11 myths about the future of gun control, debunked after the Charleston shooting

Another mass shooting, another round of arguments about why
gun reform is doomed to fail. Turns out, most of those arguments don’t hold up
to scrutiny

A majority of US senators voted for a package of gun control
measures only two years ago. The 54 who backed the bill, which was written by
Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin, included three other
Republicans.

But when four Democrats got cold feet about their electoral
chances in the midterms, the legislation fell short of the 60 votes it needed
to prevent a filibuster.

Heading into the 2016 election, however, there are many more
moderate Republican seats up for grabs – and a meaningful opportunity for
Democrats to take back control of the Senate.

A successful bipartisan Senate bill and more persuasive
president could be enough to encourage a future House speaker to allow a vote,
too, or at the very least put pressure on the Republican-controlled House.

Myth No2: Americans don’t want meaningful gun reforms

Roses with the faces of the Sandy Hook elementary students
and adults killed are seen on a pole in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2013.
Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Support for universal background checks skyrocketed after
the December 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown,
Connecticut, with 90% of Americans behind the proposal at its peak. More than
two years later, polls continue to show strong support for expanding background
checks, averaging 80%.

As a successful 2014 ballot initiative in Washington state
proved, if you leave the decision in the hands of voters, they are more likely
than politicians to vote for universal background checks.

Ironically, when Congress was weighing air strikes in Syria in
August 2013, just four months after the failed background checks vote, one of
the foremost reasons lawmakers cited in opposing the Obama administration’s
plan was polling that showed 90% of Americans were against intervention. It was
a classic example of how Congress selectively listens to the American people –
as in, whenever it’s more convenient.

Myth No3: Gun control won’t stop gun violence

There are more than three times as many Americans killed by
guns per capita than in any other wealthy country, and more than 10 times the
rate in comparable larger countries such as Britain, France and Japan.

Many of these countries have similar problems with crime,
drugs, urban deprivation and youth violence, others are more peaceful, but
there is one simple thing that countries with less gun violence have in common
with each other: they have fewer guns.

No one can predict the future of a more gun-constrained
America with certainty, but the
evidence from dozens of comparable societies points to a clear causal
relationship between access to firearms and how often they are used.

Myth No4: Switzerland and Israel seem to do OK without gun
control

Switzerland is known for widespread gun ownership but not
for gun deaths. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Proponents of unfettered gun ownership often point to the
example of Switzerland, which has a tradition of more widespread firearms
ownership than most other European countries but is not known for its
gun-ravaged inner cities.

One problem is the trend is not that different: more guns
still lead to more shooting, just less so than in America. Switzerland is
actually second among wealthy countries in terms of annual gun deaths (0.77 per
100,000 of population in one
recent survey, versus 2.97 in the US and just 0.07 in England and Wales)
but has barely half as many guns per 100 people (45.7 versus 88.8 in the US).

But even this comparison gets weaker if you look at the way
the Swiss keep their guns, which stems from a tradition of military service
that has been considerably tightened over the years. One US study by the National
Institutes of Health points out that both Switzerland and Israel (another
alleged exception to the rule touted as proof that guns don’t kill) actually
limit firearm ownership considerably and require permit renewal one to four
times annually.

Those are just the kind of gun control measures, in fact,
that second-amendment fans in the US claim wouldn’t make any difference to gun
violence.

Myth No5: Other countries are different

Further rejoinders to the international-comparison argument
are less empirical still, tending to rely on a mixture of American cultural
exceptionalism, pioneer spirit and a history of racial tension to explain why
murder rates are so high without blaming gun ownership.

While it is true that US history differs greatly from
European history, this theory is less effective at explaining similar disparities
with Canada and Australia.

Comparisons between similar large cities also belie the
argument that there is something uniquely violent about America’s urban poor.
London has gang violence, drugs and recent riots that make Ferguson and
Baltimore look tranquil, yet the Metropolitan police estimate criminals have
access to barely 100 guns in a city only slightly smaller than New York. Cities
like Glasgow and Liverpool can be shockingly violent places but victims of
knife attacks and beatings tend to survive.

It may be true that the link between guns and a culture of
violence goes both ways, but that’s hardly a reason not to try tackle both at
the same time.

