On Friday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem provided the umpteenth example of how dark and strange today’s Republican politicians have gotten, when she told the crowd at an NRA event about how her granddaughter (who is under the age of two) already has two guns.
“Little Miss Addie, who is almost two, and Branch who’s just a few months old, they have brought us so much joy. They’ve brought us purpose,” Noem said, adding: “Now Addie, who you know—soon will need them, I wanna reassure you, she already has a shotgun, and she already has a rifle and she’s got a little pony named Sparkles too,” Noem continued. “So the girl is set up.”
When she says the child “has” guns, it’s not clear to me what that means. One supposes (hopes!) this simply means that her parents have earmarked guns for when she is an appropriate age (i.e., when she “needs them”), the way some sports nut dad might buy a baseball glove for his newborn. Regardless, because we have been left to figure this out for ourselves, let’s call this what it is: bizarre. It’s weird. It’s…crazy.
In the wake of all the violence we have seen in recent decades, I would expect Second Amendment advocates to go out of their way to demonstrate responsible gun ownership (remember the Party of Personal Responsibility?); instead, it seems like Republican politicians are going out of their way to fetishize guns. They are more than just for protection or sport. They are a way of life, a religion, a culture.
This behavior is nothing new. Just before Noem’s speech, there was a story about how Rep. Andy Ogles, the congressman who represents the Tennessee district where six people (including three little children) were murdered at a school shooting last month, had sent out a 2021 Christmas card photo with him and his family posing with guns.
Asked if he regretted the picture, Ogles responded, “Why would I regret a photograph with my family exercising my rights to bear arms?”
Think of how insensitive, creepy, and ghoulish that photo must now seem to his constituents who just lost their children.
I’m not nut-picking; this is a trend. Reps. Lauren Boebert and Thomas Massie have sent out similar Christmas photos. (Even if the props were something more benign, why pose with them? Say you loved baseball? Would you pose with your whole family holding baseball gloves?)
Others, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, don’t even need a special occasion to pose with a gun.
Clearly, what we are seeing is some sort of vice signaling, presumably because the demand to be perceived as a performatively tough Second Amendment advocate is so intense that mere words (and past votes) are no longer persuasive enough. In addition to supporting the right to bear arms, you now also have to demonstrate that you are a gun fanatic.
Before we go any further, I should probably say that I grew up around gun culture (and I also currently live in a state that supports gun culture). There’s a picture of me when I was little with my dad, and I’m holding up a gun. Granted, I’m pretty sure it was just a BB gun, but I can imagine that the mere sight of a child gleefully bearing a weapon given to him by his grinning Daddy might trigger the libs (or at least make them clutch their pearls).
It didn’t stop there. When I was around ten, my grandfather gave me a (real) shotgun. My dad intervened to make sure that I did not have unfettered access to it, and that I could only shoot it with his direct supervision. My dad was a prison guard and an avid hunter. He took gun ownership seriously.
All this to say, I’m not a gun-grabbing city slicker (though I do think there are common sense reforms we should consider, including red flag laws and background checks). I’m not offended by law-abiding Americans who have guns for hunting and protection. What I am offended by are weirdos who want to go out of their way to constantly remind you that they are armed to the teeth, and that to present as anything less than but reverent and defined by one’s arsenal is to be a squishy RINO.
And honestly, I am less tolerant of this weirdness than I once was. The context here is important. Starting with the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the past two-plus decades have seen a huge uptick in mass shootings, many of which have targeted children.
Even if you don’t believe that these repeated incidents call for increased gun control, you should still think they warrant some additional compassion, reverence, and (yes) responsibility. In my view, this includes not posing with a weapon that is designed to kill like it’s a trophy. It also includes learning proper firearm safety, and making sure guns are secured safely (and away from kids). Frankly, it also includes leaders using responsible rhetoric about guns.
This brings us back to Kristi Noem, and the notion that it’s cute to boast about kids having guns.
Not only are kids victims of shootings, but earlier this year in Virginia, a six-year-old child shot a teacher (the mother was just arrested for “felony child neglect and misdemeanor recklessly leaving a loaded firearm so as to endanger a child.”)
Even if you assume Noem was joking when she boasted about a two-year-old having two guns (I’m not so sure), the larger question remains: Is this the kind of thing a serious political leader living in 2023 should be joking about?
Noem may already be a grandmother, but she’s clearly not even close to being an adult.