The Gun Debate: Who’s Really Talking?

The last time we engaged in a gun debate that was as loud and time-consuming as what erupted after Sandy Hook was when the assault-weapons ban was enacted in 1994.  But there was no internet in 1994 so it’s impossible to compare what happened then to what is going on now.  The fact that a large number of “grass roots” gun control organizations have suddenly sprung into existence doesn’t necessarily mean that the country is more or less supportive of gun restrictions versus gun rights than it was twenty years ago.  There’s simply no way to compare the noise levels from one communication environment to the other.

What we can compare is the volume of pro-gun versus anti-gun sentiment through an analysis of social media to get some idea of which side might be outshouting the other.  Everybody has a Facebook page these days and people who “like” a particular page can receive content each time the page is updated or changed. The NRA has 2,463,000 ‘likes,’ the Sandy Hook Promise organization has 60,000. Glock’s Facebook page is liked by 567,000, Mayor Bloomberg with his billions has found some way to register a whopping 18,000,  Remington has 870,000 and the Brady Campaign, which has been around since before the 1994 debate, has amassed a grand total of 57,000.  If we use Facebook to estimate grass-roots support for pro versus anti-gun positions, the gun folks outnumber their opponents by 10 to 1.

The Facebook connections made by gun people are so much higher than the anti-gun Facebook connections that we appear to be playing in different arenas. Perhaps we are. What usually goes unmentioned when we talk about guns is understanding the real motivation of gun owners.  Maybe they are hunters, maybe they are target shooters, or maybe they really believe that a gun will protect them from crime.  But in most cases gun owners are hobbyists and their hobby is guns.  They think about guns, they buy guns, they trade guns.  Don’t believe me?  Walk around a gun show and you could be walking around a ham radio show, a model train show, or a computer show.

Guns are a lot more important to people who own them than to people who don’t.  That’s why people who don’t own guns join gun control Facebook pages in much smaller numbers because the passion and the interest just isn’t there.  They’ll tell a telephone pollster that they support background checks, but they’re not going to lose any sleep if the law isn’t changed.  The fact that some young kids get murdered by a “nut” who gets his hands on a gun just doesn’t support the idea that a lawful hobby should all of a sudden become more difficult to pursue.

In the age of digital communication it doesn’t take much to secure a presence in the public debate.  All you need is a URL, a website, Facebook page and Twitter account and you’re good to go. An organization called Moms Rising recently brought 5 groups together on their blog to issue statements about gun violence, including the Children’s Defense Fund whose President, Marian Wright Edelman, is one of my personal heroes.  Together the Facebook pages of these 5 groups total slightly more than 100,000 supporters and this number probably represents numerous duplicates. The NRA is just shy of 2.5 million.  That’s a joke, and not a funny joke.

People who want to see less gun violence aren’t going to get there by reminding gun owners to lock away their guns.  It’s not about websites or t-shirts or leading a seminar at the Aspen Institute.  It’s the tough, hard job of going into one inner-city classroom again and again to talk to 30 kids about staying away from guns.  I’m going to start doing it in September and if I can save one life by making these 30 kids think about gun violence every time I stand in front of the class, then I’ve done something that all the talk, all the organizational activity and all the world’s great opinion-makers and influencers have been unable to do.

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NRA (or should I say DRGO) versus AAP: Round 2

On May 14  I published a blog criticizing the NRA ally Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership for attacking Dr. Judith Palfrey and the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The head of DRGO, Tim Wheeler, responded with several letters  which you can read (along with my responses) in the sidebar to that blog.   In one letter, he told me that all of his articles were “painstakingly researched,” but if I found any errors he would be glad to correct them.  So here goes~~

