Trajectories in the American Gun Debate after the Christchurch Mosque Attacks

Painting with the broadest possible brush, we can be forgiven for thinking the state of our moral discourse is broken. Conservatives feel progressives indulge in a politics of outrage. They fit particular events into pre-made frames of reference. From that conservative point of view, a progressive declaration of pain in response to, say, a mass shooting at New Zealand mosques, isn’t seen as authentic. It is a pre-fabricated utterance. “We can’t react with emotions in these difficult times.”

But when the pendulum swings in the progressive mind toward concrete policy prescriptions, it’s portrayed as a power grab: An assault on the fundamental rights of Americans enshrined in the Constitution. Absent from this conversation is the definition of “militia,” the fair point that the Founders couldn’t have even imagined the firearms available in 2019, etc.

So from the progressive point of view, then, it is the conservative that rushes to fit events into particular (ahistorical) frames.

International white supremacists are actively exploiting these resentments. And you’re going to start seeing arguments made more and more frequently in progressive circles that the only way to meet violence is with violence. (This generally fits with what Donald Trump has said about Democrats that he won’t say about white supremacists. Democrats are “the really” violent ones: Just pay attention! Whereas there are “very fine people” in white supremacist circles [consider Charlottesville, Steve King, etc.]. It is barely concealed projection/incitement.)

One of the New Zealand shooters claims to be a “lawful, uniformed combatant” with the gamut of rights and protections of “civilized” Western nations. But for all his claims of nationalism as a necessary corrective, he doesn’t actually represent a legitimate nation-state. And he’s lukewarm on claiming a Christian motive for the enactment of violence, so we can’t even cast this in light of militant discipleship.

He tips his hand only at a couple points in the manifesto. But he wrote he wanted to survive the attack so he could deplete the state of resources. The current liberal order allows for the kinds of demographic shifts he finds so egregious in the first place. The New Zealand shooter in question expects to be met with the same level of care and concern of Anders Breivik, the right-wing terrorist who targeted a left-wing youth political retreat in 2011. Ultimately he believes this is weakness rather than justice. He was not deterred by the possibility of a lengthy (but not indefinite) incarceration. (New Zealand abolished indefinite detention in 1989.) He spits with contempt on the progressive ideal of restorative justice that informs Norway’s rejection of life sentences.

His express goal is to inspire transnational violence. He wants American conservatives and progressives to become intransigent on the question of guns. From his point of view, Muslims do not belong in “white” countries. But the history of Europe is what we might call cosmopolitan. His own ahistoricism stacks quite neatly on a certain conservative point of view.

The New Zealand shooter hopes the center doesn’t hold. If it was reasonable yesterday to believe liberals are just sensitive and conservatives want to symbolically own the libs by revealing their own hypocrisy, he wanted to make this an unreasonable assumption today. He wants progressives to get as worked up as he, a white supremacist, already is. If these two factions “go to war,” it’ll afford white supremacists–if they win–an opportunity to bring the political order into accord with their exclusionary worldview.


About wlivings

PhD student in Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy at Florida State University. Stetson '12, Vanderbilt '14.
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