Chaotic Bar Fight Becomes Gun Rights Cause Célèbre

Joffre Swait comments
| National

A shooting that occurred at a bar in Upstate South Carolina on Monday became a gun rights social media cause célèbre on Wednesday. Having just moved from Spartanburg County a few months ago, after ten happy years of living and working there, I was suprised to see the picture of a bar I frequently drove past on the way to work featuring prominently on my Facebook feed, put there by enthusiastic friends anxious to report that yet another "mass shooting" had been prevented. 

You've seen how this works. One website picks up a story and puts a slant on it, next thing you know, every major and minor site dedicated to that cause is featuring an article either trumpeting victory or bemoaning defeat in a vicious clickbait cycle. It might be The Huffington Post suggesting that Susan Sarandon could stop being so mean to Hillary Clinton, and the subsequent flood of blogs shrilly freaking out about Sarandon's lack of dedication to progressive causes. Or it might be one blogger (who knows who?) picking up on the story of a barfight and deciding to slant it to drive traffic.

Y'all...may I call you y'all? We're talking about South Kakalacky here. What's more, we're talking about Spartanburg County, the seat of which is the most violently dangerous city in the United States after Detroit and Chicago. That's right, li'l ol' Sparkle City sees a lot of gunplay. 

"People used to think of Appalachia. Then, the image became more urban—a high-rise tenement like Chicago's Cabrini Green." Now, however, what he calls "the epicenter of violent crime" has moved from tenements to single-family neighborhoods plagued by high vacancy rates and pock-marked with derelict homes.

And guess what, y'all? Spartanburg County is Appalachia and tenements and single-family neighborhoods pock-marked with derelict homes. It's all of that. And it has an enormously high violent crime rate. From all appearances, according to the news stories and the police, Jody Ray Thompson, 32, of Lyman, S.C., got in an argument and started shooting at people. That's the story. Three people were hit and a fourth was almost hit. This fourth person was a man with a concealed carry permit who shot Thompson and ended the fight.

It's seems likely that he saved lives, but we don't know. It was a wild bar gun fight in South Carolina involving a man named Jody Ray. What it was not was a "mass shooting".

Well, I suppose it was a "mass shooting" by the strictest definition of the term. Which is what has allowed irresponsible drum-beaters the internet over to share headlines exemplified by "This Concealed Carrier Just Stopped A Mass Shooting; Media Remained Silent", with references to Orlando and Pulse abounding. The incident was certainly a "shooting", because there was shooting. And it was "mass", because there was a crowd and more than one person was shot.

But it was not a "mass shooting" in the way we have been using the term, and those who would fight to preserve the right to bear arms do their cause a disservice by disingenuously trading on the meaning our society has decided on for another. A mass shooting, as we have broadly defined it, is agenda-driven. The shooter approaches the crowd with malice aforethought and an agenda, be it religious, political, egotistical, or looney. He does his violence in a purposeful, although not always effective, way. This is part of what makes mass shootings so chilling: the shooters are often implacable, because they are driven by an agenda. And as the man once said, this is not that.

This was a barfight with guns, and there was what people sometimes call "gunplay".

Stories about mass shootings being prevented by legal gun carriers make the rounds because gun rights advocates want to show that guns make the world a safer place. There is irony in getting carried away to the point of deception in defence of that cause, and publishing a story that is at best murky about whether guns do in fact make us safer. 

In fact, the distraction of defending guns in this way plays into the hands of political opponents of the Second Amendment. Yes, protecting our loved ones, our property, and ourselves is important. Yes, a society that encourages this is a more just society. But that's not what the fight is about. It's about resistance to tyranny. When opponents of the Second Amendment scream that guns make us unsafe, we yell back "do not!" This is a mistake. I'm not saying we shouldn't be arguing or fighting back. But instead of shrill "do nots", we should be answering back with "We resist your tyranny."

Being liars and propagandists on social media doesn't help at all.


Joffre Swait

Joffre Swait grew up in three countries, for no particular reason beyond his dad's wanderlust. He blogs and vlogs as Joffre The Giant, but when writing about serious times in serious places he uses his real name. Like here, for example. Joffre Swait really is his real name, because this is a serious website. He and his wife Kimberly used to own a used bookshop in upcountry South Carolina, but now they live as missionaries in Porto Alegre, the capital city of south Brazil's gauchos, with their five kids (Renata, Joffre, George, Ward, and Mara).