The massacre that took place at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday was the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history. The suspect, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, reportedly used a military-style assault rifle during the attack, killing at least 26 people and injuring at least 20 others.
Despite the violent nature of the crime, and Kelley’s background with domestic abuse, there were no immediate calls from President Donald Trump to create a national “extreme vetting program” that would force Americans convicted of domestic violence to relinquish their guns.
Instead, Trump responded to the shooting by claiming that, “This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level.”
The president’s response illustrates a stark double standard that emerges over and over and over again after violent attacks on American soil: When violence is propagated by white men with guns, the attackers are called “lone wolves” and critics are warned not to “politicize” the attack by making claims about the need for better gun control laws.
Research has shown that men who commit acts of mass violence often have a history of violence towards women, including those in their own families. Across the United States, women are killed by their intimate partners every day.
Law enforcement officials in Texas said that the Sutherland Springs shooting may have been motivated by a “domestic situation” in Kelley’s family.
And no one is asking pastors of churches Kelley has attended in the past what went wrong, or demanding that national Christian ― or atheist ― organizations condemn the violence.
But when the attacker has some sort of connection to Islam, even if their actions directly contradict the faith’s tenets, the president is quick to look for ways to make the issue about all Muslims.
Commenters on social media were quick to spot the disparity.
Heinous attacks carried out in the name of Islam are patently unjustifiable. But it is also problematic when these acts of violence result in unjust policies and practices that unfairly target American Muslims as a whole.
The effects of these discriminatory attitudes towards Muslims are significant ― hate crimes against American Muslims have risen dramatically in recent years, and communities have protested against unwarranted targeted surveillance by police.
Studies have shown that white American men are a bigger threat to the country’s safety than immigrants to the U.S. According to The Nation Institute, between 2008 and 2016 there were almost twice as many plots and attacks by far-right extremists (many of whom are white men) than by people who claimed “Islamist” ideologies.
Hind Makki, an interfaith educator and Muslim activist, told HuffPost that this double standard means that an act of violence committed by someone claiming to be Muslim is automatically viewed as a systemic problem that needs to be addressed by sweeping changes in policy ― but crimes committed by non-Muslims are viewed as isolated incidents.
“Nobody in our community can have mental health issues, or be a criminal without having a political or religious ideology connected to it. Nobody in our community can be blackmailed into doing anything so long as the person is Muslim or tangentially related to Islam,” she said. “Whatever crime was committed was committed in the name of Islam. It’s always seen as politically or ideologically motivated and therefore is terrorism.”
Meanwhile, the list of churches and other worship spaces that have been the site of mass shootings is growing. And beyond these mass attacks, gun violence is still a significant cause of death in the U.S. America far outpaces other countries with comparable socioeconomic success in terms of the number of people who lose their lives to guns.
Refusing to see gun violence as a systemic problem is dangerous ― especially when there is much that could be done.