Iowa Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Joni Ernst referred to the recent Isla Vista killings as an “unfortunate accident”. Her dismissive comments came during a televised primary debate on Thursday. She was addressing a viewer question, presented by the debate moderator this way:
Mrs. Ernst, a viewer wrote us saying in light of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the shootings at the Aurora, Colorado, theater, and most recently at the UC Santa Barbara campus, quote, ‘we have a Joni Ernst in the television ad that is running continuously on all local television stations that contains violent imagery pointing a gun directly at the viewer and vowing to quote ‘shoot them down’ and hateful language directed toward their opponents. Is this really what politics has become in this country?’ Mrs. Ernst, what do you say to this viewer?
Ernst responded with a rather typical cliched response, stating:
Yes, I would say to this viewer that what happened in that shooting and that stabbing is an absolute tragedy, however I remain firm in my commitment to the Second Amendment,” said Ernst. “I have been endorsed by the NRA in this race and again just because of a horrible, horrible tragedy, I don’t believe we should be infringing upon people’s Second Amendment rights. I will stand firmly behind that when I go to Washington, DC, as your next United States Senator.
Then when the moderator pressed her a little on whether she would modify the ad or change the timing of it, Ernst delivered this peculiar reply:
This unfortunate accident happened after the ad, but it does highlight that I want to get rid of, repeal, and replace Bruce Braley’s Obamacare and it also shows that I am a strong supporter of the second amendment. That is a fundamental right.
While it is not unusual for politicians to make monumental verbal gaffes under pressure, this gaffe is rather telling. Right-wing defenders of the status quo on gun policy have a longstanding habit of deflecting away personal responsibility for gun violence, dismissing shooting deaths as either accidental or virtually unavoidable. They are just part of the operating costs of having personal liberty. This sort of argument is usually done to absolve gun-friendly politicians from taking responsibility for the continuing gun carnage in America.
These arguments are evident whenever pro-gun activists try to draw comparisons between gun death rates (mostly suicides and homicides) and motor vehicle death rates (mostly accidents). Calling gun deaths accidents implies an inevitability to them and thereby excuses lawmakers from taking legislative action. However, most Republican politicians at least have the sense to assign some responsibility to murderers who deliberately commit homicide, even if they are reluctant to acknowledge that some of those killings are done by previously “law-abiding gun owners”. Ernst simply slipped up and referred to an intentional homicidal shooting spree as an accident. While she probably knows better, she has so thoroughly internalized the pro-gun culture’s ethos of denying responsibility that she stumbled into saying something foolish. Gun murders and suicides are not accidents. It is time we elect lawmakers who are committed to taking action to reduce gun violence, rather than continuing to support those who perpetuate our culture of gun violence by denying that irresponsible gun owners are ever to blame.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.