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The Far Right's Solution to the Nashville Shooting: Police Trans People
The shooting is already being used to call for anti-trans measures. This is both predictable and wrong.
Guns don’t kill people—changing genders kills people.
This is the new gloss on the anti-gun-control position already being offered up by far-right commentators and politicians in the wake of the Nashville shooting.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson lamented the affirmative action “benefits” enjoyed by trans people in America before going on to proclaim:
The trans movement is the mirror image of Christianity and therefore its natural enemy. … Trans ideology claims dominion over nature itself. “We can change the identity we were born with” they will tell you with wild-eyed certainty.
Also on Fox, Laura Ingraham was particularly full-throated in her condemnation of trans people. Despite the still-limited information available, Ingraham summed the situation up like this:
A deranged woman who calls herself or is beginning to call herself a man … took the lives of six innocent people. Instead of getting Hale the help that she needed along the way, our social media culture, Hollywood, even corporate America affirmed what would ultimately be a lie: that our genetic makeup can somehow be denied.
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson tweeted that gender dysphoria ought to be included as a reason to restrict gun access under red flag laws.
In a similar vein, Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene jumped at the chance to suggest that the real culprit is hormone therapy for transitioning. She wasted little time before tweeting,
How much hormones like testosterone and medications for mental illness was the transgender Nashville school shooter taking? Everyone can stop blaming guns now.
In a prior piece for Arc Digital, I wrote about the widespread pathologizing of various groups by the American right, especially transgender people. Such individuals are routinely viewed as morally and mentally deficient, described as “sick” and “deranged,” and generally presented as outside normal society. So it’s no surprise that, when news comes out that someone presumed to be trans has committed a terrible crime, that becomes an occasion for these elected officials and commentators to publicly tar an entire demographic as sick in the head.
This emerging attack line on trans people is in continuity with the right-wing trend of blaming mass shooting events almost solely on mental health. But it has far more sinister implications.
The suggestion that hormone therapy is itself creating unstable individuals is a deeply pernicious idea. To begin with, hormone treatment is not itself dangerous, and many Americans undergo some form of hormonal therapy for reasons unrelated to gender transitioning. But this rhetoric serves to pathologize trans people by suggesting that a key tool used for their care renders them unwell and even dangerous.
This sort of thinking relegates trans people to a position outside regular citizenship not only by designating them as ill and violent but by seeking to deny to them the right to firearms that is generally considered sacrosanct across the American right. Of course, it’s the firearms that pose the most obvious threat. But the obfuscation has already begun.
Senator Josh Hawley took to the Senate floor to proclaim that “This contagion of hateful rhetoric and violence must not be allowed to spread.” I don’t disagree with the senator that violent and hateful rhetoric pose a real danger today. Yet Hawley’s hypocrisy on this front, considering his opposition to anti-Asian hate crime legislation and personal role in stoking the events of January 6, is obvious.
And there’s a sleight of hand to Hawley singling out Christians as a targeted, persecuted group in a state where LGBTQ people have come under sustained attacks and Christianity enjoyed a pride of place in public life. Nashville is home to companies like Thomas Nelson, one of the largest Christian publishers in the world; prominent religiously-affiliated universities like Lipscomb and Belmont; and sits in a state that is in the top 5 for megachurches (congregations with over 2,000 members).
To be clear, no level of outrage at these kinds of injustices justifies violent action. Majority status doesn’t protect a group from violence. And we do indeed need to be aware of the radicalizing and inciting potential of heated rhetoric.
But, again, the contagion of gun violence is not merely about words. It’s very clearly a function of the availability of guns. Yet the hard right response is already to redirect focus on restricting anything but guns—and preferably, if possible, trans people and drag queens.
Consider that in Tennessee, state law has allowed for permitless carry of handguns since 2021. Meanwhile, this month a bill was introduced in the state legislature that would require all professional drag performers to obtain permits. This is essentially imposing a more stringent registration process for drag shows than for some firearms. Tennessee Congressman Tim Burchett has gone viral for his remakes that, when it comes to gun violence, “we aren’t going to fix it” because a person who is determined to kill and willing to die in the process can’t be stopped. Congressman Burchett recently struck a different tone on the issue of drag shows, saying, “We don’t put up with the crap in Tennessee, and we shouldn’t.”
I don’t accept the premise that drag shows should be criminalized. But there’s a rather gobsmacking distinction to be found between Congressman Burchett’s enthusiasm for regulating that supposedly dangerous activity and his resigned acceptance of the continued slaughter of America’s children by weapons of war.
But the hard right is uninterested in new gun laws or registries. What they are interested in is expanding their crackdown on drag shows, trans people, and the broader LGBTQ community. Even more worrying than Tennessee’s proposed bill requiring permits for drag performers is the news from late last year that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sought out information on Texans who changed their gender identity on their drivers licenses.
Consider such moves alongside the calls cited here to regulate the rights of those seeking and/or receiving gender affirming care based on the idea that such individuals are mentally ill, and the situation becomes quite alarming. As Brynn Tannehill has argued
This is how you strip trans people of licenses to practice law, medicine, clearances, gun rights, and every other sort of legal agency. It can be used to justify mass incarceration ‘for their own good.’
Guns are the leading killer of America’s children. And we are witnessing once again the extensive messaging machine that mobilizes to try and avoid serious action on guns in the wake of another tragic school shooting. What makes this particular episode even more troubling than usual is that the diversion many have landed on involves pursuing even more ferociously the already ongoing attacks on LGBTQ Americans.
If states and localities shirk gun legislation while pursuing further crackdowns on the rights and dignities of gay and trans citizens, we will soon be a less safe and less free country than we are now.