Archive for the ‘Guns and Other Murder Weapons’ Category

I want us all to consider how gun rights supporters were coping after the Uvalde, Texas gun massacre.

I do this because those of us in anguish at those events knew we were going to face a horrible backlash in the days after. The gun rights crowd couldn’t share in the grief because they knew people were angry at them. So their despair had to turn into something else. Tantrums. Lies. Conspiracy theories.

You knew to watch for it. That you were going to hear a lot of lashing out. A lot of untruths. Gun fans would distract us by suggesting that immigrants were somehow the real problem behind an American gun tragedy. When that failed, they would blame mental health. When that didn’t work, I was fairly certain they would turn to another familiar ploy: and say the tragedy didn’t happen at all. That those smiling kids, now dead, never existed. After all, gun fans had denied the reality of worse massacres than this one. Why would they suddenly demonstrate empathy for the pain of others?

Here’s the deeper psychological message those gun enthusiasts are trying to get across to you: “It’s not me,” they want you to know. “I’m a good person, so it’s got to be somebody else. It’s got to be other people. It’s got to be you!” In other words, you were hearing the responses of children.

There’s a reason for that. Many rock-ribbed gun rights supporters likely developed their attitudes about firearms as kids. They couldn’t think to fight back against their social conditioning at the time, so they have been forced to rationalize the beliefs now as adults … and yet still with a kid’s defenses.

I grew up in Oklahoma. I was taught to shoot when I was around 12, maybe younger. (I can’t remember because I never liked guns, though I wasn’t a bad shot). There were three firearms in my house when I was growing up, including a handgun. These were sometimes left out when kids were around. My late father indeed taught me to shoot, and the understanding was that he was placing trust in me, fostering in me a feeling of independence and facility and acceptance that my fate was in my own hands, which seems like a gift when you’re a child. It also seemed to jibe with some vague notion we all have of the Second Amendment of the Constitution and our freedom in nature. You can’t help but form a bond over that, no matter how questionable.

I don’t want this to be terribly confessional, so I’ll just say that I never saw a gun in my house ever used in a safe way. I saw guns used in unsafe, thoughtless ways several times. I believe now that somebody could have easily died in my house because the gun owner in my life was irresponsible.

So in whatever ways I felt beholden to my father for the psychological bedrock, that was undone when I became a truly independent, thinking person.

I’ve rarely seen any of my most intransigent gun-toting friends make that leap. They aren’t strong enough.

This is likely why gun fans couldn’t hear your cries of grief about what happened in Texas. You are trying in many cases to shred a bond with their fathers and mothers. They can’t handle that. They’ve been told that the way they were raised is good, that it’s based in strength and values and virtues and competence. That the things they believe won’t harm them and won’t harm anybody else and that in the aggregate what they are doing is for the common good. If they are still alive as of right now, they win the argument. It’s the 100-year-old smoker fallacy.

We all rationalize bad behavior that helps us (I have plastic in my house), but it’s another thing to eat tainted meat and say it’s good for you even as it’s making you sicker. Who does? Gun fans. Why? The bad meat temporarily makes them feel good in the face of fear. They fear strangers. They fear sudden events. The gun is sold as an antidote, even though guns increase the risk of harm for their owners and everybody else.

They will pretend this value system was arrived at through rigorous analysis. They have a couple of pro-gun studies (debunked ones) that validate their feelings. Since those studies’ “facts” can’t be proved, gun fans will invent hypotheses of their own, even call gun massacres hoaxes before they confront the reality that their “analysis” was wrong, that it wasn’t even analysis but retread, or that the people they vote for are backward and evil, and in fact that they hand weapons to psychotics to kill a lot of children mainly because of a desperate faith in their own failed folk wisdom. They simply promise that the guns are going to finally work at self-defense at some point in the future in ways that haven’t happened yet.

I knew instinctively when I was young that firearms were bad news, that they were useless if somebody else’s gun was already drawn on you or if bullets were already flying. I understood later on that most of the ways people imagine that they are going to defend themselves with a gun is by conceiving situations they can control. Even Chief Justice John Roberts made that mistake when he asked questions in a recent Supreme Court case, one in which an important New York gun law was struck down. Roberts imagined all the ways New York City’s residents were going to be safer when they were armed and they could shoot at targets he imagined would be as stationary as trees. The fact is, the theater of violence is a fast-moving one, and in most of the scenarios you conceive of in which you win, you aren’t actually a defender. Actually what you’re doing is called homicidal ideation. “I’ve got it all down in my head. I’m going to be fast with my gun when the slow-moving mugger walks toward me with a weapon. I’ve practiced shooting at a paper target.” This is the basic fallacy I’ve heard from every gun owner friend I’ve ever had. Every one. Smart and dumb, credentialed and not, young and old, male and female. There’s something appealing about imagining you are lighter and faster than physics would normally allow you to be. It’s the reason we watch Superman. And Dirty Harry. Both movies are fantasies, but only one is acknowledged as such.

