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Fake News: How Lies and Hate Speech Inhibit Sensible Gun Control

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We’re focusing a series of articles on the dangers of fake news. Today provides us with a hauntingly appropriate example of how misinformation puts lives at risk and works against protection efforts. Today, we’re talking about the detrimental impact fake news has on the topic of guns and gun control.

Sandy Hook Promise, the proactive group formed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, works and travels tirelessly to help educate people on the risks of violence in schools. Programs they’ve developed and districts across the country have adopted teach students, educators and school administrators to recognize warning signs and how to mitigate harm with outreach and when all else fails, they’ve provided reporting tools. Parents who lost children in Newtown, Connecticut have dedicated much of their lives to helping save the lives of others and they do so with an amazing amount of grace considering what they’ve been through.

Occasionally, they make videos meant to wake the public up to the very real risks and fears children now live with as they head off to class. The videos are meant to make us uncomfortable enough to take notice and in that vein, Wednesday’s video accomplished its goal.

In a statement released with the video, SHP said:

“Following one of the deadliest years on record for school violence in 2018, Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is debuting its latest PSA, ‘Back-to-School Essentials’, a powerful and impactful video that highlights the anxiety and fear students face in the reality of school shootings. Since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook School almost seven years ago, reactive measures to gun violence such as active shooter drills and bulletproof backpacks have increased. Many students fear that it’s only a matter of when, not if, a shooting will erupt on their school campus. Subconsciously accepting shootings as regular occurrences has become the ‘new normal’ at schools and public spaces across the country. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By focusing on early identification, action and intervention it is possible to prevent tragedies.”

Videos like this wouldn’t be necessary if shootings in schools, workplaces, shopping centers, movie theaters, night clubs and religious centers weren’t the “new normal,” but they simply are. Some might pretend to be shocked when the next news cycle is flooded with yet more “BREAKING: Active shooter in (fill in the blank)” banners, but the truth is, we’re not shocked by it any more – we couldn’t possibly be. We might be sad, devastated or scared, but we lost our claim to real shock long ago.

The threat of gun violence plays a role in how we now function in our day-to-day lives. It exists in the back of our minds when we go to concerts or festivals, when we drop off our children off at school, when we have tense conversations with coworkers and when we simply walk down the street. Whether its soft target mass shootings, police shootings or street violence crossfire, we are acutely aware that a bullet could end us at any given moment, without any warning at all. Although this is our current reality, it is not one we need to accept and an overwhelming majority of Americans finally agree that we need to do something about it. At the very least, most people, gun owners included, seem to be on board with some basic gun control reform to reduce some of the risks.

But the gun industry is a profitable business and gun lobby a powerful beast and they will to all lengths to push back on any regulation that might impede on their status quo, despite the public’s call for change. In an effort to retain their slipping support, the National Rifle Association, and those who propagate nonsense on their behalf, have increasingly turned to new lows and fake news that play on and incite vulnerable Americans’ most base emotions: fear and hate.

The NRA relies on racist tropes, conspiracy theories, cherry-picked “facts” and unsubstantiated claims (a.k.a. lies) to push their agendas and fight back against any reaction to gun violence outside of condolence baskets filled with thoughts and prayers. In online ads, member newsletters, robocalls and on the now defunct NRATV, the gun lobby organization sinks to demonizing immigrants as dangerous invaders and Black Lives Matter activists as violent thugs. They’ve pulled the fake news trick longer than we’ve had a term for it and encouraged their members to dismiss the press reports when facts don’t jive with their ideological (I mean, bottom line) belief system. They’ve mocked sexual assault victims, defended racists and accused shooting victims of being paid actors. But perhaps their most damaging line is the one claiming that the “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

That mantra motivates people to arm themselves and primes legislators to ignore gun control measures in lieu of encouraging teachers to show up to school packing in order to protect students from active shooters.  And it’s based on absolute bullshit because it’s statistically shown that guns are more often fired That’s not to say that a responsible and trained marksman or woman doesn’t occasionally stop a shooter – it happens and we’re thankful for that. But the presence of a “good guy with a gun” does not necessarily equate to protection of innocent lives or deterrent to potential shooters. Four school shooting incidents in 2018 occurred on campuses with armed guards present. The fact is that schools are often large and comprised of multiple buildings and even if the best of the best is on watch, it’s very likely a shooter armed with an assault-style rifle and large capacity magazines can do a lot of damage before the officer can even locate the suspect. And let’s not forget that the armed school resource officer at Parkland didn’t exactly rush in to save those kids.

When the NRA is starting to lose their grip, they go in hard for the lies and unfortunately we have a president who is quick to spew their talking points on demand. When people call for universal background checks and an end to gun show loopholes, they and Trump turn the argument to mental health, which has largely been debunked as a primary factor. Yes, people with severe mental illness may be prone to violent acts, but it is not a symbiotic relationship and many shooters make it clear in their “manifestos” that hate more often fuels their violence (and is fueled by the NRA’s and president’s rhetoric). When Beto O’Rourke says he wants to establish mandatory buybacks of assault-style weapons — AK-47s and AR-15s commonly used in massed shootings to kill dozens within a minute — the lobby and talking head go on tirades about the government coming to take away all your guns. Nobody said anything about confiscating your pistol or hunting gear.

The fact is most Americans agree that something needs to be done and that scares the shit out of the NRA. They profess to be defenders of 2nd Amendment rights but they should not have to resort to fear-mongering, racist/nationalist baiting and purposeful misinformation campaigns in order to do that. What of our rights to participate in self-governance based on accurate information and healthy debate? What of our rights to defend our kids and not be forced to live in a world where everyone is carrying a gun more likely to be used accidentally than in actual defense?

If we as a country are to do anything meaningful in terms of sensible gun control, we must first understand that we’re being manipulated by people more interested in their right to profit than in our right to live.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.