Debate over guns requires clear thinking and factsBy Nicolas Briscoe | 10/03/2017 9:51pm
“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means for inspiration and survival.” These words, spoken with defiant confidence by Winston Churchill to his beleaguered nation, have never lost their truth. It feels today as if we are constantly discovering a new depth to which human evil can sink. After every tragedy, we are assaulted by a cacophony of competing takes that forms an overwhelming echo chamber of righteous sorrow and outrage. Immediately, we find that a debate between @IMPEACH_TRUMP_NOW and @TRUMP_MAGA_DEPLORABLE has exploded in 140 characters or less, lighting Twitter ablaze as legislators echo the sentiments of the two foes. As one might imagine, the debate is not a somber discussion of ideas made from a foundation of mutually accepted facts. In fact, it is difficult to believe that the two Twitter crusaders reside in the same dimension, let alone the same country.
On the night of Oct. 1, at a country music festival in Las Vegas, shots erupted from a room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and killed (as of the writing of this piece) 58 people while injuring over 500 more. The photographs from the scene are horrifying. The videos are surreal. It is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, as the death toll quickly overtook that of the horrific Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando last year. The fallout from what is already being referred to as the “Vegas Massacre” is, predictably, taking the exact form of those prior. “How many people must die?” “Why have we not banned automatic weapons?,” even though we did in 1986. On the right, we find a similar chorus of quick-reaction hot takes. We get into shouting matches and transport the same talking points from tragedy to tragedy, despite no two being quite the same. Were we to replace the opinions echo chamber following the Pulse Nightclub shooting with the current one following this latest tragedy, we likely would not be able to tell the difference. This is a problem.
The problem exists not as it relates to the incidents themselves, but the flood of policy imperatives that follows the emotionally charged opening of the proverbial floodgates. Speculation is that the weapons used by the assailant in Las Vegas were fully automatic rifles, leading many to call for the immediate banning of all such weapons from sale to civilians. A noble crusade, though 31 years late. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Gun Owner’s Protection Act (GOPA), banning the sale of fully automatic machine guns from that date forward. Existing automatic rifles were grandfathered in, but mandated to comply with a bevy of federal regulations. All of those claiming that an automatic weapons ban would have prevented this tragedy or any other are missing one important piece of information—they have been banned for three decades. Not an insignificant detail.
Adding to the tidal wave of misinformation and truly horrifying political gamesmanship, Hillary Clinton asked Twitter to imagine a world in which the shooter had used a suppressor which, in her mind, renders a weapon ghostly silent. Imagine the deaths, she pleaded, had the shooter used a silencer, which the NRA is conveniently pushing to deregulate. In the conclusion to a three-part Twitter treatise, Clinton says, “Our grief isn’t enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.” One must marvel at Clinton’s ability to denounce the politicization of tragedy while blatantly and immediately politicizing tragedy.
Even worse and more dangerous than an incompetent politician playing politics is how completely erroneous her assertions are. She and those making similar arguments continue to push the flagrantly false notion that suppressors silence gunshots. In reality, while a gunshot averages between 160 to 180 decibels, a suppressor generally reduces that by about 20 decibels. For comparison, 140 decibels is around the level of an aircraft carrier flight deck. 130 decibels is around the level of a military jet taking off with full afterburner. 120 decibels is around the level of a chainsaw. The comments made by the former presidential hopeful and those echoing her sentiments are not only grotesque in their doublespeak, but also flagrant in their propagandistic misinformation.
In the immediate aftermath of terror, we experience the full spectrum of human emotion. We are at once angry, confused, devastated and horrified. We cannot comprehend the evil that might possess another person to commit such heinous acts, so we think and pray both for the victims and for some degree of divine understanding. But above all, we must think clearly and soundly. We cannot succumb to the whirlwind of hot-take madness. Before demanding that we must do everything possible to prevent this from happening again, it is advisable to know exactly what it is we are preventing from happening again. Conducting debates in the heat of emotional turmoil inevitably results in poor policy. As we are seeing in real time, those with agendas will not hesitate to push misinformation in order to advance them. Truth and reason are always most vulnerable immediately following the outbreak of pandemonium—but they must carry the day.