Politicians aren’t pulling the triggers, but their policies are pulling the strings

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023 | 2 a.m.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis probably wasn’t expecting to be blamed for the killing of three Black Americans two weeks ago at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Fla. After all, DeSantis didn’t pull the trigger or do anything else illegal.

Yet it’s hard to deny the logic of the soft-spoken military veteran who waited patiently in the back of the room at a DeSantis press conference for his chance to share with the governor his belief that DeSantis’ policies allowed “immature people” to access weapons that ultimately led to the vicious murders.

The unexpected nature of the accusation might explain DeSantis’ immediate rush to anger as he interrupted the man and rebuked him by yelling “I’m not going to let you accuse me of committing criminal activity. I am not going to take that.”

Calm down, Governor. No one is accusing you of a crime. But criminal law is not the only measure of moral responsibility. Ryan Christopher Palmer may have pulled the trigger in the racist, hate-fueled murders, but he did not act alone.

The 21-year-old gunman was aided in his rampage by a country that too often treats racism and identity-based hatred as a problem of the past while treating guns as the solution of the future.

While DeSantis seeks to indoctrinate Florida’s children with the belief that slavery was an “opportunity” for the enslaved to better themselves, the true legacy of slavery is one of violence and oppression against Black people that continues to this day.

Cross-burnings and public lynchings may be officially outlawed, but conservative judges and politicians like DeSantis have distorted the plain language of the Second Amendment to ensure that tools of terror, intimidation and death remain readily available.

The result is that Black Americans are far more likely than their white counterparts to be victims of gun violence. They experience 12 times the gun homicides and 18 times the gun assault injuries of white Americans.

Republican politicians and conservative gun-rights absolutists have tried to deflect blame for hate-fueled violence by painting the shooters as deranged lone wolves, desperately in need of mental health care. Yet when President Joe Biden recently unveiled a plan to increase access to mental health care, including in schools, the far-right organization Moms for Liberty lambasted the president by saying that mental health care “has NO place in public schools.”

But according to conservatives, guns belong everywhere. At a special session of the Tennessee Legislature last month, lawmakers not only rejected proposals to limit guns in schools, but they also lifted current restrictions, effectively inviting more guns into schools.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a conservative federal judge issued a ruling earlier this year declaring that people convicted of domestic violence still have a constitutional right to possess firearms.

In short, according to Republicans, shooters are all deranged murderers in need of mental health care, but it’s not OK to do anything to try and increase access to mental health care, let alone keep guns away from vulnerable populations or out of the hands of violent offenders.

Consider the fact that it was perfectly legal for the Jacksonville shooter, an overt racist with a history of violent threats and mental instability, to buy and possess the Glock handgun and AR-15-style rifle he used to murder three people. Even his involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward in 2017 was insufficient in the eyes of gun-rights absolutists to keep firearms out of his hands.

According to data compiled by the National Institute of Justice, a research agency within the Department of Justice, from 1966 to 2019, 77% of mass shooters purchased at least some of the weapons used in the shootings legally. Many of them already had a history of violence and mental illness when they acquired the weapons.

The shooter at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado also purchased the guns used in that shooting legally. He was able to obtain the weapons despite having a history of mental illness and hate-fueled threats on social media that led his own relatives to contact law enforcement and ask for his weapons to be taken from him.

The 18-year-old accused of targeting people shopping at a grocery store last year in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., legally purchased the assault rifle used in the shooting from a federally licensed gun dealer in New York.

All three shootings inspired statements from politicians like DeSantis who, in response to the Jacksonville massacre, said that, “Targeting people because of their race has no place in the state of Florida.”

These words ring hollow coming from anyone who fights so relentlessly against reasonable gun-control legislation but are especially callous coming from a governor who has actively fought to rewrite Black history and stoke the flames of white supremacy in the Sunshine State.

There is not only room for targeting of Black people, brown people, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, religious minorities and so many others in America, DeSantis is among the chief architects of the circumstances in which targeted gun violence can run rampant.

By painting identity-based hatred and racism as being a problem of the past, and simultaneously offering their absolute and unyielding support for putting multiple guns in any hand that is big enough to hold it, Republicans and other gun extremists have made the United States the perfect place for targeted gun violence against marginalized communities.

It’s time for all Americans to follow the example of the patient, soft-spoken veteran at the back of the room and hold our elected officials accountable for their role in perpetrating racial and other hate-motivated violence in the U.S.

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