by Ted Miller
(originally published in Tumbleweird May 2023)
When I read about an 84 year old white man in a Kansas City suburb shooting unarmed Black teenager Ralph Yarl through his front door, saying he was “scared to death,” I remembered a similar incident I wrote about five years ago, when a 14-year-old Black teenager, lost on his way to school, was fired upon when he knocked on a white neighbor’s door to ask for directions. In both cases, the perceived threat was only in the mind of the homeowner, stoked by the relentless fearmongering of politicians, conservative news media, and organizations like the NRA who want to capitalize on that fear.
Fearful and angry men shooting first and asking questions later is becoming an epidemic. Within a week, several examples of innocent people being shot by a trigger-happy ‘good guy with a gun’ have made the national news.
In upstate New York, Kaylin Gillis was killed when the car she was riding in turned in to the wrong driveway. As the car was turning around and leaving, the homeowner fired on the vehicle, killing the 20-year-old honor student who hoped to become a marine biologist. Near Austin, Texas, a cheerleader who got into a car she thought belonged to her friend was shot after she got out of the car but before she could apologize. And in North Carolina, a man shot a 6-year-old and her parents when they tried to retrieve a basketball that had bounced into the man’s yard.
In each of these cases, and likely many others around the country, the victims were just doing something every one of us has done. But rather than trying to understand the mistake and respond with reason, the shooters reacted with fearful violence and deadly consequences.
None of this should be a surprise. The gun industry used to market their products as something for responsible sportsmen, emphasizing safety and citizenship. But as former gun industry insider Ryan Busse wrote in The Atlantic — “The Gun Industry Created a New Consumer. Now It’s Killing Us.” July 25, 2022 — advertising began a shift in the 1990s towards marketing guns as a means for young men to get their ‘man card’.
After the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire in the mid 2000s, marketing took an even darker turn. As manufacturers saw the opportunity to sell ever more deadly weapons, they began creating their own market by instilling fear of Antifa, Black Lives Matter protesters, and many of the other right-wing ‘bogeymen’ that are statistically much less likely to commit violence than the fearful white man.
This same rhetoric is used by politicians and right-wing news media to hold the attention of their audience and supporters. Those who consume the 24-hour barrage of fear from the likes of Tucker Carlson are afraid to leave their own homes without carrying a weapon. Republican-led states are eliminating gun regulations, claiming that individual citizens need unlimited access to weapons to defend their homes and families. So-called ‘stand your ground’ laws encourage the use of firearms as a first response rather than a last resort.
But more access to guns does not reduce gun violence. To the contrary, statistics compiled by Everytownshows a direct correlation between states with fewer gun restrictions and higher rates of gun violence.
“True Americans must be prepared! Get a gun to protect yourselves, because the government and the liberals aren’t going to do it! They are coming for your guns, your wives, your children! Don’t trust them. Don’t trust the media. Those people (Mexicans, Blacks, immigrants, democrats) are coming for you. Those people are going to replace you! Liberals want to defund the police and let all the violent criminals out on the street! Vote for me and I’ll protect you! Buy more guns to protect yourself! Stand your ground. Shoot first and ask questions later!”
With such inescapable rhetoric, It's no wonder so many live with an irrational fear of the other, which leads to irrational behavior.
Shooting a lost teenager through your front door out of fear is irrational. Shooting a 6-year-old retrieving a basketball from your front yard is irrational. Shooting someone in the back as they try to escape from you is irrational.
Fear is a primal human emotion. Our natural response to fear is not rational; it is inherent in our biology to respond to danger. When that irrational fear has a lethal weapon readily available, innocent people are injured and killed.
As Yoda is famous for saying in another galaxy: “Fear is the path to the dark side… fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering."
We are a nation divided by fear — fear that is fed by those who want our vote or our money. And we are all suffering with too much violence.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
And I’m afraid.