In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, Republicans are claiming that the easy availability of guns in the U.S. isn’t even a factor in our national epidemic of mass shootings. Instead they point to mental illness as the only factor that should be considered.
Republicans’ strategy of trying to divert our attention from the real problem — guns — isn’t new. Tobacco companies used this same “bait-and-switch” strategy for decades with great success, and corporations have since passed the strategy down to their lackeys — Republicans — who are still using it today.
In the 1980s, tobacco companies successfully shifted Americans’ focus away from another rampant deadly problem: the high rate at which kids were taking up smoking. Cigarette company advertising had long targeted youth, and in response health advocates started seeking restrictions on cigarette marketing and advertising and new laws requiring retailers to keep cigarettes out of the reach of kids in stores. To counter this national push, cigarette makers rolled out “youth smoking prevention” (YSP) programs.
It was an ingenious maneuver.
YSP programs took the focus off cigarette companies’ marketing practices and portrayed the companies as the solution rather than the problem. These programs allowed the company to shift the blame for youth smoking onto parents and kids, and gave lawmakers cover to vote against bills to regulate cigarette marketing. As voters clamored for more regulation on cigarette companies, legislators simply pointed to cigarette makers’ YSP programs and claimed these programs took care of the problem. The companies were pouring millions of dollars into these youth anti-smoking programs, so legislation was unnecessary, they said.
But years later, cigarette company internal documents revealed that cigarette makers measured the effectiveness of their “youth smoking prevention” programs by how well they helped forestall legislation regulating cigarette marketing, not by how well they reduced youth smoking. These programs were highly effective at forestalling legislation, and people fell for this bait-and-switch effort for over two decades.
Because it was so effective, cigarette makers used the strategy over and over. They shifted the focus away from secondhand smoke causing disease by portraying the problem as a “smokers’ rights” issue. They secretly funded “smokers’ rights” groups and paid groups of scientists, like Associates for Research into the Science of Enjoyment (ARISE), who toured the world making public pronouncements about how smoking provides a release from everyday stresses, just like shopping, eating chocolate and drinking tea.
It was absurd, but people fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
Don’t fall for it again.
Now, Republican politicians like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida are Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa using exactly this same bait-and-switch strategy. “It’s not the obvious thing that’s the problem, it’s something else,” they insist. After every gun massacre, they insist the problem isn’t guns, but mental illness, and that’s all. It’s simplistic, counterintuitive and utterly incorrect.
Corporations use this switcheroo strategy to take the focus off the deaths their products are causing and divert attention from the way their products and marketing practices are literally killing thousands of Americans every year. The gun manufacturers now face exactly the same problem cigarette makers faced two decades ago. Don’t get suckered by gun proponents’ efforts to make you look away from the real source of the problem. Always keep your focus on the one real problem at the root of America’s gun massacre epidemic: there are too many guns in too many hands.
It’s NOT about mental illness.
All countries have their share of disaffected, angry and mentally disturbed young men and women, but NO country has the sky-high number of public gun massacres that we have here in the U.S.. If the problem was only attributable to mental illness, then countries with rates of mental illness similar to the U.S. would have the same super-high levels of firearm deaths as the U.S.
But they don’t.
The big difference between every other country and America is that America is awash with guns, now more than ever in history. Guns are extremely easy to get in the U.S., even by kids. This is simply not the case in other countries. There are now over 300 millions guns sloshing around the United States, roughly twice as many guns per capita as there were in the country in 1968. (pdf)
Pro-gun politicians and the National Rifle Association — the gun manufacturers’s lobbying group — are now trying to divert our attention away from guns as the problem exactly the way the tobacco companies worked to take the focus off cigarettes as a cause of disease and addiction in the 1980s and 1990s — by shifting our focus away from exactly those policy changes that taken together would make the biggest dent in the problem.
Of course the answer is NOT more guns.
President Trump and other Republicans are trying to convince Americans the answer to mass shootings in our country is to arm teachers and school administrators. They want to add more guns, claiming if potential shooters know they risk getting killed by shooting up a school, it will be a deterrent.
Nothing could be sillier.
The argument fails to consider that most rampage shooters kill themselves before police even get to them.
Moreover, what about gun massacres in grocery stores, theaters, at concerts, in workplaces and shopping malls? The arm-the-teachers strategy would do absolutely nothing for those situations, nor does having more guns in the mix assure that gun massacres will be prevented. The add-more-guns strategy is defensive, not proactive, at a time we need proactive answers to the problem of gun massacres. This strategy also has no track record of effectiveness. Consider that Nidal Hasan shot up an Army base in Fort Hood, Texas in 2009, where he was surrounded by people with guns who were highly trained to use them, but that didn’t prevent the shooting. In 1981, Ronald Reagan was surrounded by armed Secret Service agents who were highly trained to use guns, but this didn’t prevent him from getting shot.
