Do We Really Know How To Talk About Gun Violence When People Are Afraid?

I teach the gun safety course in my state that is required for anyone who wants a license to buy a gun.  The license also allows most gun owners to walk around with a concealed handgun, even though the state doesn’t actually mandate live fire as a requirement prior to buying a gun.  Which shouldn’t surprise, since there isn’t a single state whose training/proficiency criteria for CCW would meet what most trainers like myself would consider even minimal exposure to shooting, but that’s beside the point.

I usually teach 50-60 people each month.  But in the one week since the Paris attacks, almost that many people have signed up for the class.  The same thing happened after Sandy Hook, but I put that down to the fact that the massacre in Newtown provoked a clamor for tougher gun laws, which always creates a counter-response, i.e., more interest in guns.  But the ISIS attack was somewhat different, because this time the worst of our political fraternity, like Donald Trump, used the event to cynically and stupidly call out for more citizens to walk around with guns.

jihadBut let’s be honest about Trump and his publicity-mongering friends.  His calls for personal, armed resistance to jihadist threats wouldn’t garner the kind of support that he’s getting if there weren’t lots of folks out there who truly believe that their lives are made safer if they have access to a gun.  Even though Trump tailors his message to what the British used to refer to as “the mob,” a street-level terrorist attack in Paris can easily be conjured up to be like a street-level attack in New York.  And make no mistake about it, people are scared.

And this has always been one of the elephants in the living room for the GVP community, if only because their calls for ‘sensible’ gun regulations run up against a continuous and long-time effort by the gun industry to promote the ownership of guns based on fear.  It used to be fear of street crime, or what Dana Loesch lovingly refers to as ‘thugs.’  But now the fear is taking on a new dimension because while violent crime has always tended to be a factor of inner-city, ghetto life, violent terrorist attacks are much more targeted at the middle class: a commuter train blows up in Madrid, a luxury hotel is shot apart in Mumbai, in Paris it’s a fancy club.

Advocates for GVP have attempted to counter this linkage between fear, personal safety and gun ownership by producing solid research which shows that CCW not only doesn’t protect the average person from violence of any kind, but actually increases the risk of physical injury because of access to a gun.  The problem with this approach is not that the evidence about gun-risk can’t be found, it’s that evidence of any kind just doesn’t work very well when it is used in an argument created and sustained by emotions, particularly the emotion of fear. I have a very close friend who has 4 weeks of a Florida time-share every January but he gives up an entire week by driving rather than going down and back on a plane.  He has a fear of flying and no matter how many times I tell him that the odds of dying in a plane crash are 1/1000th the odds of smashing up his car, he’s still getting behind the wheel.

What makes it so difficult for us to protect ourselves from terrorism is its irrationality; like the President says, they’re not afraid to die.  Which is the same reason why trying to use a fact-based argument against self-protection with a gun isn’t necessarily a viable strategy in a time of generalized fear.  The GVP community needs to develop solid options for mitigating fear that reflect not just data-based research, but respond to honest emotions provoked by events which we cannot control.  If we are indeed in a War Against Terror, that’s the challenge that lies ahead.

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2 thoughts on “Do We Really Know How To Talk About Gun Violence When People Are Afraid?

  1. Mike, I’d like to see the GVP lobby refrain from making an issue out of CCW & Open Carry, and I’ve told them so more than once. Though some good data lately shows a net negative impact from these practices on public safety, it’s very small – i.e., about an 8% increase in assault. Though any increase in assault is a reason for some concern, opposing CCW & Open Carry are often equated with opposition to personal responsibility & self defense. And that’s a smudge on the GVP lobby’s image, which in turn makes passing a background check law more difficult.

  2. The following quote does not sound like GVP people using solid research about guns to sway people:

    “A recently uncovered 2012 gun lobby report titled “Preventing Gun Violence Through Effective Messaging” provides talking point guidelines to take advantage of violent events to advance firearms legislation. The nearly 80-page document produced by three opinion research polling firms lists as its number one “Key Messaging Principle”, to always “…focus on emotional and value-driven arguments about gun violence, not the political food fight in Washington or wonky statistics.”

    Key principle number two is to “Tell stories with images and feelings…Our first task is to draw a vivid portrait and make emotional connection. We should rely upon emotionally powerful language, feelings and images to bring home the terrible impact of gun violence.” It also advocates the use of images of scary looking guns and shooting scenes to make a point.”

    source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2013/08/25/exploiting-tragedies-dems-gun-grab-guidelines-emphasize-emotional-assaults-over-facts/

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