Reaction to the NRA Press Conference

by Benjamin Studebaker

Yesterday, the NRA and their leader, Wayne LaPierre, gave a press conference with its reaction to the Newton Connecticut shooting. Given that I opted to give my opinion on the issue of gun violence reduction, I think it is necessary to discuss what the NRA is saying and what the implications of its position are. So, without further ado, let’s get to dissecting.

The first notable bit in the press conference is this:

We care about our president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by Capitol Police officers. Yet, when it comes to our most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it, and exploit it.

What the NRA is doing here is trying to contain the discussion to school shootings. The recent school shooting is a symptom of a wider culture of gun violence. The United States vastly outpaces all other developed countries in incidence of people getting killed with firearms. That problem is much bigger than putting security personnel in schools. Our policy goal must not be to respond to one specific anecdote, one very rare, very traumatic, and very disturbing kind of gun violence, but to gun violence more broadly as a category. It is clear that once we start looking at gun violence broadly, rather than specific kinds of gun violence, that the logic of the NRA no longer applies. If we wish to stop gun deaths everywhere, we either need security personnel everywhere, an impractical response (though it would certainly reduce that unemployment rate I keep going on about), or we need to deal with the number of guns in our society. I’ve posted it before, but readers who have not seen my previous work on this topic may not be familiar:

Guns by Country

Anyone who is seriously interested in reducing gun violence, not merely school shootings, has to take some kind of national gun control on board. In trying to contain this issue to one of keep schools secure rather than addressing the wider social disease of gun violence, the NRA ducks the debate in its entirety. It hopes to draw us into a discussion on how to keep schools secure rather than a discussion about how to reduce the incidence of violence. The NRA’s “solution” is a red herring, and it is designed to be such.

On some level, the NRA knows this, which is why it goes on to toss up a thousand different reasons to explain the high rate of gun violence in America all of which, of course, have nothing to do with the statistical correlation between the number of guns and the incidence of gun violence.

First, LaPierre adopts the Fake Morgan Freeman argument:

How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark.

I responded to this a few days ago. To reiterate, blaming the media blames the supplier for an economic relationship that can only subsist because there is demand. The media supplies the public with information about shooters because the public clicks on and buys content about shooters. Blaming the media is really equivalent to blaming human beings for their natural inclinations and interests; the only solution to that would be gross restrictions on press freedom and/or the free market, policies that are even less desirable than the violence we see. It also once again attempts to restrict the issue down to the rare mass shooters–our violence problem is not merely one of mass shooters. Most of the 12,000 or so Americans killed by guns each year are the victims of single homicides, suicides, or accidents. Policies that only address the very small percentage of these that are killed in mass shootings do not even begin to address the problem.

Next, LaPierre blames crime:

The fact is this: [mental health reform] wouldn’t even begin to address the much larger, more lethal criminal class — killers, robbers, rapists, gang members who have spread like cancer in every community across our nation. Meanwhile, while that happens, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40 percent, to the lowest levels in a decade. So now, due to a declined willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years.

While the poverty and desperation caused by the recession (I very much doubt it has anything to do with the rate of prosecutions–the financial crisis is by far a much bigger change in variables.) may very well have caused an up-tick in crime, we have a very long way to go to to get back to the crime rates of the nineties:

Then LaPierre blames the culture:

And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal. There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like “Bullet Storm,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Mortal Combat,” and “Splatterhouse.”

And here’s one, it’s called “Kindergarten Killers.” It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research staff can find it, and all of yours couldn’t? Or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it? Add another hurricane, add another natural disaster. I mean we have blood-soaked films out there, like “American Psycho,” “Natural Born Killers.” They’re aired like propaganda loops on Splatterdays and every single day.

1,000 music videos, and you all know this, portray life as a joke and they play murder — portray murder as a way of life. And then they all have the nerve to call it entertainment. But is that what it really is? Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography? In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior, and criminal cruelty right into our homes. Every minute, every day, every hour of every single year.

In order for this argument to have force, the United States would have to have a significantly more violent popular culture than any of the other developed countries that have much lower rates of gun violence. In the high-violence USA, we got the bloodless The Hunger GamesTen years earlier, however, low-violence Japan got Battle Royale:

Battle Royale is one violent, bloody murder of a child after another. Some of the children are even murdered by one of their teachers. Unlike Hunger Games, the children all know each other beforehand, and so many of the murders become the carrying out of personal vendettas, and all of the murders are graphically violent. It puts even the most gruesome and violent of US media to shame, and, despite this, Japan has the lowest gun violence rate of all developed countries. Why? Because it has no guns. Last I checked, Battle Royle was available for streaming on Netflix, should the reader wish to view it.

LaPieree goes on to attack the media for its portrayal of guns and to reiterate his support for armed police officers in schools as a policy answer, and once again, such an answer accounts only for a tiny minority of the cases in which people with guns kill other people. It is not a comprehensive answer; it is a Band-Aid, and it flies in the face of statistical evidence that shows that countries that control their guns experience far lower rates of gun violence, regardless of their media culture.

The hope the NRA has here is that what we are seeing is not a comprehensive reaction against gun violence, but only a visceral, emotional reaction to school shootings specifically. It is a policy of containment–only talk about school shootings, pretend that everything else is okay. Everything else is not okay. When you have more than a 100 times as many people per unit of population dying of gun violence as Japan does, your gun policy is not okay. The NRA is not serious about solving that problem. Its entire goal, throughout this press conference, is to deflect blame from guns anywhere and everywhere regardless of the statistical or comparative validity of what it is saying.

It is not hard to look at low-violence countries like Japan, the Netherlands, or the United Kingdom and see how they are different and how they are the same. It is not hard to see that the behaviour of the media or of the video game and film industries has no serious correlation with violence. Sony and Nintendo come straight out of Japan. American films are global, and many of the foreign films are more, not less, graphically violent. The NRA is not taking this issue seriously, it is not trying to solve the problem, and it is perfectly happy to mislead the public with demonstrably false claims. It is time for its hegemony over the issue of gun violence in the United States to end.