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Source: WikiMedia Commons

Combating Political Myths 

Following tragedies like that seen on Valentine’s Day, people will generally have one of three reactions. Some will say that it’s too early to politicize the situation, a noble sentiment, yet a somewhat unhelpful one. Others will jump one way or the other, demanding instant, unthought-out and emotionally fuelled legislative change. The last kind of person will insist on waiting for all the details, for the who, why, and how, before they decide their opinion. This is, in my humble opinion, the most helpful position.

More’s the pity, therefore, that these people are a minority. Instead, following this tragic event, the western world saw an initial wave of overwhelming sympathy, followed by myths, lies, and at times outright race-baiting. Any argument against gun control, and even the phrase “Thoughts and Prayers”, would be met with a torrent of accusations that you simply don’t care about the 17 students and teachers who died that day.

A view which is at best uncharitable, and at worst utterly repugnant.

Thus, we should take the opportunity to verify some of the myths and lies being
spread, and to inspect some of the arguments, before making a decision on what
should or should not be changed.

Myth 1: There are over 33,000 gun homicides per year in America

This is taken from a correct number in a valid source, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, which documents 33,000 gun deaths per year. The operative word here, however, is deaths. Nearly two-thirds of this number is the result of suicide, and whilst that does not make either number something to simply accept, homicide isn’t something to exaggerate either.

Myth 2: Assault rifles are the most dangerous weapons available

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter used an AR-15 style weapon, the same kind found in the hotel room of the Las Vegas shooter. It seems to make sense. The bigger the gun is, and the more bullets it can fire, the more people will die, right? Well maybe not. Assault rifles, while larger, are less easy to manipulate, less easy to aim, and are harder to use in close-quarters when, for example, being rushed by civilians or law enforcement. The term assault rifle is also far from specific, referring to any weapons designed for military use over civilian use. These are generally fully-automatic, whilst civilian weapons are semi-automatic. In fact, according to FBI Statistics, the vast majority of murders occur with handguns, which are small, light, easily concealable, easily manipulatable, and simple to use. Likewise according to journalist non-profit Mother Jones, from 1982 to 2012, 49% of mass shooters used handguns, whilst only 13% would be considered assault weapons.

Myth 3: Buying a gun is quick, clean and easy

This myth has rapidly spread via social media due to under-cover videos of weapon sales to people without background checks or who are underage. In reality, however, purchasing a weapon is not so simple. Federal law requires all firearm purchases to be registered to a person’s state ID, facilitating background checks. Those with any history of mental illness, criminality, or domestic violence are barred from firearms. That is assuming, however, that gun shop owners are willing to carry out these checks, and when arguing gun control this is most likely the area that needs closest attention.

Myth 4: Gun-free zones prevent mass shootings

Quite the opposite, in fact. Whilst it’s hard to tell whether they increase the number of mass shootings, gun-free zones certainly don’t decrease the number, and they may simply create a soft target for shooters. A 2014 Crime Prevention Research Centre report shows that between 2009 and 2014, 92% of mass shootings occurred in gun-free zones. The reason for this is simple; fewer guns in an area means less potential armed resistance in that area. Without a nationwide removal of firearms from The United States, an impossible task in itself, gun-free zones simply provide an area where potential attackers can be sure they won’t meet counter-fire from civilians with concealed carry permits.

Myth 5: Gun owners don’t stop violent crime

Although there are multiple anecdotal cases of gun owners stopping crimes, general thought remains to be that these situations simply don’t occur. Yet according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, firearms are used defensively between 500,000 and 3 million times per year. The reason this number is so wide-ranging is that the term intends to include crimes prevented via only the threat of firearms- aiming, displaying, or even just cocking the firearm, without firing it. These cases therefore often go unreported.

Myths such as the above tend to spread quickly following American mass shootings, which are now becoming far too common. This time, however, a series of newer, more specific lies have been spreading, and seemingly with purpose. They focus upon driving home a political point in a morally repugnant form of opportunism, relying upon the misinformed to further a political agenda. So without adieu, let’s begin.

Myth 6: There have been 18 mass shootings in 2018

This was an outright lie started by the Gun Control activist group Everytown for Gun Safety. The statistic is awful, frightening, and absolutely false. The correct number is closer to 3, a number already far too high. But how, you might wonder, did Everytown work 3 school shootings up into 18? They simply included any discharge of a firearm nearby or in a school, regardless of context. This number, therefore, includes one man’s suicide in his car, parked in the car park of a 7-month- closed elementary school. It includes a 1am shooting of a man on a university campus, as well as the firing of a gun in the parking lot of a basketball game after 8pm in which nobody was hurt. It even includes an accidental discharge of a real weapon instead of a training weapon at a Texas Criminal Justice club, by accident, with no-one hurt or hit. Despite its contrivance, however, this lie has been parroted by many official figures and on television channels such as ABC and New York Daily News.

