Buffalo Shooting: History & Perspectives

Historical context and various perspectives emerging from the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.

Photo:
TVN
Stephen Webber
Leans Right
Jonathan Good
Leans Left

History

Recap. Last Saturday, a gunman killed 10 people and injured three others in a racially motivated mass shooting at a Tops grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York. In a suspected manifesto, the shooter expressed his belief in Replacement Theory, a racist argument claiming the government intentionally dilutes white people’s power by increasing non-white birthrates and encouraging immigration. Authorities say the gunman had extensively researched other white supremacist attacks, like the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.

See Civil’s original coverage of the Buffalo mass shooting here.

Troubled History. As new details continue to emerge about the Buffalo gunman, many have noted several instances of concerning behavior in his past. Authorities revealed that the shooter had repeatedly posted racist and violent remarks. Last year, police took him into custody after he threatened violence at his high school. He then underwent a mental health evaluation, though authorities released him two days later. The gunman faced no charges following the incident.

Relatives of the shooter have stated he “likely snapped” from isolation caused by the pandemic. Relatives continued, “He was very paranoid about getting Covid — he would wear the hazmat suit [to school]. He went to family functions with a respirator mask on — and then he got Covid.”

Missed Opportunities. As these troubling stories have come to light, many have questioned whether authorities could have acted sooner to prevent this tragedy and how they missed such a long, well-planned attack. Officials revealed that the gunman had planned the shooting for months, including driving to the store to scope it out in March. A manager at the Tops grocery store said the shooter was at the supermarket just one day before the shooting. 

Some also wonder how the teenager acquired a gun in the first place. New York has “red flag” laws that allow a court to temporarily seize someone’s firearms or prevent them from buying firearms if they show they could be a threat to themselves or others. Federal law also bars people from owning guns if a judge determines they have a “mental defect” or involuntarily entered a mental institution. However, a mental health evaluation does not automatically trigger either prohibition. Given the shooter’s troubled past, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she would launch an investigation to see what authorities could have done to stop the shooter.

Charges. In court shortly after authorities arrested him for the shooting, the gunman pled not guilty to first-degree murder. He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole. Local and federal law enforcement are investigating the incident as a hate crime, for which the gunman could face extra related charges, as well as domestic terrorism charges.

Perspectives

What Makes this Shooter Racist. In terms of ideology, the shooter stated that he aligned initially with communism, but he drifted further right over the past few years finally identifying as “Authoritarian Left.” However, he also stated that he liked fascism. These are all radical ideologies typically associated with the far ends of the political spectrum. 

Both communism (the political structure of the USSR) and fascism (the political system of Nazi Germany) can contain racial components whereby national cultural pride is imbued on a specific race. This racial element is best historically illustrated through the horrors of the Holocaust committed by the Nazis and the murder of three million Cambodians by the communist Khmer Rouge. The shooter carried racial hatred, particularly for Black and Jewish people, in line with the components of the radical ideologies he followed. 

It is inherently wrong to judge others based on their characteristics rather than their actions; since actions are voluntary decisions and characteristics are involuntary attributes.

Twitch Takedown. The shooter attempted to live-stream the attack on Twitch, a social media platform for entertainment content. The video was eventually taken down by investigators, but only after the first two minutes were displayed. In its Transparency Report, Twitch explains that it uses machine detection to takedown any “nudity, sexual content, gore, or extreme violence.” This is not the first time horrific events have been streamed on Twitch. In 2019, a suspect streamed a shooting of two victims in a synagogue.

Other social media sites like Facebook have had encounters with violent content being streamed on its platform. In 2019, a white supremacist killed a total of 51 people in two New Zealand mosques. The suspect streamed the event and it took Facebook 17 minutes to take the video down. 

In response to the Buffalo shooting, Governor Hochul called on social media companies to take responsibility for hate speech on their platforms. She is urging companies to heavily monitor hate speech that is “antisemitic, racist, or anti-immigrant.” Hochul says that she will hold these companies accountable. The call for targeting hate speech is often recognized by the Right as a precursor for broadening the scope of “hate speech” to eventually unjustly target conservative thought.” (Read Civil’s Social Media Narratives to learn more.) Hochul plans to have conversations with them about their safety policies in the coming months.

“Guns Save Lives.” Some Americans argue that guns are essential for “self-defense, hunting, and a symbol of their individual freedom,” prompting the slogan “Guns Save Lives.” In a 2021 Gallup survey, 88% of gun owners cited “self-defense” as a reason why they need a gun. Guns are preferred in more right-leaning states like Montana, where 66% of its households own guns, compared to New Jersey, where only 8% own guns. In the past 90 days, 175 defensive gun incidents have been reported across the United States. 