Clearly adding more guns to the mix doesn’t guarantee anything will get better.
To get an even clearer picture of how ridiculous the “more guns” argument is, try applying the strategy to almost any other situation imaginable and see if it makes any sense. Is the response to a flu epidemic EVER more flu? Do you stop an ebola outbreak by spreading MORE ebola virus? Is the answer to severe air pollution EVER making and selling more cars and burning more coal? Was the answer to health problems posed by secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants adding MORE smoke to these places? If someone at your workplace gets seriously wounded in hazardous equipment, is the answer adding more hazardous equipment to the workplace?
No! Of course not. It’s just common sense. The “add-more-of-the-problem” strategy doesn’t work with anything else on Earth.
If as Ghandi said, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” then adding another gun for every gun already in the U.S. will leave the whole country dead.
In 2013, gun owners in America already had an average of eight weapons in their possession, and the U.S. had an average of one gun for every person in the country. In 2015, the total number of guns in the U.S. surpassed the number of people in the entire country. The U.S. has the most liberal gun ownership laws on Earth. If it were true that arming more people with more guns in more places more of the time would reduce gun violence, the U.S. would logically have the lowest rates of death and injury from firearms of any country. Instead, we have the highest.
Above all, Republicans’ are WAY off the mark in their arguments about how to respond to gun violence. We need to be proactive, not reactive to this problem. The focus needs to be kept tightly on is preventing gun massacres from happening in the first place, not merely responding to them every time they occur. The only way to prevent gun massacres is to get the guns out of the mix.
Guns are a public health problem. We MUST keep the focus on the fact that guns are the problem.
So what are some proactive answers to rampant gun violence?
Former Colorado Senate President Morgan Carroll recently posed an open thread question on her Facebook page after the Parkland massacre:
“If Congress were to listen to YOUR voice on gun violence, and if anything were possible, what specific measure(s) would you recommend and want to see passed that you think would/could make a difference on stopping serial massacres, domestic violence fatalities, etc.?”
The proposals people offered really made a lot of sense. Taken together, even just a portion of them enacted together could go along way towards starting to reverse the terrible predicament we’ve gotten America into with guns in this country.
Here are some of the recommendations people came up with:
- Yearly licenses for gun owners with updated background checks regularly
- Gun safety classes for all gun owners, not just hunters
- Stronger gun storage laws
- Mandatory liability insurance for gun owners
- Ban bump stocks
- Raise the purchasing age for all guns to 21
- Limit firearms for sale to bolt-action rifles, shotguns and pistols with no more than 6 rounds
- Have mandatory storage requirements for firearms and allow police to access and inspect gun storage
- Do not allow anyone access to military-style weapons
- Mandatory “cooling off” periods when buying firearms
- Limit the number of firearms one person can purchase and own
- Mandate all guns and ammunition be kept at shooting ranges,
- Make gun owners prove competency like drivers must to obtain a drivers license
- Put strict controls on the purchase of ammunition; track purchases and limit quantities that can be sold.
- Let the Centers for Disease Control gather data on deaths and injuries from firearms, and allow CDC to address the problem of gun deaths as a public health epidemic.
- Make gun owners document that they belong to a well regulated militia, in accordance with the Constitution, prior to purchasing a gun.
All these measures make good sense. Taken together they could make a huge difference in the future of this country without affecting peoples’ right to own a gun as part of being in a well-regulated militia, which is the justification for owning guns in the Second Amendment.
Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, the namesake of the Parkland, Florida high school that got shot up on Valentines Day, 2018 and that led to seventeen people being killed and the current movement to limit guns in the country, was a dedicated journalist and researcher who successfully fought efforts to drain the Everglades and develop the land commercially. Through her efforts, Stoneman Douglas helped people understand that the Everglades aren’t just a worthless swamp — they are a unique and invaluable environmental feature that is home to a host of highly unique wildlife and that helps mitigate flooding. Her influence has been compared to that of Rachel Carson, author of the highly influential book “Silent Spring,” that ushered in an era of environmental awareness and cleaning up of epic, huge environmental hazards wreaked on the country by government and businesses. Now students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are trying to do something similar: make people see the importance of reining in America’s incredibly dangerous, irresponsible runaway gun culture. If they are successful, they stand to save countless lives in the future.