Gun Control, Politics, and Rural America
Welcome to Tuesday, KIR subscribers. The news is really, really rough right now, so if you want to tune out from this week’s edition, feel no guilt.
Over the past couple days, I have not stopped thinking about the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs on Saturday night. It’s part of a disturbing trend that has spiked in the past half-decade, which has seen more mass shootings – defined as four or more deaths in a public space – than any other half-decade since 1966, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project. Many of these shootings are hate-motivated, with mosques, synagogues, predominantly Black neighborhoods, and LGBTQ+ safe spaces targeted, according to The Violence Project.
This was the case for Saturday night’s shooting, which occurred at an LGBTQ+ club that is just one of two queer-friendly clubs in Colorado Springs, a city of roughly 485,000 people. The shooting happened the day before Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the life of Rita Hester, a transgender Black woman, who was murdered in her Boston apartment in 1998. Her murder is still unsolved.
Predictably, Twitter thoughts and prayers rolled in from politicians hours after the shooting, including gun-slinging Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert (who won her usually red-dominated, rural congressional district race this year by the tiniest of margins). Her tweet reads as follows: “The news out of Colorado Springs is absolutely awful. This morning the victims & their families are in my prayers. This lawless violence needs to end and end quickly.”
Boebert has made no effort to end America’s “lawless violence,” in fact, she’s done quite the opposite. Boebert spent her first term in office spreading vitriol against LGBTQ+ communities and fighting gun licensing laws, control measures, buyback programs, and red flag laws that prohibit people who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from buying guns.
Other Colorado Republicans joined Boebert in thoughts and prayers this weekend, including Rep. Ken Buck and Rep. Doug Lamborn. Neither recognized the shooting as hate-motivated.
So what does all this have to do with rural America?
Anytime there’s a mass shooting, the topic of gun control – or the lack thereof – comes up. Gun control measures have undeniable implications for rural America, where 46% of rural adults say they own a gun versus 28% of suburban adults and 19% of urban adults, according to 2017 data from Pew Research Center.
Gun death rates in rural areas exceed urban rates by 28%, according to a Daily Yonder analysis by data reporter Sarah Melotte. A portion of this rate is deaths by suicide, a sobering and common reality in rural areas. But another sizable portion is driven by homicide, according to American Progress. This is due to high concentrations of gun ownership and pro-gun politicians in rural areas, according to the organization.
Despite the connection between gun ownership and rural areas, experts say support for gun restrictions crosses the rural-urban and right-left divide.
Research from the bipartisan group 97Percent shows that gun owners overwhelmingly support restrictions that would enforce background checks and make it harder to obtain a firearm. Over 60% of Republican gun owners support red flag laws, according to Daily Yonder analysis.
None of these measures forcefully take guns away from people, yet far-right extremists are trying their best to scare gun owners into believing just that. And they’re pandering to the public’s worst assumption of rural communities, even though data proves they are not the gun-crazed monoliths some politicians make them out to be.
Gun discourse in the aftermath of a shooting becomes messy very quickly, and it’s intentional. It distracts from real conversations about common sense gun measures that could save rural and urban lives, and prevent future tragedies like the one we saw this weekend from happening again.
Numbers show us a better picture than tweets ever can, so pay attention to the data. It tells a lot more about rural than Lauren Boebert ever will.
Rural Reading List
Oh yeah, remember the elections? Here’s an interesting commentary from the Daily Yonder about the good, the bad, and the ugly from this year’s midterms.
Nhatt Nichols, illustrator-extraordinaire, has done it again with her most recent news comic about union organizing at rural Starbucks stores. You won’t regret checking this one out.
Oregon narrowly passed a gun measure that will require people to obtain a permit from law enforcement to buy a firearm, complete safety training, and pass a criminal background check. Some local sheriffs say they won’t enforce the new laws.
One More Thing: Want to Be a Part of Getting Funds to Your Rural Community?
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the USDA’s Rural Partners Network has initiated phase two of the program that places “community liaisons” in rural areas to override the red tape that has kept federal funding opportunities away from rural communities.
Job applications for community liaisons for the phase two communities – located in Alaska, Nevada, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Wisconsin – open next week, and supervisory roles for those liaisons will open soon after. The applications will be available at usajobs.gov.
If you or anyone you know is interested in one of these positions (and are from the communities identified for phase two!), I highly recommend applying and/or sharing the opportunity with people who would be interested. My understanding is that they want locals to apply, but don’t quite know how to promote the openings to the right people. That’s where we can help.
Learn more about phase two here, and keep reading the Daily Yonder to stay updated with the Rural Partners Network.