Myth 7: Nikolas Cruz was a white supremacist terrorist

Republic of Florida leader Jordan Jereb caused an outburst of anti-white sentiment when he claimed Cruz had engaged in ‘paramilitary drills’ with the white supremacy group in Tallahassee, a claim the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee have since denied. Having arrested Jereb four times, and having been closely monitoring the group’s membership, law enforcement officials had been certain Cruz was not involved, but investigated the ties anyway, uncovering nothing. This did not, however, diffuse a large social media response from POC Communities, accusing Cruz of white supremacist terrorism, and accusing the mainstream media of a double standard. Their argument, that light-skinned attackers are framed as mentally ill while dark-skinned attackers are framed as terrorists, has created hundreds of memes and has prompted responses from well-known racial activists such as Tariq Nasheed. According to some, simply looking for reasons for this tragedy other than race can apparently justify accusations of media bias and racism. This does not, however, change the fact that besides openly racist and homophobic messages in a group chat Cruz belonged to, there are no indications that this attack was racially or politically motivated. It simply cannot be called terrorism.

Myth 8: We should just ban guns like Australia did

Although Australia’s gun buyback program, and accompanying gun control laws,
were effective in reducing firearm crimes in Australia, it would be nearly impossible to recreate those results in the US. For starters, the program reduced an already rapidly-dropping gun violence rate, from 2.9% of deaths in 1996 to 0.9% in 2016. The gun buyback program however only removed roughly a third of the firearms from the country. Most gun owners simply retained their firearms. Only 640,000 firearms were taken, in a population of 18.3 million. The US, on the other hand, has a population of 325.9 million, and roughly 328 million firearms, although it is unknown exactly how many own guns as there is no database for people who own firearms. On top of that, there is a booming illegal firearm trade in the US which makes it hard for gun law to affect firearm use in crime statistics. A 2004 Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities found that 37% of inmates got their firearms through friends or family, whilst an additional 40% got their guns through theft, street gun vendors and fences. Only 11.3% got their guns legally.

There is, in fact, one method of Gun Control which did work. Named ‘Project Exile’, starting in Richmond, Virginia in 1997, this program shifted illegal gun possession offenses to federal court, where they carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years, or 10 years if you were also prohibited from owning a firearm (as a felon, domestic abuser, or somebody with certain mental illnesses). This program, at a time when Richmond was a top-five city for murder per capita, dropped homicides by 33% in one year, and armed robberies dropped by 30%. One year later, homicides dropped another 21%. By the end of the program, Richmond was 75th in the US for murder per capita.

When asked who might oppose this program, you might be inclined to think it was
the Republican establishment with the backing of the NRA. Whilst some gun-rights
groups did oppose it, the program was largely opposed by the political left, arguing that it disproportionately affected African Americans. In 1998, 39.1% of American arrested for weapons offenses were black, from a population of 12.3%.

Thus we come to the question: How could we have stopped the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting? Well, as a gun-free zone, it was a soft target for gunman Nikolas Cruz to attack. Implementation of secure weapons lockers or on-site security for schools may be a prudent measure. This won’t prevent school shootings from occurring, but the presence of a quick-response counter-shooter could help prevent innocent deaths. Secondly, Cruz had displayed a number of warning signs before the incident, some subtle, some relatively unsubtle. Having heard interviews from his classmates, he would constantly talk about weaponry, “guns, knives, and hunting”. He once reportedly told a classmate, “I swear to God I’ll shoot up this school” and was previously reported by a YouTube creator for commenting his hopes to become a “professional school shooter”. As well as this, nine months ago, a YouTube account named “nikolas cruz” commented on a video of the 1996 Texas University Clocktower Sniper, stating “I am going to do what he did”. His Instagram account was full of pictures of guns, knives, and himself in balaclavas. He had also previously been caught shooting at chickens owned by a neighbour and had also once sent his dog to attack his neighbour’s pigs.

Now, these incidents may not constitute offenses punishable by law. But they do
serve as red flags. Warning signs only visible in hindsight. In order to stop legally purchased firearms from appearing in tragedies such as these, something must be done. Red flags such as these, when reported, should not constitute crimes, but could be logged on the same system that is checked when somebody attempts to purchase a firearm. If this kind of anti-social behaviour is allowed to go unnoticed, disasters such as this will be allowed to happen again. We can only hope that it doesn’t.

By Josh Matthews

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