Guest Post: Myth vs. Reality in the Gun Debate Today
By Sam Bocetta, Writer and Historian
I’m an open-minded observer of our great political process, and have voted both Republican and Democrat in the past. I feel strongly about a variety of issues, but I am also willing to listen to reasoned debate on them. As long as I feel my opponent has understood the issues at hand, and has taken the time to research them, I have no problem with my opinions being questioned.
What I can’t stand are arguments based on myths that are easily dis-proven: that is, people arguing from an entrenched ideological position without having taken the time to logically assess the issue. We are all, of course, guilty of this from time to time, because no-one can be an expert on everything.
However, there is one debate which is particularly prone to being warped by politically-motivated myths: that on gun control. In addition, any fair observer would have to conclude that these myths are particularly prevalent on one side of the debate. Gun control activists don’t seem to know a lot about the way that guns actually work, and are worryingly susceptible to their own propaganda.
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You could argue that this is not their fault: many people who are vehemently anti-gun have never had the opportunity or need to fire one, and so it’s natural they don’t know much about them. Their only contact with the gun control debate comes in those moments immediately after a school massacre. They forget that every day, hundreds of thousands of gun owners use their weapons responsibly, and lock them up safely at the end of the day.
When seen from this narrow perspective, and without daily contact with actual weapons, the liberal left is still misled by a number of myths about guns. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current debate on The Hearing Protection Act 2017.
An Example: Why A Suppressor Is Not A “Silencer”
The Hearing Protection Act 2017 is currently awaiting a hearing in Congress. It seeks to reduce the restrictions on buying suppressors, which date back to 1934. Like any debate on gun control measures, the Act has polarized opinion and has led to impassioned speeches, warped statistics, and divisive rhetoric from both sides.
What is strikingly apparent in these debates, though, has been the level of ignorance on the side of those who wish to limit access to suppressors. It seems that many liberal politicians, having never used a suppressor, are under the impression that they allow criminals to kill people silently.
If you’ve never used a gun fitted with a suppressor, let me reassure you that they are still incredibly loud. As loud, in fact, as a pneumatic hammer hitting concrete, a level of noise that even liberals seem to have no trouble hearing. Still, the myth remains, and many opposing the bill naively – or cynically – refer to suppressors as “silencers”.
The funny thing about this is that suppressors when they were invented back in 1909, were originally called “silencers”. This, however, was blatant hyperbole – calling these devices “silencers” is equivalent to marketing a flannel shirt as an arctic coat. The irony here is that those who oppose the bill have taken the over-blown claims of weapon manufacturers as literal truth.
My point is that, if you are ideologically opposed to guns, have never actually used one, and have been raised on a diet of Dick Tracy and James Bond movies, the myth that a suppressor is a “silencer” is a useful fiction.
This mistaken belief leads to a number of hilarious arguments against the bill. Take this one, put forward by Kristen Rand of VPC back in June: “Silencers are military-bred accessories that make it easier for criminals to take innocent lives and threaten law enforcement. Existing federal law has kept crimes committed with silencer-equipped firearms rare”.
Where to begin? She is correct in one respect, of course: crimes committed with “silencers” are very rare. Knox Williams, president and executive director for the American Suppressor Association, told Guns.com in August that of the 1.3 million suppressors in circulation, his group can only fund 16 instances of criminal use since 2011. As he pointed out, “that translates to the misuse of a glaringly low percentage of suppressors in circulation – roughly 0.000012308 percent.”
Now. If you think that a suppressor makes your gun silent, I can imagine how you would think that limiting their use would be a good thing. However, as anyone who uses a gun knows, the reason why suppressors are not used to commit crimes is not because of the Federal limitations on their use, but simply because they are totally useless if you want to commit a crime. I repeat: law enforcement is still going to hear the shots, and adding a suppressor to your weapon makes it much harder to handle.
In reality, suppressors are used primarily by hunters, who risk significant damage to their hearing if they use un-suppressed weapons. At present, hunters are faced with a very difficult choice. They can either go through the lengthy (and, I would say, unconstitutional) process of obtaining a suppressor, or they can wear any OSHA-certified hearing protection, which functions as protective ear muffs for your ears. Doing the latter is, at the moment, the preferred choice, but has the unfortunate consequence of deadening all sound, which makes hunting more dangerous than it should be. It is this absurd situation that the Hearing Protection Act seeks to change.
I’ve picked one example to make my point, but I could have picked many others. The unfortunate reality is that, in the gun debate and several others, the people making laws are the least qualified to do so, because they lack first-hand experience of the issues they are talking about. And this lack of first-hand experience means that they are susceptible to myths that any experienced gun owner could dispel within a few seconds.
This situation reminds me, if you’ll permit me the aside, of the debate regarding the ban on fox hunting going on right now in England. The situation is somewhat analogous because a vanishingly small percentage of the population have actual experience of fox-hunting. The majority of the urban population oppose fox-hunting but have never actually seen a fox. This lack of first-hand experience (or ignorance, if I were to put it more strongly) allows a well-developed series of myths to circulate on the left – that fox-hunting is inherently cruel, for instance – that are laughable to anyone with actual experience of the issue.
I’m not sure, in truth, what the solution to this state of affairs is. It cuts against my belief in small government to recommend some kind of “expert panel” to help liberals get a grip on the reality of guns. Perhaps there should be a mandatory “away day” where members of Congress can fire a weapon with a suppressor, and listen carefully to see if they can hear the shot.
I’m not sure, however, that this would actually help because I’m also pretty sure that those who continue to promote these myths know they are baloney. And if they didn’t before, they do now.