So far this year, there have been over 200 mass shootings in the United States. This annual number has steadily increased in recent years, from 417 in 2019, to 610 in 2020 and 692 last year. After each shooting, we find ourselves asking how these acts of violence keep happening and how we can stop them. The answer to these endless questions is one that has been to blame for problems throughout U.S. history, whether we notice it or not: the plague of white supremacy.
In 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland and members of the Department of Homeland Security testified to the Senate that the greatest risk to national security was domestic terrorism, specifically those individuals that “advocate for the superiority of the white race.” This is exactly the definition of white supremacy — the ideology that white people are superior to other races, and that society would be better off with only white people. An ideologically similar belief is the “great replacement” theory: the untrue assumption that white people are being “replaced” by influxes of people of Color. Introduced in the 1970s, the theory has been repeatedly touted by prominent public figures, including popular conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson and former chief strategist for former President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon.
When such influential political actors vocalize these beliefs, they spread and fester, guiding some individuals toward violent action. Exposure to such violent and polarizing positions creates an intolerant environment and, in turn, poses a threat to the furtherance of a peaceful society. The prominence of the white supremacist ideology in America is hazardous to our democracy, and its continued relevance throughout political and social history makes clear that it is systematically ingrained in the brutality we witness almost every day on the news. Behind almost every act of violence in both modern and historical America is one root cause: white supremacy.
One of the most infamous moments of white supremacist ideological violence in recent history occurred in 2017, when members of the “Unite the Right” movement marched on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Va. Armed with tiki torches and Nazi talking points, the group of white supremacists injured dozens and killed one woman, all while expressing their harmful beliefs to the entire nation. Despite having existed for centuries prior, the threat of white nationalism materialized in this moment, and its threat became one that inspired fear, anger and continued violence.
The ways in which the ideology of white supremacy permeates throughout American political and social culture is overwhelming, yet simultaneously muted. The most pertinent example of recent significance is that of the gun rights movement. Supporters of freer gun ownership oftentimes hold the belief that guns are associated with power, and power is associated with whiteness. Whiteness, in all aspects of life, comes with senses of power and privilege, especially in terms of social interactions and deeply impactful political issues. The lack of action taken on gun control in America is inherently about race as well, and, even more importantly, it is about the preservation of white supremacy. Over time, gun ownership has become less about self-defense and the “spirit” of America and more about a feeling of identity, specifically white identity. The brandishing of a gun has turned into a symbol of being dominant and individualistic and represents the impact of white supremacy on gun culture. This, in turn, has created a culture in which guns preserve the power of white supremacists in society, allowing them to seemingly flourish and generate a continued wave of violence.
We should infer from this that at the core of all gun-related violence in the United States is the existence of white supremacy. From the racially motivated massacres in El Paso, Texas and Buffalo, N.Y. to the numerous school shootings that have occurred just this year, we can’t ignore the fact that feelings of racial superiority are most often the impetus behind violent actions. When we ask ourselves why such cruelty keeps happening, this is the conclusion we must come to: Gun violence is intrinsically related to the persistence of white supremacy.
Next, we approach the question as to how we can stop these heinous and repetitive acts of violence. The answer to this comes from the reason why these tragedies happen in the first place. The issue of gun control has long been one of the most politically polarizing subjects, and the difficulty in its solution is similar to the problem itself — American gun lobbies are continuously being empowered, and their power comes from whiteness. Gun lobbies promote the idea of “us” versus “them,” a talking point often espoused by far-right groups in order to preserve gun rights and advance their goal of making firearms easier to access. Historically, the gun lobby — specifically the National Rifle Association (NRA) — has been intertwined with white supremacists, amplifying their paranoias about having their rights infringed upon and their guns taken from them. This empowerment of white supremacists and their ideologies has led to upticks in gun-related violence, the causes of which almost always lead back to gun lobbies.
At the root of gun violence in the U.S. is the persistence of white supremacist ideology, which has captured gun lobbies and created an inability to pass any national gun control legislation. Gun culture in the U.S. isn’t easy to overcome by itself, and its interconnectedness with white supremacy and the historical power of gun lobbies make it an even harder adversary to compete with. The plague of gun violence is related to that of white supremacy, and the continuity of one can be blamed on the other. In order to end the continuation of mass shootings, we have to disarm the verbal and ideological weaponry held by white supremacist groups and their allies.
Lindsey Spencer is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.