I am slightly heartened that a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, has joined the ever growing chorus calling for a ban on certain categories of guns: The Post urges Trump to take action on assault weapons.
We’re used to all of the usual suspects trotting out their logically fallacious arguments (most of them commit a variation of the Nirvana Fallacy, also known as the Perfect-solution Fallacy: if whatever changes proposed can’t guarantee there will never be a gun death again, well, then we can’t do anything at all! Bull.
This weekend, thanks to Neil deGrasse Tyson being his usual smug self, we got one of the other fallacious arguments, and not for one of the typical rightwing types at all! Tyson had one of the most vapid and tone-deaf hot takes ever, in a tweet where he made the claim that in a typical 48 hours there are far more deaths in the U.S. due to medical errors, and due to the flu, and due to suicide, and due to car accidents, and due to homicide by handgun then these too mass shootings. Therefore, we should, you know, not get upset. Hit the link to see the tweet in question.
In one tweet he managed to pack several logical fallacies, which—if we weren’t talking about people being murdered—would be funny coming from a smug wanker who has made a career out of pretending to be the smartest guy in the room.
The first logical fallacy he is committing is the Appeal to Worse Problems (more formally known as the Fallacy of Relative Privation). All of these other things, he argues, cause more deaths, so we shouldn’t waste any time worrying about mass shootings until we eliminate all of those other causes of death. It’s a specialized kind of false dichotomy or dilemma: implying that we can only choose to worry work on a solution to one of the things in front of us.
Another problem is that several of the things in the list have no relationship whatsoever to the problem at hand. That the couple that could be argued to have a relationship, it’s a very weak one.
Medical errors, by definition, are not intentional acts. One has to be licensed as a medical professional and in most jurisdictions receive regular training and sometimes re-certification in order to practice medicine. Another way they differ from mass shootings is that we have systems in place designed to study such errors in order to find ways to make them less likely to happen. We have systems in place to apply those lessons. We have nothing like this for mass shootings.
Flu is not an intentional act by a human, it is caused by a virus. We have vaccines to reduce the incidence of flu. We have medications to reduce the severity of flu when it happens. We have entire teams of experts constantly studying flu and looking for ways to improve the vaccines and educate people in other ways to reduce their odds of catching flu. We have nothing like this for mass shootings.
Suicide is an act of self-destruction. We have suicide prevention hotlines. We have other forms of medical and psychiatric help available. We have groups of medical experts studying suicide (and proving again and again that there are ways to reduce the incidence of the act—that’s a topic for another day). But, those studies do relate slightly to the mass shootings discussion, as it has been shown that, for instance, banning guns in the residential parts of U.S. military bases (a program first undertaken at bases with a high incidents of service members committing murder-suicide of their families) doesn’t just cut down on the instance of gun deaths, but also reduces the rate of all categories domestic violence.
The vast majority of car crashes are not intentional acts. And again, we have experts in both the private and public sector who study car crashes and car design and relevant laws to find ways to reduce the rate of car fatalities. And we’ve significantly reduced them! Again, nothing like that exists for mass shootings. Also, you are required to have a driver’s license and regularly renew it to be drive. Cars are required to be registered and have their plates renewed periodically. Most jurisdictions require that you carry auto insurance for each car you own. Many jurisdictions require periodic inspection of the car to retain its registration. None of this applies to gun ownership.
The only one of his claimed worse problems to have more than a slight connection to mass shooting is homicide by handgun. And those findings about domestic violence on military bases give us at least some reason to suspect that the easy availability of guns contributes to the incidence of violent crimes in general. There seems to be something about the way that we perceive guns as opposed to knives and other weapons that has far-reaching effects. But, again, we don’t have large systemic ways of studying gun violence in this country.
The reason we don’t have systems in place to study gun violence is because Congress, under the influence of the gun lobby (usually in the guise of the NRA) has made it illegal to do so. And if there were no relationship between the availability of guns and the incidence of gun violence, why else would gun manufacturers be willing to spend millions each election cycle to prevent anyone from studying it?