In 2012, Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA), an influential lobbyist group, proposed the idea of armed guards in schools and other public places. LaPierre explained, “I call on Congress to place armed officers in schools so that children are safe.” The NRA developed “School Shield,” a program focusing on integrating local law enforcement personnel into schools to prevent violent incidents. This program also helps train teachers to defend themselves and their students in an emergency.

Many on the Right indicate that if more armed citizens had been at the Tops grocery store, the shooter could have been stopped faster. Additionally, the shooter wrote in his manifesto that he felt at ease citing New York’s “c*** gun laws” and believed no one would shoot back at him.

Gun Regulation. A core tenant of federalism is the responsibility of each state to decide how they will interpret the Second Amendment, resulting in gun restrictions that vary from state to state. 

A recent Supreme Court case in New York raised concerns about states’ abilities to regulate the Second Amendment. The petitioner argued that New York’s denial of his application for a concealed-carry license was unconstitutional. His reason for using a concealed-carry firearm was for self-defense. Under New York State’s gun control law, an individual must have a “special need to defend themselves.” This is because New York State wants to mitigate violent incidents and promote public safety.

Other states like Florida have “Stand Your Ground Laws” which allow individuals to employ the use of force if they feel threatened. There is no clear measure as to what indicates a threat to an individual. Many on the Left indicate that tougher gun legislation is needed. This was evident in 2019 as presidential contenders urged Congress to pass more restrictions on guns. Proponents of gun control point to the red flag law, which was not followed through, as a measure that could have stopped the Buffalo shooter from obtaining a firearm.

Tucker Backlash. The Great Replacement is a theory that immigration and birthrates are intentionally used to eliminate “the white race.” This theory stems primarily from internet subcultures spread through a series of myths, symbols, and codes created into memes by users of sites like 4chan and 8chan. The shooter was a believer in Replacement Theory, shared racially charged memes, and held the false belief that violence against racial groups was an appropriate course of action.

Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson has received backlash from the Left for his promotion of a similar replacement theory. On occasion, Carlson has openly stated replacement is occurring. In a PragerU video and regularly on his program, the host claims that Democrats use illegal immigration to turn the tides of elections and destroy the middle class. When Democrats pointed to Carlson’s promotion of the theory, he outlined two key differences between himself and the theory purported by the shooter:

  1. Carlson does not view replacement as racially driven but rather as the replacement of American workers to destroy the middle class.
  2. Carlson believes Democrats are pushing illegal immigration to gain political power by importing Democratic voters, not to breed out white people.

Some Democrats say that, although not explicitly stated, the rhetoric Carlson engages in has racial undertones reminiscent of Replacement Theory. The White House decided not to name and shame people criticized for amplifying Replacement Theory. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated, “People peddling so-called replacement theory “know who they are” and “should be ashamed of themselves.”

Media Narrative. Many on the Right have pointed out double standards within the media, stating that one particular narrative gains more traction than others. This stereotype has become so prominent that even popular television series have mocked the theory. Some on the Right have pointed out that the media was quick to dispel other racially motivated acts of terror when the perpetrator was a black man who hated white people. The Waukesha Christmas Parade Attack and NYC Subway Shooting are examples the Right have been citing as “memory-holed.”

However, the cause of lack of coverage is not necessarily linked to being ideologically driven. While some sources will selectively show statistics or cut portions of interviews, the reason may stem from a desire to get the most views on a given article. Although the same day, the Texas Flea Market Shooting, California Church Shooting, and Chicago Bean Shooting were not as influential and were, therefore, less viewed, promoted, or widely spread. The racially driven components of the Waukesha and NYC Subway stories may not have been reported since media organizations are attempting to sell a product to their viewers at the end of the day. Those elements of the story could potentially drive fewer clicks to the article.

Left Narrative

Left-Lean Narrative

Right-Lean Narrative

Right Narrative

Questions & Answers

Reading Comprehension

Have your students take a reading comprehension quiz to see how well they understood the article and different opinions.

Launch Activity

Discussion Questions

  1. Does this case illustrate a problem with “red flag” laws? Why or why not?
  2. Does this incident highlight an issue with Twitch’s safety policies? Explain your view?
  3. How would you react if you were the judge of the New York Supreme Court case? 
  4. Does Tucker Carlson bear any responsibility for the promotion of Replacement Theory? Why or why not? 
  5. Would you like to see any changes in gun control laws in the future? If so, what would these changes be?

Current Events in this story

Check out these current event pages for history, narratives, activities, and more:

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