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Op-Ed in RTD – “Our Right to Keep and Bear Arms” – Misfires Badly

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by Andy Goddard

In a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed, entitled “Election Issue – Our right to keep and bear arms”, Paula Nachman implores readers not to be fooled by the “fake news” promoted by the “gun control lobby.” Oddly enough, she then goes on to fill her column with highly suspect, if not clearly fake, news. She paints a very gloomy picture of what she calls gun control, which she characterizes as an organized effort to enact laws that would “not make us safer,” but instead simply “make it harder for honest and hard working Virginians to defend themselves” by “criminalizing gun ownership by law abiding citizens.”

This gun control stuff sure sounds like a ridiculous idea, and I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Luckily, there is no need to worry about her half-baked notions, because nobody I know that works on trying to reduce gun violence (as I do) is trying to disarm a single “honest and hard working” person. Instead, the gun-violence-prevention measures we champion are targeted at reducing the needless violence which seems to come as a byproduct of the fact that our country is awash with poorly regulated firearms. Our main aim is to make it harder for people who have no legal right to own guns to have easy access to them. This involves a number of changes such as: making ALL gun buyers subject to a background check, keeping guns out of the hands of those who have already exhibited violent behavior and by keeping the guns that people already own safer, so that they are not misused by children or stolen by thieves.

None of these efforts would result in even the slightest disruption of the ability of “honest and hard working Virginians” to defend themselves. Considering that there are already well over 300 million guns in private hands in this country, how could those guns suddenly become useless for self-protection if say their owners were required to get a background check to buy more guns?

Regardless of which side you are on in the gun debate, I think we can all agree that the deaths of more than 1,000 Virginians from gunshot injuries each year (way more than from vehicle accidents) is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. The Second Amendment means many different things to different people, but I don’t think it was intended to ensure that 110,000 Americans be shot each year and almost 40,000 of them die from their injuries!

In her op-ed, Nachman cites a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2013, which estimates defensive gun uses ranging from 500,000 to 3 million per year, as a justification for the efficacy of gun ownership. Apart from the obvious facts that the CDC is prevented by federal law from spending any money on gun-related research, and that many studies have shown such figures to be wildly exaggerated, Nachman fails to point out that the gun lobby’s own research indicates that 93% of all defensive gun uses are in situations where a gun is simply shown to a potential aggressor, who then retreats. Sadly the reality is that there is no research being done to determine how many times guns are used to intimidate innocent victims or how many times their presence simply escalates a tense situation into one that results in death or injury. However, in reality the need to demonstrate the value of guns as self defense tools is unnecessary, since no proposed measures would impact the ability of honest and hard working Virginians to defend themselves with guns.

Apparently the numerous polls conducted in Virginia, which show an overwhelming level of support for background checks on all gun sales, is a “false narrative,” according to Nachman. Instead, we are to believe that Virginians do not support “failed gun control schemes.” Perhaps that isn’t surprising when you consider that no meaningful changes to tighten gun laws have taken place in Virginia in the last decade or so. It would be hard to determine whether any of those changes were a success or a failure, given that they haven’t happened. Nachman’s assertion that Virginians support NRA-endorsed candidates more often than candidates who support gun violence prevention, would be disturbing if it wasn’t so laughably untrue.

The narrative that our Second Amendment rights are under attack is a frequent dog whistle sounded by gun lobby extremists. But we need to remember that the underlying intention of this is to promote more gun sales, by ginning up fear and thwarting any attempts to reduce unnecessary gun violence.

Finally, it seems odd that the author quotes the effectiveness of Project Exile, which “aggressively prosecuted armed criminals,” at the very time that the GOP is promoting a federal bill that would prevent judges from considering whether a criminal was armed or not, during sentencing.

Fake news is a scourge and a huge threat to our democracy, but efforts to counter it will not succeed if they themselves rely on fake “facts.”