Fact Checking Four Of The NRA’s Favorite Anti-Gun Control Myths
The NRA almost always shapes the public debate about guns. It’s time to fact check the talking points they always use.
Yet again America is reeling from a mass shooting, this time, its deadliest until another one eclipses it sooner rather than later. We know what will happen because we’ve been here before again and again. Victims will be telling their stories for days. Pundits will passionately demand that finally, at long last, this has to be a wakeup call for our leaders to do something to make stockpiling arsenals of powerful weapons harder. The NRA will stay silent for a few days. And politicians will either passionately plea for change or pretend their hands are tied depending on their party.
When we finally do hear from the NRA, we’ll be told that a) gun laws would only be a burden for legal gun owners because criminals won’t follow the law, b) other things can kill too and we don’t regulate them, c) if the government can regulate guns, they can also seize them and an armed populace is what’s standing between democracy and tyranny, then finally, d) tell us that a good guy with a gun is the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun.
It will then follow its four favorite talking points by telling us that we need far better mental healthcare access, which the GOP will promptly refuse to fund while taking more NRA money and soothing the angry, scared constituents blowing up their phones, demanding to know how they allowed an imaginary liberal conspiracy to ban their guns to slip under their noses. You can almost plot the timeline of when all these things will happen and generally be right. While I sincerely hope to be proven wrong in my assessment, I see very little to give me hope that this time will be any different.
Those four points constantly pushed by the NRA utterly dominate the national conversation about guns and every mass shooting, every tragedy involving a firearm, is forced to be viewed through the optics defined by them. But there’s one slight issue. None of them are true or even make much sense outside of a worldview in which there are only two stances: absolutists who believe that its their right to have any gun they want, anytime they want, for any reason they want, and extremists who believe that no one should ever own guns because those who own weapons must be homicidal maniacs.
Since we don’t live in such a world, all four arguments against common sense gun control fail if only we look at some polls and basic research. And this is exactly what we’re going to do right now. We’ll tackle them one by one with some basic facts the NRA seems downright allergic to, and which you won’t find in its breathless ads and pamphlets urging its members to alternatively cower in fear and be ready to defend themselves against “elites” like media personalities, public intellectuals, and well, anyone slightly left of the John Birch society’s ideal model American.
“Criminals Won’t Obey Gun Laws”
NRA’s first line against sensible gun regulation is to say that gun owners are responsible enough without them and don’t want them, and anyway, if you’re a criminal who wants to buy a gun illegally, laws won’t stop you. But if you’d actually ask gun owners and NRA members how they feel about background checks and regulation for firearms, you’d find that 85% of them support the idea of universal background checks and nearly half support banning sales of certain high powered machine guns. Despite these numbers holding steady for years, the NRA pretends these gun owners don’t exist.
But why would they possibly support a law that limits how quickly they can buy guns and what types of guns they’ll be able to purchase? Well, they know they own weapons and that it takes a certain amount of responsibility to own and operate them. Criminals with guns are certainly dangerous, but so are irresponsible gun owners who don’t respect the power of their firearms and lack the training and knowledge to use them safely, be it for hunting or self-defense. Few gun owners are willing to risk their own lives for an absolutist stand regarding ever more powerful firearms.
So what about the second part of this talking point? Would criminals simply disregard whatever laws you’d pass? Sure, but think of the logic behind this statement. Why have laws against drunk driving if people will drive drunk? Why have laws against assault and battery if people will still fight? For that matter, if there are criminals, why have any laws at all? The point isn’t merely passing some laws and expecting them to eliminate crime, it’s to make said crime more difficult to carry out, and easier to prosecute and punish.
Trying to make guns harder to buy without a clean background, adequate training, and raising red flags when someone is stockpiling certain guns isn’t going to impede law-abiding gun owners. It can send criminals looking for a patient proxy, make the acquisitions more complicated and expensive, and in some cases, deter them from certain crimes because the gain would be far too small compared to the expense of avoiding the law when preparing for them. This is why nations with strict gun laws see far fewer mass shootings and gun deaths. They see more knife attacks, but it’s easier for law enforcement to deal with knives than high powered large caliber weapons.
“Other Things Can Kill Too And We Don’t Regulate Them!”
Alright, fine, NRA supporters say, but remember how ISIS is running over people with vans and trucks now? Why don’t we regulate those and all the other things that can kill someone? Hell, you can kick someone to death or strangle them with rope! Why don’t we ban all those things too? Could you imagine the absurdity of having to register how much rope you buy, or pass a background check to buy kitchen knives?
