A note from our editor, Elizabeth MacBride:
One Big Fallacy That Gets In The Way Of Gun Law Reform
This month was the anniversary of the Uvalde shooting. It’s almost unbearable to watch the parents advocate and fail to win a small change in gun laws that could keep mentally ill 20-year-olds from buying guns in Texas. I thought, if they’re going to be brave enough to speak, I need to be brave enough to listen.
And periodically, I revisit the research on guns in America, which is finally starting to produce some useful statistics. (In 2020, money was appropriated by Congress for gun violence research for the first time in 24 years – the appropriation passed during a moment of weakness among gun rights advocates like the NRA, which had long blocked any research).
There are an estimated 450 million “guns” in the United States. These range from antiquated World War II revolvers to modern military style small arms marketed to civilians. There is no way to tell exactly how many weapons there are in the United States, because federal law prohibits a federal gun registry (another lobbying victory by the NRA).
Even if I advocated taking all guns away, which I don’t, I don’t believe there is a realistic approach to making America a gun-free nation. People who advocate for that are idealists or the worst cynics.
Guns are sometimes useful, sometimes dangerous, and sometimes fun. (Like cars, which are both registered and used by licensed drivers.) If people want to buy guns and play with them and put them in their Christmas card photos, well, then, the risk is on them and their families. About 50,000 people die annually from gun violence in the U.S. and 120,000 are injured, mostly in suicides and accidents.
There are targeted gun laws that would reduce the violence. And as more information comes in about the connections between guns and violence, I hope people will be able to decide where to live and where to send their kids to school based on lawmakers’ commitment to safety. You can compare your state’s firearms deaths to the national rate, the gun laws, and how much difference changing the laws would make at the highly regarded Rand Corp, the nonprofit based in Santa Monica, California.
The Rand Corp wrote, “Our estimates suggest that the single legal change that would have the greatest effect on national firearm death rates (among those we have analyzed to date) is the adoption of child-access prevention laws by states that have not yet done so.” Advocating for this single national law and/or state law, could make a difference.
Another approach, far more complicated, is cutting off the disinformation that has shaped a culture that venerates guns and/or keeps us from coming up with a viable solution to gun violence. When I was reporting on guns, men (even those on the left) used to tell me that the reason our enemies—fill in the blank; Japanese; Germans; Russians—didn’t attack the American continent was because Americans owned guns. Correcting even this one particular fallacy would help.
This idea has been debunked many times. But it pops up on Facebook and I continue to hear it, most recently two weeks ago in a bar in Des Moines. It’s taken as a matter of faith among many people steeped in the patriarchy. Yet, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a nuclear arsenal and the world’s largest military are obviously larger deterrents. I can’t imagine a foreign general or admiral wasting much time on the question of hand-to-hand combat through the immense American landscape. Mansplainers—yes, they are all men—who linger on this idea seem to be justifying their gun ownership or indulging in a hero fantasy of themselves or their bros in combat.
It’s difficult to attack the US militarily. It’s unfortunately easy to attack it through disinformation and propaganda. That vulnerability is a product of America’s openness and commitment to freedom of speech. The defense against disinformation is education and a strong civil society that reinforces critical thinking through exposure to diverse points of view.
Weirdly, the men I talk to don’t seem to care at all about the evidence that shows how the Russian government is actually attacking the US mainland, by sending spies into gun rights organizations, appealing to right-wing media, or by creating advertisements that successfully make gun owners angrier at other Americans. (You can see examples of them here.)
I know and respect lots of gun owners who hunt, shoot for sport, or want their guns for self-defense. That’s your business, as long as you work to keep your guns secure and the children around you safe. But I don’t respect gun owners who think they’re going to going to fight off the Russian (or American) Army with their AR-15s when they can’t even exercise a rational brain cell to fight off a Facebook ad.
A New York Times reporter wrote a fun story about two European princesses graduating from UWC’s Atlantic College in Wales, noting that UWC schools (there are dozens around the world) rarely let reporters in.
UWC – which holds diversity in wealth and background at the core of its values — will let reporters in to write about more substantive topics. I wrote a story about UWC Atlantic about five years ago, traveling to the school and interviewing students who had come from refugee camps and one who was the daughter of a janitor from Morocco. That discriminating policy toward the media speaks well of UWC.
This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.