Posts Tagged ‘National Rifle Association’

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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Dear Beauty is Imperfection Reader,

I wrote this article three days after the shooting at Newtown, Conn., but never posted it. At first I wanted to be respectful. Then I wanted to perfect the article, but I never did before going on vacation to see my family (some of whom would likely strongly disagree with the piece). It’s still something worth posting, though, since the backlash by gun rights advocates has begun and I believe to be silent in the face of people who are dangerously mistaken is to be partly to blame for this tragedy.

Dec. 17, 2012:

I keep hearing this week that now is the time to discuss gun control. No. The time was years ago. Before the Virginia Tech shooting, before the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, maybe even before the Columbine massacre. Gun love in the U.S. has been a sickness for a lot longer than two days. The recent taking of 27 lives in Connecticut, 20 of those elementary school children’s, in the second-most deadly mass shooting in history reminds us that it’s too late to have the discussion.

There are those who still don’t want to have the discussion, of course. They will say that people who point out this public health threat are “politicizing” the issue. In other words, be silent or else. Do not criticize the people who are responsible–those who defended the sickness and those who were silent as it continued. And that’s the problem. To be silent is an abdication. It is to watch somebody being attacked and to do nothing.

After every massacre, we’ve had to listen to every false comparison, misapplication of logic, ignorance of basic statistics and misleading twisting of numbers. We’ve all had to conveniently ignore the fact that some of the nation’s worst mass shooting deaths occurred after an assault weapons ban in the 90s was allowed to expire. We are not allowed to say that closed loopholes might have stopped the Columbine killers. We are not allowed to say that the Second Amendment allows 30 round magazine clips about as well as it allows enriched uranium. We are not allowed to discuss the fact that the REAL studies show that gun proliferation equals more gun violence and never the other way around. We are not allowed to call libertarians who defend rampant gun ownership what they are: hypocrites blasting one idealism while actually hawking another, a world of pure theory. We are not allowed to even study gun violence in this country anymore. Not because the other side has overpowering arguments but because our facts are an insult to a pervasive American value system. And if values can’t live in sunlight, they don’t deserve to live.

Now it’s time to take the arguments apart, like wings off a fly. It’s too late to discuss gun control and now it’s time to tell the gun fans how they are wrong on practically everything, including their home pea shooters. They gave up their chance to be rational a long time ago. They have lost their chance to show that responsibility wins out. They have shown too often a willingness to lie and use sub-freshman rhetoric. Not that they need it. Their lobby has used its money to buy congressmen and make sure our children are unsafe.

There will be those who say that mine is an emotional reaction: that the deaths of children might be causing me, a parent, to be irrational in the face of happy statistics: that mass shooting deaths are actually statistically down. That household gun ownership is actually down. I will turn around the bad logic: We people who have always been knowledgeable about the still awfully large high gun death rates in the country, the bloody, bloody statistics and the success of gun ban programs elsewhere, have been forced into silence because the gun lovers were … emotional. They love guns. They think their guns are protecting them from criminals when it is true mostly in exceptions and outliers. Repeatedly, fair-minded statistics show them that they are far more likely to kill themselves or innocent people than defend themselves against criminals with a gun. If you need any more proof that the emotional problems are theirs, you need look only at the arguments: the rage, the insipid rhetoric, the regular statistic manipulation and the pictures of eagles. I dare say that the once-endangered eagle has had his revenge mostly by his presence in ubiquitous NRA Internet memes.

We can start with some of the more obvious fallacies I heard last Friday, as details about Sandy Hook and the rampage there were still unfolding. Earlier the same day, a maniac had rampaged in China, wounding 20 children with a knife. This was immediately seized on by gun rights activists, who said that terrible tragedies happen regardless of guns and we would have to extend the logic to knives. Oh! Snap! Right? Actually, such writers didn’t realize as they were putting fingers to keyboard that they were also putting their faces into a fan: the deaths of 20 children had not happened in China because there was no gun on hand.

But such people share kidneys with another type of plaintiff–he who claims guns are inanimate objects, and thus it is ridiculous to ban them. I have never been quite sure what the aim of this argument is except to mute opponents with its brazen silliness. Grenades are objects. Cocaine is an object. The centrifuges we denied Saddam Hussein were objects. That this particular object, a gun, is something you would not give loaded to a toddler, that this object is something that can turn a disagreement into a bloodbath, that this object can help grease the skids for a racist turning into a murderer (something that has happened in Florida from time to time), is the easiest way of thousands to counter the insipid statement. But logic is disallowed by those for whom make an ecclesiastical judgment that violence starts and ends in the human vessel. Putting aside a few extreme libertarians, I would be willing to bet that a fair number of these same people have supported the banning of PCP, a drug that causes schizophrenic symptoms. Or supported banning uranium for Iran. If so, their arguments are dead.

