Twenty-two people were killed and 25 were injured in a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3. But that was actually the fourth mass shooting of the week. It began on Monday with a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California that killed three and injured 16. The very next day two people were shot dead and another wounded at a Walmart store in Southaven, Miss. Then 13 hours after the El Paso incident, nine people were shot to death and 27 wounded in Dayton, Ohio. These other shootings barely received any coverage outside their local areas. I guess the body count threshold for a mass shooting to be newsworthy has risen above 40 these days.
Americans have many firmly held ideas about guns; few of them are based on facts. Here are some of the most fervently believed — and most egregiously wrong — ideas:
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
There were hundreds of people at each of those four mass shootings. With more than 17 million concealed-carry gun permits in the U.S., it is a statistical improbability that there wasn’t at least one good guy with a gun at one of those incidents. Where was he? He was running for cover and frightened out of his mind like everyone else. Even soldiers and police officers highly trained in what to do in live-fire situations typically respond very poorly their first time under fire.
Who can blame them? Being shot at is one of the most intensely terrifying experiences on Earth. Do we expect that John Q. Public is going to become John Wayne because he shelled out $90 for a concealed-carry permit?
Guns are good for self-defense.
A study by criminologist Dr. David McDowell revealed that a gun is successfully used for self-defense in only 0.83% of violent crimes. This is not surprising given what was said earlier about the intense training needed to use a gun in a live-fire situation. In fact, it is vastly more likely that a household gun will injure or kill one of the household members — either through accident, domestic violence or suicide.
The National Rifle Association leadership shares its members’ concerns and views.
Sixty-nine percent of NRA members are in favor of universal background checks, something its leadership adamantly opposes. Why?
The NRA used to be primarily about encouraging marksmanship and responsible gun ownership, until a coup at the national convention in 1977 put hardliners in charge. Ever since it has increasingly become the political arm of the gun-manufacturing industry.
It is now mostly financed by gun manufacturers: $4-5 million a year they pay as Ring of Freedom sponsors, $2.5 million a year they pay for advertising in NRA media, and many millions of dollars more from public pledges like donating 10% of revenue to the NRA, or donating $1 for every gun sold, or buying an NRA membership for each customer, etc. It’s the gun industry that pays NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre’s $5 million salary, and pays for his lavish trips to Europe.
The NRA’s primary interest these days is scaring gun owners into thinking the government is coming for their guns, hoping they will rush out and buy more guns.
Gun rights are enshrined in the Constitution.
The Second Amendment begins, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ... ”
If you’re not in the militia (and I don’t mean the Michigan Militia), you don’t have a right to bear arms. No one attempted to claim there was an individual right to bear arms until 1934, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there isn’t. That decision stood until 2008 when a 5-4 decision in D.C. v. Heller suddenly found an individual right to bear arms, which no one had been able to find for 220 years. Good eye.
Reasonable people can certainly disagree about the best approaches to dealing with gun violence. But clinging to fantastic ideas about guns isn’t reasonable. And the mass shootings aren’t fantasies. They’re real.
And they won’t stop unless we put aside our fantasies and talk realistically about gun violence.