Calling Bullshit on the Internet's Right-Wing Gun Memes
A look at what the far-right hive mind has spewed out in the wake of the latest mass shooting.
A week ago the pro-gun Facebook page Cold Dead Hands posted a link to news about another tragic mass shooting, this time at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. The news was still breaking, but one user responded quickly, posting a photo of a guy fleeing from a giant anus, over the words, "Prepare for a shitstorm."
Insensitive? Absolutely. But not altogether wrong. As the meme implied, the Roseburg shooting, which left nine people dead including the shooter, has launched a fresh torrent of partisan recriminations and cable-news shouting over the issue of gun violence in America. Faced with renewed calls for gun control from President Obama and other Democrats, gun fans have responded the way they usually do in such crises: by haphazardly superimposing vague factoids over images, and then posting these images online, creating the highly-shareable content hors d'oeuvres we call memes.
More often than not, these social media morsels are loaded with lies, or facts so deceptively cherry picked that they might as well be lies. So from time to time we like to wade in and see just how far from reality the right-wing internet has strayed. Here's what we found this week:
Background Checks Are a Waste of Time
Whenever there's a mass shooting in the US, the gun control debate quickly turns to the issue of background checks, and what the government could or should be doing to prevent murderous psychopaths from buying firearms. National news outlets have focused a lot on this issue in the wake of the Oregon shooting, with particular emphasis on screenings that would take a closer look at mental health.
This meme takes the opposite tack, suggesting that background checks don't actually stop criminals from acquiring guns. And it's true that past studies have questioned whether federal background checks have actually been effective in preventing gun violence. The Oregon shooter, for example, apparently passed his background check, and bought his guns legally.
But those same studies also point out background checks could work if they were carried out indiscriminately, rather than on a capricious jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis with exemptions that make them easy to dodge. Until a universal background check system is in place, it's impossible to argue conclusively that these screenings are a waste of time.
What makes this meme truly ridiculous, though, is the idea that anyone deserves a pass for being honest. Does the person who made this meme also think "honest citizens" should be allowed on planes without going through a metal detector?
New Gun Laws Just Stop the Good Guys From Shooting the Bad Guys
The idea here is that your friendly neighborhood gun owner is not just a hobbyist assassinating apples with an assault rifle in his spare time (impressive though the old dude in this video may be), but a quick-drawing, sharp-shooting hero-in-waiting who will take out the criminals like Time Crisis NPCs if and when the shit goes down. And if there were more Americans like him—at least one in every classroom, movie theater, and Bible study, ideally—mass murderers would think twice before shooting anything.
The meme gets at the central argument espoused by the pro-gun lobby in recent years, rephrasing former NRA President Wayne LaPierre's famous 2013 statement that, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
Unfortunately, though, LaPierre's "good guy" fantasy is just that. While it's true that gunslinging civilians have stopped a few shootings, in real life, these armed vigilantes can also be very unhelpful. In the heat of a firefight, they might aim for the wrong person, for example, or end up shooting that person in the head. And sometimes, they get themselves killed.
If you get away from action movie scenarios, science says gun owners are less safe from gun violence than other people. Because when the good guys end their nightly patrols and holster their guns, they generally take those guns home. And studies have shown that once they're there, they're more likely—twice as likely, by some estimates—to be killed by a "bad guy" than people who don't keep firearms at home.
Hitler Banned Guns
There's an awful lot here that's neither logical nor correct, but I'd prefer not to waste time busting the "myth" that Obama pledges his allegiance to the Islamic State flag. Instead, let's focus on that whole "Hitler hated guns" thing, an idea that is both incredibly prevalent and completely false.
The Nazis did pass a gun-related law in 1938, but far from being a ban, it was actually a relaxation of a previous, pre-Hitler law that had created a German firearms registry. The 1938 law eased gun restrictions, extending the duration of permits and lowering the age requirement for firearm ownership. In short, the idea that Nazis supported gun control is just simply not true.
