How gun culture and anti-LGBTQ hate came together in Colorado Springs

We don't know exactly what drove this gunman — but we know what's making America more dangerous for LGBTQ people

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 23, 2022 9:34AM (EST)

Lauren Boebert poses for a portrait at Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colorado on April 24, 2018 (EMILY KASK/AFP via Getty Images)
Lauren Boebert poses for a portrait at Shooters Grill in Rifle, Colorado on April 24, 2018 (EMILY KASK/AFP via Getty Images)

Back on May 24, an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Even in a country where mass shootings are as common as they are in the United States, that one was a shocker. Just as shocking was the government response to the shooting.

Even as the local government stonewalled the press, virtually the entire top level of state leadership, led by Gov. Greg Abbott, descended on Uvalde to hold a town meeting just days after the event. They praised the "first responders" and angrily denounced anyone who suggested that maybe it was a bad idea to allow disturbed 18-year-olds to acquire semiautomatic weapons.

Months later, there are only a few more answers for the families of those slain children and the teachers who tried to protect them. There was a massive cover-up that is only now coming to light. But 60% of the citizens of Uvalde voted for Greg Abbott anyway. His Democratic rival, Beto O'Rourke, ran on a gun safety platform and apparently the good people of that community couldn't abide that, even as 19 children from their own community were lying in their graves. That is the power of America's gun culture.

I will confess that vote shook me. I would have thought that at least in that town the reality of unfettered gun access would have hit home.

The Gun Violence Archive has recorded at least at least 601 mass shootings through mid-November of this year. Of those shootings, 20 involved five or more fatalities. Many were carried out either by people with some twisted agenda of their own, like the Uvalde killer, or were motivated by some personal grudge. But there has been a spate of mass shootings in recent years that appear to be the direct result of right-wing propaganda as well, particularly the onslaught of online hate, where what was once fringe is now mainstream.

Rarely have we seen the mainstreaming of right-wing propaganda and the fetish for guns come together so perfectly as we did this past weekend in Colorado Springs, when an angry young man stepped into a gay bar and started shooting, killing five people and wounding 19.

The accused shooter is 22 years old and, according to a recent court filing, identifies as nonbinary. This individual already had run-ins with police after a bomb threat that led to a standoff at their family home in El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs. There is video of that incident showing the alleged shooter rampaging through the house in combat gear, daring the police to come and get them. But those charges were dropped and the case was sealed, for unclear reasons. But as Tim Miller of The Bulwark reports, we can certainly make a reasonable guess. Even though 80% of Colorado citizens backed the "red flag" signed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, 37 of the 64 counties in the state have decided to ignore it, calling themselves "Second Amendment sanctuaries." El Paso County is one of them.

In other words, local officials could have prevented this accused killer from legally purchasing guns if they had followed the state's duly enacted laws instead of acting like defiant criminals themselves. They won't even try to keep lethal weapons out of the hands of someone who has demonstrated an eagerness for violent confrontation with police. It's inexplicable.

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Then there is the target of this attack, a gay bar and restaurant called Club Q that was hosting a drag show the night before the Transgender Day of Remembrance — a day honoring the many trans people killed in horrific hate crimes. Drag performances have been around for generations, but over the past couple of years, as the right-wing media has become obsessed transgender people, conservative politicians both locally and nationally have seized on them as a way to gin up some old-fashioned gay-bashing. They have apparently managed to convince millions of Americans that LGBTQ people are somehow "grooming" children into becoming trans, after one of their rising-star propagandists decided this was an excellent way to get the base excited. Drag shows are suddenly enemy No. 1. 

So we have seen Republican Senate candidates shouting incoherently about pronouns and others babbling about "grooming," which might seem like  bizarre fringe behavior if it weren't for the violence and bullying being inflicted on many highly vulnerable LGBTQ people in our families and communities.

Here's an example of the rhetoric being bandied about, this time from the woman who seems to be pulling the strings behind the incoming speaker of the House of Representatives:

Just days after the mass shooting, Fox News celebrity Tucker Carlson featured a discussion that basically threatened more violence:

In case you think this is just coming from the likes of Greene or Carlson, consider new GOP dreamboat Ron DeSantis, who has banned classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools and took on one of the state's largest employers when it (belatedly) stood up for its LGBTQ employees and patrons. DeSantis is as mainstream as it gets in the modern-day GOP. For that matter, 37 of the 50 Republican senators voted against protecting same sex marriage just this week.

And let's not forget the gun-toting congresswoman from Colorado, who perfectly encapsulates the convergence of nihilistic gun culture and loathing for LGBTQ people.

After the murders, Boebert tweeted that "the violence must end and end quickly," but I think we can be pretty sure she isn't talking about enforcing the gun laws in her state or disavowing the disgusting homophobia and anti-trans crusade that she has pushed ever since she entered politics.

No one seems to have told these people that this anti-trans crusade backfired on them badly in the midterm elections earlier this month. On the list of issues that motivated people to vote, gender-affirming care for trans youth or trans participation in sports was literally in last place. The right is getting no tangible benefits from all this, except the thrill that people they hate are under threat.

Normal people in this country agree with Richard Fierro, the heroic military veteran former soldier with four tours of combat under his belt who stopped the gunman in Club Q and saved countless lives. He was attending the drag show with his family and friends and told the New York Times, "These kids want to live that way, want to have a good time, have at it. I'm happy about it because that is what I fought for, so they can do whatever the hell they want."

The Republicans claim that they are the keepers and protectors of "traditional" American values, and in a certain sense they are. There is a long tradition of violent, hateful bigotry in this country. But Richard Fierro represents the values that decent Americans are proud to uphold. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Anti-lgbtq Anti-trans Colorado Springs Commentary Guns Mass Shooting Republicans Richard Fierro