The False Hope of More Guns

Never wanting to let a tragedy go to waste, the conservative media were quick to pounce on the recent murder of four marines in Tennessee. Breitbart News put up one article titled "'PRACTICING MUSLIM' WHO KILLED 4 MARINES WORKED AT SUPERIOR ESSEX IN FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE" while Fox News quoted Charles Krauthammer as saying this attack is "in all probability an example of radical Islam at work".

At this point the motives are unknown so it is possible that the killer is an Islamic terrorist. It's also possible that his yearbook quote "My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?" showed he was tired of being treated like a terrorist despite being an American citizen. Of course it's also possible that mental health played a bigger role than either faith or U.S. Islamophobia, but peddling fear is really the goal of today's entertainment - based news.

Ironically, many of the media outlets that are quick to play up the possible connection between a Muslim killer's faith and their actions are the same that downplay race in murders perpetrated by white assailants such as the case of Dylann Roof who killed nine people at an historically black church in South Carolina last month.

Regardless of the motives one thing is clear, the killer used a gun to perpetrate the murders, which means gun rights advocates needed to move swiftly to not only defend the right to bear arms to but insist that the only way to stop events like this in the future is to have more guns. The usual raconteurs like John R. Lott and Todd Starnes posted articles titled "Chattanooga shootings: Why should we make it easy for killers to attack our military?" and "Chattanooga shooting proves it's time to arm our Armed Forces".

The problem is that even if these marines had guns on their person the shots were fired from outside their facility without any warning. It's likely that by the time they took cover and got a good vantage point to return fire the shooter would have been gone. Such a policy might have been more effective in other military base shootings such as Fort Hood or the Washington Naval Yard, but there are plenty of other locations across the U.S. that are just as "gun free" as a military base that don't experience these types of mass killings. Airport terminals for example do not allow any weapons, yet they are not havens for mass shootings.

The reason seems to be that airports have stricter security for entering the facility than most military bases. Perhaps rather than having every federal employee armed to the teeth to prevent what is a rare occurrence, we should just provide better security that would deter or prevent shooters from reaching unarmed staff; because, while it is likely that having more armed personnel would limit the number of people who die during a mass shooting, it is also likely that the increased presence of firearms would lead to a rise in shootings.

Data show that carrying a gun increases aggressive behaviors which means having armed employees could turn heated or violent workplace incidents into homicides. Given that this sort of escalation has occurred on military bases in war zones before, it seems the military is not immune to workplace shootings.

The problem is that simply having a firearm isn't a silver bullet for preventing shootings. Data show that from 1994 to 2003, of the 616 police officers killed by criminals while on duty 52 of them were shot with their own weapon while in the military "insider attacks" accounted for 96 deaths in Afghanistan between 2011 and 2012. Obviously the presence of guns did not deter the attackers in these situations.

This narrative that more guns equals less crime is a common one in the conservative media, but the data used to make this assertion has been roundly disputed. While its certainly possible that crime goes down as more people carry firearms, the statistics also indicate a trend towards more firearm deaths with an increased number of concealed carry permits.

If the solution for preventing gun deaths results in more gun deaths, is it really a solution?

The reality is that outside of eliminating all guns, the best way to reduce gun violence is to give the authorities the tools necessary to restrict who can purchase firearms, to track the sale of guns, and to seize weapons that were obtained illegally. Unfortunately, gun advocates' devotion to putting a firearm in the hand of every good guy also makes getting a gun easier for bad guys. Changing that fact doesn't require the repeal of the second amendment.