Here we are again. A white man radicalized by racist rhetoric carrying an assault rifle just massacred Black people going about their daily lives, causing lifelong trauma and suffering.
And, once again, so-called pro-life pundits and politicians responded by pontificating about all of the possible causes of the shooting tragedy, like mental illness, while willfully ignoring the role of white supremacy and easy access to firearms
We know why so many right-wing lawmakers aren’t interested in acting to protect lives and strengthen gun laws. First, it would be an admission that the gun lobby’s “guns everywhere” agenda is a failure, resulting in a gun homicide rate that, an Everytown for Gun Safety analysis found, is 26 times higher than any peer nation. Second, it would require prioritizing the safety of Black and Latinx communities, who are disproportionately impacted by gun violence but insufficiently represented by elected officials. And third, it would depress the fervor of right-wing extremists, stoked for years by conspiracy theories propagated by special-interest groups, politicians, and cable-news hosts.
Unsurprisingly, many of the motives laid out in the Buffalo gunman’s manifesto align with that rhetoric, which plays a vital role in radicalizing white men. This includes the “great replacement theory,” a conspiracy theory that claims other races and ethnicities are trying to replace white people and has been referenced by other white supremacist gunmen.
And while every peer nation is home to men who have been radicalized, only America allows them to have easy access to arsenals and ammunition again and again. We’ve seen what happens when these men get their hands on guns. Whether it’s a mass shooting at a church, synagogue, grocery store, or spa – women, people of color, and other marginalized communities are shot and killed as retribution for merely existing. In an average year, according to our analysis, more than 10,300 hate crimes in America involve a firearm – that’s more than 28 every single day.
The data shows us how to fix this. Strong gun-safety laws that prevent those who shouldn’t have access from getting them – including those that require background checks on all gun sales, that disarm domestic abusers and those in crisis, and that stop children from accessing firearms – are proven to save lives and lead to lower rates of gun death. But in a nation made up of a patchwork of state laws and a U.S. Senate that has refused to act, we’re all only as safe as the closest state with the weakest gun laws.
As we continue the fight for Congress to act, there are steps that can be taken now at the state level to continue combating our gun-violence epidemic. States can close loopholes in our background-check laws and stop the proliferation of untraceable ghost guns so that prohibited domestic terrorists cannot access firearms. They can also implement tools like Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) – commonly known as red flag laws – to remove firearms access from people who are clearly a risk to themselves or others. Nineteen states already have these laws on the books. Federal and state agencies should also publish explicit guidance on how ERPOs can be used as a tool in domestic terrorism investigations.
We also need a permanent director at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). It’s been seven years since we’ve had a Senate-confirmed director at ATF, despite the fact that this federal agency is on the front lines of the fight against armed extremists and white supremacists who target marginalized communities. President Biden has nominated Steve Dettelbach to be the ATF’s next director, who would come to this role with decades of experience as a prosecutor and the ability to provide effective enforcement of our gun laws from day one.
Yes, this work is an uphill battle. It’s hard and it’s relentless and often it feels like we’re shouting into the void, sharing the same facts and figures, the same proven strategies for saving lives, but it must be done. What is the other option? We can’t sit on the sidelines while our brothers and sisters are slaughtered. And it’s not just the mass shootings we must stop, but the daily gun violence that kills and wounds hundreds – much of it in Black and Latinx communities. The stakes couldn’t be higher: According to the CDC, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in 2020, the highest total on record in the U.S. We cannot accept this.
From statehouses to the Supreme Court, our fundamental rights are on the line and millions of advocates around the country aren’t going to sit back and watch silently. One school board, one boardroom, one city council, one statehouse at a time, we must continue to work to uproot system racism, extremism, and lax gun laws.
The gun manufacturers, right-wing extremists, and people and companies getting rich off of gun violence want us to be numb and resign ourselves to a dystopian country where men, armed to the teeth, put us all in danger. They will not act to stop the gun violence in our stores and schools and streets because they are benefiting from this new normal. Americans’ lives will be the price paid for their agenda, power, and wealth – until we rise together and take real action to protect our health and safety.
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