Selling fear for profit

Our leaders are not coming to save us. They won’t even take questions. 

October 30, 2023 5:30 am

Photographs of the 18 victims of the Lewiston shooting shared by Maine Department of Public Safety. (Maine Morning Star)

As we watched the aftermath of the mass shooting in Maine last week and listened to vacuous comments from newly-elected U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, my mind kept turning over the title of a famous Roxane Gay essay, “No one is coming to save us,” like a dystopian mantra.

“The problem is the human heart, not guns,” Speaker Johnson said about the 565th mass shooting in the United

States so far this year, arguing “that it was inappropriate to discuss gun control “in the middle of the crisis,” and that he believes, “it’s not the weapon, it’s the underlying problem.””

Speaker Johnson carries a Bible, quotes scripture, and spouts platitudes. He is not coming to save us. 

As the U.S. House voted to make Rep. Mike Johnson, left, its new speaker, he was congratulated by Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky, Oct. 25, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

After the Old National Bank shooting in Louisville last April, I felt so angry and helpless I told a friend I was going to stage a sit-in at the Kentucky Capitol until our legislature addressed firearm laws. This was completely implausible, but like many bad ideas it eventually pointed me in the right direction.

In the last seven months, I have gone to Frankfort — unpaid, on my own time — and attended dozens of interim committee meetings from the judiciary to veterans affairs to education to school and campus safety. Guess what they never talk about, even as gun violence continues to plague this country and the commonwealth? Potential gun laws.

Our do-nothing Republican supermajority is not coming to save us.

In addition to committee meetings, I have also sat patiently in the offices of Republican legislators — again, unpaid and on my own time — privately asking about their plans to address gun violence. If they mention a potential bill (which is rare), they typically follow with the impossibility of such a bill getting a hearing, much less making it to the floor for a vote. One lawmaker pointed out that he carries a gun to work every day and said we should expect the campus concealed-carry bill, which was roundly panned by law enforcement and did not make it out of committee in 2023, to come back in the 2024 General Session. “And this time it will pass,” he said, as if it were a fait accompli.

GOP lawmakers — who risk losing their seats if they dare vote for even the most benign gun laws — are not coming to save us.

As news of the Maine mass shooting unfolded, I was reading “American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15” by Cameron McWhirter and Zusha Elinson, which opens with the October 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting. “In about ten minutes, (Stephen) Paddock fired 1,057 bullets. He killed 58 people that night and wounded 413 others. Another 456 were injured trying to escape the mayhem.” 

In his hotel room high above the concert venue, Paddock had smuggled in “fourteen AR-15 semiautomatic rifles and eight similar guns called AR-10s. He had dozens of fully loaded hundred-round magazines. The rifles were civilian versions of guns invented in the 1950s by a tiny company in Hollywood, California. The company created a revolutionary rifle for the U.S. military. It was a light, easy-to-use weapon to help soldiers fight Communist insurgencies in the developing world. The futuristic rifles were designed to achieve a simple goal: fire a lot of bullets fast to kill or maim as many enemy soldiers as possible.”

It is estimated that Paddock spent $95,000 on guns, ammo and accessories, and so, as in all investigations, we should follow the money. 

“Gun companies have spent the last two decades scrutinizing their market and refocusing their message away from hunting toward selling handguns for personal safety, as well as military-style weapons attractive to mostly young men,” The New York Times reports. “The sales pitch — rooted in self-defense, machismo and an overarching sense of fear — has been remarkably successful. Firearm sales have skyrocketed, with background checks rising from 8.5 million in 2000 to 38.9 million last year. The number of guns is outpacing the population.” 

The firearms industry is busy selling fear for profit. They are not coming to save us.

Roxane Gay’s original essay is about the Trump presidency and racism, but her words form the baseline of a sickening drumbeat that continues to grow louder, broader, and more persistent. “What I’m supposed to do now is offer hope,” Gay wrote, “I’m supposed to tell you that no president serves forever. I’m supposed to offer up words like ‘resist’ and ‘fight’ as if rebellious enthusiasm is enough to overcome federally, electorally sanctioned white supremacy…. But I am not going to do any of that. I am tired of comfortable lies.” 

Comfortable lies, like thoughts and prayers and it’s too soon to talk about guns.

In response to our 565th mass shooting this year, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said simply, “I was devastated to hear the news last night of a deadly shooting in Lewiston, Maine. I know the entire Senate stands behind our colleagues, Senator Collins and Senator King, as they help their state marshal its response. We pray especially for the victims of this senseless violence, for their families, and for the law enforcement personnel working tirelessly to save lives and bring the suspect to justice.”

In his broader remarks about the mass shooting in Maine, newly-elected House Speaker Johnson said, “”This is a dark time in America. We have a lot of problems and we’re really, really hopeful and prayerful. Prayer is appropriate in a time like this, that the evil can end and this senseless violence can stop….” Johnson, a staunchly conservative evangelical Christian, declined to take any questions, including about the possibility of any gun violence legislation from Congress.”

Our leaders are not coming to save us. They won’t even take questions. 

Hundreds of law enforcement officers were involved in the manhunt for Robert Card, the sole suspect in the Lewiston mass shooting that killed 18 people and wounded 13 others, who was found dead in Lisbon on Oct. 27, two days after the shooting. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Teri Carter
Teri Carter

Teri Carter writes about rural Kentucky life and politics for publications like the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Courier-Journal, The Daily Yonder and The Washington Post. You can find her at