(CNN) — Days after two devastating mass shootings revived the national conversation about gun control, a horde of feral hogs (briefly) ran away with it — and exposed the chasm in the debate between rural and urban America.
It began with a tweet from the singer and Alabama native Jason Isbell and escalated with a response from William McNabb of El Dorado, Arkansas. He suggested that firearms are necessary to manage the invasive swine — specifically, 30 to 50 of them.
Twitter users pounced on the tweet more quickly than a swarm of feral hogs might spring upon a leafy yard, and the jokes spread.
The thought of a pig gang spawned thousands of memes. But for some users, the hogs also represented the partisan stalemate in the gun debate.
In some parts of the country, the pigs are a real problem
Luckily for McNabb, researchers say wild pig attacks are rare. But there are more than 6 million of the pesky porkers scattered across at least 35 states, and they’re a legitimate nuisance in the southeastern United States, the US Department of Agriculture says.
The hogs tend to raid crops, drive out native species and transmit infectious diseases to humans, according to the Berryman Institute, an organization based in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University.
And pig hunting is the most popular method of pest control — but not necessarily the most effective, researchers with the institute said. Hunters are usually able to kill only adult pigs, and because pigs can reproduce as early as 6 months old and have litters of six piglets or more several times a year, they’re typically able to withstand heavy spates of recreational hunting.
Pigs are smarter than they seem, too. Persistent hunting can teach pigs to avoid an area and move to where they’re harder to catch, according to researchers from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
“Shooting one to two feral hogs does little to control their numbers and typically educates others in the group to avoid humans,” researchers said.
Trapping and euthanizing are the most effective method of wild pig removal, the Berryman Institute found, but even that is more of an art than science. Plus: “Trapping alone is unlikely to be successful in entirely eradicating populations.”
There’s a big divide when it comes to guns
The hubbub over hogs helped illustrate the divide between voters in rural and urban areas at the center of the gun debate.
Wild hogs obviously tend to stay in places that are wild; urban New Yorkers haven’t reported many sightings over the years.
And despite evidence that gun ownership is less prolific in rural states than it once was, the areas remain a stronghold.
A survey from the Pew Research Center found that 46% of Americans in rural areas said they own a gun, compared with 19% in urban areas. Among rural Americans who’ve owned or currently own a gun, nearly half got their first firearm before they turned 18.
According to a CNN exit poll conducted in 2018, voters in rural areas are far more likely to oppose strict gun control measures than their suburban and urban counterparts.
And when CNN’s Harry Enten interviewed voters on what issue they deemed more important, protecting the Second Amendment or controlling gun ownership, 65% of rural respondents prioritized gun rights over limiting access.
Hunting is more common in rural areas too, and rural gun owners are significantly more likely to name hunting as the primary reason they own a gun: nearly 50%, according to Pew, versus 27% of urban gun owners.
The feral pig memes might be good for some dark humor. But when it comes to reaching a solution to end gun violence, they’re a reminder of a big divide.