No, you are not faster than a bullet. Your gun is not a reactive instrument. It kills people far away who don’t know they are going to die. That is what it was built for. It doesn’t shoot other bullets out of the air like Israel’s Iron Dome. You’d think gun fans, who pride themselves on how well they know the mechanics of their weapons, would understand that. And yet every argument I hear them make ends up being something like this: “If he pulls out a gun, I’ll just pull out a gun.”

I can’t tell you how many seemingly intelligent people I’ve met in the south who seem to think this is how life works.

What they are really protecting is a script they’ve heard and repeated since youth, protecting logical mistakes, not reading the actual science, which has not changed since I was a child: It says having a gun is less safe than not having one. Full stop. Handing guns out to everybody isn’t a successful crime deterrent strategy. It should actually be called “vote for the worst.”

And yet, the myth that a gun is a good thing, a loving thing, signs of a strong value system, a sign of patriotism, etc., persists because of movies and debunked studies that collapse like tissue paper upon any standards of rigor and reproducibility. Gun enthusiasts still think they are defending themselves 6,000 times a day even though there is no paper trail for these defenses, no database of 6,000 defenses a day in newspaper microfiche. They believe it because Dad would want them to, and pleasing dad is hard.

Humor me here and let’s imagine the parent-child bond another way: That having a father you fear teach you blunt, cruel lessons with a loud object that can destroy your internal organs is actually something that could cause you post-traumatic stress disorder. And that grown men repeating their father’s dogma about the goodness of gun ownership is just one more facet of a hostage crisis that they have carried into “adulthood.” They see themselves as Dirty Harry. Perhaps the rest of us might look upon them as Theon Greyjoy.

I admit, it’s very dicey using psychological arguments to attack political stances. The Soviets did it, after all. And I wouldn’t want far lefties trying to assign any “sicknesses” to my belief that Marxism is a pseudo-scientific mass murder plan.

But keep this in mind: It is almost a certainty that the horror that went down in Texas is going to be called fake news sooner or later. Or that gun fans will write off the response of normal people to the horror this way: “Democrats murder babies, so I can live with 19 elementary school kids being torn apart by bullets.” (This is an exaggerated version of an argument one of my friends once used. He’ll never have enough self-awareness for shame, unfortunately.)

What are these if not a child’s responses? And why would these adults act like children were it not for the huge amount of denial involved? A child’s denial. And what deep, deep thing are they denying?

I’m sorry to drag people’s parents into this, but I grew up in this mindset. I know where it comes from and whom it is they think they are protecting.

It’s important that we go there. Because gun fans are going to keep getting our children killed unless they are brought to some reflection about their actions and their values, or forced to explain why it’s so important that people die just so they can hold onto their fragile identities.

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I grew up with at least three guns in my house in Oklahoma, including long guns and handguns, and learned to shoot them when I was young. So I’ve been hearing the flawed reasoning of gun rights supporters my whole life. We are hearing them again after the mass murder of children in Uvalde, Texas. I myself didn’t care much about the gun issue until 20 children were slaughtered, along with six adults, in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. Then I realized kids were dying every day unnecessarily because people like me were not speaking up about what we knew.

The following is a list of things gun enthusiasts will say to you in the backlash as most Americans demand sensible gun laws. The assertions are going to include outright lies about history and physics, logical fallacies and cute bumper sticker slogans that talk around the substance of the argument. (“Guns don’t kill people” is irrelevant to the question of whether people should be allowed to have them.)

But you can answer these things, because in the end, the words are almost always rooted in childhood defense mechanisms. And that’s because gun fans have been taught to say these things (and not think about them) since childhood.

Them: “Gun laws don’t work. Criminals will just get guns wherever.”

You: “Three hundred thousand gun purchases were blocked in 2020. That’s 300,000 people who were so unable to get guns ‘wherever’ that they risked going exactly to places where they would fail.”