Absurdities of a background check for rope aside, probably the most glaring issue here is that many of the things claimed to be unregulated actually are. Motor vehicles of all kinds require you to pass two tests, written and practical, get a current license, buy insurance, and register them with the state. And believe it or not, there are regulations about what knives you can have and how, and where, you can carry them. Granted, they are rather lax, but they do actually exist, so running down the street with a machete will get you very promptly stopped by the police and thrown in jail or shot.
Likewise, there’s always the consideration of how likely something is to be harmful to the public at large and the primary purpose of said thing. Your kitchen knife can certainly be used to stab someone to death, but it’s made primarily for chopping food. Guns are designed to kill and that’s it. I know, I know, what about hunting? Just because what you’re killing is not human doesn’t make a gun any less dangerous, which is why we should try to do everything we can to make sure they’re primarily in the hands of responsible, mentally stable, law-abiding citizens instead of playing helpless.
On another extreme, consider that Americans are more likely to be bitten by sharks or trampled by cows than become the victims of a terrorist hijacker, yet we have to deal with the TSA every time we fly and throw out anything that contains more than three ounces of liquid, as well as put away scissors only sharp enough to trim nails and cut through paper. And yet when 59 people are murdered and over 500 are injured, we’re told to shrug and accept it as the price we pay for “freedom,” which apparently means the freedom to be the targets of the next shooter we’ll do everything not to stop.
“We Need Guns To Safeguard Democracy”
This is the big one. According to the NRA, a government should be scared of its well-armed citizenry, otherwise, it descends into a dictatorship. Problem is that actually looking at other nations shows no such thing. In fact, a study of gun ownership across the world found exactly zero correlation between how many guns people own and how authoritarian their government is or isn’t. In the referenced study, the results were based on a survey conducted in 2007, but this survey has been updated up to 2015 with few changes.
It’s not surprising for those who pursue the data to find that North Korea does not exactly have a thriving gun culture while Switzerland does — even though Swiss guns are very highly regulated by American standards. But what might raise a few brows is how awash in guns are Iraq, Libya, and Syria. There’s no shortage of AK-47s in many global hotspots where dictators rule with an iron fist yet gun laws are either lax or never actually enforced. Meanwhile, Tunisia, Ukraine, and Egypt, where gun ownership is relatively rare, overthrew their leaders with the power of large, loud protests.
The NRA’s supporters often bring up Hitler’s curtailment of gun rights for Jews after he seized power, but this completely ignores the full context of just how far Nazi Germany went in their effort to eradicate them. Nazis actually made guns easier to get for Germans and cracked down on minorities that owned firearms. If enough German citizens disagreed and planned an armed revolt, they would’ve had the tools for it. But they were eagerly complicit in what was one of the darkest moments in modern history, and that’s the really scary part here. Nazis didn’t just rise to power by intimidation and imposing totalitarianism. They were genuinely popular with enough of the population to prevent a coup, no matter how many guns Germans had laying around to make it happen.
The point is that a nation’s culture and history determines how democratic or not it is, not how many guns its citizens have. And besides, modern states are not afraid of home arsenals, militarily speaking. They have bombers, missiles, specially trained soldiers, tanks, and drones. If they go on a full purge, like a tyrannical government would, without much worry about civilian casualties, they would massacre anyone who stands in their way. Syria is pretty much a textbook example. Even Assad’s military, armed mostly with Soviet surplus, maintained control over much of his country during a full-blown civil war. A far better armed Western country would have even less trouble if it decided to go full dictator and crush any remaining opposition under its boots.
Notice that I said remaining opposition instead of citizens. That’s because this most frequent pro-lax gun laws talking points fundamentally doesn’t get how nations slip into autocracy and tyranny. You don’t go to bed in a democracy where the leaders try to pander to your every whim and approval polls are the most important thing for politicians to track, then wake up to the army trying to tear down your door to either shoot you on sight or drag you to a gulag for disrespecting the state. Dictatorship is a gradual process aided by large swaths of your fellow citizens eagerly supporting the strongmen in charge and public purges of dissenters to send a message to those still opposing the regime.
By the time the troops come marching to your door, they’re ready to kill you or drag you away because they’ve been chosen and groomed for this task and you’ve been demonized as a traitor who must be punished, an enemy of the state, and your weapon stockpile used to justify overwhelming force or your murder. It’s a soothing thought that your machine gun or rifle will make the soldiers think twice, but there’s a very long historical record of regimes hell-bent on crushing dissent seeing them as little more than nuisances that won’t even be recorded after the dark deed is done. With that cheerful thought, let’s move on to the last talking point in question.
