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All Mass Shooters Are Extremists

All Mass Shooters Are Extremists

TC

The Planned Parenthood shooter wasn't a "transgendered leftist activist," and we don't know yet if the San Bernardino killers had direct ISIS ties. Politicians should focus first on actions, like gun ownership, and motivations second.

On Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz gave a speech reacting to the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting, declaring that our country is "at war," and that "all of us are deeply concerned that this is yet another manifestation of terrorism, radical Islamic terrorism here at home," drawing a parallel between the shooting and the attacks in Paris last month.

Last week, Cruz was asked about Colorado Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear. In his response, he attempted to disconnect Dear's actions from the religious right's volatile rhetoric, stating that "the media promptly wants to blame him on the pro-life movement when at this time there is very little evidence to indicate that." In addition to willfully ignoring reports that Dear yelled out "no more baby parts" during the shooting, Cruz went on to characterize the shooter as a "transgendered leftist activist."

He has since distanced himself from his easily disproven comments about Dear, but it's clear that he considers political and religious extremism relevant when discussing domestic terrorism -- unless the killer is motivated by Christian dogma. A few weeks back I wrote an op-ed about the Republicans' contradictory messaging when it comes to "radical Islam" versus radical Christianity, but Cruz has taken his hypocrisy to the next level, and at this point it's hard to imagine that he isn't aware of exactly what he's doing -- throwing up a smoke screen to distract us from the conversations we should be having about gun control.

I'm not saying we should let Cruz and company off the hook for inciting violence; you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater. When multiple presidential candidates tacitly endorse discredited propaganda that suggests Planned Parenthood was aborting fetuses for fun and profit, graphically dismembering them and selling the parts, they shouldn't be surprised when an unhinged individual takes them at their word and reacts in extreme ways. But if we're going to make any progress on gun control, we need to remove motivation from the equation entirely and talk objectively about what measures might prevent attacks like this from happening.

While the conservative media picks apart reports of whether or not the San Bernardino shooters pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook, they are skirting a conversation about the fact that both of these shootings were perpetrated using legally obtained weapons and ammunition. You can't buy two boxes of Sudafed at the same time without risking triggering a MethCheck report that sends law enforcement your name, address, and age, but the shooters had over 1,600 bullets with them when they were taken down, in addition to more than 4,500 rounds at home. If tracking systems for cold medicine can be characterized as a "investigative tool," then why not track the sale of ammunition? Why are Donald Trump and his compatriots in the GOP obsessed with monitoring people based on their religion instead of their actions? Turning away Syrian refugees would not have prevented a single one of the 355 mass shootings we have seen in this country this year.

Based on the reports, it's very possible that religious extremism may have played a hand in the San Bernardino shooting -- but we are all vulnerable if extremists of any stripe are able to stockpile weapons and ammunition with barely any governmental regulation or oversight. Americans own 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world -- why can't we at least attempt to monitor individuals engaging in suspicious purchasing activity? Why is it so easy to obtain semiautomatic rifles in this country -- even in states like California that ban the sale of assault weapons? Why are gun manufacturers allowed to skirt legislation aimed at limiting magazine sizes and reload speeds by installing "bullet buttons" that allow for quick reloading of additional ammo, effectively modifying a standard rifle into an M-16? I'm not an expert on weapons, but it seems clear to me that loopholes are being exploited throughout the country by an opportunistic, cavalier industry with blood on its hands. Why do these practices happen so much more frequently in our country, compared to the rest of the world? Why is The Onion's reporting on gun violence so much more apt and insightful than the majority of legitimate news outlets? What does this say about the politicians in our country?

Hours after the San Bernardino shooting, Cruz offered his prayers to the victims and announced plans to participate in a pro-gun rally at a shooting range. What kind of flippant, odious response is that? The best way to honor the victims of these horrific attacks is to do everything in our power to make sure they do not happen again -- and that starts with regulating the weapons that enable deranged individuals to orchestrate mass shootings. We don't need prayers. We don't need moments of silence. We need to make noise. We need to take action.

KWKIT WILLIAMSON is an actor, filmmaker, and activist. He best known for playing the role of Ed Gifford on Mad Men and creating the LGBT series EastSiders. Its second season is now available on DVD. Follow him on Twitter @KitWilliamson.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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