They are looking straight at the camera, smiling wide. The parents are sitting on a black leather couch, in front of a festive Christmas tree that is flanked by younger members of the family. It would be a standard holiday family portrait if not for one unexpected detail: Everyone in the image is holding a long gun.

The photo was posted on Twitter by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., on Saturday, along with the caption: “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.”

Thomas Massie

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., in Washington on March 27, 2020. Susan Walsh/Associated Press, file

A wave of outrage followed.

Both Democratic and Republican elected officials, Michigan residents still reeling from the school shooting last week that left four dead, and parents of gun violence victims all took to Twitter to criticize Massie’s Christmas photo. Meanwhile, some conservative politicians, pundits and media personalities jumped to his defense.

Massie did not respond to several requests for comment on Sunday.

The furor over the photo comes days after authorities accused 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley of using a semi-automatic handgun purchased by his father to shoot students at Oxford High School. In addition to the four killed, seven were wounded. The case has reignited debate over the nation’s gun laws, as well as spurred discussion about whether parents should be held accountable when their child is accused of a mass shooting. In an unusual move, prosecutors have charged Crumbley’s parents in the case.

Critics disparaged Massie’s post as insensitive and tone deaf at best, and spiteful and irresponsible at worst, while supporters said the photo in itself doesn’t bear any connection to the shooting in Michigan.

“I’m pro second amendment, but this isn’t supporting right to keep and bear arms, this is a gun fetish,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who has frequently broken ranks with his fellow Republicans, wrote on Twitter.

When he first saw the photo, Fred Guttenberg said, he thought of his daughter, Jaime, who died in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead.

So, he posted one of the last photos he took of Jaime, alongside another of her tombstone.

“Since we are sharing family photos, here are mine,” Guttenberg wrote on Twitter. “The Michigan school shooter and his family used to take photos like yours as well.”

In an interview Sunday, Guttenberg lambasted Massie, contending that such an “irresponsible” public display of gun ownership “incites and inspires” other people to do “evil, terrible things.” Guttenberg considers the photo of Massie’s gun-toting family particularly egregious as the nation debates the role of parents in preventing gun violence. Days before the shooting, Crumbley’s mother boasted on social media about going with her son to a gun range to test out “his new Xmas present,” authorities said.

“When you see a representative in Congress posting a photo like this, he is telling those who may be in possession of weapons that it is cool, that it is OK, and people end up killed because of that,” Guttenberg said.

His outrage was also felt in Oxford, the Detroit suburb reeling in the aftermath of Tuesday’s school shooting, with one Twitter user writing: “Here’s a photo. It’s my home town in mourning.” Included in the post was a picture of what appeared to be a large vigil for the school victims.

Massie, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who entered Congress in 2012, represents a largely Republican congressional district and has been a staunch opponent of gun-control initiatives.

In a 2018 interview with NPR, he said many of his constituents believe incidents like the 1999 Columbine High School massacre or the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 that killed 49 “wouldn’t have been stopped” by stricter gun restrictions such as extended background checks.

“See these proposals for what they are,” he said. “They’re unserious solutions to a real problem.”

In April, he introduced a bill that would allow people ages 18 to 20 to buy a handgun, repealing federal law.

“Why should a 20-year-old single mom be denied the right to defend herself and her children?” he said in a news release. “18, 19, and 20-year-olds are considered adults and can vote on important public policy issues. They can also form business contracts, get married, and serve in the military. As adults, these Americans should not be deprived of basic constitutional rights.”

Some of those who came to Massie’s defense claimed the photo bore no relevance to the Michigan shooting.

“Can somebody explain to me how they worked out that the Michigan school shooting is @RepThomasMassie’s fault because he shared a picture of him and his family holding legal fire arms?” conservative commentator Candace Owens wrote on Twitter.

Other Republicans, such as Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who recently faced a firestorm over Islamophobic remarks against Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., applauded Massie’s post.

“That’s my kind of Christmas card!” Boebert tweeted.

Democrats, meanwhile, called the timing of the photo insensitive and the message harmful.

“Aren’t we in the season of peace and goodwill?” Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., wrote on Twitter. “What a repulsive, violent message especially in a week when we lost 4 students to gun violence in Michigan. Instead of wishing for ammo, how about working for gun safety so all our kids can be home for the holidays?”


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