Guns amplify violence in ways knives don’t. A woman who is domestically abused is three times as likely to die if there’s a gun in the house. A person is much more likely to shoot an innocent bystander or shoot the wall than stop a mad gunman in progress (the person who always has two advantages, including the element of surprise).

People are more likely to be killed by a gun if there is a gun in their house. And when weapons are banned, again, there is a direct decrease in violent crime–facts supported by empirical evidence in other countries. These are facts. They are not subverted or rendered irrelevant by knife deaths. Or bomb deaths. They are also not easily violated with fuzzy math. I was recently unfriended by somebody on Facebook; after I proferred the statistic about domestic violence, he said glibly that it didn’t hold up because that would mean five guns made murders 15 times more likely. I simply reminded him that only the one gun was needed for the math to work, and suggested that he was trying to flip a 15 pennies instead of one trying to change the unhappy fact that penny flipping will always give you a 50-50 heads-tails ratio. He could not argue. He unfriended. A nice illustration of how the fight or flight gland works in the gun lobby.

Of course, you are much more likely to confront violence in your life when it comes from somebody you know, not strangers. That means the people who know you can also use your defense against you. David Frum (a Republican) tries to cut up some of the vigilante hero numbers here and point out how silly they are. For such efforts, he’s lately been made a punching bag. Such is the fate of the intellectually curious person, who has no place in the world of pure theory that defines gun rights activists.

The other statistics gun activists like to point out are either misapplied logic or outright lies. In the former case, they’ll say you’re also very likely to die in an auto death, and thus cars would also have to be outlawed, as if the prevalence of one gruesome statistic somehow erases another. In the latter case, you often hear fabrications like the fact that baseball bats kill more people than guns. That’s a lie. A gun lobbyist’s lie.

When the math fails the gun zealot, then comes the rhetoric. Guns offer power to the people, says the bespectacled theorist, and protect them against the tyranny of oppressors. (Read: the government.) This pure theory has been used to defend assault weapons, since a person must have something strong enough to defend himself against a very well armed government. This was the addle-pated argument of a woman on Piers Morgan who not only lied by saying the principle was written in the Constitution, but also lied by saying it was next to the word “musket,” which also wasn’t in the Constitution.

But I’ll vet her underlying idea in a simple declarative sentence: We must all have targets on our children’s’ backs to unshackle the one individual who thinks he can make a run against the U.S. Army. Sound stupid? It is. But it’s EXACTLY what the poor woman said. I might take the extra step now to remind such a person that it is the very opposite of patriotism to make the government your main foe and makes you automatically a member of the Weather Underground and a fellow traveler with Bill Ayers. If Republicans continue to push this argument, they all owe Ayers an apology, since he was carrying out his attacks on empty buildings at a time when the government was flagrantly assassinating domestic political opponents.

The NRA argument is that those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither. Thanks for a platitude. Here’s a counterargument: We are told perforce we must give up our own and our children’s safety for your false sense of security (from guns that statistics agree are not helping you)  and a false sense of liberty (against a country that is not attacking you unless you provoke it into sending an army you can’t possibly defeat). In other words, your gun is mainly a vainglorious, empty symbol of your freedom until you use it to deny freedom to somebody else. Gun brandishers insist they can help during a shooting. That, too, is shown to be untrue, both in statistics and anecdotes (Gabby Giffords was in the presence of at least two gun holders when she and 9 others were shot in early 2011. The only fortunate news that day was that the gun carriers did not shoot each other–though it came damn close to happening. The person who tackled Jared Lee Loughner was unarmed.) Nor could gun carriers have likely made quick decisions in the dark theater in Aurora, Colo. last summer. Nor would giving guns to every kid in that Newton, Conn. classroom made any difference whatsoever. The reason is simple: shooters always have the element of surprise. NRA fans say banning guns won’t stop a determined shooter, but having guns on hand will not stop a determined shooter either except mostly in fantasy. Yet there’s a much better chance of a determined shooter not committing a crime in the first place if the guns are removed from the scene. The only way to surprise a mad shooter is to deny him his gun in the first place.

Australia showed us that. Britain showed us, too. (Just stats.)

The contrarians say it’s too late to discuss gun control because there are too many guns. So the response of a paralyzed intelligentsia is a shrug. “Guns are here to stay, there are too many to regulate.” So this is what we do for the victims of Newtown–the children of Newtown: We shrug at them. We let them know that we, the species that unraveled the genome and split the atom and landed on the moon, can do nothing about a plague of violence because we are unwilling to correct a bullying minority of people who broadly misread the Constitution, who use false statistics, who make Supreme Court decisions based on false statistics and who make us unsafe to give themselves a false sense of safety.

Yes, it’s difficult to tell 80 million people they are wrong.

But they’re wrong.

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