On Tuesday, several Republican male members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives made news when they wore pearls to a gun violence hearing, an action which their critics interpreted as mocking the victims who were testifying.
The Washington Post reports that the victims of gun violence were testifying at a hearing regarding House Bill 687-FN, a “red flag” law which would allow a judge to order, based on a petition filed by family members or law enforcement, the confiscation of fire arms from a person deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Red flag laws have been passed in 14 other states by both Republican and Democratic governors.
Shannon Whatts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the group testifying at the hearing, shared a tweet with images of the male GOP representatives.
Whatts told the Washington Post, “It really is shameful to behave that way when your constituents are being brave enough to share their stories. They clearly did not come to this hearing with open minds or compassion for their constituents.” She says she counted five male representatives on the committee wearing pearls.
The significance of the men wearing strands of pearls, critics say, is that they are implying that the advocates testifying are “clutching their pearls”. The definition of the phrase is “to behave as if you are very shocked, especially when you show more shock than you really feel in order to show that you think something is morally bad.”
“These lawmakers decided to wear symbols that essentially mocked the process,” Whatts told the Union Leader. “They made light of this very important law that has been passed in nine states in the past year, and signed by Republican and Democratic governors alike. They showed they were not coming to this hearing with an open mind, and they were making light of survivors who were testifying on the suicide of a child, or women who were survivors of domestic abuse.”
However, Kimberly Morin, president of Women’s Defense League of New Hampshire, says her group passed out the pearls and the representatives wore them in defense of women’s rights and to promote gun safety, and have been doing so since 2016.
Kimberly Morin called Whatts a “hack” and called the advocates who testified “harpies” on Twitter.
Rep. David Welch, was one of the members of the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety who wore pearls during the hearing. He told the Union Leader that the Women’s Defense League handed the pearls out to committee members and public attendees as they entered the hall. He says he wore them as a symbolic gesture because he is opposed to the bill.
Why It Matters
If one is an advocate of the Second Amendment, for Constitutional reasons, it would seem that the last thing one would want to do is mock people who have actually suffered the loss of a loved one by gun violence. If the principle is sound, one can make the argument for the right to bear arms without resorting to mockery.
Common decency aside, and it does seem to be irrevocably set aside for wide swathes of the GOP currently, the optics of wearing pearls in a hearing where grieving families are tearfully testifying is a disaster for opponents of the bill. Once you have lost the narrative, you have lost. And, by knowingly making a “symbolic gesture” that can be interpreted as mockery and saying that a grieving mother is pearl-clutching over the loss of her child by means of a gun, you deserve to lose.
Kimberly Morin seems to be arguing that women are somehow incapable of accusing other women of “clutching their pearls” or that, because this “symbol” has been used for several years by her group, that fresh offense is just silly and, well, more pearl-clutching by her opponents. Those arguments, combined with her name calling of critics, falls flat.
This isn’t, perhaps, the place for me to delve into red flag laws, but I will just say, 2A advocates and gun control advocates are all citizens whose voices count. Disparaging your opponent by name calling or mockery is no way to debate a complicated issue. And doing so is a sure way to lose in the court of public opinion which is already not leaning in favor of an unrestricted right to bear arms.
There is a certain amount of irony that the ones who could rightfully be accused of pearl-clutching in this hearing were, in fact, the Republicans who donned strings of pearls to mock and dehumanize victims who are advocating for a local and limited means of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people.