Humans are social animals. Working together and the ability to divide labor is one of our species’ survival traits. We can work (as we already are), on other problems and the scourge of gun violence at the same time. Putting effort into universal background checks, and voluntary gun buy back programs, and studying other ways to reduce the incidents of these crimes. Red flag laws, which at least some Republican Senators have signaled they are willing to pass, would be a nice start.
Figuring out how to unpack toxic masculinity, racism, and how the mega-rich use our prejudices to blame economic uncertainty on marginalized groups instead of the hoarding and exploitation by corporations and billionaires, isn’t going to be easy. But if organizations like the National Institutes for Health could start studying gun violence systematically, we will find at least some ways to combat those contributing factors.
But it isn’t going to happen unless we ignore the excuses and demand action.
No one likes a bully, they say. But the perception of who is bullying who can go to rather ludicrous points. When Laura Ingraham, long time radio talk show host, past editor, TV talk show host, et cetera, tried to portray one of the Parkland shooting survivors as whining when he mentioned that he’s been rejected by four of the colleges he applied to, she apparently didn’t expect that comment to go viral in a negative way. She certainly didn’t expect advertisers to start pulling out of sponsoring her show. She then issues a pretty ridiculous (half-assed) apology. And then headlines started coming out some places that made the high school students she ridiculed seem like the bullies.
Let’s get something clear. I hope Laura’s advertisers keep pulling out. I’m glad that some people have finally noticed that she’s a bully. But she has been a bully for years: Cyber Bullying is a bit new. But Laura Ingraham was a real bully long before the internet. From February, before this incident: ESPN’s Michael Wilbon on Fox News Host Laura Ingraham: “She Comes off Like a Bigot”. Or two years ago: How Laura Ingraham has attacked Latinos, civil rights groups, and more. Or this gem from 2014: Laura Ingraham Mocks Sick Immigrant Children With Terrible Taco Bell Joke. And this is a good sum up of some of her antics in the 1990s and early aughts: Laura Ingraham: Right-Wing Radio’s High Priestess of Hate.
That’s enough about that hateful person.
In related news: Black Students at Stoneman Douglas High Want Gun-Violence Solutions to Address Police Violence. While at events they had control over, the survivors of the Stonema Douglas shooting had tried to include all of their peers and present a diverse front, the media has tended to focus on a few of the white kids (and one light-skinned Latina). And lots of people have pointed out that these kids aren’t asking for anything more than the Black Lives Matters folks have been asking for all along.
So it is more than fair to ask why the killing of someone like 12-year-old Tamir Rice didn’t get the some attention as the Stoneman Douglas kids are. Part of me would like to hope that we’ve just reached a tipping point. But (particularly seeing both the racist and homophobic attacks made on Emma Gonzales) I suspect that there is more than a bit of racism in play here.
I have to agree with these kids: Black Parkland students worry: What happens to us when schools are over-policed? Putting more police officers into schools won’t help stop mass shootings, and has historically resulted in cops abusing and arresting kids for things that should never have involved a cop, and not surprisingly disproportionately targeting kids of color. The answer isn’t more cops or more guns in school, and anyway paying attention would already know this: CHILDREN OF COLOR ALREADY FACE VIOLENT DISCIPLINE IN SCHOOLS. ARMING TEACHERS WILL GET THEM KILLED, Why having police in schools is a problem, in 3 charts, and Black Students More Likely to Be Arrested at School.
Things that actually would help:
- Raise the minimum age to buy guns to 21
- Universal background checks to buy guns (a measure supported by 97% of the general population and by 96% of gun owners!)
- Licensing gun owners the way we license drivers, including requiring more rigorous testing and evaluation for different classes of guns (just as commercial driving licenses have more stringent requirements), and including periodic re-certification
- Requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance, again just like we do for car owners
- Voluntary gun buy back programs
That won’t prevent every shooting, obviously; just like changing drunk driving laws didn’t eliminate all drunk driving. But we’ve been able to bring down the rate of car crashes that result in death or injury in which alcohol played a factor by 35% by enacting some common sense drinking-and-driving laws. If we reduced shootings by even a fraction of that, that will still be thousands of people saved every year.
