Charles Blow has written the column I toyed with writing, dreaded writing and avoided writing.
In “Has the NRA won?” Blow analyzes the evidence that the United States has become a nation of gun lovers who incorrectly believe that they’re safer with a gun in the house and in the holster.
Blow tracks the odd phenomenon of rising guns sales after every mass murder. He blames it on a boomerang effect: Mass murders using guns get people talking about gun control, which compels gun-toters to buy more for fear that they won’t be able to when stronger gun laws pass. Not mentioned by Blow, but a similar phenomenon, is the flurry of state legislation that loosen gun regulations after each mass murder.
Like many progressives, I have lately consoled myself with the fact that fewer people than ever own guns in the United States. The University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center reports that only 32% of all American households own guns, down from 50% just three decades ago. Since there is about one gun per person in the United States (or 50% of all guns owned privately in the entire world!), that means that those who own guns have more of them.
Thus, for a long time I and others have reasoned that Americans really do want to rid society of the plague of guns, but that craven politicians afraid of the financial clout of the National Rifle Association (NRA) have blocked the passage of laws that make it harder to buy and carry firearms and passed laws that loosen firearm restrictions. The storyline of the bad NRA corrupting politicians to obstruct the will of the people has provided reasonable people with both solace and a large and prominent enemy to battle.
Of course, besides corrupting elected officials, the NRA, helped by the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the world, has unleashed a propaganda machine that spouts false information about violent crime increasing and gun ownership making homes and society safer. The little research out there clearly demonstrates that an increase in the number of guns owned in any country increases the number of deaths and injuries from guns. Research also shows that far more people die each year from friendly fire than are saved by pulling out a gun against an attacker or criminal. Note that there haven’t been enough of these surveys done, since Congress passed a law that prevents federal money being used to fund studies on gun violence. What’s out there, however, shows that gun ownership in and of itself makes our streets—and homes—more dangerous places.
The result of this endless barrage of false information and fearmongering is what Charles Blow lays out in his latest column: A new Pew Research Center survey showing more Americans now believe that protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership and a 2014 Gallup poll that says that 63% of all Americans believe that having a gun in the home makes it safer. The second statistic is particularly disturbing because just 15 years ago in 2000, only 35% of those polled thought a home was safer with a gun in it. That Gallup poll also showed that 63% of Americans believe crime is on the rise, even though crime is at a 20-year low. Not many people connect this decrease in crime with the decrease in households with guns, possibly because not many people are aware that crime and household ownership of guns are both down.
If only 32% of households own guns and 63% of Americans think households are safer with guns, does that mean that gun sales are set to expand? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it certainly shows that at this point in time, much of our nation is dedicated to making it easier for people to own and carry guns. Lies have won over truth.
“The N.R.A. appears to be winning this round,” is how Blow ends his disturbing article. I think that’s a very optimistic understatement. I’m thinking the NRA has won not just the round, but the entire game. For the time being, we are a nation that supports private ownership of guns with little if any restrictions, certainly less than we place on those who drive automobiles.
That our support is based on lies may enrage and confuse us, but it shouldn’t surprise us. Americans seem to be ever more susceptible to the big lie, be it the lie that guns keep us safe, the lie that humans are not making the Earth too warm too quickly for our own good, or the lie that lowering taxes on the wealthy is the key to creating new jobs and ending economic inequality. In each case, what the liars propose to make things better actually make them worse for most of us.