It's been just over eight years since the assault weapons ban expired, and in that time new gun control bills have been scarce. There are a variety of reasons for the legislative silence, including a cowardly lack of political will, but two of the primary causes are as follows.
First, it's difficult for the government to regulate firearms while it's been actively engaged in, until recently, two wars and countless other military actions around the world. By the way, how do we explain to our children that there are peaceful, rational means of resolving conflicts when our government appears to be incapable of such pacifism? When discussing the root causes of gun violence and mass shootings in America, I'd like to see Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention previous American wars, listed as suspects in this debate before we start targeting media and video games. See also Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine.
And, secondly, radical gun fetishists and primarily the NRA have been supremely effective with clever marketing and misinformation campaigns. You've probably seen many of their finest agitprop slogans plastered all over Facebook, Twitter and the right-wing blogosphere these days. They're artfully designed to be digested by people who desperately want them to be true -- in this case, kneejerk gun enthusiasts starved for solid, airtight, easy-to-remember trump cards that are capable of defeating liberal gun control arguments with swift precision. Unfortunately for them, the slogans are about as thin as the bumpers stickers they're printed on.
PROPAGANDA: Guns don't kill people, people kill people.
REALITY: This is probably the most prevalent, yet silliest line. No, an inanimate object can't spring to life and kill anyone. But a gun's intrinsic purpose is to kill, wound and threaten living beings. It's why they exist. Period. The firearms used at Aurora, Tucson, Sandy Hook and so many other mass shootings are specifically categorized as "assault rifles." The intention is, by definition, to assault. They're aggressive weapons intended to physically attack and do harm. Otherwise they'd be called "defense weapons" or "protection weapons." So, no, guns don't kill people, but people with guns and bullets kill lots of people. Around 30,000-plus per year in America.
PROPAGANDA: But cars kill a lot of people and no one wants to ban them!
REALITY: How do we deal with cars in America, compared with how we deal with guns in America? Cars and drivers are heavily regulated by the government, from emissions standards to annual inspections to safety features, and so forth. You can't legally drive a car that doesn't feature seatbelts, or a car that spews too much exhaust into the air. You have to take both a written and a behind-the-wheel test to get a license to operate a car. You often have to renew that license at regular intervals and, if you're older, you have to prove that you're physically capable of driving a car. You can't drive a car while drinking alcohol or impaired by other chemicals. There are thousands of police officers patrolling our roads and, as most of us have experienced at one time or another, they will penalize or arrest you for improper handling of a car – with literally hundreds of laws to abide, and considerable penalties, ranging from fines to imprisonment to the government stripping you of your right to drive a car at all. So if gun fetishists are going to keep using this car analogy, then let's talk about regulating guns and gun owners the same way we regulate cars and drivers.
PROPAGANDA: You can kill someone just as easily with a knife as you can with a gun!
REALITY: Outrageously wrong. Ask any average soldier whether they'd prefer to attack an enemy with knife or with their rifle. After they laugh in your face, they'll obviously tell you they prefer their rifle. During the American Civil War, soldiers would rarely if ever use their bayonets in combat because the experience of stabbing someone was much more offensively visceral and gruesome than simply shooting them from a relative distance. Furthermore, how many mass stabbings (including meat cleavers) have there been in America? Two that we know of. The number of mass stabbings in world? Eleven. On the other hand, how many mass shootings have there been in America? Twenty-six since Columbine and not including any prior massacres. Some gun fetishists have noted that a mass stabbing occurred in China last week, with 22 victims. However, what they won't tell you, perhaps because they don't know, is that not one of those victims died.
PROPAGANDA: It's safer to have a gun in the house, or concealed on your person.
REALITY: Nope. Not true. I'll let conservative analyst and former Bush speechwriter David Frum take this one:
A gun in the house minimally doubles the risk that a household member will kill himself or herself. (Some studies put the increase in suicide risk as high as 10 times.) An American is 50% more likely to be shot dead by his or her own hand than to be shot dead by a criminal assailant. More than 30,000 Americans injure themselves with guns every year.
And here's Science Daily:
In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.
Need more? Here's the American Journal of Lifestyle:
Author David Hemenway studied the various risks of having a gun in the home, including accidents, suicide, homicide, and intimidation. Additionally, the benefits of having a firearm in a household were also examined and those benefits included deterrence, and thwarting crimes (self-defense). From this in-depth look, it was concluded that homes with guns were not safer or deter more crime than those that do not. In fact, it was found that in homes with children or women, the health risks were even greater. "Whereas most men are murdered away from home," wrote Hemenway. "Most children, older adults, and women are murdered at home. A gun in the home is a particularly strong risk factor for female homicide victimization."
PROPAGANDA: Banning guns won't stop mass shootings because of the outlaws, blah blah blah.
REALITY: Once again, totally not true. Australia, May 1996, a lone gunman killed 35 people and wounded an additional 23. Subsequently, Australia passed a very strict gun control law that included a buy-back program that managed to recover 600,000 assault rifles and other arms -- 20 percent of all the known firearms in Australia. There were no more private sales of firearms, there were stringent registration laws, and, as with other nations, you had to prove to authorities that you had a specific reason for purchasing a firearm. And no, according to Slate, self-defense wasn't a valid excuse. What happened after that?
Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out in August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.
I think that's enough for now. If you spot any more of these slogans and arguments, drop me a note via Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below and we'll work together to debunk this specious clap-trap once and for all. Doing so will help to unravel the deeply entrenched gun culture in America, and this must be an ongoing commitment, running concurrently with any and all legislation that comes as a result of these horrifying gun massacres.