January 8, 2012 marked the one-year anniversary of the horrific mass shooting in Tucson, in which a young man, Jared Loughner, killed 6 innocent Americans and wounded 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ). Despite the fact that he was severely mentally ill and a substance abuser, Loughner passed a background check and legally purchased the handgun used in the murders.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence organized a series of “Too Many Victims” candlelight vigils to recognize the anniversary and pay tribute to all Americans who are victims and survivors of gun violence. The staff of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence was proud to attend a vigil in the District of Columbia at Shiloh Baptist Church. It was a moving event that included powerful testimony from gun violence survivors including Colin Goddard (who was shot four times at Virginia Tech), Nardyne Jefferies (who lost her daughter Brishell to AK-47 fire in a horrific mass shooting in southeast D.C.) and William Kellibrew (who was forced to watch as his mother’s ex-boyfriend shot and killed her and his brother). This was just one of the scores of solemn vigils that were occurring that evening in states across the country.
These events were emotional and meaningful to the gun violence survivors and other concerned Americans who participated in them. But to pro-gun activists, they were apparently humorous, something to be mocked and laughed at.
One pro-gun blogger in Massachusetts, Andrew Johnston (AKA “Weer’d Beard”) urged his readers “Do More Than Just Light a Candle” by sending him photos of their guns arrayed around a candle. Johnston explained that he “takes offense” to the term “gun violence.” And he urged those who agree to “[show] what tools you have to back up your desire to prevent violence.” Johnston was so proud of his work that he sent it directly to gun violence survivor Joan Peterson, who lost her sister in a gun homicide involving domestic violence (the comment in question was left on Joan’s blog, “Common Gunsense”). Johnston then blogged to tell Peterson, "We show respect for the victims, you dance in their blood."
Another pro-gun blogger, Jon C. Sullivan of Knoxville, Tennessee (AKA "Linoge"), wrote the following at his blog “Walls of the City”: “By holding their candle-light vigils for ‘victims of ‘gun violence’, the Brady Campaign and their sycophants are, by definition, memorializing those murderers, rapists, thieves, muggers, robbers, home-invaders, and other scumbags who were shot down in self-defense by their intended victims, or by the police in the execution of their duties. As always, ‘gun control’ extremists are aiding, abetting, and sympathizing with criminals. Disgusting.”
Christie Caywood (AKA "Bitterb"), the girlfriend of fellow NRA volunteer election coordinator Keith Milligan of Langhorne, Pennsylvania (AKA "Sebastian"), found the vigils hilarious. Along with Milligan, she co-authors the blog “Shall Not Be Questioned.” On December 19, she mocked the “Too Many Victims” tributes, writing, “Yes, they want you to light a candle. Because candles will stop violence ... If candles can stop bullets, then they can do anything in this season of holiday miracles, right?” On Twitter, she said the following about gun violence prevention activists holding candlelight vigils: "We should report them as arsonists." Caywood and Milligan also shared a laugh about Joan Peterson's loss of her sister to gun violence. Milligan Tweeted that he won a bet with his girlfriend that Peterson would ring a bell instead of lighting a candle at the vigil. He hash-tagged the Tweet #toomanyfools. Milligan was referring to bell-ringing ceremonies held by the group Protect Minnesota, of which Joan is member. Gun violence survivors step forward to ring a bell once for each loved one they have lost to gun violence. Caywood loved it. "I didn't bet against you dear," she Tweeted back.
Milligan also issued the following warning to victims and survivors of gun violence: "Once your grief crosses over into trying to remove my freedoms and shred part of the Bill of Rights you can no longer claim the right to be left alone." "These aren’t people who are just concerned citizens," Milligan declared. "They are hate filled people out to destroy lives. How are these people different from a bigot who would enjoy the idea if a black man got an ass beating because he was visiting Mississippi in 1954, and didn’t know certain fountains weren’t for his kind? I posit they are no different in terms of their corrupt character, only in the form of bigotry they have chosen."
Miguel Gonzalez of Miami, Florida, author of the pro-gun blog “Gun-Free Zone,” described “Too Many Victims” as the “Candlelight Dance Over Corpses.” And as the South Florida Daily Blog and Florida Progressive Coalition Blog pointed out, he published another offensive post in which he attacked Colin Goddard—who was shot four times at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007—for "doing nothing till he got shot" without even identifying him correctly (Andrew Goddard is Colin's father). According to the South Florida Daily Blog, "[Gonzalez] and his minions have become the gun advocates' version of Westboro Baptist Church and have decided that posting callous and inflammatory pictures that are nothing more than gun porn is the best way of delivering their message. Good job, guys ... MLK Day is just around the corner."
Illinois militia member Roy Kubicek (AKA "Thirdpower"), co-author of the blog “Days of Our Trailers,” said that those who participated in the candlelight vigils are “enablers of violent crime, religious and racial bigotry.”
St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner blogger Kurt Hoffman used the Too Many Victims vigils to reiterate his standing threat of armed violence against our government.
Perhaps most offensive, however, was a video posted by pro-gun bloggers Barron Barnett of Washington and Joe Huffman of North Central Idaho. The video shows pro-gun activists holding candles, saying “candles don’t stop violence” and then drawing their handguns and firing at paper targets that are supposed to “simulate the January 8th 2011 shooting in Tucson.” On his blog, Barnett added that those who participated in the vigils "are faster on the draw than a personal injury lawyer to dance in blood."
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to understand how pro-gun activists believe such comments were appropriate on a day when gun violence survivors and others were remembering those they have lost.