In the past month, a string of tragic mass shootings have dominated the media. Witnessing the senseless barbarity has left many Americans in despair over what can be done to stop the monolith of gun violence. With increased media coverage and civic dialogue, the recent shootings have publicly demonstrated just how false common arguments against stricter gun control are. As Democrats in Congress push for even minor policy changes, ordinary voters have an opportunity and obligation to put the pressure that is clearly needed on our elected officials to prioritize gun control. In order to begin unraveling a system that has enabled repeated acts of gun violence, we must work to demystify the common misconceptions that prevent necessary change.
MISCONCEPTION 1: Arming good guys with guns can help to stop bad guys with guns
One widely accepted myth about gun violence prevention, especially touted by Republican members of Congress, is that providing guns to the “good guys” can help stop bad guys with guns. After all, if we arm our teachers or school security with ammunition and firearms, then they can take action to stop a shooter themselves, right?
Wrong. A perfect example of this myth in action can be observed in the recent school shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in which the shooter killed 19 children and two teachers. Despite the fact that officers of the Uvalde Police Department, a U.S. Border Patrol tactical team and deputy U.S. Marshals were all armed and on the scene at Robb Elementary, 77 minutes passed before the tactical team was finally able to enter the locked classroom and kill the shooter.
While the Chief of Police, Pete Arredondo, attributed the delayed response to “measures meant to protect teachers and students in mass shooting situations work(ing) against police trying to gain entry” — including the fact that the classroom door was “reinforced with a hefty steel jamb” to prevent forced entry from intruders — these facts do not change the reality that good guys with guns were unable to stop the bad guy with a gun from murdering innocent children.
In fact, a 2021 JAMA Network Open study that analyzed every incident from 1980-2019 in which “one or more people was intentionally shot in a school building during the school day, or where a perpetrator came to school heavily armed with the intent of firing indiscriminately” found that “no association” existed “between having an armed officer and deterrence of violence.” This damning statistic proves the unfortunate reality that good guys with guns are often unable to stop school shootings, even when they’re properly armed and trained to do so.
This trend can be further seen in the examination of other mass shootings in which armed officials were present at the scene. During the recent mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., in which a white supremacist targeted and murdered innocent Black shoppers, an armed security guard and former police officer named Aaron Salter attempted to stop the shooter with his weapon. However, because the gunman shielded himself using an armor-plated vest, Salter’s shots did not stop the shooter. Salter was ultimately killed, making him one of the 10 victims from the mass shooting.
And yet, these armed individuals are not even responsible for being incapable of defending others from mass shooters. The fault lies within the fact that good guys with guns are rendered practically defenseless when faced against assault rifles, a popular weapon of choice among mass shooters. While the majority of shootings are perpetrated using handguns, assault rifles are significantly deadlier, explaining why some of the worst mass shootings have been perpetrated using AR-15-style rifles — including the Uvalde shooting (12 killed), the Las Vegas shooting (59 killed), The Pulse nightclub shooting (49 killed) and the Sandy Hook shooting (27 killed). The AR-15 itself is a destructive semi-automatic rifle which was originally “intended for the U.S. military” because of its ability to kill mass amounts of people in an efficient manner. Without the proper protection, even a good guy with a gun could be annihilated by the bullets of an AR-15-style rifle.
MISCONCEPTION 2: The “lone gunman”
Another common misconception surrounding gun violence is the perpetuation of the idea that one sole individual is behind the act. In reality, there are a multitude of forces and contributing factors that bestow these gunmen with the ideological methods by which they go about their sprees. Many conservatives, whether they be politicians or political commentators, are under the impression that the issue of mental health is the reason for the uptick in gun-related violence, but this is absolutely unfounded in terms of scientific and social evidence. To shift the conversation towards mental health and away from the actual problem of guns avoids the problem entirely and creates damaging stereotypes against those in America who struggle with mental illness.
