Few would have guessed the next shooting to make national news would be carried out by a female animal-rights activist enraged at YouTube for demonetizing her fitness videos. And because YouTube shooter Nasim Najafi Aghdam doesn’t fit into the familiar narratives of the gun epidemic, those on the right have taken to Twitter to create narratives of their own.
This was another instance of Islamist terrorism, some announced, and Aghdam was Muslim. (She was not.) Or she was an “illegal immigrant” (also wrong). Or, better yet, an artificially intelligent robot. (Wait, what?) One contingent even postulated that the name “Nasim” is traditionally male, so Aghdam must have been a transgender woman — after all, another added, cis “women would never do such a thing.”
And for pro-gun commentators less prone to conspiracy theorizing, Aghdam was the exception that disproves the rule. No longer, conservatives crowed, could liberals argue that angry white males armed with semiautomatic rifles were the greatest threat to American civilians.
There’s a problem with this argument, apart from the vulgarity of smirking when a shooting proves agenda-convenient. The fact that Aghdam doesn’t match the common profile of a shooter who captures this much media attention underscores the one thing that does unite every instance of gun violence: guns.
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One reason Aghdam doesn’t match the common profile of a mass shooter may be that she’s not one. Instead, she’s part of a side story to the saga of large-scale slaughters like the Parkland, Florida, massacre: “active shooter” incidents, as law enforcement labels them, that don’t necessarily end in a slew of deaths. Aghdam injured three; no one except Aghdam has died. Apart from her gender, it turns out, the circumstances of her assault don’t diverge much from the norm.
Aghdam stirred such a frenzy in part because she chose to attack one of the highest-profile workplaces in the country. But the FBI counts 220 “active shooter” events between 2000 and 2016; stories similar to this one simply don’t often inspire such feverish coverage or conspiracizing. And even those less-noticed tales garner more attention than the firearm homicides that have soared in recent years, as firearms in circulation have soared, too.
So, no, Aghdam doesn’t fit the narrative of the white male gun nut simmering with repressed rage who lets it all out with an AR-15 (though perhaps she would have killed more people had California’s stringent gun laws not barred her from that weapon of war). She doesn’t fit the narrative of the Islamist terrorist who murders in the name of jihad, either. But Aghdam does fit a narrative that’s bigger than any of that, and it’s not one that does the National Rifle Association any favors: She wanted to hurt people, and she had a gun to help her do it.