  1. On May 14 Wheeler published a link to an interview he gave on the NRA Video channel in which he referred to the gun safety advice given by Dr. Judith Palfrey on CNN.COM as “dangerously wrong.”   In fact, her specific advice for keeping guns and kids safe in the same home (lock the guns up, loan and unload carefully, etc.) reads like it was lifted right out of the NRA’s Gun Safety in the Home manual, a course that many NRA instructors, myself included, have been teaching for years.
  2. On May 7, Wheeler’s blog contained several references to America’s “100 million gun owners” whose political clout would be felt at the polls.  The latest surveys indicate that 40% of all U.S. households may contain guns.  Is Wheeler saying that each of these households has 2 1/2 gun owners living under the roof?  I guess he’s assuming that for every guy in a house with a gun there must also be a gal and of course she’s just as much into guns as he is.  Fine.  That still leaves us how to figure out the identity of the half owner.
  3. The May 1 blog was about the lobbying of AAP on Capitol Hill.  His blog referenced a story from The Hill, and asserted that the AAP wanted to ban all semi-automatic weapons and refused to recognize criminology research “showing responsible gun ownership to be a net social good.”  None of these assertions can be found in the referenced story, so I guess they’re from Wheeler’s memory bank. There’s only a small problem. The AAP has only wanted to ban semi-automatic weapons that hold hi-capacity mags (which puts them well within the mainstream) and there has yet to be a single piece of academic scholarship that has definitively linked  gun ownership to crime rates, either negatively or positively.
  4. The April 29th blog was a snide description of the CDC meeting held the previous week to begin discussing research priorities if and when Congress appropriates funding to once again allow the CDC to support research into gun violence.  Perhaps Dr. Wheeler took painstaking notes about the meeting but there’s no evidence that he did any research for this blog.  He was at pains, however, to note the absence of another right-wing, pro-gun researcher named John Lott who, according to Wheeler, is the nation’s “foremost researcher of the effects of gun ownership on crime.”  So here we have one painstaking gun researcher vouching for the credentials of another one.  Except there’s one little problem, namely, that Wheeler is talking about the same John Lott whose painstaking research was discredited when it turned out that he not only faked data used for his thesis but later faked his own identity to strike back at his critics.
  5. The April 19th blog is simply an unvarnished editorial about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment in the Senate along with the usual anti-Obama claptrap that sometimes makes me believe that people like Wheeler still think that the 2012 election didn’t take place.  Painstaking research?  There’s no research.
  6. The April 16th blog is a rehash of the May 14 blog which attacked Dr. Judith Palfrey and the American Academy of Pediatrics over their position on guns, and since Wheeler found it necessary to repeat his criticisms about the AAP, I’ll repeat my comments about him.  Either he didn’t bother to read the AAP Policy Statement on Preventing Firearm-Related Injuries, in which case he’s simply wrong.  Or he did bother to read it in which case he’s not only wrong but a liar.  And just to make it clear, when I use the word ‘liar’ I am simply asserting that someone knows something to be true and states otherwise.  If Dr. Wheeler read the AAP Policy Statement he could not have described it the way he did unless he consciously chose to misrepresent what was said.  In which case, he’s a liar. Either way, this blog does not contain any painstaking research, or any research of any kind, for that matter.
  7. The April 2nd blog is an attack on Marian Wright Edelman who, as President of the Children’s Defense Fund spoke out about gun violence after the massacre at Sandy Hook.  There’s no research here, there’s just another editorial swipe at a long-time advocate for children who doesn’t think that guns and kids are a good mix.  But I did notice one tiny bit of data that struck me as rather odd, given that it was presented by a man who describes his own research as “painstaking.”  In his attack on Dr. Edelman, our painstaking scholar Wheeler mentions that 80 million Americans own guns.  Yet his May 7th blog contains several references to the 100 million Americans who own guns.  Is he saying that 20 million more Americans became gun owners between April 2nd and May 7th?  I raise this point because Dr. Wheeler assured me in his response to my previous blog that his work was based on “painstaking” research.  So I took him at his word and began looking for examples of his painstaking efforts.  I read every word of his last seven blogs and the only, single fact that I could find that came from him rather than from someone else was the number of Americans who own guns.  Except that the number changed – in just 5 weeks it jumped by 20 million.

So much for the painstaking research of Dr. Wheeler, the NRA medicine-man who can’t tell the difference between research and editorials and probably doesn’t care.  Yes, we will be publishing some more blogs on Wheeler and the other so-called scholars who toady up for the NRA.