After Santa Fe Shooting, Have Conservatives Shot Their Wads?

Gun defenders are grasping at ever-thinner straws


Several gun massacres ago, when Sandy Hook happened, conservatives seemed at first stunned — not at the deaths of twenty children and six adults, but at the unprecedented bad publicity this meant for their NRA donors. But they quickly recovered and bravely fought for the right of every crackpot and psychopath to have as many killing sticks as he could pay for.

That obviously worked, and the brethren cruised untouchably through a number of other such slaughters — at Santa Barbara, Umpqua, Orlando, Colorado Springs, Sutherland Springs, and so on and on — under a cloud cover of Thoughts and Prayers, always focused on the real victims (themselves, as law-abiding People of the Gun persecuted by “prayer-shaming” liberals) and never giving an inch.

But then the Parkland massacre happened, and the fierce response of those kids threw conservatives off balance. And it seems to have them wrong-footed still, judging by their clumsy response to last week’s school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

Santa Fe was a near-perfect storm for conservative gun fans: For one thing, one of the victims of alleged killer Dimitrios Pagourtzis’s rampage was a girl who wouldn’t go out with him — which resonates embarrassingly with the misogyny of modern conservatism, abundantly evident from the insouciant pussy-grabbing of the president down to the creepy, crusty-gym-sock-scented “enforced monogamy” and “swamp witches” commentary of Intellectual Dark Web star Jordan Peterson in the New York Times.

For another, the school was being patrolled by two armed guards at the time of the massacre, which makes the “good guy with a gun” message of modern conservatives look even more like bullshit than usual. And Pagourtzis’s social media shows he was into Trump, guns, and Nazi imagery, which is just a little too on the nose.

Given this lousy material, conservatives did what they could, and that wasn’t much. The anything-but-gun-laws excuses were worse than usual. Fox News’ Sean Hannity suggested that, in lieu of gun control, “every school district needs to have some person that monitors every kid’s social media postings, maybe they need two people.” Ollie North, gun runner/traitor and new NRA president, blamed school shootings on Ritalin.

NRA deputy Riefenstahl Dana Loesch, no surprise, blamed the media: “Constantly showing the image of the murderer, constantly saying their name, is completely unnecessary,” she snarled on the telescreen; “we need to be very cognizant of what this creates.”

Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick took the biscuit, blaming Santa Fe and school shootings in general on a superfluity of doors: “There are too many entrances and too many exits to our over 8,000 campuses,” he said. “There aren’t enough people to put a guard at every entry and exit.”

While these guys wrote alibis for their precious equalizers, hardcore firearm-philes held flashlights under their chins at the campfire and retold their Gun Grabber ghost story greatest hits.

“The Left wants your guns, and they want them now,” wrote Alex Parker of RedState. “The Left wants your guns, and they want them now. The Left wants your guns, and they want them now.” See the pattern? “Horribly, ten were killed at Santa Fe High School,” Parker went on; “immediately, the Left — in the political, news, and entertainment realms — began their quest for your guns. They want your guns…” You get the idea. (Final line: “They. Want. Your. Guns.” Why fool with a winning formula?)

There was also the usual scoffing at liberals for lack of gun arcana conversance. The main knock this time was that, in their post–Santa Fe head-shakings over gun violence, liberals mentioned assault weapons when — aha! — Pagourtzis only used a revolver and a sawed-off shotgun. Check and mate, libs!

“USA TODAY DEMONIZES AR-15 AFTER REPORTING SANTA FE GUNMAN USED REVOLVER, SHOTGUN,” headlined Breitbart. USA Today had the nerve to report that “the standard magazine for an AR-15 holds 30 rounds, allowing a shooter to continue firing uninterrupted for longer, making the weapon more lethal than other firearms.” But, Breitbart’s “award-winning Second Amendment columnist” AWR Hawkins pointed out, “a shotgun, which the Santa Fe gunman also used, is far superior to an AR-15 in close quarters.” Clearly these liberals have never done any mass murders themselves, the sissies, nor even played very much Doom II: Hell on Earth.

“It must have come as a deep disappointment to learn that the Santa Fe shooter hadn’t, in fact, used an AR-pattern rifle,” chuckled Dan Zimmerman at The Truth About Guns. “That presents something of a quandary for the Chris Murphys and Diane Feinsteins of the world (not to mention David Hogg and Emma Gonzales).” Haw, bet now they’ll be too embarrassed to mourn!