Them: “The founding fathers wanted us to have the strongest weapons so we could fight the government.”

You: “The Second Amendment was written amid a discussion about the best way to put down rebellions against the government. Which is why the militia wording is in there. And founding father Thomas Jefferson curtailed gun rights in his successive drafts of the Virginia constitution. So there is actual written proof that the founding fathers didn’t believe in limitless gun rights.”

Them: “Why do people want to punish good, law-abiding gun owners after a shooting?”

You: “Why do ‘good’ gun owners pursue policies that protect the worst gun owners? Let’s put it another way: If you hate the idea of watering down of schools’ test standards because you think it’s unfair to students who make an ‘A,’ apply that logic to yourself. If gun laws are watered down, it really doesn’t matter how “good and law-abiding” you think you are–because you’ve asked to have no standards in the first place. And thus the rest of us don’t have to treat you with the respect you’re craving because you’ve basically asked us to give you a participation trophy.

Them: “Most liberals won’t tell you, but most gun deaths are suicides.”

You: “Yes, statistically speaking, you have reminded us what these weapons are mostly good for.”

Them: “There are too many guns in this country and you can’t confiscate them all.”

You: “You don’t need to confiscate them. Tough gun laws change the way these guns flow through society, the same way federal monetary policy changes the way money flows through the economy. Good policy affects the points at which guns are allowed to be sold, moved and transferred and the extent to which they are allowed to be loaded and modified. Bad actors are usually caught tripping over these invisible wires because they are often doing something else illegal. When the guns are illegal, they can be seized. When they are seized, they don’t put bullets in children’s bodies.”

Them: “I read about a guy who defended his home with a gun on Monday.”

You: “Great! Now tell me about 30 more guys who defended their home with a gun on Monday and you will be tied with the people who used guns to murder.”

Them: “When seconds count, the police are minutes away. … In other words, better to have a gun.”

You: “Your gun is also minutes away. Because nobody has a few seconds to stop bullets already flying, a struggle already in place, an ambush in progress. In fact, given how much hindsight is involved in gun fans’ explanation of how violence works, the gun always seems to be days, months or years away.”

Them: “The left always demonizes law-abiding gun owners after a shooting!”

You: “If you try to force murder weapons into the hands of teachers to try to hide the fact your solutions are a failure, then forgive people who might think you are an actual demon. You don’t know exactly what kind of monstrous thing you’ve asked somebody so that a questionable belief you have can be preserved.”

Them: ”People have a natural right to defend themselves with a firearm.”

You: “Guns are designed to shoot someone in the back at 100 yards. No one has a natural right to that power. No one has a moral right to that power. The legal right to that power in the United States has always been complicated and is not what you think.”

Them: “We should just arm teachers.”

You: “The gunman you armed will shoot the teacher first. Probably while that teacher is showing a child how to glue something together. And why are you mobilizing the world and all the people in it to dangerous behavior they don’t want to follow and doing so mainly to accommodate the fact that your reasoning has not worked thus far?”

Them: “They did a study and found more than 6,000 people defended themselves with guns yesterday.”

You: “There is no database of 6,000 gun defenses yesterday. There is no newspaper microfiche repository of 6,000 gun defenses. There are a couple of phone polls of very small numbers of people done by researchers who didn’t validate whether the people bragging had actually used their guns in a legal or illegal way–or really did anything other than yell ‘I have a gun.’ The researchers then amplified these mistakes into 2.5 million gun defenses a year, even though this would suggest that gun owners are experiencing a crime wave like nobody else is and that it’s been going on continuously for a quarter century through the Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump and Biden eras. The fact that the pro-gun figures don’t take year-to-year crime into account is dispositive that they are fraudulent.

Them: “A good guy with a gun stopped the church shooting at Sutherland Springs, Texas in 2017.”

You: “The NRA instructor who shot Devin Kelley did not stop a mass murder. He put a barely happy coda on it when the killing work was largely done. Kelley successfully killed 26 people and wounded 22 others, doing exactly what he’d set out to do. It really didn’t matter at that point if a bystander or a cop wounded him or ended his life. If the NRA instructor had been in the church, he would have likely been another victim or just as likely shot another congregant in the confusion, which is what usually happens when the good guy with a gun is fighting in close quarters. This is another, gaping hole in the ‘good guy with a gun’ theory. It requires dozens of people to act as a physical distraction so that the hero can get a clean shot.”

