Stupid Reactions to the School Shooting

by Benjamin Studebaker

In the aftermath of the recent school shooting in the United States, there have been a number of responses thrown around on the internet, particularly on social networks, and many of them are well, just plain stupid. They are poorly thought out, ill-reasoned, and illogical. Today I’d like to highlight a few of these viral, popular, yet at the same time, utterly inane and intellectually vacuous responses and the reasons for why they are so very bad, in the continued hope of contributing, in whatever small way I can, to the dispelling of falsities and fallacies.

Here is the roster of bad opinions I wish to take on today:

  1. The Religion Argument: If only we were more religious, there would be less gun violence.
  2. The Fake Morgan Freeman: If only the media would stop making such a big deal out of highlighting the shooter, there would be less gun violence.

Not wishing to be merely a cruel critic of the views of others, I will conclude by pointing once again to to my own view as to what would reduce the incidence of gun violence in the United States, a view which I hope the reader will find far more reasonable.

The Religion Argument:

This argument stems primarily from a series of quotes circulating around social networks from the father of one of the victims of the Columbine massacre, in which he argues for prayer as the answer to gun violence. As an example, here is one such quote from him:

If you remove religious principles from education, it will breed immorality and that’s what’s happened.

Here’s the argument, as I understand it:

  1. We have a duty to prevent school shootings.
  2. Only the religious can be moral.
  3. Therefore, a society that becomes less religious will also become less moral.
  4. School shootings are a kind of immorality.
  5. Therefore, school shootings occur in less moral societies.
  6. Therefore, school shootings occur in less religious societies.
  7. Therefore, we should be more religious to prevent school shootings.

I agree that we have a duty to prevent school shootings and that school shootings are a kind of immorality. However, it is patently false that only the religious can be moral, or that morality and religiousness go hand in hand, particularly in reference to gun violence. Being religious does not make you any less likely to kill someone with a gun than not being religious does. How do I know this? Statistics:

Religion and Guns

Stats compiled from here, here, and in reference to some of the material from a previous post. What we see here is a very weak relationship actually in favour of the reverse of the premise–the less religious countries generally do slightly better at stopping gun violence. The relationship is not strong, however–there are some countries with very high percentages that believe in god that are relatively safe (Italy, Australia) and others that are relatively ungodly but comparatively dangerous (France). The net conclusion? Religion certainly doesn’t help stop gun violence, but it’s not a significant contributing factor, either. It doesn’t belong in the discussion–it’s irrelevant. This is why the argument is so very misguided, it has absolutely nothing to do with anything and provides a go-to distraction from arguments that do. But we’ll get to that. First, we have to debunk Fake Morgan Freeman.

The Fake Morgan Freeman Argument:

This argument has been running around Facebook under the false credibility of purporting to having been said by that voice of all voices, Morgan Freeman. Freeman has denied ever making the statement; it’s a bold-faced lie. Here’s a bit of what Fake Freeman is said to have said:

It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single victim of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he’ll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody … CNN’s article says that if the body count ‘holds up,’ this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer’s face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer’s identity? None that I’ve seen yet. Because they don’t sell.

Personally, I did not know off the top of my head the names of the Columbine shooters, but I’m not very good with names, and it’s besides the point. Here’s what this argument is saying:

  1. People commit school shootings to be famous.
  2. The media makes school shooters famous.
  3. Therefore, the media encourages people to commit school shootings so that they may be famous.
  4. Therefore, the media is to blame for school shootings.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that 1-3 are all true. Even if all three of these are true, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. This argument is not merely wrong, it’s invalid, because it makes a leap to blame that ignores the prior cause. Why does the media make school shooters famous? Fake Morgan Freeman offers us a glimpse of this–because school shooters sell. Why do school shooters sell newspapers and magazines? Why do articles about them get hits on the internet? Why, because the public will buy and click, of course. If the public had no interest in school shooters, the media would have no profit motive to supply the demand for information about school shooters, because said demand would not exist. You cannot have a supply without demand, and consequently you cannot blame the supplier for the existence of the market. The supplier does not independently sustain the market, but does so only with the assistance of demand. So what this argument is really saying is actually quite different, and quite a bit more extreme, than first meets the eye:

  1. People commit school shootings to be famous.
  2. School shooters become famous because the public wants to read about school shooters, and the media supplies this demand.
  3. The people are wrong to want to read about school shooters and the media is wrong to supply them with information.
  4. Therefore the free market produces a bad outcome.
  5. Therefore, we should restrict and regulate free markets to protect society from people’s bad choices.

Many of the people agreeing with Fake Freeman are doing so in order to distract from relevant, serious solutions to gun violence,  but it seems that, in so doing, many of them are also agreeing with the economic leftists, a group with which I very much doubt many of them are happy to associate.

As for that serious solution to gun violence, I posted about it the other day (and that post is complete with source links if you doubt my word), but to draw this whole piece together, I’ll once again post the statistics:

Guns by Country

The single most important factor in determining the number of people who will be killed with guns is the number of guns out there in the first place. And, lest the argument be made that murderers would just murder with other weapons, the UK, Netherlands, and Japan all have very low homicide rates as well. The evidence on this is crystal clear, the counter-arguments either fly in the face of the stats or have seedy implications to which their supporters would not readily agree.

Ban them. Confiscate them. Melt them down.