Tom Gabor: Unrelenting Gun Violence and Lax Gun Laws Erode Our Freedoms

The gun lobby and gun rights advocates often claim that increasing gun rights makes Americans more free.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Yes, permissive gun laws increase the freedom of the minority (30%) of adults who are gun owners to purchase virtually any weapon they choose.  However, increasing the availability of firearms erodes our freedoms–including those of gun owners and their families–in a number of ways. 

There is significant evidence showing that higher gun ownership levels, more gun carrying, and increasing the presence of guns in homes tend to make people less safe.  While guns are sometimes used for self-protection, they are used far more often in crime, against domestic partners, in suicides, and in unintentional injuries and fatalities.  It follows that lowering gun ownership and gun carrying will save lives and prevent injuries, thereby sparing many Americans from the loss of life and the unimaginable injuries and horrors associated with losing or caring for a loved one who has been shot. 

More Americans are reporting being mindful of the dangers of being shot when entering shopping malls, houses of worship, theaters and entertainment districts, night clubs and other crowded places.  Such fear is certainly not freedom.  Nor is the fear of students who are often terrified to go to school.  An American Psychological Association survey has found that the fear of being caught in a school shooting is at the top of the list of stressors for students between the ages of 15 and 21.  Freedom is not the term that comes to mind when we think of K-12 students participating in active shooter drills and cowering in classroom corners and under desks.

In response to school shootings, states like Florida with especially influential gun lobbies prefer to do anything but address the widespread availability of guns and assault-style weapons.  They want to focus on arming teachers and school staff, turning school properties into high security prison-like settings, conducting drills, and focusing on mental health despite the fact that most school shooters do not have a serious mental illness.  The militarization of schools represents the antithesis of freedom for students and school staff.

Requiring or incentivizing teachers and school staff to carry guns is dangerous and will cost lives rather than free people from gun violence.   Active shooters are almost never taken down by armed civilians but putting arms in the hands of improperly trained individuals will lead to fatal shootings within the school, thefts of guns, accidental shootings, and other misuses.  It forces talented teachers out of education and interferes with the right of students to have the best education possible.  Teachers, students, and administrators alike oppose the practice and, yet, the gun lobby is pressing to arm teachers since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA famously stated: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

The militarization of schools through arming teachers and active shooter drills provide constant reminders to students of the dangers of an active shooter.  Rather than freedom, this is a constant distraction from their studies.  At the college level, allowing guns on campus seems counterproductive as universities have consistently been shown to be safer than the surrounding community.  Why import the community’s problems onto campuses? 

Two years ago, three University of Texas at Austin professors filed a lawsuit against the stateAttorney General and several officials at the university over a 2015 law allowing concealed handguns on college campuses. The professors argued the law infringed their First Amendment right to academic freedom, saying the carrying of guns into classrooms created a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.  As a former criminology professor, I would imagine that the free-wheeling discussions we had on such controversial topics as abortion, sexual assault, and race and justice, would have been far more subdued or would not have been broached at all had students been “packing.” 

The most extreme manifestation of how individuals wielding guns can deprive others of their First Amendment rights are displays of menacing behavior by gun rights activists aimed at groups who are engaging in activism to bring about gun law reform.  Armed groups such as Open Carry Texas and the Utah Gun Exchange have bullied and threatened individuals organizing voluntary gun buybacks and have stalked activist students seeking changes in gun laws as they made their way around the country.

Finally, a shocking example of how the gun violence epidemic can lead to an erosion of our freedoms is shown by a Senate Republican bill that would tackle mass and school shootings through the enhanced  monitoring of students’ communications.  Rather than addressing the roots of the despair that lead young people to commit school shootings and their easy access to weapons capable of mass slaughter, the GOP, a party historically concerned about invasions of privacy, recently filed a bill that would dig deeply into the online activities of students. 

The legislation would require federally funded schools to install software to surveil students’ online activities, potentially including their emails and searches, in order to identify “violent” or alarming content.  Education groups say that such intensification of social media and network surveillance can discourage children from expressing themselves online.  Social media monitoring has already increased dramatically in response to gun violence.  The Brennan Center for Justice notes that, from 2013 to 2018, the number of school districts across the country that purchased social media monitoring software increased from six to 63.