I’ve been doing housework today. I have a bunch of errands to run while my husband is off doing convention committee stuff. So I wasn’t going to post a Weekend Update. But then I saw this, so I have to share it:
Veterans For Gun Reform PSA – March For Our Lives:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I’ve written about the most recent incident last week, and laid out how all the usual arguments for why we can’t do anything about mass shootings have been trotted out by other industries and proved incorrect a while ago: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced either. I had some more stuff I was going to follow up with, but almost everything I wanted to say is summed up by Emma Gonzalez, one of the survivors of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida: Teen who survived massacre rips Trump to pieces in emotional takedown. I’m just going to quote a bunch of that article:
[S]he responded directly to Trump’s tweet, which blamed students at the school for not reporting on the shooter’s behavior before the event.
“We did,” Gonzalez said, “time and time again, since he was in middle school.”
“We need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue,” she continued. “He wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife.”
“How about we stop blaming the victims for something that was the shooter’s fault?” she demanded, and called out those who do deserve to shoulder that blame.
“[The people] who let him buy the guns in the first place. Those at the gun shows. The people who encouraged him to buy accessories for his guns to make them fully automatic. The people who didn’t take them away from him when they knew that he expressed homicidal tendencies. And I am not talking about the FBI. I am talking about the people that he lived with, I’m talking about the neighbors who saw him outside holding guns.”
The NRA gave $30,000,000 dollars to the Trump Presidential campaign alone, not to mention the tens of millions to various senators and congresspeople. Last year, when Congress passed a law making it easier for mentally ill people to buy guns (and Cadet Bonespur signed it), the NRA sent out a bulletin to all of its members bragging about it.
The NRA routinely pours millions into defeating laws that NRA members themselves claim to support. When gun sales plummeted last year after Cadet Bonespur was inaugurated, they spent a bunch of money producing advertisements that portrayed Black Lives Matters protesters and such as dangerous violent people. The ads were blatant calls for white supremacists to buy more guns and prepare for a race war.
The NRA as an organization is demonstrably not promoting responsible gun ownership and hasn’t been for decades. It’s only goals are to protect and increase gun manufacturer profit; and if any of its leaders aren’t racist (a highly difficult proposition to prove), they are all absolutely fine fanning the flames of racial fear to keep the money rolling in.
So, anyone still supporting them is supporting an organization that sees mass murders of children and racial tension as marketing tools. You aren’t nobly defending a moral principle if you support them.
It’s time to end this bloody charade.
I have often found myself in weird discussions/arguments with people who assume that because I favor many extremely liberal policies, I must be one of those evil anti-gun people. So before I get into this tale, let me begin by saying that I used to be a card-carrying member of the NRA. I have owned guns. I have fired guns. I have almost never fired guns on a gun range, because we didn’t have many in the Rocky Mountain towns where I grew up. I was taught how to shoot a gun by being taken out into the wilderness by my father and grandfather and firing it for a couple of hours at various things we set up as targets. Then after the third of fourth weekend of doing that being told I needed to go shoot a rabbit or two if I wanted to eat that night.
Long before we got to that point there had been many, many gun safety lectures, because there were lots of guns (mostly hunting rifles) in the homes of most of my extended family. I knew how to take apart, clean, and put back together a bolt-action rifle and how to re-load bullet cases (by which I mean, measure out gunpowder, put it into a spent casing, align a new bullet and insert it with a hand operated press, and install a primer cap) years before I was allowed to hold a loaded gun and shoot it.
There were winters when the only reason there was enough food on the table for the whole family was because some of us had gotten a deer or elk during the appropriate season (not to mention rabbits, pheasants, and grouse). I should also mention that I was raised to look down my nose in disdain at people who hunted pheasant and other birds with a shotgun. As my Grandpa said, “If you can’t hit a flying grouse or dove or pheasant with a rifle, you have no business pointing a gun at anything.”