Them: “It doesn’t matter what liberals say about guns. They murder babies through abortion.”

You: “The idea that you are ready to turn your backs on slaughtered children as a kind of intellectual trade means your argument is a tactical one, not a moral one, and thus morally indefensible.”

Them: “Knives kill more people than guns.”

You: “That’s a lie. You probably meant to say knives kill more people than rifles, in which case you left out handguns on purpose (a distinction without much difference) and so you were still lying. The bigger point you are trying to make is that knives are just as lethal as guns. If that were the case, you would be OK just having knives. You aren’t because your premise is, again, untrue.

Them: “There’s more crime where there is more gun control.”

You: “That’s another lie. It’s based on a book whose author was caught lying. Quoting a liar makes you a liar also. We have every other developed country to show us how well gun control works, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. The reason we say it doesn’t work in the U.S. is not derived from a scientific analysis. It stems from a desperate defense of culture. And you can use culture to defend almost anything, even human sacrifice. Which really is how you should be considering your argument right now.”

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The Second Amendment was created so that the newborn United States could avoid creating a hateful standing army and instead turn domestic security over to militias. The amendment had little to do with the unhindered gun rights of an individual (lots of gun control existed back in the late 18th century, just as it does now, as every literate person knows). And yet today, a Fox News host brought us full circle, demanding we create a standing army of ex-military people in public places to thwart mass shooters so we won’t have to challenge the imagined right of rageaholics to possess mass murder weapons (or the gun industry’s right to sell them). So we are now using the amendment as an excuse to enact the very thing it was meant to avoid … so we can protect the misinterpretation of those who can’t read the entire sentence.

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If you are trying to make sense of two mass shootings in a weekend and you want to see change, I applaud you, but there’s bad news ahead. As we who have been fighting this issue since Sandy Hook know, in the next few days people you know and love and respect are going to start telling you horrible lies about this issue. They are going to tell you 2.5 million people used their guns defensively last year (not true, not even possible). They are going to tell you mass shootings are often stopped by good guys with guns (not true).

They are going to say more Americans own guns now, which is why crime has dropped (household gun ownership has shrunk to a third of Americans, and if you think a shrinking number of Americans are stopping most of the nation’s crime, you have serious math and logic problems).

You are going to hear that armed Americans are the foundation of social stability because they can rise up against tyranny (an idea that, given the strength of our military, ranges from the ridiculous to the treasonous, since it suggests a single nonconformist is allowed to nullify laws and societal changes he doesn’t like).

You are going to hear that assault weapons either don’t exist or that they are the same things as six shooters. Actually, they were defined by law in the 1990s; they have higher muzzle velocity and can be easily converted to full auto with a few tweaks, something gun nuts like to laugh about on YouTube as they gaslight the rest of us and say “No such thing.”) You are going to hear that the Founding Fathers didn’t want gun restrictions. That is categorically false. The people who say otherwise learned history in a backyard from a person with anger management problems, not from actually reading history.

They will also tell you gun control laws don’t work (just because you don’t understand the way they work or don’t like the way they work doesn’t mean they don’t work).

People you love tell these lies for obvious reasons: It helps them defend their choices and behavior. Nobody wants to be told they are doing something harmful, especially if they were raised to think it was right. If they were to change, it would hurt their identity and it would hurt their parents. I have seen some people change on this issue but many people can’t because the psychological wound it would cause is too deep. But this is where we are: We call murder weapons defense weapons even though it is an insult to the concept of physics. Almost every gun fan talking point is a lie rooted in the real defense mechanism–the psychological one.

The NRA fought its war for “gun liberation” (i.e., murder weapon marketing) on the ground–in the state legislatures, places in which most people would be at a loss to name their representatives and where lobbyist bullying is greatly effective. But since Sandy Hook (and especially since the Parkland, Fla., school shooting), there is now a gun sense lobby and it has made representatives increasingly accountable to it–or at least not as totally beholden as they once were to weapons manufacturers.

If you are feeling distraught and feel like you need to do something, you can: march in any anti-gun marches you see planned near you. And give money to Everytown for Gun Safety, Giffords or Sandy Hook Promise. These groups are on the front lines and have thrived despite death threats, disinformation campaigns, online bullying and harassment from the “good guys with guns.” The wheel is turning slowly, but it is turning. I have personally seen stubborn people switch sides on this issue and embrace gun sense, and that has given me a great deal of hope as these horrific news stories unravel. There is no need to think we are going to have to forever endure putting our families–our children, wives, husbands, mothers, sisters, fathers–at risk of sudden horrific death to satisfy a value system based entirely on falsehoods.

