“I’ve heard some people say that some of the rhetoric that we hear doesn’t really represent what’s in people’s hearts, it’s just the game. It’s just the political game. Those three people who lost their lives, that’s not a game.” – Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan
At the very moment thousands of Americans were gathered in Washington, D.C., to call for racial unity and an end to gun violence in honor of the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, a racist terrorist opened fire with a swastika-emblazoned assault rifle at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida.
He killed Angela Michelle Carr, 52, a loving mother of three and a grandmother of 16 who “would give her shirt off her back for people,” her son said.
He killed Jerrald Gallion, 29, a restaurant manager who was on his way to spend the day with his 4-year-old daughter.
He killed 19-year-old A.J. Laguerre, who worked at the store to help support the grandmother who raised him and his four siblings after their mother died.
The details of their lives didn’t matter to the armed terrorist, though. All that mattered to him was that they were Black.
The multiple manifestos 21-year-old Ryan Palmeter left behind detail his “hatred against African Americans and belief in the inferiority of Black people,” as well as “anti LGBTQ+ and anti-Semitic grievances,” said Sherri Onks, Special Agent in charge of FBI Jacksonville office.
He hoped for a race war. He praised other mass murderers, including the Oklahoma City bomber, the Norwegian summer camp killer, and the Virginia Tech school shooter.
He underwent an involuntarily psychiatric evaluation in 2017, but he was able to purchase firearms under Florida law because he was not held for treatment.
This scenario would be unthinkable in a rational, responsible democracy that acknowledged the deadly consequences of racist rhetoric and placed the safety of its citizens above the profits of gun merchants.
If Palmeter’s recent mental health crisis had turned up on his background check, an investigation could have revealed his murderous intent and prevented the legal purchase of his firearms. An assault weapons ban would have kept him from legally purchasing the most lethal of his weapons under any circumstance. Judicious monitoring of social media could have curbed the onslaught of racist, violent propaganda that feeds savage delusions like Palmeter’s. If public figures and politicians held themselves to a higher standard, fanning the flames of racial resentment as a political tactic would fall into the dustbin of history.
Because the United States is not yet that rational, responsible democracy, this scenario plays out again and again and again.
Almost 29,000 Americans have died of gun violence so far in 2023. That number should send lawmakers rushing to enact common sense gun safety policies.
We know that states with safer gun policies have lower rates of gun violence. We know that states with lax gun safety regulations see more mass shootings. We know that hateful propaganda on social media emboldens racists and extremists to act on their views.
The American people know all this. That’s why 90% support safer gun policies. But there are too many lawmakers – many of whom fall into that 90% – who value the campaign cash of gun lobbyists more than the will of their constituents.
Fanning the flames of racial resentment for political gain has deadly consequences when those so inflamed have nearly unfettered access to high-powered weapons of war. At some point we must recognize that the lack of even the most basic effort to prevent racist gun violence is indistinguishable from encouraging it.
Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.