Support the news

White Men With Guns

In this photo released by the Metro Nashville Police Department, Travis Reinking sits in a police car after being arrested in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, April 23, 2018. Police said Reinking opened fire at a Waffle House early Sunday, killing at least four people. (Metro Nashville Police Department via AP)MoreCloseclosemore
In this photo released by the Metro Nashville Police Department, Travis Reinking sits in a police car after being arrested in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, April 23, 2018. Police said Reinking opened fire at a Waffle House early Sunday, killing at least four people. (Metro Nashville Police Department via AP)

Like what you read here? Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter.


This week’s mass shooting at the Waffle House in Nashville was, in most ways, typical: The perpetrator was a white man with a history of mental health problems and a small arsenal.

What marked it as unique was that the shooter was disarmed by an unarmed African-American man, who saved an unknown number of his fellow citizens from being slaughtered.

Honestly, the races of these men shouldn’t matter.

But they do. And they do because the very people who stand in the way of sensible gun control legislation in America — which is to say, gun manufacturers and their Republican servants in Congress — have pursued a politics explicitly based on race.

In fact, the modern GOP, along with the for-profit demagogues of the conservative media, have created an entire mythology around race and violence in this country.

In this mythology — which I call Fear of a Brown Planet — America’s white population is perpetually under siege by the dark other.

Mexican rapists and gang members are pouring over the border to stalk white Americans. Muslims lurk in sleeper cells in American cities, itching to commit a terrorist assault on whites. African-American thugs lie in wait for any hapless white person foolish enough to wander into their “hood.”

For years, the GOP dog whistled these racialized appeals. Donald Trump wolf-whistled his racism. These smears weren’t just an unfortunate feature of his electoral strategy; they were integral to his appeal. They were what caused many Republicans to embrace a politics of racial resentment over one of economic uplift.

He ran as a law-and-order candidate who advocated getting tough on these dark others. How? By creating a national registry, a travel ban, by urging cops to rough them up.

But our latest mass shooting highlights a galling irony: This racist mythology has created a safe space for the demographic group that actually commits the majority of these atrocities -- troubled white men with guns.

If that sounds outrageous, just imagine how conservative pundits and politicians would have reacted if the man who stockpiled an arsenal in Las Vegas and terrorized concert goers was an undocumented immigrant? Or if the “troubled young man” who murdered 20 kindergarteners in Newtown, Connecticut, was an African-American from the “inner city” of New Haven? Or if the man who blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, was a Muslim?

Better yet, what if a Muslim (or an undocumented immigrant, or an African-American) carried out all these attacks? What if individuals from this demographic group displayed a consistent pattern of targeting innocent civilians with weapons of war?

What would have happened, almost inevitably, is that right-wing pundits and politicians would have exploited these crimes to propose various draconian measures against that demographic group intended to keep “innocent, law-abiding Americans” (meaning white Americans) safe.

I say this to make a larger point: that our view of mass shootings is already occluded by systemic racism.

After all, if our perspective were entirely color blind, politicians and pundits who truly cared about keeping Americans safe would advocate measures intended to crack down on the demographic group that most often commits these crimes.

... our view of mass shootings is already occluded by systemic racism.

Instead, in obeisance to the gun lobby, the president signed a bill last year that actually made it easier for people with mental health issues to buy guns.

So to all those politicians and pundits and citizens who yearn for law and order, and who refuse even to entertain sensible gun control measures, I’ve got a very simple question: In light of the dozens of mass shootings perpetrated every year in America by psychologically troubled white gun owners, is it time to create a national registry for them?

If your answer is: No, that’s crazy talk then please explain to me why you support measures to abrogate the rights of immigrants and Muslims and African-Americans.

I’ll wait.

Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news