NRA And Its Discontents: How To Argue About Guns With Your Right-Wing Friends

  on
Gun Shop Owner
A gun-shop owner checks out the merchandise.

The people at the National Rifle Association might be having regrets that they didn’t “respectfully” refrain a little longer from offering their reasons why the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 happened.

Public reaction has been largely negative to the 4.3-million-member gun-rights organization’s screed blaming computer games, movie violence, the “declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals,” and even parents themselves.

“We were stunned by Mr. LaPierre’s mendacious, delusional, almost deranged rant,” the New York Times said Saturday in an editorial, referring to the comments made Friday by Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s CEO and executive vice president, who advocated placing armed guards in every primary and secondary school in the U.S.

"I am not someone who believes that having multiple armed guards in every school is something that will enhance the learning environment,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said at a press conference conducted after LaPierre’s comments.

Expressing a similar sentiment were other elected officials, such as U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.; New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an independent; and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat.

Meanwhile, a number of right-wingers have defended many of the views in the NRA’s official response to the shooting in Newtown, where 20 children and eight adults died by gunfire a little over a week ago. They have underscored some of the main points in the NRA’s response, especially those pertaining to the celebration of violence in the media, the need for more law-abiding citizens to carry guns as enforcers of social norms, and the need to get rid of gun-free zones around schools.

For those who are inclined to argue with their right-wing friends about gun ownership, here are three major debating points that have made the rounds since the massacre in Newtown and how to counter (or not) the misconceptions contained within them.

Films And Television Shows Cause America’s Gun Violence

“Tinseltown celebs demand a plan. Well, any plan that doesn’t include many of these same people taking a break from earning their fortunes in part by making movies that glorify violence and promote moral decay.” -- Michelle Malkin, conservative author and Fox News Channel contributor.

Perhaps no single area in the gun-control debate has more of an across-the-aisle quality uniting the two sides than does the hypothesis that violence in TV shows, films, and computer games plays a role in desensitizing youths to violence.

One of the most vocal proponents of cracking down on violence in computer games and music during the past quarter-century has been Tipper Gore, the estranged wife of former Vice President Al Gore, neither of whom is a gun-toting social conservative. Tipper Gore’s activism was instrumental in implementing parental-guidance warning labels on music CDs.

The link between violence in media and aggressive behavior in youths is the strongest argument that the NRA made on Friday, even if there is no path that directly links violence on TV to multiple-victim homicides. However, studies have suggested a link between aggressive, violent behavior on the one hand and violent imagery, appealing depictions of violent characters, and the amount of time children spend immersed in violent fictional worlds on the other hand.

“Many children and youth spend an inordinate amount of time consuming violent media,” observed the authors of "The Influence of Media Violence on Youth," an article appearing in the journal Psychological Science In The Public Interest in 2003. “Although it is clear that reducing exposure to media violence will reduce aggression and violence, it is less clear what sorts of interventions will produce a reduction in exposure.”

The researchers concluded that high exposure to violence can increase the risk of “extreme violence” and that parental control is the most effective countermeasure.

But one strong indicator that reeling in violence on TV, in movies, and in computer games isn’t going to do much to reel in gun violence in America is the fact that all these media are consumed worldwide, and yet gun violence in the U.S. is much higher per capita than it is in other violent-media-consuming countries. This week, the Washington Post compared gun-related murders per 100,000 and video-game spending per capita in 10 developed countries and found the statistical spread doesn’t provide evidence of a link between gunning and gaming.

While there is some evidence to support the belief that exposing children to violence leads to violent behavior, the link between watching violence in a movie theater and committing homicide is less definitive. If as many Americans are as amoral or nihilistic as the NRA suggests, then TV shows such as “Dexter,” films such as “Natural Born Killers,” and video games such as “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” aren’t likely to be the driving cause of this mayhem.

More Law-Abiding Civilians Should Carry Hidden Guns

“None of these policies had any effect on the frequency of, or carnage from, multiple-victim shootings ... Only one public policy has ever been shown to reduce the death rate from such crimes: concealed-carry laws.” -- Ann Coulter, conservative commentator and syndicated columnist.

Long a favorite of advocates for liberal gun-ownership laws, the argument goes like this: the more law-abiding citizens carry concealed weapons, the less likely a perpetrator is going to pull out a gun and start shooting people. Advocates of expanding concealed-carry laws claim that areas with concealed-carry permits have lower violent-crime rates.

But the FBI's statistics on violent crimes by state do not suggest any correlation between violent crime and concealed carry permits. If any correlation existed between these two variables, then states that heavily favor gun ownership would tend to be those with lower incidence of violent crime.

As the Tampa Bay Times' PolitiFact.com pointed out last year, however, states with both liberal and illiberal gun-ownership laws are distributed at different points on the list of states in terms of the incidence of violent crime. While the lack of clustering isn’t definitive proof, it’s a compelling fact that undermines the presumption that the more civilians walking around with guns under their coats means the lower the crime rate.

Incidentally, most advocates who make the connection between liberal gun-ownership laws and the lower incidence of gun-related crime draw from one source: the book “More Guns, Less Crime,” by John R. Lott, first published in 1998. Refutations to the conclusions drawn in the book are available via Econ Journal Watch.

For what it’s worth, the National Research Council's Committee on Law and Justice concluded in 2004 that "despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime." In other words, neither side can claim concealed-carry permits raise or lower the rates of violent crime.

Gun-Free Zones Invite Killers To An Easy Slaughter

“I'd venture to say that 99 percent of the gun owners in this country, had they been [near Sandy Hook Elementary School], would have gone over and taken the shooter out, had they had the chance. But it was a ‘gun-free zone.’” -- Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio talk-show host.

Limbaugh is referring to the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, passed just as the country was emerging from a nationwide crack epidemic that was turning many inner-city schools into combat zones over gang turf. The law was intended to increase penalties for gun possession in or near schools. Gun-rights advocates have long argued the federal law is an overreach that can ensnare unwitting innocent gun owners who travel through school zones. Last year, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, floated a bill that would have repealed the law.

The debate over guns and school safety is overblown, according to statistics. Setting aside the Sandy Hook atrocity, schools are among the safest environments for children, especially in inner-city zones where neighborhood gunplay is so routine locals barely wince -- or even call the police -- when shots ring out. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data published last year indicated fewer than 2 percent of youth homicides happen at school.

Whenever shootings occur, it’s tragic, but children are far more likely to be killed off campus than on it.

Join the Discussion