It's important to note that, like most things having to do with Hitler, the Nazis' policies on guns were anti-Semitic garbage, and expressly forbid Jews from possessing firearms and other weapons. Contrary to Ben Carson's suggestion, though, the Holocaust doesn't really teach us anything about gun control laws, except that we shouldn't let the Nazis write them.
Honduras Is Bizarro Switzerland Because of Gun Control
Almost nothing is right here.
We can start with the nitpicky details: the population of Honduras was 8,393,624 at last count, while the population of Switzerland was 8,047,347. And Switzerland doesn't have the lowest homicide rate in the world—ten other countries rank lower, according to data from the United Nation's Global Study on Homicide. Honduras is far and away the murder champ, though, according to the same data.
But the real problem here is that Honduras doesn't actually ban gun ownership—in fact, citizens there can possess up to five personal firearms. Switzerland, meanwhile, doesn't actually force citizens to own weapons. Adult males under the age of 34 are required to serve in the military, so they have to keep military weapons around—but that's hardly the same thing as requiring citizens to own their own guns.
We could also waste a lot of internet ink on the vast socioeconomic gulf between Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the world, and Switzerland, one of the most affluent. But why bother? This meme is just a good example of how far a dumb idea can travel even when it's a straight-up lie.
Chicago Has Gun Control Laws and a Lot of Murder, So Gun Control Laws Are Dumb
The meme here is alluding to some of the stiff gun regulations passed in Obama's home city. Gun sales were outlawed citywide in Chicago until recently, and concealed firearms were forbidden throughout the state of Illinois. While both bans have been overturned by courts, Illinois is still one of few states that requires firearm owners to get a special ID.
At the same time, Chicago also has a staggering murder rate. The city has had 2,300 shootings so far in 2015, compared to 1,041 in New York City, which is far more populous. That contradiction has spawned countless memes like the one above, not to mention sarcastic blog posts with titles like "Obama Wants to Take Our Guns, So We Can All Experience the 'Peace' Of Chicago," and endless social media chatter about how Chicago's homicide rate proves gun control doesn't work.
But the idea that "Chicago-style" gun control somehow leads to a rise in murder is total hogwash. Because while Obama wasn't totally correct when he said last week "states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths"—he's conflating correlation with causation—the fact remains that areas with strict gun laws are typically less murdery than places with relaxed laws. In that respect, Chicago appears to be a major outlier.
It's also worth noting that Illinois' next-door neighbor, Indiana, boasts fully-stocked gun stores and some of the most relaxed gun laws in the country. So despite the city's restrictions, Chicago is predictably chock full of guns from Indiana—as of 2014, 60 percent of guns recovered by the police were from the neighboring state. Nationwide gun control—not that it's happening anytime soon—would be a whole different ballgame.
Liberals Found a Backdoor to Repealing the Second Amendment: The United Nations
Months after he took office in 2009, President Obama gave his support to the UN's proposed Arms Trade Treaty, a multinational effort aimed mainly at monitoring exports of things like assault weapons, tanks, and warplanes, to make sure they don't end up in the hands of a rogue state, or a terrorist group. It still hasn't gone into effect, but opponents of gun control get whipped into a frenzy whenever someone mentions the treaty. Recently something new happened with the ATT, and right now it's an issue in the Canadian parliamentary election.
Naturally, The NRA hates the Arms Trade Treaty, and say it contains "blatant attacks on the constitutional rights and liberties of every law-abiding American." According to the conspiracy newsmongers at Info Wars, when the Arms Trade Treaty meets Obama's new trade agreements, Americans will lose their guns. Thus the creation of memes like the one you see above.
Obviously, this makes zero sense. At last count, the UN's paramilitary wing, or "peacekeeping" operations, totaled about 91,216 people, a smaller force than Poland's military. These peacekeepers are occasionally armed, but local thieves tend to steal their guns. In other words, UN peacekeepers often leave a country with more guns than it had when they arrived. All of which is to say, the UN isn't trying to take away anyone's gun.
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Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 2,300 was the number of murders in 2015 so far in Chicago. That was actually the number of shootings.