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It's so much worse than Ben Carson: Grotesque pandering to gun nuts from Republicans who would be president

As Obama and Clinton talk sense on guns, it has fallen to the GOP to bring the crazy. They have not disappointed


Amanda Marcotte
October 8, 2015 9:02PM (UTC)

The latest mass shooting, at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, is lingering in the public discourse a little longer than most shootings, which have sadly become everyday events in this country, do. Partially it's because of the body count, but partially it's because President Obama made a taboo-busting speech where he said, "And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue.  Well, this is something we should politicize."

Of course, Republicans generally politicize mass shootings while pretending to be above such things, using shootings as opportunities to assert support for our gun-crazed culture. But Obama's statement and Hillary Clinton's declared intent to make gun safety a priority issue has only ramped up pressure on Republicans running for president to assure the right wing base that they think it's absolutely ridiculous to think guns have anything to do with all these gun deaths. Here's where the candidates stand on the issue after this latest shooting.

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Ben Carson. Carson has had the most alarming run of grotesque pandering to gun nuts after the shooting, starting with blaming the victims for not being action heroes. "I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," Carson fantasized on Fox News. "I would say: ‘Hey, guys, everybody attack him! He may shoot me but he can’t get us all.'”

In the same interview, he suggested the president can just skip visiting the family members of the victims, because there's always "the next one".

He's not wrong that it's a regular event, but his wording certainly suggested that he doesn't really think of it as a big deal. His next appearance on Fox, on Tuesday night, confirmed this impression. "“I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away," he told Megyn Kelly. If you think of "devastating" in terms of the political careers of Republicans instead of in terms of actual lives lost, you can sort of see where he's coming from.

Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly, Trump has Ben Carson's view that the real world is indistinguishable from an action movie. "Ben Carson was speaking in general terms as to what he would do if confronted with a gunman, and was not criticizing the victims. Not fair!," Trump tweeted on Wednesday. Hey, if Daredevil can bicycle-kick a gun out of a bad man's hand, then why not those of us who aren't living in a superhero TV show?

Jeb Bush. "Look, stuff happens, there’s always a crisis," Bush said right after the shooting. "And the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do." The comments offended a lot of people, but you have to admire his pithiness. He managed to get across the idea that mass murder is no big deal and that gun violence is no more controllable than the weather, all in a nice, tweetable sound bite.

Rand Paul. Paul seems confused about the nature of guns, seeming to think that they exist to stop bullets, not fire them. "The other common denominator, other than mental illness is that people are going to places where guns are prohibited," he told an Iowa talk show host. "So when you have a gun-free zone at a school, it’s like an invitation, if you are crazy and want to shoot people, that’s where you go. I would do the opposite. I would have and encourage every school in American put stickers on every window going into the school saying, ‘We are armed. Come in at your own peril. We have concealed carry for teachers who have it and we also have armed security and you will be shot.’”

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The only way to stop kids from dying in a hail of bullets is to toss in a few more guns spraying bullets. With that kind of ironclad logic, you can see how our gun-saturated, shooting-happy culture got the way it is.

Bobby Jindal. Jindal took his inspiration from the religious right, casting around for an excuse to blame sexual freedom for mass murder. In a blog post titled, "We fill Our Culture With Garbage, And We Reap The Result", Jindal blamed music that promotes "the degradation of women" and flaunts "the laws of God and common decency" (read: music videos that suggest that sex is fun). He also took a potshot at legal abortion, following the theme that letting women have sex somehow leads men to murder.

But Jindal saved his angriest rant for the father of Chris Mercer, who committed the ultimate sin of suggesting guns have something to do with gun violence. "He’s a complete failure as a father," Jindal ranted, because Mercer's parents are divorced. "Because he failed to raise his son."

Of course, plenty of other Western cultures have legal abortion, women who have sex, and divorce, but don't have mass shootings like the U.S. But let's not let facts get in the way of a rant about how the decline of patriarchy is the reason for murder.

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Mike Huckabee. Huckabee made the same argument as Jindal, but with more Bible-thumping. "We have not so much a gun problem, we have a problem with sin and evil," the former pastor argued, before going on to falsely argue that all mass shootings happen in a "gun-free zone". If Huckabee is right, then Western European countries that do not endure weekly mass shootings must be free of "sin and evil". Someone should ask him about that.

John Kasich. “I don’t think gun control would solve this problem,” Kasich said at a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event. “The deeper issue is alienation. The deeper issue is loneliness. The deeper issue is we’re paying no attention to an individual who is really struggling.”

So countries like England, Canada, and Germany don't have loneliness or alienation, to go with their lack of legal abortion, divorce, sin, or evil? Must be, since they don't have a mass shooting problem like the United States.

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Marco Rubio.  Rubio invoked the mental health dodge, arguing that mental illness is "a societal thing that we need to confront." He does, at least, have a record of promoting mental health policies, though only in response to shootings. However, adding "mental illness" to the sin-evil-abortion-divorce-loneliness pile of causes doesn't explain why the U.S. is unique in having a problem for endless mass shootings.

Ted Cruz. "Well, unfortunately that is the approach with President Obama on every issue, is that he seeks to tear us apart, he seeks to politicize it," Cruz sneered, while hypocritically using the occasion to launch a divisive, politicizing attack. "And it’s worth remembering he is ideological and he’s a radical," he continued, without noting that Obama's opinion is actually the mainstream of world opinion on this issue, and that Cruz's opinion is the one that falls well outside the norm.

"You know, as his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel said, ‘you never let a good crisis go to waste’ and that sadly is his approach," he added, making sure not to let this opportunity to bag on Obama go to waste.

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Carly Fiorina. For someone who likes to get wild with the rhetoric, Fiorina's entrance into this competition of who can be the most callous after a shooting is rather weak. "Before we start calling for more laws, I think we ought to consider why we don't enforce the laws we have," she said in response to Obama's speech. The comment did feature her trademark allergy to the truth---the guns used for this murder were purchased legally and all applicable laws were, in fact, followed---but overall, not the most attention-grabbing comments for a contest where the loudest mouth demagogue is generally the most popular.

Looking over the field of candidate responses to this, the Republican strategy on guns has become quite clear: Minimize the violence and find anyone or anything else---including the victims themselves---to blame instead of our country's failed gun policies.

Ben Carson's Popeyes Story Adds to His Narrative on Guns


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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