The perpetrators of these countless acts of gun violence are not alone — they have been backed by the commonly misinformed perspectives of political actors throughout the country, whether they have a large or small platform to speak from. Multiple acts of gun violence in recent history have been accompanied by published manifestos, which often cite radical right-wing propaganda such as the “Great Replacement Theory.” Such violent theories have been rather habitually spread by various news personalities, especially on more conservative channels, like Fox News. Upon hearing these theories and ideologies, violent individuals are further motivated to act upon their impulses, becoming inspired by the divisive and destructive words. The issue of gun violence in America is not correlated with the subject of mental health; rather, it has to do with the violent radicalization of young men who have access to weapons capable of killing dozens.
MISCONCEPTION 3: Change is impossible
Gun violence is often framed as a uniquely American problem where change is impossible against a deeply entrenched culture of gun-ownership and constitutional originalism. However, examining gun policy internationally reveals that many nations experienced mass shootings and were able to successfully pivot from a previously substantial gun culture. Outside of the U.S., nations like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Norway drastically reduced gun violence by implementing stricter gun laws.
Canada serves as an excellent model for how policymakers responded to mass shootings with practical restrictions that don’t infringe on the right to gun ownership. Geopolitically and socially, there are a myriad of similarities between Canada and the U.S. Like the U.S., Canada is growing more secular, has two geographically distinct conservative and liberal leaning regions and exists along the world’s longest undefended border.
Presently, the United States possesses 46% of civilian-owned guns, despite being home to less than 5% of the global population. Canada also has a high rate of gun ownership per capita (the fifth-largest in the world) and yet has a significantly lower rate of gun violence than the U.S.
America’s northern neighbor proves that supporters of the Second Amendment do not need to completely sacrifice gun ownership in order to reduce gun violence. After a tragic mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, in 2017, the Canadian government passed a bill mandating five-year background checks and registration for non-restricted firearms. In 2020, Canada banned assault-style firearms entirely following a mass shooting in Nova Scotia.
In the last two years, Canada has continued to implement new restrictions and amend past gun laws in response to fluctuating rates of violence. In 2021, Canada reinstated a requirement that gun owners apply for an authorization to transport their weapons, and in 2022, they mandated that technical experts classify firearms rather than the government.
In order to address skyrocketing rates of gun violence, the U.S ought to instate universal background checks, transport authorization, firearm classification free of government bias and an assault-rifle ban. Due to the aforementioned countrywide similarities, if such restrictions were federally mandated, gun violence in the U.S. would likely decrease, as it did in Canada. Much like in Canada, the U.S. could continue to host a community of safe and legal gun owners but drastically reduce senseless violence. If the U.S. were to inculcate anything from Canadian responses to mass shootings, it’s that gun control ought to be flexible and adapt to suit present needs year-by-year.
The complex nature of gun politics in the United States creates a depressing air surrounding the idea of progress. For years, we have questioned the culture surrounding firearms and looked on in complete astonishment at the lack of action political officials have taken to combat the issue. These misconceptions are key reasons why transformative policies to regulate guns and resolve this wide-spread dilemma have historically failed to pass. As long as people believe these falsities, progress is out of reach.
In order to limit the disease-like spread of such destructive propaganda, we have to act, both as individuals and a society. Voting is an easy thing to point out — voting out those politicians who believe and diffuse these lies brings us one step closer to ending the plague of gun violence. But, as we have seen in the past, voting can’t do everything for us when it comes to guns and a plethora of other important social issues. Sometimes we have to take a different route in our duty as public citizens — confront elected officials head-on with our concerns. We should take inspiration from former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D) confrontation with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R) about their lack of action, and from the man who interrupted Cruz as he ate dinner later that week. Pro-gun activists are incredibly active when it comes to voicing their opinions — they act out, they go out and vote for pro-gun candidates and they get their voices heard. Gun control advocates must adopt that same energy if they want the tide to turn in their favor after this recent slew of violence. We have to interrupt and make trouble because we may then get our voices heard and see actual change happen.
The myths surrounding gun violence have to be unlearned. It must be made clear to politicians and influential media personalities that more guns are not a solution, mental health is not the impetus of violence and change is possible because it has happened in a multitude of other nations. We, as informed individuals passionate about reducing gun violence in the nation, must use our eagerness for change to act out and express political interest. We can’t sit idly by as these harmful misconceptions threaten the movement away from daily violence. Gun control activists everywhere have to spread information and passion like our lives depend on it because in reality, they do.