I should also mention, in case it isn’t obvious from the part about learning how to turn spent cartridges back into bullets, missing was considered wasteful. We couldn’t afford to waste a lot of bullets getting the food.
But as the title of this post suggests, today I need to tell you the story of Great-grandma’s Gun… Read More…
Yes, occasionally the press will focus on the shooter’s history of domestic abuse, as they are doing with the Texas shooter right now. But even then they keep saying how we will never know why he did it.
It’s right there. The history of abuse tells us plenty.
Not just about the Texas church shooter, but for other mass shooters. Time and again we find a history of domestic abuse. If you go find those interviews of the people who describe the shooters as quiet, you’ll also notice hints in the quotes to other traits of abusive people. They’ll say something like the person had a dark sense of humor when he did speak up. Or they’ll say he had a wicked tongue when someone got his dander up. But they’ll hasten to say how those moments were rare, and he only acted that way when he was provoked.
There are a few things going on here. First, we’ve all been socialized not to speak ill of the dead; the rationale being that this event is so painful for the family of the shooter, you don’t want to make them feel worse by truthfully describing what a sullen, angry, antisocial person their loved one was. That’s why you’ll sometimes see one or two candid interviews early, and then the same people will claim their comments were taken out of context. Seeing what they said in black and white and realizing the shooter’s family have seen it, too causes people to clam up.
Another part happens before this. There is a tendency to decide when someone in your social circle says something angry or hurtful that they are just joking. He didn’t really mean it when he said, “Someday someone’s going to sock you right in the mouth when you say stupid stuff like that.” Or the time he said, “If someone put a bullet between the eyes of every one of those bleeding heart lazy assholes, the world would be a better place.” Or the time he said, “You know none of those perverts have never worked an honest day in their life. If they all died nothing of value would be lost.” He was just teasing, we tell ourselves. He wasn’t actually threatening anyone or seriously wishing anyone dead.
So later, when he actually goes out and puts bullets in people, the folks that knew him talk about the dark sense of humor and so forth. They don’t want to think that the missed warning signs (which they did).
Abusers believe that the people they abuse deserve it. They believe that when anyone does anything that irritates them, or doesn’t conform to their ideas of how people behave that they are doing so with malicious intent toward the abuser. It can’t be that those other people are simply interested in different things, the abuser believes. They must be doing it to annoy him. That’s why abusers yell, “See what you made me do?” at their victims. They blame everything on other people. Everything, including their own unhappiness. If other people seem to be happy when the abuser isn’t, it’s because those other people are laughing at his expense, or irritating him on purpose, or causing other unpleasant things to happen the he has to deal with, and so on.This is also one of the reasons why increasing mental health resources (the only thing that Republicans are willing to pretend to be willing to do after a mass shooting) isn’t going to do anything for the problem. The abuser doesn’t think anything is wrong with him. They’re never going to seek treatment for their anger and resentment. The few who do get ordered into anger management type programs (usually as a way to avoid felony charges after an abuse incident that got them arrested—and thereby letting them in most states retain their right to buy firearms) think of the treatment as punishment and a joke. They aren’t going to make a serious effort to change.
Another thing abusers do is target the loved ones of the people they are actually angry at. We see this in domestic abuse all the time. If punishing the spouse doesn’t seem to be making the the changes they want, then they’ll punish the kids or a family pet in order to hurt and motivate the primary victim. It serves the dual purpose of making all the frequent victims hostages to get what he wants, but it also hurts in a different way than a direct attack.
So in a situation like the Texas church shooter: he was angry at his wife and his mother-in-law. His mother-in-law attended that church. His wife also had connections to the church. Everyone there was either someone who his wife and mother-in-law cared for, or had provided mental and spiritual support to the wife and mother-in-law, or they were happy people when he (the abuser) was unhappy. It’s been reported he took his kids to a social event at the church just five days before the shooting. He may have already been planning the shooting. He may not have gotten that specific. The issue is that he was a violent, angry man who had many times before used violence to try to make people in his life do what he wanted, or to punish them for not being what he wanted. Going to the festival was a way to find out more about the mother-in-law who was, in his mind, interfering with his happiness. The more he knew, the more likely he’d be able to force a change.
