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Op-ed: Wild West rhetoric distracts from gun-violence solutions

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

Among many incidents of gun violence this summer, two were particularly disturbing. The first was close to home, when Jeremy Patterson of Draper stalked and killed Memorez Rackley and her son as they walked home from school. Patterson injured two other children and committed suicide. The second is a road-rage killing that took place in Pennsylvania. When David Desper and 18-year-old Bianca Roberson had a conflict while merging into traffic, he shot her in the head from his vehicle. As Roberson’s car drifted off the road, Desper fled.

From those who knew these men, we heard the usual descriptions. “He’s a great guy. He would not normally do this,” said Patterson’s sister. “I never saw him as a hothead or in any way a threat to anyone,” said Desper’s coworker.

A problem with the gun violence debate is that we often see it as an issue of good and evil. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns.” This “Wild West” rhetoric oversimplifies our modern problem. Both killers mentioned above likely purchased their weapons intending to be the good guy — to protect themselves and their families. Which of us thinks of him/herself as the bad guy? In reality, quick access to a gun allowed their sudden delusions and temper tantrums to have terrible consequences.

The gun rights debate receives more attention after killings like these, and the NRA plays a major role. It has an interest in maintaining this Wild West mentality because it encourages gun ownership. The NRA relies on the notion that society is safer with more armed people. Repeatedly, the opposite has been shown to be true. Utah is no exception. A study from the American Public Health Association analyzed gun ownership and homicide rates in every state from 1981-2010. “We observed a robust correlation between higher levels of gun ownership and higher firearm homicide rates.” According to Utah’s Department of Health, our youth suicide rate is consistently higher than the national average. From 2012-2014, 46.5 percent were done by firearm, which is the most common method.

To combat statistics like these, the NRA uses fear to promote gun purchases. A recently circulated example is the “Violence of Lies” advertisement with NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch. It depicts the USA as dangerous and divided, with hordes of savages (Berkeley students) on the horizon, ready to dismantle western civilization. Using footage of protesters, she condemns those “screaming racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia” as if they are tired and baseless claims. The video ends with a call to “fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth,” followed by the NRA logo. Loesch claims this is not a call to arms against certain American citizens, yet fails to explain what guns have do with “truth.”

If widespread tension leads to weapon sales, is it unreasonable to suggest the NRA has an interest in division? The defense of constitutional rights and American liberties is an honorable cause, but dividing the nation for the benefit of gun sales is not.

Hopefully we will change the way in which gun violence solutions are determined — with statistics instead of hypothetical scenarios and fear. This is not the Wild West. Killers do not meet the town gunslinger at high noon. They attack without warning, leaving little opportunity for self-defense. Something must be done about frequent gun violence, and more armed “good guys” is not the answer. Desper’s legally owned handgun was supposed to be a tool of self-defense. Instead, it served a much more common and cruel purpose. Patterson and Desper were not “outlaws” before committing these atrocities. This type of rhetoric distracts from the evidence. If we can overcome it, we have a better chance to find real solutions.

Sam Adondakis is a college student and an intern with the Alliance for a Better Utah.

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