Schools are being inundated with alerts, with some receiving over a hundred a day.  The technology does not merely monitor student activity during the school day but operates 24/7, monitoring school email accounts, web searches, and, in some cases, students’ public social media accounts as well.

The jury is still out in terms of the impact of this dramatic escalation in student monitoring.  There is a significant concern that student communications may be misinterpreted due to student cultural differences and casual conversations that may be mistakenly viewed as threats by the software employed, potentially exposing a much wider pool of students to the attention of law enforcement.

While some monitoring of student activities may be desirable, there is a difference between encouraging young people to come forward if they witness threatening behaviors or statements and the routine, around-the-clock electronic surveillance of young people that will often misinterpret loose talk of kids as a threat and bring some form of heavy-handed response.  Ultimately, the latter will lead kids to be more secretive and find ways to communicate with their peers that will circumvent the monitoring.  Surveillance may be politically more palatable than dealing with the alienation and trauma experienced by young people, as well as the enactment of effective gun laws.  However, such monitoring does nothing to address the social, psychological, and familial factors that lead young people to commit horrific acts.  To the extent that we persist in ignoring the reasons for the carnage we are seeing, we will continue to fail to free our kids and society from the ever-present threat of gun violence.

Thomas Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist and author of ENOUGH! Solving America’s Gun Violence Crisis (thomasgaborbooks.com)

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21 thoughts on “Tom Gabor: Unrelenting Gun Violence and Lax Gun Laws Erode Our Freedoms

  1. I would like to congratulate Mr. Gabor for the distinction of having absolute perfect, five star reviews over at Amazon Books for his two amazing works on gun control.

    Seventy one total reviews that are in absolute lock step agreement with your brilliance.

    One question does come to mind: those reviews seem to be clustered in one, rather small, geographic region. Anyone care to guess where that is?

    I ask a simple question. How many of those reviews are from someone you know, are employed by you, or are you affiliated with?

  2. Some people try to discredit others when they cannot rebut their arguments. The reviews of my books are from all over–Massachusetts, Maryland, Arizona, Florida, other states and even Canada. Yes, there are more from Florida, where I have a large social and social media network. People submit reviews voluntarily–none of them work for me. I’m happy to engage with those not interested in character assassination.

    • Dr. Gabor,
      “… address the social, psychological, and familial factors that lead young people to commit horrific acts.” I’m 100% with you on that remark!
      Even if gun violence, or violence of any kind did not exist, assisting young people in their positive, healthy development should be a top societal priority.
      Any thoughts on how do we get there?

      • Hello Brent,

        In my view, it’s all these factors and the access to lethal weapons that allows individuals at risk to extinguish one or more lives in a matter of seconds or minutes. These factors are many and have been studied by criminologists for years. In one book, Basics of Criminology, I discuss some preventive programs and in ENOUGH I mention a few specific programs, such as Cure Violence, that address retaliatory violence in high-risk neighborhoods. Operation Ceasefire is another. Unfortunately, I would have to write another book to go through them. Here is an older review to get you started: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/171676.PDF

        The original report by the authors covered close to 1,000 programs.

      • Thanks for the response, Doctor. The problem sure is multi-faceted. But common sense gun laws are definitely part of the solution.
        I further wish we could solve many of our social and familial ills as well, because even without their connection to fomenting violence they cause folks a lot of grief.

  3. 71 completely random people all giving your work the highest possible ranking? You don’t think there is anything odd about this?

    So, who is this Larry J. Behar then?

    How about the anonymous Amazon customers who have but two reviews of ANYTHING and they just happen to be your two books?

    There is also a rather high number of reviews from the League of Women Voters. How many of them do you know? DO these ladies get any kind of discount on your books? Let’s throw that same question regarding your wife as well.

    You have failed to respond to my questions from October 20th of this year(this blog). They are factually correct observations and you are unwilling to respond.

    Again, is Justifiable Homicide an act of Gun Violence?

    You dismiss me because I’m interested in assassinating your character?
    Sadly, I lack the power to assassinate your character. If what I say is false then you can easily refute it. Yet, you don’t.

    Here’s another one: “In my view the incitement coming from the White House was a contributing factor at the event in Pittsburgh and other events we have seen in recent days.” Thomas Gabor, Novemeber 3, 2018

    You are a researcher. Got anything to back that statement?

