May 9, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Allen, Texas, massacre exposes the NRA, gun lobby’s smears
Rightwing violence isn’t supposed to happen in a small town.
The shooting massacre in suburban Texas is yet another occasion to say that the country desperately needs more and better gun laws. (Eight people are dead, including the shooter, after he rampaged an outlet mall in Allen.) It’s an occasion to examine why our gun laws are so weak and dangerous. Liberals tend to blame the National Rifle Association. That’s a cop out.
The “gun lobby” isn’t omniscient. It agitates rhetorically like other groups in a democracy agitate rhetorically. It has more money, sure. It has the ear of every Republican. But propaganda doesn’t stick unless there’s something there to stick to. The question is why smears stick.
Most of us recognize smearing when there’s enough distance, in time and space, between us, the smearer and the smearee. On recognizing a smear as a smear, most of us don’t bother considering the merits.
But most of us can’t recognize a smear when it’s part of the fabric of our social existence. When a smear is aligned with established stigma or prejudice, it doesn’t look like a smear at all. It looks like the truth.
The gun lobby’s smear repertoire is innovative and vast, but one smear in particular is important to understanding the Allen, Texas, massacre.
For decades, the NRA, the Republicans and other “social conservatives” maligned America’s urban centers as dens of iniquity. Cities are hubs of violence, they’d say. The only place safe is pure small-town America.
A smear, yes, but it sounded like the truth. It aligned with established stigmas and prejudices. Nonwhite people live in cities. White people live in small towns. Cities aren’t “safe.” Small towns are “safe.” Nonwhite people aren’t “safe.” White people are “safe.” Facts are more complex.
According to a new major study by Columbia University, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of California-Davis, gun deaths in small towns outpace gun deaths in cities. It’s not even close.
From the report’s summary: “The divide in total intentional firearm deaths between urban and rural counties is increasing, with rural counties bearing more of the burden. In the 2000s, the two most rural county types had statistically more firearm deaths per capita than any other county type, and by the 2010s, the most urban counties — cities — were the safest in terms of intentional firearm death risk.”
According to a press release, “gun suicides outnumber gun homicides each year in the US, and the risk of gun suicides in the most rural counties exceeds the risk of gun homicides in the most urban counties.”
The authors wrote, for one of the American Medical Association’s journals, that “high rates of gun homicide in urban centers have been the sole focus of many policymakers and used as justification to loosen gun laws, when in fact gun violence is an issue in counties of all sizes.” (Colin Woodard’s people have released similar data showing that gun violence is more prevalent in rural areas, especially in the southeast.)
According to the logic of the smears, shooting massacres shouldn’t happen in places like Allen, Texas. It’s a small town. It’s two-thirds white. It’s supposed to be removed from the rot of the cities.
Making it more complicated is the shooter’s possible ties to “rightwing extremism.” Mauricio Garcia is said to have created an “extensive social media presence, including neo-Nazi and white supremacist-related posts and images that authorities believe Garcia shared online.”
A violent defense of whiteness in a town that’s two-thirds white?
It’s tempting to throw back the smears and say small towns (white people) are more dangerous than cities (nonwhite people), but that’s not helpful. Helpful is creating conditions, using this research, in which a smear looks like a smear, not the truth. More helpful is creating conditions in which the NRA, the Republican Party and other “social conservatives” can be clearly identified as smearers with agendas.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.