And even in the case where specific people don’t have a connection to anyone he is angry at right now, remember, the abuser thinks that all of his problems are other people’s fault. He likely had a wide variety of definitions of the kinds of people he blamed for specific things in the world that he didn’t like. Seemingly random people at an event like that are “those kind” of people in his mind.
The motives are easy to fathom, if you take just a few minutes to learn about how abusers think.
Edited to Add:
A couple of things came across my feed after I wrote this. Well worth your time:
I’m on a mini vacation, so I haven’t been paying as much attention to the news as usual since posting last Friday’s round up of links. So one of the first things I looked at when waking up this morning was my blog site, where I saw a whole bunch of hits on one of my posts from June 2016: Why thoughts and prayers are worse than inadequate which filled me with dread. It did not take long to find comments and news articles about the shooting in Vegas: Las Vegas shooting: At least 58 dead, 515 hurt in Mandalay Bay shooting.
I could rant about the usual suspects saying now is not to time to discuss control, and the usual BS about thoughts and prayers.
I’ve already said so much on the topic of gun violence and our society’s refusal to do anything about it: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either and Oh, lord, the leaping! and #TwoMenKissing and why the Orlando Pulse shooting was a punch in my gut…
I’m angry. I’ll be calling my congresspeople (even though they’re all progressive Democrats). But I’m not going to write about this yet again. I’m feeling a lot like Alvin McEwen of the Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters news blog: “I can’t preach or talk about anything in my usual critical stance, folks. Nor do I feel like putting out news briefs. God, I feel so very bad over the entire thing. It’s a kind of sadness that takes away all of your purpose and makes you ask why. Nothing else. Just why. But I find that when things like this happen, it helps to let the feeling wash over you. Don’t try to keep them inside. And do something light.”
So, I’m going to go do something light before getting back to work
Last week I very intentionally didn’t do a Weekend Update post to supplement the previous day’s Friday Links post. I was feeling as if I was spending every Saturday morning writing about a few headlines that caught my eye later Friday. When maybe a better use of my time would be working on my fiction, or housework, or other things that actually gets something done that needs doing, y’know?
Then we got out of the movie last night, and one friend who had just turned his phone back on tells us that there was a shooting at a mall in a town about an hour’s drive north of where we were. There was almost no information available last night, and this morning there still isn’t really much: Cascade Mall shooting: Mayor vows to ‘bring the son of a bitch to justice’.
They have some really low-res blurry pictures of a generic looking dark haired guy wearing a very generic looking maybe black t-shirt and maybe black cargo shorts. They originally put out the APB for a “hispanic male wearing gray,” but if the pictures are any indication the only part of that which might be accurate is the shooter’s gender presentation.
Seriously, I know Seattle area men who come form a long line of Norwegians who look exactly like that guy. Heck! I used to know a lesbian firefighter (who was sometimes mistaken for a guy) whose ancestors came from Switzerland and England who looked just like that guy.
Some of the news sources are reporting this as the sixth mass shooting in Washington state this year. Another source said seven, and then lists them, but there are only five total in the list. Also of note only to my fellow pedants: one of the shootings they’re counting had only two victims, another had only three. The FBI still doesn’t have an official criteria for a mass shooting, but most people compiling statistics start with the FBI’s definition of mass murder (four people killed in a single incident, not counting the perpetrator), and count anything with four people shot as a mass shooting.
I don’t know what to say.
Except this (which I think needs to be repeated every time a story of some situation like this happens): unless you have the skills, temperament, and wherewithal to be a responsible gun owner (i.e., ensure that guns are always securely stored when not in use; they are kept clean and otherwise maintained; you regularly practice not merely shooting the thing but loading it, unloading it, checking its working parts before using it, working the safety; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera), don’t go buy a gun. Statistically, you will not be safer. Statistically, everyone around you will be less safe. That’s a fact.