In a recent column for the Daily Caller, Wayne LaPierre – the official spokesman for the NRA and a recent witness in Congress – urges his readers to buy more guns to protect themselves from Latinos. Without citing any sources, he launches into this fear-mongering tirade:
During the second Obama term, however, additional threats are growing. Latin American drug gangs have invaded every city of significant size in the United States. Phoenix is already one of the kidnapping capitals of the world, and though the states on the U.S./Mexico border may be the first places in the nation to suffer from cartel violence, by no means are they the last.
The president flagrantly defies the 2006 federal law ordering the construction of a secure border fence along the entire Mexican border. So the border today remains porous not only to people seeking jobs in the U.S., but to criminals whose jobs are murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping. Ominously, the border also remains open to agents of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Numerous intelligence sources have confirmed that foreign terrorists have identified the southern U.S. border as their path of entry into the country…
Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival. It’s responsible behavior, and it’s time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that.
It’s hard to even know where to start in addressing this heresy. I don’t want to start by talking about gun control per se. Instead, I want to highlight the ways that the NRA manipulates its audience with fear, and how the escalation in fear-based rhetoric has real-world consequences for people of color and the vulnerable.
LaPierre’s not-so-veiled threat is the specter of Latinos pouring over the border, with nothing to stop “them” from harming or killing “us” except our private stashes of firearms. LaPierre attempts to link Latinos with terrorists, and also describes border cities as lawless zones of destruction. He’s not going to let facts get in the way of a good rant. But as the Huffington Post points out:
Statistics don’t match LaPierre’s characterization of the U.S.-Mexico border as a violent free-for-all in which people must carry guns to guarantee their safety.
Crime statistics reported in USA Today and the Huffington Post show that violent crime has actually dropped in recent years along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, as well as in the border states of California, New Mexico and Texas. The border cities of El Paso and San Diego, in fact, are ranked as the two safest large cities in the United States, according to Congressional Quarterly.
And Phoenix actually isn’t the kidnapping capital of the world. An investigative report by ABC News 15 and a federal audit both concluded last year that local authorities miscategorized almost half of crimes designated as kidnappings. Overcounting helped police land millions of dollars in grants.
Hate Crimes Against Latinos Increase
LaPierre’s apocalyptic vision of a violent, lawless society dominated by Latino gangs and terrorists is fuel for nativist hate groups and racist vigilantes. In fact, hate crimes against Latinos have risen across the country over the last decade, with spikes in states like Arizona where the immigration debate has been the most heated.
In 2009, for example, a border vigilante named Shawna Ford orchestrated the home invasion of a local Latino family because she believed the father was a drug smuggler (he was not). She wanted to confiscate the imagined drug money to use for her own border vigilante organization. She and two accomplices broke into the house, shot and killed not only the father but his nine year old daughter. They also shot his wife and left her to die, but she survived and later testified against them at trial. (The horrific details of this case are here.)
I’m not saying that LaPierre or the NRA caused this crime. I am saying that LaPierre’s brand of rhetoric adds fuel to the fire and legitimizes the destructive view that the best way to deal with issues like immigration is to buy more guns.
Everyone knows the NRA wields incredible political clout. But the NRA is probably the only noncriminal organization in the country that would benefit from a more violent society. I for one am still baffled at how their top executives can get away with such racially-tinged fear-mongering. Articles like this one by LaPierre continue to fuel the fires of hate and violence, and real lives are being destroyed because of it.
-Chris Liu-Beers, Program Associate