The holiday season is known for its celebration of life, togetherness, and giving. But for some US politicians, spreading Christmas cheer has come to mean promoting an increasingly dangerous gun culture. In what appears to be the latest GOP trend, Republican leaders have been posting their Christmas greetings with portraits of their families posing with military-grade guns.
On December 4, Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky tweeted a Christmas greeting with a photo of himself and his grinning family in front of a Christmas tree, armed to the teeth with assault weapons powerful enough to lead a small militia.
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The image was posted just four days after 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly killed four of his fellow students and injured seven others at Oxford High School in Michigan in what was this year’s deadliest school shooting. Just one day before the shooting, Crumbley was caught by teachers searching for “ammo” on his phone. Massie captioned the photo with his wish for Santa to “please bring ammo”.
Despite receiving backlash for the display of callous indifference towards the innocent lives lost, Massie’s post inspired Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado to share her own gun-filled Christmas family photo, featuring her young children.
This brazen promotion of gun culture among children – just days after a deadly school shooting – is deeply disturbing. It reflects a desensitisation to gun violence in a country where mass shootings, and school shootings, in particular, have become the “new normal”. It also shows that some Republican officials will stop at nothing – even killing the spirit of Christmas – to self-promote.
The statics on gun-related deaths in the US are truly appalling. Firearms have become the leading cause of death for American children and teenagers; those between the ages of five and 14 are 21 times more likely than children in other high-income countries to be killed by gun violence. On average, eight American children die each day from gun violence.
As children spent more time at home in the first year of the pandemic, with greater access to lethal weapons, unintentional gunshot deaths by minors jumped by 31 percent from March to December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. As schools reopened this year, school shootings returned with, 24 such incidents taking place across the country since August.
The pervasive nature of gun violence in the US has increased policing of schools and spread anxiety among students. American children are now attending schools equipped with metal detectors and security cameras and are being subjected to regular shooter drills.
Exposure to gun violence can impact a child’s emotional, psychological, and even physical development, making it paramount that children are shielded from gun culture. Republicans, however, do not seem to share this concern. In fact, they appear to believe that intellectual topics like critical race theory are a much more dangerous influence on school children than gun culture.
Massie and Boebert are by far not the pioneers of gun promotion among children during Christmas. In 2015, for example, Michelle Fiore, a Las Vegas Republican assemblywoman, caused controversy by posting a similar Christmas greeting card with her armed family.
Unsurprisingly, it is also not just Republican officials who have turned to social media to brandish their love for weapons. The alleged Michigan shooter had also posted images online showing off his gun arsenal before the attack. His mother, who is charged alongside her husband with involuntary manslaughter as accessories to the shooting, captioned a post of her own, “Mom & son day testing out his new Xmas present.”
These posts get around recent social media restrictions on gun promotion, as platforms have only banned weapons sellers from advertising directly on their sites (in the absence of government regulation).
The viral images of Republican officials brandishing assault rifles across the internet not only serve political and commercial purposes, but also constitute a form of extreme trolling of liberals. They are meant to antagonise liberal-minded Americans and boost the popularity of the authors of these posts among their constituencies.
Ironically, in their pursuit of scoring political points ahead of the holidays, Republicans appear to be doing what they have long accused liberals of: “waging a war” on Christmas. For years, conservatives have claimed that Christmas is “under attack” and its symbols and spirit are being ignored or violated by liberals and their rejection of Christian values.
But as Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it in a re-tweet of Boebert’s photo, “Tell me again where Christ said ‘use the commemoration of my birth to flex violent weapons for personal political gain’?”
Perhaps even more insidious than killing the Christmas spirit with gun culture promoting tweets is the GOP’s relentless effort to block legislation that seeks to increase regulation of gun ownership.
Consistent roadblocks placed by Republicans, the National Rifle Association, and the gun industry have made not only passing any gun control measures difficult but have even stifled research into gun violence. This has forced some Democrats to go as far as adopting GOP-style tactics to pursue regulation of gun ownership.
For example, California Governor Gavin Newsom suggested that lawmakers should pass a gun-control law that allows ordinary citizens to sue those who deal in restricted weapons. The idea is to model the legislation after the anti-abortion law recently passed in Texas, which gives any citizen the right to take to court clinics or individual doctors who violate the state’s abortion ban.
Making meaningful progress on gun control, however, would take more than GOP-style tactics. It is time for President Joe Biden to make good on his campaign promise to tackle the issue and push for decisive action on gun violence. This would necessitate not only tougher gun ownership laws but also combatting the normalisation of gun culture.
The possible prosecution of the Oxford shooter’s parents could be a step in the right direction – towards accountability for the promotion of gun culture among children. Next, the gun lobby and politicians promoting gun culture must also be held to account.
Maybe only then would the vile exploitation of Christmas for political gain by Massie, Boebert, and other Republican officials stop. And maybe only then would we see GOP lawmakers opting to promote messages of love during Christmas. We all could do with some of that right about now.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.