In times of tragedy, Americans often look to their elected leaders for comfort. For understanding. For the dangled scrap of hope that things will get better.
In the wake of Tuesday’s mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, how are Republican leaders rising to meet this raw moment, with 19 children dead and a community shattered? They are once again leaning into their role as the American Carnage Party, where the only solution to shootings is more guns. And in a sign that it’s never “too soon” to glorify guns after a slaughter, some are gathering at the altar of the gun lobby in, of all places, Houston — less than 300 miles from the slaughter — to wallow in that orgy of gun fetishism known as the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.
Former President Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota are among the party players set to speak on Friday. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas was scheduled to attend, but it was reported Thursday evening that he would instead be addressing the convention via a pre-recorded video.
The G.O.P. cannot afford to put much distance between itself and the gun lobby — and not simply because of the huge wads of cash that the N.R.A. has stuffed into the party’s coffers over the years. Increasingly, the party of Trump is about nothing more than ginning up fear and paranoia among its members, of peddling apocalyptic notions that civilization is on the brink of destruction and that armed conflict is just over the horizon. The gun lobby’s message and agenda gibe perfectly with this vision, indeed, nurture it. It is hard to think of a more suitable partner for Republicanism in its current sorry state.
Credit…Mark Peterson for The New York TimesCredit…Mark Peterson for The New York Times
For Mr. Trump, who never misses a chance to be fawned over, the show must always go on. The former president, in fact, suggested that his speech Friday would be vital to the healing process. “America needs real solutions and real leadership in this moment, not politicians and partisanship,” he asserted, without a speck of irony. “That’s why I will keep my longtime commitment” and “deliver an important address to America.”
Also in the category of Irony Is Dead: During that “important address,” organizers warned in advance, the Secret Service would be taking control of the hall and all guns, ammo, firearm accessories, knives, and other scary items — including laser pointers and selfie sticks — would be prohibited.
The organization is busy cultivating its next generation of Republican celebrities as well. Mr. Trump’s older sons, Don Jr. and Eric, were the scheduled stars at the N.R.A. Hunters’ Leadership Forum Dinner and Auction on Thursday night. Eric was tapped to keynote the event, and the group was bestowing its coveted leadership award on Don Jr., “who is out front and who has our backs.” The Trump boys are clearly considered important to the gun lobby’s future.
Some Democrats expressed outrage and dismay that the convention was proceeding, so painfully close to Uvalde in both time and distance. There were calls for the event to be canceled or moved and for political leaders not to participate. The president of the N.A.A.C.P. specifically urged Mr. Abbott to skip the gathering. So did Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman now challenging Mr. Abbott for governor. “Governor Abbott, if you have any decency, you will immediately withdraw from this weekend’s NRA convention and urge them to hold it anywhere but Texas,” Mr. O’Rourke tweeted.
Back in 1999, in response to the Columbine massacre, the N.R.A. scaled back its convention, which took place a few days later nearby in Denver. But that meager concession took place during a different era, when the group and its political handmaidens still feared public backlash. There’s no way today’s N.R.A. would bother disrupting its biggest party of the year — although it has vowed to use the gathering to “reflect on these events, pray for the victims, recognize our patriotic members and redouble our commitment to making our schools secure.”
Thoughts and prayers. They do the trick every time.
Practically speaking, the N.R.A. desperately needs this weekend’s extravaganza to roll on largely as planned. The group has had a rough few years. After breaking the bank getting Mr. Trump elected in 2016, it has been plagued by infighting, scandal, legal troubles and the ongoing threat of financial ruin.
This year’s convention was on track to be a moment of regrouping, maybe even a turning point, for the organization. With an unpopular Democratic president in the White House and public anxiety raging over violent crime and immigration, the climate is ideal for whipping the fear factor to new heights — for really selling folks on the idea that what every American needs is the protection of a good gun. Or several. The Uvalde tragedy made the convention trickier from a P.R. standpoint, but the political fundamentals remain promising for the gun lobby.
To grasp the deep resonance of this American Carnage message in certain circles, it helps to understand what it’s like to grow up in the gun-culture bubble — in families and communities who believe that more firearms equal more safety. People outside this world often cannot fathom such an equation. With frustration bordering on fury, they point to studies and data suggesting that owning a gun is more likely to result in the death of a loved one — or oneself — than in the successful defense against an assailant or intruder.
But facts and figures can’t compete with the gut-level craving for a sense of control over one’s surroundings and fate. Consider the difference between people’s attitudes toward flying and driving a car. Statistically, the latter is far more dangerous. But air travel tends to unsettle or even terrify people more, in part because of the feeling that they have no control over the situation. With driving, by contrast, people tell themselves that they are masters of their surroundings, that they will always have the skill, sense and panther-like reflexes to avoid a collision. Even really awful drivers believe this.
Plenty of gun owners operate with an even stronger delusion of being the exception to the rule — the singular driver in perfect control, if you will. They send friends and family members news stories about the rare instances in which an armed citizen took down an intruder or potential assailant. They tell themselves that, in a situation like Uvalde — or Buffalo or Parkland or Las Vegas or Pittsburgh or El Paso — they would be the one to beat the odds, to emerge not just unscathed but quite possibly a hero.
Plenty of Republican politicians, steeped in gun culture, may sympathize with or even wholeheartedly embrace this delusion. Others are gross opportunists looking to stoke people’s primal fears — and rake in big money from gun groups — in the service of their own ambitions. (It is hard to believe that the nakedly grasping Mr. Cruz, for instance, does anything for any reason other than his own political gain.) A smattering of both kinds of officials will be on display in Houston this weekend. It is hard to say which is more dangerous, and on some level it hardly matters. The tragic outcome, the continued failure to rationally address America’s deadly gun crisis, is the same.
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected]
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.