Dana Loesch and the NRA’s maternity theater
Loesch’s reaction is an example of what one might call the “Rice rule,” after Tamir Rice, the 12-year old killed by a white police officer while playing in a park with a toy gun: There are no circumstances in which the responsibility for a police shooting of an unarmed black person cannot be placed on the victim.
At the same time, scolding dead people for being unarmed is standard procedure for the NRA, which attacked Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church, where nine parishioners were massacred by the white supremacist Dylann Roof, for supporting gun control. The group similarly suggested that shootings at Planned Parenthood; at Umpqua Community College in Oregon; in Fresno, California; and at the Capital Gazette in Maryland were so deadly because the victims weren’t armed. The NRA even faulted James Shaw Jr., who prevented a mass shooting at a Waffle House by tackling the shooter, for not being armed while he did it. Ted Nugent, the closest thing the NRA has to a celebrity spokesperson, once called mass-shooting victims “losers” who “get cut down by murderous maniacs like blind sheep to slaughter.”
But the NRA’s conspicuous lack of outrage after the shootings of Philando Castile, Jason Washington, and Alton Sterling, all black men killed by police while in possession of a firearm, suggests an impossible double standard. When armed black men are shot by the police, the NRA says nothing about the rights of gun owners; when unarmed black men are shot, its spokesperson says they should have been armed. To this day, Loesch defends Castile’s shooting as justified—despite the fact that Castile informed the officer he was carrying a firearm. In Washington’s case, Loesch said she was “never going to keyboard quarterback what police are doing.”
Do African Americans have the right to bear arms?
There’s also a catch-22 here: If Jean had been armed, Guyger would have a much more plausible defense. If innocent unarmed black men like Jean are shot, it’s because they lack firearms; if innocent black men who are armed like Castile or Sterling are shot, it’s because they had a gun. Heads, you’re dead; tails, you’re also dead.
Yet the NRA did release an ad siding with President Donald Trump against the NFL players protesting police violence. One might ask why the NRA waded into the conflict over the NFL protests at all. The group has long urged citizens to arm themselves against the possibility of government tyranny, only to come down on the side of the state when it kills innocent people who are black. An additional irony is that, historically, the only American population to be forcibly deprived of its weapons was black Americans at the end of Reconstruction, disarmed by racist paramilitary groups.
In recent years, the NRA has made frequent forays into culture-war disputes that have little to do with gun rights per se. This week, its NRATV hosts attacked a children’s program featuring anthropomorphic trains for introducing a train from Kenya. Previously, they argued that undocumented children separated from their parents under the Trump administration are “better off,” complained that American men “are being turned into second-rate women,” described laws banning anti-gay discrimination as “slavery,” called for the imprisonment of people protesting Trump Cabinet officials, dismissed the Women’s March as “anti-American,” and attacked the media for being insufficiently pro-Trump. None of this has anything to do with gun restrictions. So why is the NRA doing it?