Here’s a question for those who claim, in the wake of this month’s mass shooting in El Paso, that such spasms of violence are at least partially rooted in gory movies and violent video games:

If Hollywood and the gaming industry are capable, however indirectly, of fomenting such madness, then how about a president?

I put the query on Tuesday to David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, who told WVOM radio in Bangor last week that the “real problem” behind mass shootings is “our society’s … very lax way in looking at violence as a whole.”

“If you watch a Hollywood movie, with an R-rated movie, it’s likely you’re going to see mass killings during that movie,” Trahan told WVOM morning hosts Ric Tyler and George Hale. “If we’re going to address this, we’re going to have to do it, I think, from the foundation of what’s causing these shootings – not just look at the weapon and say we’ve got to take them away.”

I called Trahan at SAM headquarters, not to get entangled in the thorny issue of gun control but simply to nudge his theory of social influence one step further.

I told him I’m hearing a lot of people on the conservative side of the political spectrum saying that Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry are influencing these shooters.

“But what I’m not hearing (from conservatives) is that the president’s rhetoric is influencing them,” I said.

By rhetoric, I meant President Trump’s fixation on the word “invasion” to describe immigration on our southern border. This year alone, according to a New York Times analysis, Trump’s re-election campaign has used the word in more than 2,000 Facebook ads.

By rhetoric, I meant the audience member at a Florida rally in May who, upon hearing Trump wonder aloud, “How do you stop these people?”, replied “Shoot ‘em!” Trump smiled and, to much applause, said, “That’s only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement … only in the Panhandle!”

By rhetoric, in addition to “invasion,” I meant the words “predator,” “alien,” “killer,” “criminal” and “animal.” According to a recent analysis by USA Today of transcripts from 64 Trump rallies, the president used those words more than 500 times in reference to immigrants.

And finally, by rhetoric, I also meant the El Paso shooter’s 2,300-word manifesto, posted online 27 minutes before he walked into a Walmart Supercenter with his WASR-10 semi-automatic rifle, that began, “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

So once again, I asked Trahan, what about the president? If Hollywood and video game producers are social influencers, then how about the man with the biggest bully pulpit on the planet?

“I’m not going to speak to the president because I have my own personal feelings about the president,” Trahan said. “And it might surprise you.”

“Go ahead,” I urged him. “Surprise me.”

“No. That’s as far as I’m going to go.”

Actually, it wasn’t. Later in our conversation, after arguing at length that Trump is far from the only political leader to engage in incendiary speech these days, Trahan edged a bit closer to criticism of the man at the top.

“I wish that he would talk in a presidential manner,” Trahan conceded. “All the people that have held office, whether you like it or not, you’re a leader. And what you say matters. And that includes all the leaders in all political parties.”

“He is the ultimate leader, though,” I pointed out.

“He is the ultimate leader,” Trahan agreed.

Trahan, to be fair, is far from the only Mainer of note whose reaction to the recent shootings steered clear of Trump.

Sen. Susan Collins, in answer to a question last week from nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt, said she was “very disappointed” with Democrats who refused to appear alongside the president in El Paso.

“We ought to be expressing our grief with (the victims’ families) and mourning with them, not staging political events, not engaging in over-the-top rhetoric,” Collins said.

Not a peep about fellow Republican Trump, who shone his spotlight upon landing in El Paso not on the shooting victims, but on “the love, the respect for the office of the presidency.”

Speaking Tuesday in Portland, Collins at least told Maine Public that Trump’s frequent use of the word “invasion” is inappropriate.

Still, she said, “I do not think that that rhetoric is connected with the terrible mass shootings that we’ve just experienced in this country that are so horrific.”

Collins, like anyone, is entitled to her opinion – aligned with Republican talking points as it may be.

So is Sen. Angus King, who in the same Maine Public piece last week said it’s impossible to know definitively at this point what caused the El Paso shooter to kill 22 people, most of whom had Latino surnames, and wound 24 others.

But when it comes to the recent rise in white nationalism in this country, King said, Trump clearly has played a role.

“He certainly hasn’t caused it. But I think you can argue that he’s enabled and empowered it just by his rhetoric. It’s just hard to deny that,” King said.

Back at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Trahan sees the El Paso shooting, along with the one that claimed 10 lives less than 24 hours later in Dayton, Ohio, as a watershed moment in the national debate over guns.

“Something has changed,” he said. “The tone, the rhetoric that I’m hearing from Republicans and Democrats has changed. It feels like there is some sort of logjam that has broken free.”

That, we can only hope, is a good thing. Universal background checks, improved mental health services and research, and, yes, the obscene proliferation of weapons of war on our civilian streets all demand our collective attention as the number of mass shootings in the United States this year now stands at 257 – more than one per day.

“Gun control issues are, I believe, always going to be discussed and debated,” Trahan said. “But we’re losing focus of all the other things that may be weighing into why these people do these things.”

Fair enough.

Let’s start with our president.

 


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