The gun industry and the extremist politicians it supports have long fanned the flames of hate-based, radical ideologies. At the same time, firearms manufacturers oppose laws that would keep dangerous, radicalized individuals from accessing guns and support laws that allow easy access to military-style assault weapons.
The fact that a violent extremist targeted and murdered Black people using a Glock and an AR-15-style rifle bearing swastikas in a state the NAACP has declared is “engaged in an all-out attack on Black Americans,” is horrifying and devastating, but not surprising.
On Aug. 26, after being turned away from a historically Black college, the shooter—a young white man wearing a tactical vest and mask—went to a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida. There he slaughtered Angela Carr, a mother of three and grandmother of 16, who was dropping off Uber passengers in the parking lot. “She wasn’t even supposed to be there,” said Angela’s daughter. “She was shot in her car. She never even had a chance.”
The gunman also killed Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, a devoted father to a 4-year-old. “We’re still trying to find the words to tell her that her daddy is gone,” said the grandmother of Jerrald’s daughter. “I don’t have the words to tell her, to break her heart. The gunman’s third victim was AJ Laguerre Jr., who had recently graduated from high school and was working at the Dollar General. “I should not have to bury my son,” his father told the media. “He’s too young for that. He’s just trying to live.”
Armed extremists killing people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation is a serious problem that has spiked in recent years. Among other hate-fueled mass shootings, in 2019, a white nationalist gunman killed 23 people and injured 22 others at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. In 2022, another white gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York.
Over the past 12 years, mass killings by domestic extremists have skyrocketed. These killings are enabled not only by our nation’s weak gun laws, but also by the gun companies that leaned into fear and conspiracy theories and courted extremists because they realized that doing so makes money. Palmetto State Armory, a North Carolina-based gun store, designed a line of “Big Igloo Aloha” AK-47 assault rifles marketed to the Boogaloo Bois, an anti-government extremist movement that advocates for a second civil war. Companies like Daniel Defense marketed AR-15s with slogans encouraging young men to “use what the special forces guys use.” The M&P15—which stands for military and police—became one of the best-selling rifles in America. The M&P15 was the gun used by Kyle Rittenhouse, the vigilante teenager who fatally shot two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020, as well as mass shooters in Parkland, Florida, and Highland Park, Illinois.
Every year, the United States experiences more than 10,300 violent hate crime attacks involving the use or threatened use of guns. The majority of hate crime attacks are motivated by bigotry on the basis of race or ethnicity, leading the FBI to elevate “racially motivated violent extremism” to a top-level priority threat in recent years and singling out white supremacy as a major driver.
Yet dangerous loopholes in our federal and state gun laws allow individuals who have committed hate crimes to purchase firearms in too many states. Our leaders need to close these loopholes and thoroughly implement extreme risk protection order laws, which allow a court to temporarily prevent a person from accessing guns if they are proven to be at high risk of committing violence. We also need to elect leaders who are determined to prevent hate-based gun violence using evidence-based approaches—unlike Florida’s current governor, who, in addition to enacting a dangerous permitless carry law, has declared war against diversity and inclusion.
GIFFORDS, the national gun safety group where I work, organizes responsible gun owners who believe in gun safety laws and reject extreme and dangerous marketing practices by the gun industry. These gun owners understand that using guns to terrorize people because of their race and identities is abhorrent. They agree that guns used to threaten, harass, and harm people who are exercising their basic rights—like peacefully protesting and voting—pose a threat to the very nature of our democracy. And they believe that we must strengthen our gun laws, or even more innocent lives will be lost. There are many more gun owners like them in the United States. Together, responsible gun owners around the country can use their purchasing power to reject the gun industry’s extremism and their votes to elect representatives who will take action to prevent these foreseeable deaths.
All Americans must rise to the occasion to protest with our voices and our votes every time a hate-fueled extremist capitalizes on America’s abysmal gun laws and the violent rhetoric of politicians and gun industry members. Too many lives have been lost already, and too many more are at stake if we fail to act.
*Allison Anderman is senior counsel and director of local policy at the GIFFORDS Law Center.
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