The Deadly—Yet Predictable—Results of Combining Hate with Easy Access to Guns
Angela Ferrell-Zabala, Amber Goodwin, Derrick Johnson 9.7.2023
Angela Michelle Carr, a loving mom just giving a friend a ride. Jerrald Gallion, the beloved father working to support his baby girl. Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr, a teenager who went out to work and never came home. On August 26th, we witnessed yet another new headline in a tragically familiar story: Black people being killed simply for existing. On the same day America was acknowledging the 60th anniversary of March on Washington, a white supremacist gunman targeted, shot, and killed these three people in a Dollar General store in Jacksonville after being turned away from a historically Black university, Edward Waters University.
In an average year, more than 25,000 hate crimes in the U.S. involve a firearm–more than 69 every day.
Let’s call this what this is: a lethally racist hate crime—made possible because of America’s gross negligence when it comes to gun safety. White supremacy is inherently violent. But white supremacists in a country with easy access to guns are deadly. We live in a country where a man with hate in his heart can easily obtain an AR style weapon and tactical gear and inflict carnage upon the people he hates, with few barriers.
The ‘guns everywhere’ culture championed by the gun industry has seen to that—they profit from arming white supremacist, far-right extremist movements, capitalizing on and furthering their distrust in democratic institutions and conspiracies like the “great replacement” theory. In an average year, over 25,000 hate crimes in the United States involve a firearm—that’s more than 69 each day. And half of race-based hate crimes reported to the FBI target Black people.
In the aftermath of the Jacksonville tragedy, officials retrieved evidence from the shooter reportedly filled with racist, anti-semitic, and anti-LGBTQ sentiments. He had a swastika emblazoned on his assault rifle and wore the Rhodesian army patch—a symbol of violent white supremacy worn by other mass shooters as well.
White supremacy is deeply embedded in the fabric of America. It’s not a remnant of some distant past—it’s the reality Black people experience every day, while also bearing the generational trauma that comes at the hands of a nation with deeply rooted, systemic racism. And some extremist lawmakers are working to ensure that hate is, and continues to be, embedded in the policy and lived realities of Americans for generations to come—and armed to the teeth.
Just this year in Florida, where Saturday’s shooting took place, state lawmakers passed permitless carry—which has been shown to make gun violence more likely, attempted to lower the age to purchase a firearm, and rejected federal funding to support their Extreme Risk law. And when they pair policies that make it even easier to access firearms with hate-filled rhetoric, they create a culture ripe for violence. To be clear, it’s not just Florida. Politicians everywhere are running hate-fueled campaigns, using racism as a political tool to rally their supporters, and then legislate that hate into policies that impact countless Americans once in office.
Despite guns being the number one killer of children and teens in America, they’re not passing laws to keep kids safe, they’re passing legislation forcing schools to teach children that Black people benefited from slavery. They’re telling constituents they’re fighting to protect communities, while doing everything they can to restrict Black Americans’ access to the ballot box and equitable elected representation as gun violence soars. Many, many elected officials have found career success from stoking culture wars, promoting an “anti-woke” agenda, and tapping into a voter base that thrives on hate through devastating, racist rhetoric.
We all have a responsibility to call out dangerous rhetoric. While it may flicker in the isolated corners of the internet or individual households, it spreads like a wildfire when it’s allowed to be amplified by our elected leaders and legislated into policies that impact our families and communities and literally, our lives—especially for communities of color.
The Jacksonville tragedy, which was the 471st mass shooting this year, is sadly the latest in a long history of shootings targeting Black people. When we think of the Dollar General store in Jacksonville, we also feel the pain of the supermarket in Buffalo last year, or the Black church in Charleston in 2015. And when these horrors happen, it’s not just the local community that’s impacted—it’s Black people across the country, who know that they have a disproportionate likelihood of being shot.
Being Black in America shouldn’t be a death sentence, but time and time again, it’s Black people who are bearing the weight of our gun violence crisis. Black Americans experience a gun death rate two and a half times larger than that of white Americans. They also experience a gun homicide rate twelve times higher, and a gun assault rate eighteen times higher, than that of white Americans. These numbers are the heartbreaking results of extremist lawmakers with extreme rhetoric, and an extremist “guns everywhere” agenda.
We will continue fighting to disarm hate in honor of the victims and their families in Jacksonville. We’ll refuse to normalize language that further harms and isolates oppressed communities. We’ll push our elected officials to advocate for straightforward, evidence-based public safety policies, including passing an assault weapons ban and bills like the Disarm Hate Act, which would prohibit those convicted of violent hate crimes from possessing firearms, and increase funding for Extreme Risk laws. We’ll urge increased investments in community-centered violence intervention and prevention strategies that prioritize victims, reduce risk factors and holistically work to decrease violence. And we’ll stay hopeful, in solidarity with one another, as we work to solve the twin epidemics of white supremacy and gun violence. Our country will never be truly free until we do.
Executive director, Moms Demand Action
Founder, Community Justice Action Fund (CJAF)
President and Chief Executive Officer, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A yearly average was developed using four years of the most recent available data: 2018 to 2021.