The Allen, Texas, massacre exposes the gun lobby’s smears

Gun Rights

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 feeble and dangerous. Liberals tend to blame the National Rifle Association, but that’s a cop-out.

The “gun lobby” isn’t omniscient. It agitates rhetorically to persuade people of things like any other group in a liberal democracy agitates rhetorically to persuade people of things. It has more money, to be sure. It has the ear of every Republican. But propaganda doesn’t stick unless there’s already something there to stick to. The question is why smears stick.

Smearing is something most of us recognize when there’s enough distance, in time and space, between us, the smearer and the smearee. On recognizing a smear as a smear, we don’t need to consider its merits.

READ MORE: Tennessee Republican says taking guns from dangerous people creates more danger

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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 a deeply rooted stigma or prejudice, it doesn’t look like a smear at all. It looks like the plain 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 plain truth. It aligned, and still aligns, with prevailing stigmas and prejudices. Black people live in cities. White people live in small towns. Cities aren’t “safe.” Small towns are “safe.” Black people aren’t “safe.” White people are “safe.” The 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:

“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.”

READ MORE: Texas mall shooter wore neo-Nazi symbol and shared ‘white-supremacist content online’: report

According to a press release, the study found that “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 journals of the American Medical Association, 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 of the country, 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 predominantly white. It’s supposed to be removed, morally and politically, from the rot of the cities.

Making it more complicated is the shooter’s possible ties to “rightwing extremism,” Mauricio Garcia created an “extensive social media presence,” a police source told CNN, “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 predominantly white?

It’s tempting to throw back the smears and say small towns (white people) are more dangerous than cities (Black people), but that’s not helpful.

Helpful would be creating conditions, using this new data research, in which a smear looks like a smear, not the plain truth. More helpful would be creating conditions in which the NRA, the Republican Party and other “social conservatives” can be clearly identified as smearers with agendas.

READ MORE: ‘Insanity’: Texas Gov. Abbott buried by ex-gun industry exec for allowing another mass shooting

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