“Only A Good Guy With A Gun Can Stop A Bad Guy With A Gun”
This logic is largely true, but with one major caveat. The good guy better have some training before tackling the bad guy or said good guy will get hurt, or far worse, injure or kill bystanders. Over 30 years, the good guys with guns who successfully stopped shooters almost always had military or law enforcement training so they could keep cool under pressure and knew what to do. When the NRA quotes these stories, they frequently omit this fact because it clashes with the image they want to portray, that guns make you a hero and having a concealed carry permit turns you into an action movie good guy.
But the reality is that in high stress situations with lots of screaming, moving targets, and often poor lighting, anyone without training will develop what’s known as tunnel vision, and has a much higher chance of hurting innocent civilians trying to flee instead of the shooter. Their situational awareness may not be adequate to effectively deal with the threat so they, and those around them, will suffer the consequences of writing the proverbial checks they can’t cash. If you ever get to train in self-defense with LEOs, you will be subjected to countless speeches about it and innumerable tricks to test your ability to keep track of what’s going on around you while fighting to build muscle memory and teach you how not to get overwhelmed by a terrifying situation.
But don’t take my word for it. There are real-life examples of this exact thing playing out during real incidents with active gunmen. During the shooting in Tuscon, AZ in which former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was wounded and her aide was killed, two concealed carry permit holders said in interviews that far from helping, they almost went after each other, confused about who the shooter was. Jared Lee Loughner, the actual assailant, was stopped after being hit in the back of the head with a folding chair, not by someone with a gun, as the armed civilians in the audience were busy trying to figure out what was happening.
Even more likely is that CCW holders won’t be able to do much at all when the shooter is extremely well armed. Caleb Keeter, lead guitarist of the Josh Abbot Band, confirmed as much after his harrowing experience in Vegas, saying that while he always did and will support Second Amendment rights, the inability of the many armed CCW holders on his crew to do anything to stop the hail of bullets was a sobering wakeup call. His biggest concern was a very disturbing replay of what we saw in Tucson…
We couldn’t touch them for fear police might think we were part of the massacre and shoot us. A small group (or one man) laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of fire power.
It’s understandable to want to feel like an action hero who can stop a heavily armed madman like they do in the movies, but even in those movies, the shot that stops the rampage comes from a former commando, a sniper, or a highly trained secret agent forced to blow his cover for just a second. When movies are more realistic than the NRA about the good guy with a gun hypothesis, it’s way past time to rethink the whole idea.
Fear And Loathing For Gun Manufacturers
When you consider that every argument we looked into so far revolves around protecting yourself from devious criminals, gunmen on a mission to kill every person they see, and politicians you might loathe, they all seem to boil down to one thing: fear. NRA’s conferences are a parade of alternating paranoia and empowerment. The organization uses fear to lure you in and provides an easy answer to alleviate it. Just buy a gun. Here are some recommendations from a few friends who just happen to make guns for a living.
They are no longer an organization that promotes gun safety and responsible rules governing firearm use. (They used to support background checks prior to every gun purchase.) Today, they’re just a lobby for gun makers who whip up sales by constantly rattling their members with apocalyptic rhetoric about crime and politics. Their latest ads had terrorism experts up in arms, warning that the group was basically plagiarizing ISIS recruitment videos, and one of their spokespeople very casually joked about how North Korea should nuke the capital of California, or as many of the NRA’s vocal supporters like to call it, The Communist Republic of Mexifornia. (No, they don’t do subtle.)
And there’s something rather unsettling about an organization dedicated to scaring citizens about a coming civil war or imaginary government tyranny on the horizon, advocating views most of its membership doesn’t share, and raises money from partnerships with gun manufacturers who stand to profit from all this fear-mongering, telling us how to deal with crime and gun policy. They’re not interested in anything but making sure more guns get sold and it’s as easy as possible to stockpile whatever guns you wish. Their talking points and the messages to its current and would-be members make this quite clear.
So maybe we can do what we do when a car salesman tells us how great the car he’s selling is and how we’ll never get a better price anywhere else. Tune out the obviously self-serving high-pressure tactics and come to our own, fact-based conclusions about what our gun policy should be. This seems to be the only thing we haven’t tried so far when it comes to talking about gun control, and as mass shootings keep getting deadlier and more frequent in the last few years, we owe it to ourselves to take a shot at it, if you pardon the pun.