Ask questions first

Shoot later

Whenever something like the South Carolina mass shooting happens, I always have to brace myself.

Among all the letters advocating forgiveness, universal concealed-carry, universal disarmament and the like are usually more than a few featuring misleading or downright false information.

No, George Washington did not say, "Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty, teeth and keystone under independence." That and several other spurious quotes are listed on the website for Washington's Mount Vernon as not appearing in his writings or reported utterings. Perhaps the person who advanced the idea that gun-control advocates think guns are capable of independent action came up with that.

No, indications are that Sarah Brady most likely did not say, "Our task of creating a socialist America can only succeed when those who would resist us are totally disarmed." This quote and a longer variant were supposedly printed in The National Educator in 1994; however, GunCite and other Second Amendment sites note that its provenance is more than a little iffy (some aren't even sure the publication actually existed).

No, there's not a proven link between concealed-carry laws and reduced crime in states that have those laws; as Fact Check's 2012 review of the literature found, crime also declined in states without those laws. This appears to be a case of correlation/causation in which the purveyors of statistics fer or agin something imply clear cause and effect when it's no more than a weak link or pure coincidence.

Not that that matters to some people--truth is merely an inconvenience. Winning an argument with truth? Passé!

Carlisle Moody, an economics professor at William & Mary, talked of semantics to Fact Check in reference to a statement by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. Moody said Gohmert is "factually correct" in stating, "The facts are that every time guns have been allowed--conceal-carry [gun laws] have been allowed--the crime rate has gone down." Crime had indeed gone down, but implying that concealed-carry was the reason is more problematic. There's that reduced crime in non-concealed-carry states, for one thing, and research that shows negligible effects directly related to it for another.

Statistically speaking, research shows that more gun homicides occur where there are more guns. However, that's not necessarily a causal relationship, either, and as Fact Check notes, it's highly doubtful any study could ever conclusively prove that the mere presence of more guns causes an increase (or decrease) in gun murders. Besides, you can correlate just about anything, such as the divorce rate in Maine and the per capita consumption of margarine (a 99.26 percent correlation!); Tyler Vigen proves that on his Spurious Correlations site.

What am I saying here in my long-winded way? Basically this: Trust no one with an agenda (gosh, I think I've said this before, and no, "agenda" doesn't mean a different opinion than yours). Quotes and statistics that too neatly make the point of a hot-button agenda (i.e., get rid of guns/give everyone guns, let gays marry/keep gays from marrying) might just be more than a little trumped up or taken completely out of context.

Context, for example, might add to the Jeanne Assam story being trotted out again that she was a former police officer and a volunteer security guard--as opposed to being simply a random church member with a concealed-carry permit--in the Colorado church where she stopped a gunman from killing more people in 2007.

We all know how important context is, which is why so many with agendas like to strip context away. And it's why I try my best not to use certain words in this column or on my blog just in case some crazy person not related to me wants to put forth the idea that I ... well, I won't finish that thought. Just to be safe.

What's my take on the whole gun issue? I don't see a reason to take away everyone's guns; I do, however, think it's far past time to inject some common sense into the debate.

The Second Amendment, like other amendments, is not absolute. There's nothing wrong with setting and enforcing reasonable limits to preserve a civil society. Because I just said that, I would probably be labeled as an anti-gunner by the pro-gun adherents. Yet I don't hate guns and, out in the country, I grew up around them and have a healthy respect for them. I simply don't like the absurdities of toothless or unenforced laws and people who brook no disagreement with their position.

Like most hot-button issues, guns tend to bring out extremes, with no room for the middle ground, and as long as that continues, common sense (and truth) will avoid the debate. No one side is all right or all wrong ... but boy, when they're wrong, they're reeeeeeallly wrong.

So what do we do now? Hopefully, we'll start actually speaking to each other honestly and making a constructive effort to fix the laws, rather than yelling false information and insults over each other and proposing absurd measures like banning all guns or arming toddlers.

Aaaaand now the armed-toddler lobby is going to come after me.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at

Editorial on 06/24/2015

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