Buffalo mass shooting provokes all the same questions about gun laws and social media

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And it will once again raise the ugly question: what can authorities do about hate crimes, which experts predict may only get worse the closer we get to the US midterm elections in November?

Indeed, an analysis this month by the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University indicated a double-digit spike in hate crimes last year, with incidents targeting Asian and Jewish Americans accounting for the bulk of the increase.

Based on preliminary data from more than three dozen US police departments, the figures show that, on average, hate crimes in 37 major US cities rose by nearly 39 per cent – a trend that the study predicts is likely to worsen into 2022.

Today’s attack is but the latest example.

Gendron, who was arraigned on Saturday and pleaded not guilty for the shooting, lives about 320 kilometres from Buffalo.

We don’t understand why he targeted that particular Tops Friendly Market grocery store for his murderous plans, other than to say it located in a predominantly black community.

People hug outside the scene after a shooting at a supermarket on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, New York.Credit:AP

His manifesto may also provide some clues, underlined by a familiar theme: that white Americans are at risk of being replaced by people of colour, the baseless and poisonous “great replacement theory” that Fox TV host Tucker Carlson regularly pushes on his show.

Too many mass shootings in America have been triggered by the same ideology.

Remember the tragedy in El Paso, Texas, in 2019, where 23 people were killed at a Walmart in what was the worst attack on Latinos in modern US history?

The shooter, who was white, drove more than 1000 kilometres to conduct the carnage, and later described his actions as a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.

People arrive at MacArthur Elementary looking for family and friends. The school was being used as a reunification centre in the aftermath of the shooting.

People arrive at MacArthur Elementary looking for family and friends. The school was being used as a reunification centre in the aftermath of the shooting.Credit:El Paso Times

Or what about the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, where nine African Americans were killed during a Bible study?

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That gunman, Dylann Roof, also had his own online manifesto filled with emblems associated with white supremacy.

Every time Americans are gunned down by some hate-fuelled stranger, there are “thoughts and prayers” and calls to do more – and today was no different.

“The First Lady and I are praying for the victims and their families, and hearts all across this country are with the people of Buffalo,” Biden wrote in a statement released late at night.

“We still need to learn more about the motivation for today’s shooting as law enforcement does its work, but we don’t need anything else to state a clear moral truth: A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation. Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America. Hate must have no safe harbor. We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed parliament as new gun laws after the Christchurch massacre were passed in 2019.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed parliament as new gun laws after the Christchurch massacre were passed in 2019. Credit:ninevms

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern could usher sweeping bans on semi-automatic weapons into law a month after the Christchurch massacre.

But as Biden’s Democrat predecessor Barack Obama learned, presidential power is not be enough to tackle the gun lobby and the right to bear arms. Obama could sing Amazing Grace with the mourners, but he left office openly regretful he failed  to pass federal gun control legislation.

Perhaps the debate will pivot to stopping the spread of poisonous ideologies in social media’s outer reaches.

In South Carolina in 2015, President Barack Obama sang Amazing Grace at the eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, who was murdered by a white supremacist.

In South Carolina in 2015, President Barack Obama sang Amazing Grace at the eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, who was murdered by a white supremacist.Credit:Getty Images

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said of today’s attack: “It strikes us in our very heart to know there’s such evil that lurks out there.”

“But mark my words – will be aggressive in our pursuit of anyone who subscribes to the ideals professed by other white supremacists and how there’s a feeding frenzy on social media platforms where hate festers more hate. That has to stop.”

Maybe so – but how? Clamping down on online hatred is like trapping smoke: it seeps out. But in America, it may yet again draw attention from the debate about the weapons used so often in the real world to take the lives of others – the guns.

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