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The issue is not mental health. The issue is not violent video games. The issue is not a culture of death. The issue is not the breakup of the family. The issue is not black trench coats or goths or Marilyn Mason or whatever straw man that irresponsible people want to make up to defend their irresponsible behavior.

The issue is that we freely hand out weapons designed for mass murder and then hope nobody will mass murder with them.

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Want to know a way you can help the world right now? Something you can do with very little effort? (I did it while folding my laundry.) You can call 202-224-3121 and speak with your senators and representative in Washington and tell them to oppose the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity” bills floating through Congress. These bills, if enacted, would force states with strong and effective gun laws to recognize permits from states whose laws are much weaker. It sounds like an innocuous, clinical name, “concealed carry reciprocity,” but it’s very dangerous. It allows the NRA to override and nullify local laws and rob people of the ability to make their own local safety decisions. It is the exact opposite of states’ rights. At the same time, it gives the gun lobby a way to pursue its real agenda, which is to put guns everywhere, when every study with any rigor and reproducibility says more guns equal more violent crime.
That’s more risk your family takes on for going to the movies, going to a concert, going to church and going to school. Soon, it could mean extra risk for New Yorkers going to Times Square, where they will have to confront less vetted or unvetted gun carriers.
The congressmen who introduced this measure are well funded by the NRA and know that it’s the organization’s top priority. The bills languished temporarily after the recent Las Vegas and Texas mass shootings, but they are moving forward now–this week.
Spokespeople in the offices of both my senator and House representative told me the same thing:
The best thing to do is call them! 202-224-3121. It takes very little time.

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Gun rights advocates say there are 2.5 million defensive gun uses a year. That’s 6,849 times a day. That’s how they justify ignoring the mass shootings of children.

To give their numbers context, let’s look at crime statistics:

In 2016, the FBI recorded 95,730 rapes. That’s 262 rapes a day.

The bureau recorded 17,250 murders. That’s about 47 murders per day.

There were 332,198 robberies nationwide in 2016. That’s 910 per day.

There were 803,007 aggravated assaults in 2016. That’s 2,200 per day.

If you add all these up, gun owners claimed to have stopped almost twice as many of the biggest crimes the FBI recorded actually happening in 2016. And if you consider that only about a third of American households have guns, you must come to the conclusion that the overwhelming amount of U.S. crime is actually being perpetuated against gun owners–in such vast amounts that if I were them, I would be afraid to leave the house.

There’s an easy way to avoid that paradox: They can admit their numbers are fraudulent. They are, in fact, 20 years old and based on a phone survey of *Americans whose stories were not externally validated by the study’s author. The reason gun owners tout these figures is a miscible concoction of fear, folk wisdom, peer approval and inherent trust in family members. In other words, the same qualities Bernie Madoff preyed upon.

If this were an insurance scam, it would work the same way: The unethical salesperson exaggerates the risk of failure, sells you a product that is actually riskier, then tells you to share that risk with others by telling them to buy it too. The problem with gun rights advocates, even if their hearts are in the right place, is that they have asked non-gun-owning two thirds of Americans to share risk that the unethical salesperson has laden them with (the heightened risk of getting shot), and help them participate in a demonstrable fraud.

Incidentally, there is a real number of defensive gun uses, and there’s little reason to believe it’s much higher than toddlers shooting themselves. It is easily canceled out by murders many times over. There are common sense physics reasons that guns are very limited as defensive weapons, but if you can’t understand that, I doubt you read this far. And if that’s the case, you’ll never know that the monster at the end of this story was you.

*I originally said mistakenly that this study was only of Floridians. It was a random phone national survey. However, the point remains that small sample data distorts meaningful results when you’re talking about rare events like defensive gun uses.

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Right now, Democrats in the House of Representatives are finally getting their voices heard about gun violence–they had to do it by sitting on the floor like a bunch of helpless college students.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to control the video of this event Nicolae Ceausescu-style. That should give you some idea of the pernicious hold that the gun lobby has on elected leaders’ souls. Consider that, and that extremists are telling us we must now even dance with loaded weapons to meet the safety parameters of their world, and you realize that they are not on the side that enables freedom.

When they do stuff like this, they lose the benefit of the doubt we give them that gunfire has made them deaf.

Video here:



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