Politics

05.27.14

How the Gun Nuts Try to Excuse Away the Santa Barbara Slaughter—and Why They’re All Wrong

The firearms fanboys have been more creative than usual, scrambling to defend their precious weapons in the wake of the massacre in Santa Barbara. It’s only made their excuses lamer.

It has been nearly four days since the shooting rampage in Santa Barbara, and in that time the firearms fetishists have been up to their usual tricks trying to excuse away yet another gun massacre in America. 

They have their talking points at the ready for these, and they immediately got started: If we ban guns, they warned, then we have to ban knives and cars, because he used those to kill and injure people, too. California has liberal gun laws, and this proves they don’t work, they insisted. There is nothing we can do to stop gun violence, they recited; guns don't kill people, people do. 

As usual, the gun nuts are wrong, and not one of these stands up to the slightest scrutiny.

Let’s start with the Right’s newest post-massacre trope: the banning of knives and cars, because the murderer in Santa Barbara used a knife to kill three people and a car to injure four.

Of course, compared to guns, cars are robustly regulated. There’s a strong registration regimen. More and more safety features have been added—including airbags and seat belts. There’s a long-standing war against drunk driving that’s included checkpoints, long sentences for offenders, and holding bartenders accountable who serve someone who’s clearly wasted. And, of course, there’s registration, licensing and tests required to prove you know how to drive an automobile. All of it has led deaths on our roads to plummet. This is why 2015 is projected to be the first year where gun deaths surpass traffic fatalities

Cars also have a purpose other than killing. As do knives. And although, tragically, three young men were killed after being stabbed by the killer in Santa Barbara, perhaps the clearest comparison between gun violence and knife violence is provided by looking at the attack that occurred at a Chinese school in Henen Province the very same day as the Newtown Massacre. Twenty-three students were attacked in Henen and none died—as opposed to 20 murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. Or how about the 22 injured in a knife attack at a school in Pittsburgh this past April? Nobody died there, either.

Of course, to the family of a victim, one stabbing death is too many. But clearly knives can’t kill as impersonally, as many, as fast or as at far a distance. Which might be why there haven’t been presidents knifed from book depositories (or grassy knolls, whatever your preference), there aren't drive-by knifings, and we didn’t storm Omaha Beach throwing knives. 

Knives also don’t have a powerful lobby to buy legislators, governors, judges, etc., with campaign contributions so they can enrich themselves with blood-stained arms dealer money. So please, put that pathetic talking point to rest.

Another favorite conservative retort to calls for stricter gun regulation has been to point to California's “liberal” gun laws, which supposedly didn’t help Santa Barbara at all. However, the fact that the shooter possessed only 10-bullet magazines and no assault weapon—or what he could legally buy—clearly did help. As terrible as this was, it could have been much worse if the gun fetishists had their way, and any manner of weapon or magazine was for sale.

Additionally, and I know this is a tough concept to understand, but we have these territories separated only by an imaginary boundary known as states. They border one another. People can drive across them at will, as they often do from Arizona—where gun laws are among the most lenient in the U.S.—to California. It is also quite easy to drive from California to Nevada, which also has lax gun laws. 

This might be why when John Patrick Bedell, another angry and troubled man with a hatred for his own government, decided to try to  assassinate public servants at the Pentagon, he went next door to Nevada to get his guns no questions asked, once he couldn’t pass a background check in California. Wow, that was hard!

Clearly knives can't kill as impersonally, as many, as fast or at as far a distance. Which might be why there haven't been presidents knifed from book depositories (or grassy knolls, whatever your preference), there aren't drive-by knifings, and we didn't storm Omaha Beach throwing knives.

Of course, there is one easy case study that proves the rule: Hawaii, which is separated from every other state by quite a bit of ocean. The Aloha State, which boasts the lowest gun ownership rate and among the strongest gun laws in our country, has the lowest gun violence rate, according to The Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence. Meanwhile, in Arizona, with those ridiculously nonexistent gun laws, you're five times more likely to die from a gun than in Hawaii

This pattern extends throughout the country, from lax regulation states like Mississippi and Alaska (18.3 and 17.6 gun deaths, per 100,000 people, respectively) to strong regulation states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts (3.5 and 3.6 gun deaths per 100,000, respectively). This really isn't that hard. 

And for those of you about to point out that cities like Chicago have both strict gun laws and horrifying gun violence, well, you might want to do some reading about how many of those guns came from Indiana, which has much less strict gun laws, or other parts of Illinois, where laws don’t come close to matching those in the city of Chicago. Use The Google, my friends. It's free.

If lax guns laws and more guns overall made people safer, the United States would be the safest place in the world. Instead, that designation goes to countries like Japan and England, which have actually taken on this problem with the seriousness it deserves. And then there is the special case of Australia, which was heading down the same path as us until 1996, when they had their own Newtown, known a the Port Arthur Massacre. They passed not weak-tea gun laws, but a comprehensive package (passed by their Conservative Party). The results have been stunning, as not only has there not been a mass shooting since then (there were 11 in the 10 years before they passed this legislation), but their suicides and gun-related deaths have gone way down too.

