It’s definitely not too soon to condemn this craziness.
The visceral shock of the Newtown school slaughter has provoked a reassessment on gun laws among many on the right—including Joe Scarborough and Rupert Murdoch.
But there are still those on the far right who, when confronted with the killing of classrooms full of 6-year-olds, reached for alternate explanations that could preserve their ideological purity and avoid common sense.
These are not just fringe figures but elected officials and other leaders of the Tea-vangelist wing of the GOP.
Former presidential candidate and Arkansas ex-governor Mike Huckabee instinctively blamed the separation of church and state for the mass murder. “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? … Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”
Surprisingly, some people had a problem with this.
Those ranks included the always-thoughtful conservative Pete Wehner, writing at Commentary.
But not Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, who added his voice to Huckabee’s amen corner on his radio show, saying: “You know the question’s gonna come up, where was God? I thought God cared about the little children, God protected the little children. Where was God when all this went down? And here’s the bottom line: God is not gonna go where he’s not wanted … We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, “Hey I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve gotta invite me back into your world first. I’m not gonna go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.”
You read that right. According to Bryan Fischer’s view of Scripture, God was too much of a “gentleman” to stop the slaughter of 6-year-olds.
But these hits kept coming, even from members of Congress.
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert is a darling of the Tea-vangelist set, and he laid another argument that has more than its share of conservative populist adherents—the problem in Newtown was not having enough guns in our schools.
Gohmert argued on Fox that the deranged shooter chose the elementary school because “they know no one will be armed.”
“I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office,” the congressman said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung, “locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out … and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”
Note that Gohmert’s comments—like Huckabee’s—are framed with a touch of sadness and what seems like soul-searching compassion: they don’t want to think of themselves as in any way justifying Adam Lanza’s slaughter or quite coming out to say that the USA had it coming. But the impulse to argue it was not the guns or the killer who perpetrated the slaughter—but either the absence of God in our culture or the absence of guns in our schools—is chilling, and comes with a whiff of blame-the-victim.
The ugly full reveal was offered up by Larry Pratt, president of Gun Owners of America (a group for those who think the NRA is somehow squishy). Hours after the mass murder of 6-year-olds, he tried to lay the blame squarely on the left, saying: “Gun-control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands.”
Let that sink in: “Gun-control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands.”
Pratt went on to say, “Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun-free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.”
To be sure, this is an extreme view by an extreme voice on the fringe of the conservative movement. But the ideological overlap between Pratt and Congressman Gohmert’s argument is the cause for real concern—their difference is only a matter of emphasis. It is the latest evidence of how the fringe is blurring with the base and degrading our national debates.
Regardless, I remain hopeful that out of the horror of this moment, broad new coalitions can be built to define common ground even on this most emotional issue. We can enact some reasonable restrictions while respecting the Second Amendment. We can deal with the underlying issue of mental illness and the cultural climate as well.
But the reflexive deflection, the extreme avoidance of reality, the cruelty posing as compassion of these influential voices should be a cold wake-up call. It is a sign of the deep struggle that still remains when it comes to building broader coalitions, especially within the GOP. Some responsible Republicans see the possibility of being primaried by this Tea-vangelist wing, and conclude that silence and avoidance is the best bet. But that appeasement approach only empowers the extremes.
That’s why I think it’s worthwhile to reprint these statements and help connect the dots—in the hope that the extremism of their comments will isolate these voices and help call them to account. Because their arguments don’t pass the common-sense test for the vast majority of Americans; and the effort of defending them in broad daylight might just help shift the balance of power in the Republican Party back toward sanity and constructive engagement.