After reeling in shock from the horrifying details of the Aurora, Colo., massacre, many of us were soon reeling from the callous, exploitative reactions.
I’m perhaps not the only person who was aghast by the number and intensity of responses declaring the problem with Aurora was that not enough citizens were armed. There is a race to come up with the most far-fetched things to blame — anything, essentially, besides the ease of purchasing firearms and a system that doesn’t provide for the mentally ill.
Even Mitt Romney has gone on the record saying he doesn’t think gun laws had anything to do with the tragedy — even though the alleged perpetrator easily purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition and deadly weapons with complete legal immunity.
Without further ado, here are the six worst reactions I found (with a few retractions and clarifications included):
2. Mike Huckabee blames sin. The fervently religious politico-turned-pundit says we don’t have a gun problem or a crime problem, but a “sin problem” and blames — what else — a mythical encroaching secularization.
“Ultimately,” Huckabee concluded, “We don’t have a crime problem or a gun problem – or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem. And since we ordered God out of our schools and communities, the military and public conversations, you know, we really shouldn’t act so surprised when all hell breaks loose.”
3. Extremist evangelicals Jerry Newcombe and Fred Jackson blame the liberal media, say victims who aren’t Christian are in hell.
A great post at ThinkProgress sums up some of the worst statements from extreme evangelical pastors. From Jerry Newcombe, who predictably blames loose morals, the victims had better have been right with God: “If they knowingly rejected Jesus Christ, then, basically, they are going to a terrible place.”
And the other key quote is from the American Family Association’s Fred Jackson: “Whether it’s the Hollywood movies, whether it’s what we see on the Internet, whether it’s liberal bias in the media, whether it’s our politicians changing public policy, I think all of those somehow have fit together — and I have to say also churches who are leaving the authority of Scripture and losing their fear of God” are what “give us these kinds of incidents.”
4. Internet conspiracy theorists blame government, Obama, Illuminati. At Gawker, a quick look through the Internet reveals a number of long rants about how President Obama, the government and others armed and trained the killer and set him up in order to somehow turn Americans against guns. Quoth one loony: “This is somebody who was selected for a mission, given equipment to carry it out, then somehow brainwashed into getting it done.” OK then. There’s also the guy who declared [sic] “Not one week from the rumored Obama signing of the UN Gun Ban Treaty, on Friday the 27th and Obama is ‘Gift Wrapped’ this horrific slaughter, that he can take and use to Obliterate our God given Second Ammendment Right’s.” That’s the state of the rumor-mongering before we even get to the Illuminati. Read the post here.
5. Russell Pearce blames victims. Here’s the sorry tale of former Sen. Russell Pearce, who had a far too typical reaction and shared it on Facebook.
Early Saturday morning, the former Republican lawmaker took to Facebook to mourn the victims. He then wondered why none were “[b]rave” enough to stop the atrocity.
“Where were the men of flight 93???? Someone should have stopped this man,” he wrote. “…All that was needed is one Courageous/ Brave man prepared mentally or otherwise to stop this it could have been done.”
He later backtracked and declared he was blaming gun laws, not victims. But eventually, both Facebook rants disappeared. Well then.
6. The Daily Mail blames women. A common, and irritating, media narrative surrounding violence is that it’s fueled by sexual rejection: Had some woman just taken pity on the poor man, he wouldn’t have acted out.
Witness this wording in the Daily Mail:
James Holmes reached out to multiple women on a sex website in the days before launching a massacre which killed 12 people and injured 58 during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, it has emerged.
However, at least three of the women he contacted through AdultFriendFinder rejected his advances — even though he was apparently just hoping to ‘chat’ with ‘nothing sexual’ on the cards.
The news follows rumours that Holmes may have broken up with a girlfriend shortly before the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and that he was due to be evicted from his apartment after dropping out of grad school.
At Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan smacks this type of thinking down, pointing out that the killer planned his spree months ahead of time: “What if one of those much maligned Internet sex-finding women could have somehow found it in the kindness of her heart to fuck James Holmes? What then? Nothing. What happened in Colorado happened because a man who was trying to cause chaos was able to acquire the tools to do it successfully.”
7 (sorta). Rick Warren appears to blame the massacre on evolution, then says he didn’t. People were understandably outraged when the megachurch pastor tweeted, the afternoon of the massacre. “When students are taught they are no different from animals, they act like it.”
Steve Benen reminds us that we’ve heard this story before: “In June 1999, then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) appeared on the House floor to reflect on the Columbine massacre, and he proceeded to blame science textbooks for the murders. These tragedies happen, DeLay said, ‘because our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who are evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup.’” Amanda Marcotte also has a good retort, pointing out that if we actually acted like some animals, we’d be peaceful. “You almost never hear the phrase applied to describe behaviors that are most like our non-human animal friends. For instance, when you pick up and eat a raw apple, you’re acting like lots of animals, ranging from raccoons to monkeys.”
The sad rush to scapegoat everything but the killer and his weapons shouldn’t underscore the thoughtful commentary — much of it here and on AlterNet’s partner sites — on gun violence in America. But it should show how difficult it will be to have the debate about how to practically make us safer from weapons designed for the mass destruction of lives.
Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahmseltzer and find her work at sarahmseltzer.com.