Republicans would rather kids be shot than let them read books

Republicans know exactly what they believe is the greatest threat to American students: books.

In Florida, the possibility of a student choosing a book to read was deemed so threatening that teachers were ordered to lock up all the books until they could be — slowly, painfully — combed over by censors. Now, as the censors make their way through the books at a snail's pace, word of what has been officially banned from shelves thus far is starting to trickle out. Unsurprisingly, in a state controlled by a retentive fascist like Gov. Ron DeSantis, the books deemed too dangerous to read mostly involve ideas like "gay couples exist" and "there was once a civil rights movement." As Tom Fontaine of Trib Live reports

PEN America, a New York-based nonprofit that works to defend free expression, reported the district had removed at least 176 titles from classrooms. They include works such as "My Two Dads and Me," "My Two Moms and Me," "Celebrating Different Beliefs," "The Gift of Ramadan," "The Berenstain Bears and the Big Question" and books about Rosa Parks, the Underground Railroad and Japanese internment camps during World War II.

Also removed was "Roberto Clemente: The Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates," a 2005 book by Dormont's Jonah Winter.

The 32-page book references racism Clemente sometimes endured.

Republicans are also deeply worried that a child might enjoy a drag queen story hour, in which drag performers use their skills at entertaining a crowd to get kids excited about reading. The threat that a funny person in a flashy costume might make a child happy is such that Republicans in state legislatures are considering bans so draconian that they could criminalize merely being a trans person in public or wearing makeup on a stage. 

Of course, considering the Republican hostility to children reading, the "story hour" may be as offensive to them as the "drag" part. 

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On this fifth anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, we're once again reminded that there is a very real threat to young people — one most Republicans don't care about: gun violence.

The nation woke on Tuesday to familiar news that doesn't get any less disturbing, despite being painfully common. There was another mass shooting, this time at Michigan State. A gunman left three dead and five more critically injured. This is in a year where there has been an average of more than one mass shooting a day. At least one of the survivors of this latest shooting also survived a mass shooting 14 months ago at Oxford High School.

At this point, the Republican callousness to the carnage is so baked in that it barely feels worth remarking upon. Nor is this just a matter, as so many claim, of Republicans being too "afraid" of the NRA to stand up for meaningful gun safety laws. As I've written about before, there's plenty of reason to believe that the reason Republicans block most efforts to prevent mass shootings is that they benefit politically from both the feelings of helplessness and social decay that such shootings sow in the public. 

"Please don't tell me you care about the safety of children if you are not willing to have a conversaion about keeping them safe in a place that should be a sanctuary," Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who represents the Michigan district the shooting happened in, said during an emotionally raw press conference Tuesday morning. She didn't need to elaborate on who claims to "care" about children but certainly does not.

We've been subject to a yearslong effort to ban books and gut the rights of LGBTQ people, all justified by GOP claims to be "protecting" children. The College Board, under pressure from DeSantis and the larger Republican establishment, has even gone so far as to remove books by renowned writers and poets like bell hooks, June Jordan, and Ta-Nehisi Coates from an African-American studies course. The excuse is that the fragile self-esteem of white students cannot withstand learning about the realities of racism. 

It's about control, not protection.

But while Republicans fret and moan over the supposed damage done to students' minds by learning that racism happens or LGBTQ people exist, the much more real danger that comes from a bullet tearing through a body is not considered a priority. In the Republican imagination, a high school or college student is too delicate to read about the Holocaust or slavery, but should also be tough enough to stand up to an armed madman mowing down kids with a semiautomatic weapon. And if such kids do survive the kind of graphic violence that Republicans believe they're too sensitive to read about, then such kids are also expected to be tough enough to endure members of Congress like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., denying the violence ever happened and harassing those who survived it.

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After last year's shooting in Uvalde, Texas — which left 19 kids and two teachers dead — a handful of Republicans decided it was becoming politically untenable to maintain the "thoughts and prayers, but nothing can be done" position that has characterized the party for so long. So 15 Republican senators crossed the aisle to vote for a gun safety bill last June. The Beltway media, longing for a narrative of bipartisan comity, swooned rapturously over this supposed evolution away from sociopathic disregard towards gun violence towards something more humane. 

This feigned constitutional absolutism on gun control is ridiculous on its face. It's even more obviously a lie in the context of GOP enthusiasm for book banning.

But, at the cost of sounding overly cynical, the whole thing was probably more of a ploy to get people off their backs than anything else.

For one thing, for every Senate Republican who did vote for the bill, there were more than two who refused. Second, while there were some good items in the law that President Joe Biden signed last summer — especially closing the "boyfriend" loophole that let domestic abusers buy guns — the legislation stops well short of what's needed to keep guns out of the hands of unhinged people who want to shoot up nightclubs, schools, and shopping malls. 

To make it worse, what little Republicans are willing to do in Congress is in real danger of being dismantled by Republicans in the federal courts.

The same week Congress passed their watered-down gun safety bill, the six Republican Supreme Court justices overturned a New York state law that is over 100 years old, which restricted who can carry guns in public. As Slate's legal expert Mark Joseph Stern wrote at the time, the decision rests on "a maximalist opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas that renders most of the nation's gun control laws presumptively unconstitutional."

Sure enough, other Republican-controlled federal courts took note. Earlier this month, the Fifth Circuit used Thomas's decision as a pretext to rule against a law barring domestic abusers from owning guns. This law not only protects the lives of women who are being stalked by former partners, but it's useful in preventing mass shootings. Over half of mass shooters had a known history of domestic violence. Sadly, many of them were able to commit their crimes by taking advantage of the pro-gun, anti-woman views of local Republican politicians, who won't enforce existing gun laws. That appears, for instance, to be the case in the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs in December. The suspect had been previously arrested after a reported domestic violence incident involving his mother, but the right-wing sheriff who had bragged about being a gun rights absolutist did not enforce a law allowing the government to take the shooter's guns from him.

When faced with the carnage that their gun fanaticism inflicts on our nation, Republicans will often pretend that their hands are tied by the constitution. The GOP cowards who rule against the ban on wife beaters owning guns used this excuse. The court claimed there is no "historical tradition of firearm regulation" regarding domestic violence and that therefore they are forced — forced I tell you! — to believe the Second Amendment's language about a "well-regulated militia" somehow covers unregulated, non-militia wife beaters. 

This feigned constitutional absolutism is ridiculous on its face. It's even more obviously a lie in the context of GOP enthusiasm for book banning. Unlike the Second Amendment, which puts strong limits ("well-regulated militia") on the right to bear arms, the First Amendment grants Americans expansive rights to free speech. It very clearly states that there should be "no law...abridging the freedom of speech." That's without caveat, unlike the Second Amendment. And there are certainly no exceptions for "unless it offends the bigoted sentiments of Ron DeSantis."

Most of all, of course, this exposes how Republicans are only interested in controlling students, not protecting them. The threat of the targeted books is not to students, who will only benefit from learning more about the world around them. The threat is to the fragile egos of the right-wing bigots who make up the Republican base. This focus on control also explains the GOP's disinterest in doing anything to save students from mad gunmen. They may be saddened by a dead child, but they aren't threatened by them. A murdered child, after all, is unlikely to think for themselves, much less grow up to vote against Republicans. And ultimately, that's all the GOP is really worried about when they talk about "the children."

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.