Myth No6: US borders are too open

Amid widespread concern over illegal immigration, much
attention has also focused on the unique geography of the United States. It is
true that the country has among the longest land borders in the world and is a
very open international trading nation.

It is hard to imagine, however, the weapons would be
anywhere near as easy for criminals to obtain if they all had to be smuggled
through ports, airports or across the Mexican border. Even a small reduction in
weapons falling into the wrong hands would also reduce the incentive for
homeowners to store guns for self-defense.

Whether US port security or land borders would really prove
that much more porous than other countries with stricter gun laws is also open
to question, but it is strange this argument is rarely offered as a reason to
give up on drug interdiction, or intercepting terrorist bomb threats.

Myth No7: Guns are essential for self-defense

The NRA president, Wayne LaPierre: ‘The only thing that
stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.’ Photograph: Steve
Ueckert/AP

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good
guy with a gun,” the NRA president, Wayne LaPierre, infamously declared after
the Newtown shooting.

According
to the nonprofit Violence Policy Center, there were just 258 “justifiable
homicides” involving civilians using guns in 2012, as opposed to 8,342 criminal
homicides committed with a firearm. “For every justifiable homicide in the
United States involving a gun, guns were used in 32 criminal homicides,” the
group said in a report, which is based on data from the FBI and Bureau of
Justice Statistics.

And those figures do not even include an estimated 22,000
suicides and accidental shootings annually where guns are involved.

Myth No8: The NRA is invincible

After Newtown, anti-gun violence groups actually raised more
money.
According to filings with the Federal Election Commission in 2014, gun
control groups declared $21.3m in contributions since the November 2012
election, whereas gun rights groups raised $16.3m in the same period.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the anti-gun violence
group co-founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, a Democrat who was
shot in the head during the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, amassed a
whopping $11m in its first four months of existence.

Myth No9: Lawmakers will be voted out of office for
supporting gun control

In the 2014 elections, two governors who passed
comprehensive gun control bills – the Connecticut governor, Dan Malloy, and
Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper, both Democrats – were re-elected despite
the NRA’s best efforts to defeat them.

The gun control debate also had little effect on lawmakers
who voted against stricter gun laws after Newtown. US senators Mark Pryor of
Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska – two of just four Democrats who joined
Republicans in blocking a Senate bill to expand background checks – both lost
their re-elections anyway.

Despite its pledge to reward politicians who stood up for
gun rights, the NRA did nothing to help either senator. Money and grassroots
support is also now on offer from groups like those backed by the former New
York mayor Mike Bloomberg, that support gun control.

Myth No10: Mass shootings still happen in areas with strict
gun laws, so gun control doesn’t work

When a mass shooting occurred in Septemberg 2013 at the Navy
Yard compound in Washington, one of the first arguments made by activists for
gun rights was that gun control is clearly ineffective because DC has some of
the strictest gun laws in the US.

A similar point has been made about Chicago, which has tough
restrictions on guns but ranks
among the country’s deadliest with respect to gun violence.

The problem with this theory is that criminals also have
access to cars, and can easily obtain firearms in neighboring states or
counties.

In the Navy Yard incident, the shooter legally purchased
firearms in neighboring Virginia despite a criminal record and mental health
issues – exposing gaps in the current background checks system. And cities like
Chicago are plagued by the illegal trafficking of firearms; there is no current
federal law that defines gun trafficking or straw purchasing as a crime.

Myth No11: Universal background checks would create a
federal database of gun owners

One of the myths that ended the background checks bill in
the Senate two years ago was the claim – perpetrated by the gun lobby and
swallowed by most Republicans – was that it would create a national registry of
gun owners.

In fact, the Manchin-Toomey legislation explicitly barred
the creation of a federal database in its text, but opponents insisted it would
infringe on the liberties of gun owners in America.

Aside from that being a false claim, it was notable that
just a couple of months later, when it was revealed that the NSA was spying on
millions of Americans, the same lawmakers were overwhelmingly
supportive of far more intrusive data-gathering.

c/o Guardian us-news/2015/jun/20/charleston-south-carolina-shooting-gun-control-reform-myths & The Trews