Maddie Holleman ’24 (she/ her)
On March 23rd — a day after ten innocent people were mowed down amid grocery store aisles in Boulder, Colorado — Davidson College Libertarians took the opportunity to espouse their anti-gun control ideology on Instagram. The first post in their current campaign includes a screenshot of a tweet by user @LPcandidates, which states: “According to the CDC, defensive use of firearms saves up to an estimated 2.5 million lives every year, with the low end being 60,000.” The post then cites the nearly 40,000 firearm-related American deaths which occurred in 2018, presumably an attempt to signal that defensive gun use saves more lives than offensive gun use ends. The post concludes: “Firearms save lives, and the government’s data agrees.”
The problem here is that the data on which their argument depends are neither accurate nor presented accurately. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) article “Firearm Violence Prevention” refers to a report conducted by the National Academy of Sciences through which they conclude that anywhere from 60,000 – 2.5 million defensive uses of firearms occur each year. However, not every defensive use of a gun equates to a life saved through that defensive use. The National Academy of Sciences study also suggests that the actual rate of defensive firearm use is nearly impossible to calculate, though the predicted number likely falls in the hundreds of thousands range rather than the millions. To close out the defensive gun use section of their report, the authors note:
Even when defensive use of guns is effective in averting death or injury for the gun user in cases of crime, it is still possible that keeping a gun in the home or carrying a gun in public—concealed or open carry—may have a different net effect on the rate of injury. For example, if gun ownership raises the risk of suicide, homicide, or the use of weapons by those who invade the homes of gun owners, this could cancel or outweigh the beneficial effects of defensive gun use.
Surprisingly, this post was the more accurate of two recent pro-gun posts on the page. The newest photo on the Davidson College Libertarians Instagram page — and the reason I am writing this article — is a screenshot of a post made by AFA Action, a non-profit dedicated to “Advancing Christian values, exposing deception, and restraining evil.” In this case, it seems the AFA is supplying most of the deception. The post reads: “The Boulder killer wasn’t stopped by Colorado’s Universal Background Check law; Colorado’s Red Flag gun confiscation law; Colorado’s Hi-capacity magazine ban law; Boulder’s city ban on ‘Assault Weapons’; [or] the passing gun-control grade from Giffords gun-control group.”
Let’s start with the first argument — that Colorado’s Universal Background Check law did nothing to prevent this mass shooting. Colorado only requires background checks in the case of firearm transfers between private parties, which must be facilitated by a licensed firearms dealer who does a background check on the new owner. Gun dealerships in Colorado follow federal background check policy, which forces federally licensed dealers to conduct background checks, while Colorado’s private sellers aren’t required to.
It’s still unclear where exactly the culprit purchased his gun. We do know, however, that he was able to buy an AR-556 pistol in Boulder because of the recent NRA-backed overturning of the city ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. The ban had been lifted ten days before the tragedy, allowing the shooter to buy what would have otherwise been a banned gun and high-capacity magazine just four days after the law was repealed. This highly pertinent information disproves the AFA’s fourth and fifth arguments against the efficacy of gun control in preventing the Boulder shooting.
On the issue of Red-Flag gun confiscation, enforcement does not fall on the government, in turn limiting the scope of this policy’s success in preventing violence. Red-Flag laws encourage relatives and friends of seemingly unstable, dangerous gun-owners to intervene and have their firearm taken by a judge. This process fails when those close to a potential threat either do not recognize these ‘red flags,’ or are unaware of the legal steps required to have the gun safely removed from a dangerous owner. There is nothing wrong with noting the pitfalls of certain gun control policies. However, fixable problems should be addressed before removing a policy altogether. The limitations of Red-Flag confiscations are primarily an issue of public education encouraging intervention.
The Davidson College Libertarians’ caption on the AFA Action post notes that “99.8% of mass shootings occur in gun free zones” and that “93% of firearm crime is committed by criminals who illegally buy illegal guns in illegal ways.” We of course have no idea where these statistics came from, though I do not necessarily have an issue with the first statement, as it seems more like common sense than an argument. Mass shootings occur most frequently in places where open-carry is forbidden, such as malls, schools, movie theaters, airports, and grocery stores. While cities and states may outlaw open-carry altogether, countless massive private companies with thousands of locations in America also ban open-carry on their premises, such as Walmart, Target, CVS, Costco, and Kroger, just to name a few. Obviously, people sneak guns into gun-free zones. The problem is not that gun-free zones fail to discourage violence, but rather that widespread, easy firearm access makes a truly gun-free area impossible to manage.
The 93% figure appears to have disappeared from the internet. Maybe I should have checked the library. However, a study done by The New York Times of 19 recent mass shootings found that more than 75% of perpetrators had acquired their guns legally. With a larger sample size of 166 American mass shootings since 1966, The Washington Post found that 77% of the guns used had been legitimately purchased.
I could provide even more counter-evidence to these posts. But the larger issue here is the underlying message of their propaganda. As a survivor of the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting of January 2017, I have experienced the fear, panic, and trauma that hundreds of thousands of Americans feel as victims of gun violence. What I see from these posts is sheer apathy — a mere dismissal of the heartbreak and devastation we continually experience as our communities grieve yet more innocent lives taken. I do not hold the cure for the plague of American mass shootings. But I do know that ridiculing preventative measures is definitely not the right place to start.
Maddie Holleman is a prospective Anthropology major from Denver, Colorado. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.