  4. Mr. Ashbless, I don’t dismiss anybody’s views but I may have not seen your comments. I keep pretty busy.

    Regarding your attempt to assassinate my character, the reviews are what they are. I didn’t pay for any, nobody got a discount and I don’t have people working for me. The reviews are what they are. You can spend your time tracking them down; I will enjoy my Thanksgiving holiday. My wife did not post any reviews of my book on Amazon and I would appreciate if you kept my family out of this.

    Justifiable homicides, according to the FBI, make up less than 1% of all homicides so their numbers are insignificant with regard to the overall homicide rate. In any event, I focus on criminal homicides.

    With regard to Pittsburgh, I stated it was my opinion but that opinion is based on FBI data, and several anti-hate groups, like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League, which have reported dramatic increases in hate crimes and hate groups with white supremacist views during Trump’s tenure. Call it a coincidence if you wish.

  5. I sent Tom about eight pages of comments on ENOUGH, some positive and some critical but I was generally happy with his book even when I disagreed with some of his arguments. If I can remember to ask my wife her Amazon password I can add something short there. I could post my review on Mike’s site with Tom’s permission, although I wrote it for his eyes only.

    If you have violent subcultures in general, then adding guns just makes those cultures more lethal. I think Mike has made comments here about generally higher level of violence in the U.S. compared to some other advanced nations. Case in point, Albuquerque, which currently leads all cities in some aspects of violent crime. Plus as David Yamane has said, we have moved into a gun culture stressing self defense rather than sport and to me, that can lead some to a Maslow’s Handgun mentality.

    Compared to the number of households with guns, gun violence is atypical but compared to the number of cars, car fatals are atypical. But that doesn’t mean we turn our back on the two problems.Also doesn’t mean I want to trample on the lives of people who never misuse firearms.

    • Thanks Khal. Please feel free to post your review of my book anywhere you would like. I’m always happy to discuss candid and fair reviews of my work. Agreed that there are many factors that “cause” violence and that easy access to firearms makes at risk individuals or groups more dangerous. Other than one line of inquiry referred to as a “weapons effect”, guns do not “cause” violence but do tend to make violent acts and self-inflicted violence more lethal. Apart from all the research and testimony from surgeons, it is just common sense that the deployment of firearms in a dispute is more likely to lead to death and grievous injury than punching someone in the nose.

      I don’t want to trample on anybody’s rights but the fact is that expanding requirements on gun owners (e.g., licensing) or restricting the use of certain weapons will mean that gun owners must give up the notion that they are entitled to any gun for any purpose. The general public also has the right to be safe from violence. Our society will be increasingly dysfunctional if this right is ignored.

      • Tom,

        Khal, Mike, myself and many other gun nuts favor some form of graduated gun regulation system where the more lethal a class of firearm is, the stricter the regulation. I like the German gun law system, from what I know of it.

      • Bit of a false dichotomy. Most gun owners don’t think they are entitled to any gun for any purpose, at least according to some of the polls I’ve seen. Sure, the more extreme ones think so but some of the more extreme anti-gun folks want to repeal the 2A and ban wholesale.

        Fact is most gun owners are pretty safe–close to 100 million owners and 10k homicides, most by people who are already prohibited persons. I think we could have a graduated licensing system. We could encourage if not require safe storage to prevent theft, which is a major conduit to the black market. It would do nothing to prevent most gun deaths (accidents and suicides) but might restore some sense of balance if carefully considered laws with low fees for any compliance were in effect. But then you have NYC or some other locations that try to “poll tax” gun owners out of existence.

        I’m one of the people who can afford the hoop jumping but those fees are not fair to those who are not so fortunate.

      • Agreed that we should avoid false dichotomies.

        I have no problem with Germany’s graduated licensing system but don’t recall if that includes AR-style weapons and extended magazines. Most countries do not allow civilians to have them.

        There is growing evidence to support child access prevention/safe storage laws.

      • Germany does allow assault-style weapons and large capacity magazines for them. But they have something of an NFA type approach regarding them.

  6. I can not agree more with your comment on the dramatic escalation in student montoring. I know in the state I live this is being used as a tool to support “red flag” orders. There have been several newspaper article concerning people/students who have received Ex Parte orders based on social media posts. This definately gives a “chilling effect” to students and their freedom of speach. GREAT POINT…

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