Conservative Narrative on Gun Violence From “Mental Health” to “Racial Tension”

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Whenever there is national outcry over gun violence, conservatives respond by defending the 2nd Amendment and spewing some version of ‘guns don’t kill people, mentally ill people kill people.’

But when you look at the budgets of Southern states, there is as much reluctance to fund mental health services as there is to implement common sense gun regulations. There is a positive correlation between mental health funding and gun violence, though the states who better fund mental health also tend to have stricter gun laws.  In Washington, they voted to expand background checks for gun purchases, and if Congress won’t act, then states must also address the gun show loophole.

Governor Greg Abbott was cheered when he lowered the flag for Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth, but he also vetoed multiple bipartisan bills that were supported by the Texas Medical Association. One of those bills would have allowed doctors to hold patients they deemed a danger to themselves and others, for a matter of hours.  

Aside from the classic deflection of gun regulation onto mental health, a more sinister attempt is being made to tie the death of the deputy, the Virginia news crew and others to the Black Lives Matter movement. A Fox News crew asked why they weren’t being labeled a “hate group” yet. This is dangerous folks. It’s dangerous from a journalistic standpoint that a trusted sources of news for conservatives would attempt to stifle a social movement that seeks to address very real disparities in use of force and policing in communities of color. It is also dangerous that this pushes the conservative alternative media to be even bolder in its headlines inciting racial fear and tensions.

Breitbart has been leading the charge. “The escalation of anti-white and anti-cop rhetoric has been building since militant black activists began marching in support of #BlackLivesMatter after the suicide of Sandra Bland approximately 30 miles north of Houston in Waller County, Texas.”

In reality radicals exist in every community and are drawn to controversy. And many cities, including in Texas, have made progress on the issue of body cameras. Dallas is currently rolling out their program and Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler has committed to implementing them in 2016. At no point in these discussions has any legitimate voice advocated violence against law enforcement.

Publications like Breitbart are more than happy provide troublemakers a platform as anecdotal evidence (to a completely different set of radicals) that an entire issue-based conversation is “anti-white” or “anti-cop.” There are those that step over the line and they should be condemned, but the condemnation should be against violence universally, and not based on what side it comes from. 

Tuesday night at the Victory Grill in Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told a full room of ethnically diverse concerned young people that he knows there are officers in his department that don’t belong there and need to be weeded out. That was echoed by Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson who said at a press conference, “there are a few bad apples in every profession.” This goes for movements as well, and responsible organizations don’t try to derail them for click bait, or especially as race bait. Why would any conservative person or publication attempt to dismiss the nationwide discussion on a legitimate grievance citizens have with the treatment they’ve received from their own government?

Something must be different about this situation for the same folks who fear the militarization of the police and believe that Jade Helm is a federal invasion, to suddenly become law enforcement’s biggest supporters.

In a separate story Breitbart characterized its own coverage by saying, “KSAT’s release of the video comes just days after as Breitbart Texas reported that racial tensions appear to have led to the execution of Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth.”

The conservative echo chamber is quick to resonate to the top and GOP politicians are catching on. Congressman Pete Sessions was blowin’ the dog whistle over the AM radio when he said insinuated that “diversity” was causing the fear and uneasiness in society. For good measure he insisted that diversity was a good thing but, “But we have a group of people that are in our country that we’re afraid of that have created chaos and confusion.” Whether is about taking birthright citizenship from immigrants’ children or generating hysteria of black “mobs,” the chaos and confusion is being stoked from the far right.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has been one of the most vocal proponents of this type of rhetoric and today he doubled down, “all lives matter and we need to put an end to this violence against law enforcement — now!” If he says “all lives matter” why did he only call for an end to violence against law enforcement? In a press conference on jail suicides sparked by the death of Sandra Bland, Patrick apparently refused to say her name, and insisted he was not, “here talking about any specific case today or person today.”

That makes for nasty politics but by the time it reaches the grassroots, the rhetoric is downright hateful. A former corrections officer in Texas posted a racially-charged rant on Facebook threatening the lives of BlackLivesMatter protesters and encouraging citizens to take up arms and attack. The video ends with him cocking a gun as he issues a challenge to anyone who doesn’t believe how pissed he is.

It is time for conservatives to join the conversation about reducing gun violence, whether is from the hands of our government, or that of a mentally disturbed citizen.

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About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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