The Art of Deflection

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In the wake of the shooting that killed fourteen students and three faculty members on February 14th, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas have precipitated a movement for gun control across the country. Included in the students’ demands are stricter background checks for gun purchases and tangible action from Congress to prevent shootings. But the principal target of the students’ activism is the National Rifle Association, a lobbying group that has massive sway over gun policy. Not so coincidentally, the politicians receiving the most donations from the NRA include John McCain, Roy Blunt, Richard Burr, and Thom Tillis, some of the most ardent opponents of gun control.

The NRA’s agenda? It promotes concealed carry reciprocity and relaxed restrictions on gun ownership, but Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, fits his pro-gun beliefs into a broader agenda of Christian conservatism. His ability to associate gun ownership with traditional family values has afforded him some serious clout on the right.

The immense power of the NRA’s lobbying has backed many Republican (and some Democratic) politicians into a corner. Recipients of NRA money can appease their donors in the gun lobby with inaction on gun laws, or they can invoke their moral compass and enact sensible legislation to prevent gun deaths. Unfortunately, they tend to choose the former. The MSD students’ ability to expose the effects of the quid pro quo between the NRA and pro-gun politicians may be what will cause their movement to succeed.

Just as it suggested after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the NRA claimed that guns were not to blame for the Parkland shooting. Poor mental health services, gun advocates maintain, are the sole culprit for the United States’ gun violence epidemic. Seemingly unaware of the correlation between the United States’s high rate of gun ownership and high gun fatality rates, gun advocates, ever since the Parkland activists made waves, have tried to deflect the issue away from guns.

In her appearance at the CNN town hall, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch demonstrated constraint and sense. Without condescension, she thoroughly answered the Parkland students’ questions. But at CPAC a few days later, she viciously attacked the media, claiming that “many in the legacy media love mass shootings”. She cited ratings boosts after mass shooting coverage to buttress her claim.

Where does this outlandish claim fit within Loesch’s argument against gun control? What is the point of making such an inflammatory accusation? Criticizing the media for its wall-to-wall coverage of mass shootings seems to be the only way Loesch can project the blame for gun violence on someone else. As long as they can criticize the media’s coverage of mass shootings, gun advocates can evade debates about gun control.

Further attempts by the right to deflect the issue of guns have come to light. President Trump—who received Vietnam War draft deferments for bone spurs in his feet—has resorted to a rebuke of the armed guard who refused to enter the building during the shooting. Assuring that he would have entered, even without a weapon, the president attempted to shift the blame away from guns and toward the armed guard. Nikolas Cruz, who had a history of mental instability and a known obsession with guns, purchased an AR-15 legally. But according the Trump, the armed guard is to blame.

Another potential solution to gun violence that our president conjured up was to detain people suspected of having dangerous mental illnesses. Referencing a hypothetical person with a mental illness, Trump claimed that “he hasn’t committed the crime, but he may very well”. The president’s call for an arbitrary crackdown on the mentally ill would be far more draconian (and discriminatory) than simply making guns harder to get. But after all, the pro-gun right defends guns, not the Constitution.

And at CPAC, in an obvious reference to the student activists from Parkland, Wayne LaPierre claimed that Saul Alinsky, the famed community organizer, would be proud of the “socialist agenda” of gun control advocates. Later, he complained of a “tidal wave of new European socialists” who exploit mass shootings for political gain. LaPierre’s argument rested not on cogent points against gun control but rather on fear-mongering. By accusing his political foes of being socialists, LaPierre needs not address guns; to his audience, ‘European socialism’ is objectively bad.

Whenever a mass shooting occurs, the NRA and gun advocates alike suddenly become champions of improved mental healthcare. Nevertheless, they will thoroughly explain why limiting access to guns is ineffective and unconstitutional, but their ostensible support for improved mental health treatment never materializes into actual policy. If mental health was truly the culprit, why can’t the CDC legally research gun violence?

Whether or not one believes that gun control will solve our gun violence epidemic is debatable, but acknowledging that there is an epidemic is not. The NRA’s adamance about gun control and its contradictory indifference to improving mental healthcare proves one thing: the NRA does not see American gun violence as a problem.

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About the author

Matt Walsh is a VI Form day student from Southborough, Massachusetts. He leads Openly Secular, plays trumpet and French horn, and leads the young Democrats club. His academic interests include public policy, political science, and chemistry, and he plays baseball and runs cross country. In his free time, he curates Spotify playlists and pets his dog, Portia. Matt hopes that The Parkman Post can be a hub for intellectual thought, ideological diversity and meaningful debate.

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