‘Gunsplaining’ and conspiracy theories: how rightwing pundits saw the Las Vegas shooting

Conservative writers have established a set of standard responses to each new mass shooting. Jason Wilson looks at those much in evidence this week

Some differences of opinion are permissible in conservative media. Not everyone agrees about wars, foreign powers, terror, or drugs. Some are not fans of the current president. Some even risk unconventional pro-choice opinions.

But the second amendment virtually unrestricted access to guns is sacrosanct. Across the spectrum of rightwing opinion, from libertarians to the Christian right, pretty much everyone agrees that Americans unique access to firearms should continue. We can put this down to any number of things, from the countrys history of frontier settler violence to the influence of the NRA. But there it is.

When a massacre happens, rightwing pundits have work to do: they need to convince any waverers that easy access to semi-automatic weapons has nothing to do with mass-casualty shootings. They also need Republican legislators to remain aware that any moves to restrict access to guns will ruin their career.

Accordingly, rightwing pundits have evolved a series of standard responses to mass murder. Today well look at five of them, all of which have been in evidence this week.

The conspiracy theory

Conspiracy theory is now an ingrained response to mass shootings. If it was once a marginal pursuit, the alt-right surge and the election of a president who is himself an inveterate conspiracy theorist mean that these beliefs have a large audience and a new quasi-legitimacy.

As you would expect from highly influential radio show host Alex Jones, his website and radio show are canvassing the full gamut of conspiracy theories about the event. So far, Jones and his reporters have put forth a number of theories: that the shooter was targeting conservatives; that he was connected to Islamic extremism; that he was in league with anti-fascists.

Women hug at a fundraiser for victims and their families at Stoneys Rockin Country bar in Las Vegas. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Just as he did with Sandy Hook, Jones is amplifying any explanation that comes to hand except the most obvious one: that a white man with access to powerful weapons opened up on a crowd of innocent people.

As the Guardian reported on Wednesday, there is now a cottage industry of YouTube-based conspiracy entrepreneurs whose theories about Las Vegas are at least as lurid as Joness. But conspiracy theory also comes in a lite version, which can be passed off later as just asking questions. The new Fox News recruit Tomi Lahren tweeted that something just doesnt add up about the shooter. Later she added: Media focusing on guns. Theres something bigger here.

As long as were focused on wild theories about who really pulled off the murders, were not talking about gun control.


Fussing over definitions and technical aspects of semi-automatic weapons is a good way to avoid questions about why civilians have them.

Conservative pundits have feasted on Hillary Clintons awkward tweet about the dangers of silencers. On Fox & Friends, Laura Ingraham said a silencer would melt an AR-15s barrel, and said Clintons unfamiliarity with this fact was despicable.

Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton)

The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots.

Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.

October 2, 2017

Rich Lowry of National Review sniffed: If Hillary cares so much about the issue, she might take 10 minutes to learn something about it, but gun-controllers tend to be low-information advocates.

But the derision went beyond Clinton. Lowrys former employee Stephen L Miller not to be confused with the White House aide turned in a characteristically snide column for Fox News, lambasting elitists in media who refuse to understand even a basic grasp or terminology about a sacred constitutional right.

Breitbart offered a defense of bump stock devices which effectively convert semi-automatic weapons into machine guns disguised as an explainer. One of the key facts they offered was that banning them would be a typical leftist war on the poor.

At the Daily Wire, Aaron Bandler did similar service on behalf of the mass shooters weapon of choice, the AR-15.

All of this gunsplaining sidesteps the real source of public outrage about mass shootings, which neither embodies nor requires any special technical knowledge: people are regularly killed in large numbers because there are very few restrictions on the circulation of powerful firearms.

The double down

Some pundits calculate that the best form of defence is all-out attack. If events put trusty arguments in question, they figure, you can just reassert them at a higher volume.

In the first paragraph of Conrad Blacks latest ramble for National Review, he offers a potted version of what rightwing pundits say after every massacre: gun control wont work, its politically impossible, and anyway its a local matter.

Pistols on sale in a gun shop in Las Vegas. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

On Newsbusters, Michelle Malkin opted for the familiar tactic of arguing that since no single gun control measure will completely end massacres, none should be tried at all.

A Rush Limbaugh rant on Wednesday depended on familiar, uncontested statistics about declines in overall murder rates. (These figures always seem to go missing when conservatives want to whip up fear about law and order). Naturally, Rush said nothing about the increasing frequency, and lethality, of mass shootings.

And at libertarian site Reason, Jacob Sullum got to the emotional core of this form of rightwing bargaining with reality in the title of his article, A massacre is not an argument.

Heartland whispering

This is a tactic often deployed by the higher-toned rightwing commentators, where it is solemnly explained that the lefts hopeless confinement to coastal enclaves means they dont really know whats at stake in real America. Any criticism of guns thereby becomes an attack on the communities where guns are owned.

A past master of this tactic is National Reviews David French. On Wednesday, he made the argument that, despite the NRAs organizing and funding opposition to gun control, gun laws remain as they are because of the heartlands adherence to American values.

Deny, distract, delay

If all else fails, rightwing commentators can simply try to derail the entire conversation in the hope that eventually the news cycle will move on.

One way to do this is to focus on missteps from the left. This offers endless possibilities. WND and other outlets have picked up on the fact that a tiny newspaper published an off-colour cartoon on the massacre. Others have focused their outrage on celebrity activism from reliable punching bags like Michael Moore or Jimmy Kimmel.

Another is to try to spread the blame around to groups who have no relationship to the events. The right has a whole roster of scapegoats available for this purpose.

Frank Gaffney made a characteristic move on Breitbart radio by trying to turn the discussion to Islam, even though there are no indications that the shooter had any connection to the faith at all, let alone Jihadi terror groups.

On Godfather Politics, after describing the shooter as a crazed Democrat, Keely Sharp turned on Rino (Republican in Name Only) Paul Ryan, who appears to have given up on deregulating silencers. Focusing ire on the establishment is a surefire way of avoiding the matter at hand.

The overall goal is to defer any move on restricting the ownership and use of firearms until the moment where it is is even a remote political possibility has passed. At National Review, Kevin Williamson summed it all up in a headline: Its time to do nothing about guns.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/05/las-vegas-mass-shooting-rightwing-pundits