Kaitlin Bennett, who became the new Second Amendment It girl after pimping pix of herself strolling the campus of (of all places!) Kent State in a short dress with a semi slung over her shoulder and a mortarboard marked “Come and Take It,” felt obliged to weigh in: “It’s infuriating to know that all Santa Fe teachers had to offer their students was to tell them to run and hide,” she blathered. “It’s disgusting that schools don’t value the lives of their students enough to protect them.” Maybe she’ll show up at the students’ funerals in a black dress with “From My Cold Dead Hands” printed on the butt.

While low-rent types thus gibbered, more respectable conservative columnists appeared to acknowledge that their readers, at least the less bloodthirsty among them, might feel squeamish about such yak right after yet another slaughter, and eschewed belligerence in favor of a softer, shrugging response.

After floating his own alterna-cause for gun massacres — “Social media became a huge thing around 2010. Is there a connection?” — the American Conservative’s Rod Dreher made a pretense of moderation: “Don’t read me as saying that we shouldn’t have stronger gun laws,” he protested. “Once again, in principle, I can support that.” But then, as if spooked by the distant baying of his wingnut brethren, he immediately added, “But I don’t think that will really stop these things.” (That’s apparently what he means by “in principle” — he supports it, but thinks it’s useless.)

“Something else is happening,” added Dreher, putting the flashlight to his chin. “Something deeper and darker that I don’t think anybody can yet fully identify.” Maybe it’s Satan — or social media!

At National Review, the usual suspects dispensed the usual bullshit — but with less fiery don’t-tread-on-me tone than usual. David French, for example, once wished aloud that the churchgoers at Charleston had been armed, and bid his readers “practice with a handgun until you can take it from a position of safe carry to active engagement within seconds. Then practice that again until you’ve beaten your best time. Then practice again…”

But French wasn’t proposing target practice after Santa Fe. “Guns have been part of the fabric of American life for the entire history of our republic,” he wrote, but “mass shootings — especially the most deadly mass shootings — are a far more recent phenomenon.” Clearly something happened between the muzzle-loading musket and the modern, mechanized mass murders — but what could it be?

The demoralized French couldn’t put his finger on it: He quoted at length from Malcolm Gladwell — always a sure sign that the author has given up — and even admitted, Dreher-like, that he favored some low-impact gun control measures, before muttering something about trench coats — see, we haven’t explored all the options! — and finishing with, “There are young men in the grip of a terrible contagion, and there is no cure coming,” i.e., ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Charles C.W. Cooke, a British import and passionate 2A advocate who seems to have moved to the States mainly to shoot guns, is usually ferocious in support of his boom-boom rights (“The right to bear arms isn’t up for debate”), and taunts those he suspects of wanting to overturn the Second Amendment, in the charming limey way that has made him the toast of several National Review cruises: “Go on, chaps. Bloody well do it.”

Cooke opened his first Santa Fe piece with customary shtick (“Unless he was given permission to acquire these weapons from his parents, at least someone has broken the law here”). But eventually he faltered. Oh, he stayed pissy and argumentative; after saying, “There’s almost nothing we can do about this with new laws,” for example, he raced to add parenthetically, “Note what I didn’t say: I didn’t say that we can fix this, that we all secretly know how, but that I’m for some reason against doing so” — basically announcing that if you found his no-solution insufficient, you were just trying to slur Honest Charlie Cooke.

But at last it seemed as if Cooke’s cordite-scented heart was no longer in the fight: “As David French points out, this is a trend now, and each event seems to lead ineluctably to the next,” he petered out. “It’s enough to make one despair.”

Soon enough, Cooke recovered himself and, in his next column, he got back to his more typical routine — mocking Senator Chris Murphy for denouncing “the horrifying inaction of Congress, slaughter after slaughter,” when Murphy’s website only mentions assault weapons — and Pagourtzis only had (everybody say it with me, now!) a revolver and a sawed-off shotgun.

But for a minute there the blood tide seemed to distract Cooke from his devotion to NRA doctrine, to which he had heretofore been as steadfast as the Terra-Cotta Army to Qin Shi Huang. Maybe a few more massacres will get through to these guys — or (more likely) the audience for their excuses will get so sick of them that it will no longer matter.