Editor’s Note: This is a guest commentary. The opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.
There are many reasons for Americans of every political stripe to fear a second Donald Trump presidency. His first term was a disaster, notable for its miasma of xenophobia, propaganda about the deep state, threats against the press, and a full-frontal fetish for dictators and strongmen. That fog was inseparable from the President’s fecklessness in the job itself, which involved spending hours of the day watching Fox News, tweeting, refusing to read the classified daily briefings (forcing his advisors to create picture-based charts to hold his attention), lying to the public upwards of 30,000 documented times, and politicizing a pandemic and its life-saving vaccines to the cost of hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths. But to understand the true danger of a second Trump presidency, one must look with clarity at his party’s relationship to guns and gun violence.
Over 40,000 people die because of gun violence in the U.S. every year. This staggering toll, the equivalent of 13 9/11s annually, should be marked by national shame and mourning, and yet it is largely ignored by the press and politicians in the brief interims between mass shootings. Diving into the details produces even grimmer statistics. Firearms continue to be the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. Add to this our near monopoly on female homicide: “of all femicide cases in high-income countries, 70% occur in the U.S.” Some will note that the majority of firearm deaths are suicides, as though this was a sign of the gun’s neutrality in our devastating tally. But suicide with a gun has a finality and lethality unmatched by other methods, and suicide attempts that fail are rarely attempted again. This level of preventable death by suicide, homicide and accident is unmatched by any wealthy democracy. No other Western nation has done so little to combat a public health crisis of such enormity.
This is by and large the result of political cowardice, and an ideology that afflicts mostly one side of the political spectrum. The Republican Party offers nothing beyond empty thoughts and prayers in the face of our daily gun violence catastrophe. Worse, they sanctify it as the “price of freedom,” referencing the Second Amendment as though it were divinely inspired. They reach for explanations for our singular affliction, blaming mental health, a coarsened culture, the lack of prayer in public schools or anything close at hand that might distract from the truth.
A careful look at crime rates in other wealthy democracies demonstrates that we are not more criminal — Germany and U.K., for example, have similar or higher rates of domestic violence and robbery — but our crimes are vastly more lethal, resulting in death in circumstances where the gun is the variable. Republicans tell us repeatedly that we are safer because we have so many guns. They reference risible and disproven statistics, but mostly they tell us that we can’t do anything about it, so we are better off armed. There is a mountain of evidence that this willed ignorance and political malpractice has a genesis in the rise of the gun industry and the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in lobbying for that industry. But that is insufficient to understand the MAGA party’s relationship to guns.
Enter Trump in the days after his loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Knowing full well that he had lost a free and fair election, he used his immense platform to call thousands of supporters to the Capitol to disrupt the counting of electors. He knew that many among the crowd at the Ellipse were armed, thus his command to take away the magnetometers designed to scan entrants for weapons. Trump understood exactly the kind of violence he was conjuring. He welcomed it, telling his aide that “they aren’t here to hurt me.” As we have since learned, the militias that came to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 had an arsenal of weapons waiting for a second round of that day’s melee, with leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers texting each other about preparations for a proper armed coup. To this date, there have been no meaningful repercussions for the president, nor for the senators who supported the insurrection. Worse, elected officials like Elise Stefanik, the U.S. representative for New York’s 21st congressional district, feel comfortable calling the insurrectionists “Jan. 6 hostages,” diluting the violence brought to bear on that day.
Few in politics doubt that Trump will dispute the outcome of the 2024 presidential election should he lose. We can assume that a similar call will go out to militias and an armed citizenry. But what if he wins? What would a re-elected, vengeful Trump do with the power to bring armed mobs of citizens to his aid? One need only scan back to the fascist European governments of the 20th century to understand how tyrants use paramilitary militias to hold onto power and to levy violence against ordinary citizens to quell dissent. Donald Trump’s Republican Party wants the daily scroll of death by guns to become the background noise to daily life in the country. They want to normalize mass shootings, and everyday gun violence. Why else would they proceed apace after 19 9 and 10-year-olds were slaughtered in their schoolroom in Uvalde, Texas? They are laying the ground for political violence so that they can ignore that too.
Chris Holmes (he/him) is a professor in the Department of Literature and English. Contact him at [email protected].