Another weekend in America, another record-setting mass shooting.
Early Sunday afternoon, Devin Kelley, a 26-year-old white male, walked into First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas with an AR-15 rifle and killed 26 people while wounding 20 others. Victims ages ranged from 1 to 72 years old. The scene was horrifying and heartbreaking but familiar.
According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, it was the 307th mass shooting in the United States this year.
The location changes, the numbers of victims vary. Each time, different families are shattered; new, promising lives are cut short; and pulses of empathy are predictably followed by floods of thoughts and prayers and little else. If the shooter is white.
If the attack is perpetrated by someone of the Islamic faith, the president immediately labels it terrorism and calls for new laws to be instituted and old ones abolished in order to make sure no more evil brown people worm their way into our pristine utopia.
When the mass murderer is a white person, which is the most common scenario, it’s nearly always framed as a mental health issue. It’s never terrorism. Terrorism is something brown people do. And there are never any solutions proposed. Trump acknowledges the tragedy, sends his thoughts and prayers and then essentially says, it was a crazy guy ― what can you do?
When asked about the latest attack in Texas, Trump ― who is currently In Japan, the first stop on his five-country, 13-day tour of Asia ― said, “This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event.”
While there is no doubt that mental health coverage in this country could be improved dramatically, Trump and the Republican party have thus far only proposed legislation that would decimate mental health coverage. Moreover, to say the never-ending scourge of mass shootings in this country is exclusively a mental health issue is intentionally obtuse. It’s a way of sidestepping any conversation on gun control.
For Trump, it’s infinitely easier for him to point toward a brown-skinned man yelling Allahu Akbar, a phrase that has been demonized in popular American discourse, and immediately label that man a terrorist. This image is straight out of central casting. It’s what the American populace at large sees when they hear the word “terrorist.” But Trump never called Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old white male who killed 58 people in Las Vegas, a terrorist, and he certainly won’t call Devin Kelley one either ― or propose any legislative solutions.
It’s not only safe for Trump to other-ize brown people, it’s beneficial. This particular brand of outright racism expressed as toughness and honesty was the glue of his entire campaign—it’s dripping red meat to his base. But when white people are the killers, which again is the case the majority of the time and thus is a far more pervasive threat, the event is intentionally separated from race and law. It’s not about systemic failures, policy issues or loopholes, when a white person is holding the gun, it’s about a vicious, exterior force of illness driving a man to madness.
The mental health excuse not only further stigmatizes the field itself, it removes the agency of the killer to a degree and replaces it with a malady. Mental illness is rarely ever brought up when Islamic terrorism is the subject, because Islamic terror is viewed through a narrowed lens ― a lens that points in the direction of pure, unadulterated evil.
Trump never brings up legislation when a white person commits a mass murder, because any legislation to address these massacres would have to involve some sort of new gun laws, and the GOP, which is largely controlled by the gun lobby ($5.6 million in donations during 2016) won’t dare even utter the words gun control. We can’t even have a rational conversation over more stringent background checks in this country without starting a riot.
If we are to believe Trump and company, the United States can stop Islamic terror attacks with legislation, but we cannot even begin to think about addressing the far more deadly issue of white American men committing mass murder with legally purchased firearms.
History will deem this time period as aggressively, painfully and mind-numbingly irrational.
Originally published on The Overgrown.