In Santa Barbara, we had a young man who had been detained or interviewed three times by the police recently, including once for domestic assault. Both a social worker and his parents warned the authorities about his fraying mental state. But all of that led to no red flags popping up to stop him from buying three semi-automatic guns and enough bullets to take on the police department. 

In England, Japan, Canada and Australia, that would have been enough to stop him cold. In these places, as is common sense, requirements exist such as third-party references from family and/or friends, rigorous psychological exams and background checks. Any blemish on one’s record pointing to violence would have been a red flag during these tests. Additionally, there are waiting periods before one can receive a gun after initial purchase, making it more likely someone mentally unstable would be caught doing something else in the meantime, or perhaps even get the help he so desperately needed before obtaining a firearm. 

But, if like foaming NRA mouthpiece Wayne LaPierre, you still are a believer in the almighty assault weapon and like your guns plentiful and unregulated, I have a fantastic vacation destination for you! It’s called Iraq. Every household with a male in it is allowed to have an assault weapon, no questions asked. If that is not your cup of tea, may I suggest Afghanistan? They also love their guns. Perplexing, that surely as the NRA wouldn’t have predicted based on their high rate of gun ownership, both these countries are overflowing with gun violence. For some reason, being awash in guns has not led them to be modern-day Gardens of Eden.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, if we took gun deaths as seriously as we take terrorists (real and imagined), we wouldn’t have allowed a culture to proliferate in which we don’t allow law enforcement agencies to do their jobs by inspecting dealers and collecting and sharing information on gun sales, based on the most inane reasoning (Big Government & Black Helicopters and Agenda 21, oh my!) since Sarah Palin explained Paul Revere. We would make sure these systems ran smoothly and efficiently, make dealers report lost or stolen guns, force bad dealers out of business. 

Other high-income countries don't purposefully ensure their national police charged with investigating gun crimes are hamstrung without funding and lacking a department head for seven years! (This is the part where the Fast & Furious conspiracy-bots chime in once the tin foil’s accurately applied). If we tried to use all the information at our disposal, and made stopping illegal gun sales a priority, we’d successfully stop it, just as these other countries have done. We have let right-wingers, the NRA and Republicans in general do just the opposite, with their constant attacks on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

However, If you do truly fear that “the government is going to use any information to come get my guns,” then I have a real three-letter organization, not part of the government, that you may want to fear. It’s called the NRA, and they’re collecting your private information as we speak. Good luck convincing the money-grubbing charlatans among their leadership not to sell what has been called a “massive secret database” of member information to any advertiser looking to make a buck.

Meanwhile, the most commonly abused talking point to come out of this tragedy was the old standby, that “guns don’t kill people, people do.” I don’t buy it, but here is my question, if you do. Wouldn’t you support background checks for People, require serious training for People purchasing weaponry that can kill, institute waiting periods for People who are angry or suicidal at a specific moment? Shouldn’t those People also have to have liability insurance as they do with cars (personal responsibility!), so society doesn’t pick up the cost of stupid decisions made by these People? 

I know, your mind is spinning right now. Don’t bother. You are wrong on this one, as you are on everything else. Your reaction to shootings is to think first of your guns, which is shameful. The rest of us prioritize our children’s lives first. As my friend, the brilliant host of The Zero Hour--the #1 most downloaded podcast when it debuted earlier this month—RJ Eskow says, we’re not anti-gun. We’re pro-kindergartner. 

We believe in that part of the Constitution—the Preamble actually, which comes before the 2nd Amendment you don’t even understand—that promises us that our government will protect “the general Welfare” and “domestic tranquility.” I’d argue that with weekly mass shootings occurring—in the short time it has taken me to write this, there has been another gun massacre, this time in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina—Congress is directly disobeying the Constitution, as well as the Will of the People, to give special consideration to an interest group that funds its members’campaigns.

This was put most eloquently and heartbreakingly into words by Richard Martinez, who lost his son to our gun culture, in Santa Barbara:

“Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA,” he said. “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, ‘Stop this madness; we don’t have to live like this’?”

SPECIAL NOTE

When I wrote about this shooting on Saturday, I relied upon the earliest reporting that said that the shooter in Santa Barbara had a high-capacity magazine. I was wrong. He had 41 10-round magazines, or 410 bullets at his disposal, and according to the Los Angeles Times,  three semi-automatic pistols. 

I also made the mistake of relying on reporting that he had shot all of his victims. Of course we now know he shot 12 people, killing three of them. He stabbed three others to death and hit four more innocents with his car, injuring them.

While not altering the thrust of the piece one bit, they were errors--not Mr. LaPierre’s purposeful lies about how “Obama Wants To Outlaw Guns in His Second Term” or shooters choose gun-free zones (tell that to Ronald Reagan’s Secret Service and police protection!) for their attacks. But they were mistakes nonetheless, and I apologize for these errors.