Monday, May 26, 2014

The Dumbest Argument of All Time

Wayne LaPierre, executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, announced his current argument about gun ownership on the day after the Newtown, CT mass shootings. On December 12, 2012, LaPierre announced that what caused shootings by nice young people was mental illness and video games. The answer, he declared, was easy and obvious: "Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun."

The Republican Party, and much of the Democratic Party, has faithfully echoed LaPierre's remarks. The GOP has been relentless in saying that video games and R-rated movies are to blame. (Today is the day after a shooting in Santa Barbara, and something called The Daily Republican has an article pointing out that the shooter's father is a movie director and therefore tied to the "culture" of violence. I won't link to it.) Paul Ryan and a few others have even talked about the culture of "urban youth." Poor people outside of "urban" areas are deserving poor, but the people who are "urban" have a bad "culture."

LaPierre has been doing that "kids today and their scary movies and video joystick games" junk for a long time. In fact, it's such a stale act that, when he responded to Newtown in 2012, he did so by blaming "Natural Born Killers" and the video game "Mortal Kombat." A movie from 1994 and a game from 1992 were to blame, he claimed, for a severely mentally ill child killing his mother and then children at a primary school. It was such a lazy and slapdash evasion, blaming "media culture," that it didn't catch on. The people who have followed LaPierre have typically done so by just using "culture" as the grand conflating variable -- the monkey wrench with which they plan to deny any causality to a correlation between guns and crime (e.g. "Sure, when children have access to guns they're more likely to have gun violence, but how do you blame the gun instead of the insanely violent culture?").

What amazes me, though, is the staggering number of people -- mostly men -- who seem competent enough to hold down jobs who will say that "only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun." That is, quite literally, the dumbest argument of all time.

First, if you have been near a shooting, you know, as I do, that you didn't know it when it was happening. You are trying to sleep, and the noise you hear outside will be anything -- your brain will do its best to ignore it, as you're trying to sleep. If you can't ignore it, you'll imagine that it's a trash can lid falling, a piece of metal falling from a rooftop, anything. If you are going down a street, and someone is shooting ahead of you, you will be thinking, "Where do I need to go next? She's pretty. Do I have money to go there? Maybe I'll walk this way," and you simply won't process the sounds as gunshots. Even if you know what gunshots sound like, you won't think "gunfire" until your eyes tell you something is wrong or your ears give you other signals -- quiet, screams, sirens.

Second, if you process quickly, you have to be extremely accurate -- as accurate as you are fast, at least -- to know where the gunshots are coming from, take cover, get your own gun, remove the safety, chamber a round, and then shoot as few times as possible. Every time you miss, your bullet will continue travelling until it is stopped by something solid, like an innocent person's body. If you were in Santa Barbara and strapped, there is no way you would say, "Pistol shots," get your gun out, and aim carefully before the shooter had moved on.

Here, though, is why it's the stupidest argument in history: I'm writing this on Memorial Day.

During war, do all of the good guys come home uninjured and all of the bad guys die?

In war, we have good guys who are well trained, expecting to have to fire, armed with the best weapons, and facing off against "bad guys with guns," and yet -- amazingly -- it appears that bad guys with guns actually win some of the time and good guys with guns kill bystanders sometimes and good guys with guns are killed sometimes. In other words, in the best possible case of a "good guy with a gun" -- an armed soldier anticipating battle -- we do not get greater safety, just greater casualties and greater death.

That is what Wayne LaPierre is selling.

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