Goldberg: Debunking nine myths of the gun-control debate
So many myths and misunderstandings about gun control, from all sides of the debate, and so little time! Here goes: Myth No. 1: The extremism of the National Rifle Association and its chief executive officer, Wayne LaPierre, is hurting its cause.
LaPierre's seemingly unhinged recent performances, first at his no-questions news conference and then on NBC's "Meet the Press," have convinced gun-control advocates and members of the news media that he is out of his mind. He isn't. His appearances were calibrated to appeal to the Second Amendment absolutists who make up the NRA's base, and to help sell weapons manufactured by companies that rely on the NRA to keep their market as unregulated as possible. The NRA's tactic is to gin up paranoia among gun owners that President Barack Obama is going to confiscate their legally owned weapons.
Myth No. 2: President Barack Obama is going to confiscate your legally owned weapons.
He isn't. He is so far from doing that it's comical to believe otherwise. There's no constitutional mechanism for him to do so. There's no practical way for him to do so. And he has no motivation to do so, because he's on record defending the rights of sportsmen, hunters and - this is crucial - people who believe in armed self-defense to own guns. As Vice President Joe Biden said during the 2008 campaign, "Barack Obama ain't taking my shotguns, so don't buy that malarkey." Myth No. 3: There is no proposed gun-control measure that would make the United States safer.
True, there are as many as 300 million guns in the country, with more coming into circulation every day. But some new regulations would help. Closing the so-called gun-show loophole - which allows many guns to be sold without benefit of a federal background check - would make it at least marginally more difficult for unqualified buyers, such as felons and the mentally ill, to get weapons. Since 1994, about 1.9 million purchases have been stopped because of background checks. A semi-smart criminal, or a high-functioning deranged person, would still most likely find his way to a gun. But it would be beneficial to place more stumbling blocks in his path.
Myth No. 4: Renewing the assault-weapons ban is the clear answer to making the U.S. safer.
"Assault weapons" are defined as such mainly because they have the appearance of military-style rifles. In my definition, any device that can fire a metal projectile at a high rate of speed into a human body is assaultive in nature. How deadly a shooting is depends as much on the skill and preparation of the shooter as on what equipment he uses. Again, it may be beneficial to ban large-capacity magazines and other exceptionally deadly implements. But we shouldn't be under the illusion that this will stop mass killings.
Myth No. 5: Only pro-gun extremists want to place police officers in schools.
Before LaPierre took up the cause of armed security protecting students, President Bill Clinton advocated a similar program to assign police officers to schools across the country after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. "Already," Clinton said at the time, the program "has placed 2,200 officers in more than 1,000 communities across our nation, where they are heightening school safety as well as coaching sports and acting as mentors and mediators for kids in need." Myth No. 6: Columbine proved that police officers in schools can't stop massacres.
It is true that a sheriff's deputy assigned to Columbine engaged in a shootout with the two killers but failed to stop them. It is also foolish to draw broad lessons from a single incident. In 2007, at the New Life Church in Colorado, an armed volunteer security officer named Jeanne Assam shot and wounded a gunman who had killed two people outside the church and two others the night before. Assam most likely saved many lives that day. Does this mean that all churches should have armed security officers in the pews? Again, it is difficult to extrapolate from a single incident. But licensed and trained civilians carrying arms do represent one solution to gun violence.
Myth No. 7: Issuing more permits for carrying concealed handguns makes society more dangerous.
There are more than 8 million concealed-carry permit holders in the U.S., and the number grows each year. These are people who are vetted by local law enforcement. They commit crime at a lower rate than the general population. And, by some estimates, they commit crime at a lower rate than police officers.
Myth No. 8: "An unprecedented number of Americans support the right to own a handgun, despite the recent mass killings at an elementary school in Newtown," Conn.
This wording comes from a Washington Post article. It cited a Gallup poll that found many Americans support some gun-control measures, and that 74 percent oppose banning handgun ownership. The problem in the Washington Post story is the word "despite." Many Americans want to own a handgun, or want to reserve the right to own one, not despite the Newtown massacre - but because of it, and other such atrocities.
Myth No. 9: Video games are the real culprit.
Some reports indicate that the Newtown killer was a fanatical video-game player, and liked such especially violent games as "Call of Duty." No studies have proved a strong link between these games and actual violence. This isn't to say that the games aren't perverse and repulsive: I don't allow my children to play them. But you can't shoot up a school or a movie theater with a video game. Blaming video-game makers alone for such complicated and incomprehensible crimes is a cop-out.
What do all these misconceptions add up to? Simply that we aren't even close to having a serious conversation about protecting ourselves from death by gun. I wouldn't mind having a national debate about the morality of the Second Amendment in the 21st century. But we're not even having a serious debate on the margins.
Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist and a national correspondent for The Atlantic.