Why do Republicans (and the NRA) resist universal background checks? Safe storage laws? A ban on assault-style weapons?

There are more guns than people in the United States — an estimated 400 million. The GOP-NRA argument is that people need them for “self-defense.”

Yet states with higher gun ownership have more suicides, more gun murders, more accidental killings, more women shot by domestic partners.

Second Amendment zealots claim they must have unlimited rights to guns, because, you know, freedom. The reliably ridiculous Sen. Ted Cruz has said guns are “the ultimate check against governmental tyranny — for the protection of liberty.”

Yeah. There’s you, Joe Citizen, shooting iron at the ready, facing down the United States government which has (checks notes) rocket launchers, machine guns, grenades, anti-tank rifles, guided missiles, lethal drones, attack helicopters, armored bulldozers, plus hundreds of other fun ways to kill.

‘Other’ people

The real answer to why so many Americans have so many guns is fear. White men especially have convinced themselves they will be victimized by all those “other” people, the people who aren’t “real” Americans.

This goes all the way back to the drafting of the Second Amendment with its provision for a “well-regulated militia.” During the 18th century and up until 1865, that militia was also the slave patrol, designed to put down revolts.

Haitians taking revenge on the French. Credit: Marcus Rainsford (19th century) via Wikimedia Commons

There’d already been slave rebellions in Cuba, Jamaica, and the American colonies — the 1739 Stono Rebellion in South Carolina and the “Great Negro Plot” in 1741 New York — plus the 1791 Haitian Revolution, white people’s worst nightmare, when the slaves won and kicked white people off their island.

Ron DeSantis probably learned about this doing History at Yale or in law school at Harvard.

But acknowledging the racist history of our gun obsession would go against his brand.

Florida Democrats are calling for a special session to do something about gun violence: regulating high-capacity rifle magazines, mandating universal criminal background checks for all firearms and expanding so-called red flag laws.

Sensible stuff.

But don’t get too excited. The governor and his legislative minions prefer a “constitutional carry” Florida: no training, no permits, no limits, just guns and ammo as far as the eye can see, a sad and ultimately doomed attempt to prop up white male insecurity.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

MORE FROM AUTHOR