Do you know what a shibboleth is? A shibboleth is any custom or tradition or phrase, often obsolete or unsupported, that distinguishes one group of people from another.
In the United States, that “group of people” – a minority, by the way – is gun owners. While nearly 50% of Americans believe that gun violence is a problem, 30% of Americans are literally carrying the facilitator of this problem in their pockets.
Gun owners rely on a variety of popular sound bites – or shibboleths – to rationalize the fact that they own one or more of these instruments of destruction. But these phrases are often incomplete, unsupported, or just plain nonsense. Let’s look at a few of them here.
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
You might as well say that malaria doesn’t kill people, mosquitos kill people. Mosquitos are the transmitter of the disease …you can’t have malaria without mosquitos.
Guns are the device that affects violence … you can’t have gun violence without a gun.
When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
No current recognized organization working to prevent gun violence has ever made a proposal to eliminate all guns. First, that would be extremely difficult to achieve because there are so many guns in the United States. The United States is 3% of the world’s population but holds 46% of the guns. Eight percent of American gun owners own more than ten firearms.
Second, millions of Americans use guns safely and responsibly.
What is needed is legislation to enforce that safe and responsible use among ALL gun owners, like the laws that control how we use our cars. For example, seat belt laws saved nearly 15,000 lives in 2017. About 430 people, many of them children – die of accidental gun deaths very year in America – imagine how many lives safe storage laws could save!
Guns save lives.
Last year’s shooting at Uvalde, TX was the final proof that the mythical “good guy with a gun” does not exist. An article in TIME magazine details that in the 10 years since Sandy Hook, “good guys with guns” have been present or quickly arrived at the scene of nearly every major mass shooting and failed to stop the gunman before he was able to take multiple lives. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center also found that self-defense gun use is “rare and not more effective at preventing injury than other protective actions.”
Even when there is not a “mass shooting” situation, gun take more lives than they save. A gun kept in a house for “self-defense” is 12 times more likely to be involved in the accidental shooting or death of a family member than to stop an intruder. Again, from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, victims use guns in less than 1% of contact crimes, and women never use guns to protect themselves against sexual assault.
Today, Chicago is a popular example of a city with strong gun laws and a high rate of gun violence. Illinois is a national leader in enacting gun violence prevention laws, but it is surrounded by states with much weaker laws, and an outsized share of likely trafficked guns recovered in Illinois are originally purchased out-of-state—especially in Indiana, just across the border from Chicago.
According to a recent ATF report, Chicago’s “time-to-crime” — the period between the purchase of a gun and its recovery by the police in a crime — was far shorter than in New York or Los Angeles.
“Shorter time-to-crime periods are indicators of illegal trafficking and provide crucial intelligence to investigators,” the Justice Department said of the ATF findings. It is estimated that 60% of the guns recovered in Chicago were originally purchased out of state, with Indiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin among the top suppliers.
Calling an AK-47 or an AR-15 an “assault weapon” is misleading and fearmongering.
To the federal government – one of the 10 largest gun purchasers and resellers in the world – the term “assault weapon” usually refers to a military-style weapon capable of firing multiple rounds, either semi-automatic or a fully automatic firearm. Both the AK-47 and the AR-15 do that… in fact, the original AK-47, introduced in 1959, shot 600 rounds a minute. The AR-15 can fire 45 rounds per minute. Modified with a bump stock, it can fire 400 rounds per minute or more.
Gun manufacturers have purposely marketed these weapons as “macho” or as guns for those who want to be as well – or better – armed than police and military. If you want to know how that ended up, take a look at Kyle Rittenhouse. Or worse, check out this poster from the 2022 SHOT Show in Vegas.
The next time you are confronted with a gun owner’s shibboleth, I hope these facts will help you dispel the myths so popular with the gun lobby.
Only when we identify the danger can we begin to eliminate it.