Gun Control Debate Turns Ugly Hours After Shooting

by Seth Millstein

Monday morning, just four days after the release of the biggest study on gun violence ever, gunmen opened fire at the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington D.C., killing at least twelve people and injuring several more. Details of the shooting are still being released, but partisans on both sides of the issue are already using the incident to scream offensive things at each other over the Internet (or, sorry, “reopen the debate on gun ownership,” to use popular media lingo).

Last Thursday, a Boston University professor and two coauthors released a report titled The Relationship Between Gun Ownership and Firearm Homicide Rates in the United States, 1981–2010. The report, which covers a longer period of time than any past study of gun violence, found that in any given state, a one percent increase in gun ownership is correlated with a .9 percent increase in firearm homicide rates. The study has been peer-reviewed and will soon be published in the American Journal of Public Health.

In a parallel universe, today’s events might have caused an increased scrutinization of that and other studies on gun control. In our world, however, the shooting simply resulted in armchair pundits hurling hysterical denunciations and outlandish accusations across the aisle at one another.

Moderate conservative David Frum, a vocal proponent of gun control, used the opportunity to skewer the taboo against even discussing gun control, listing several “rules of etiquette” for governing post-shooting debates.

Rule 4: Any attempt to stop mass casualty shootings is "political." Allowing them to continue is"non-political."

Rule 5: Gun ownership is essential to freedom, as in Serbia & Guatemala. Gun restrictions lead to tyranny, as in Australia & Canada.

Frum’s comments prompted Erick “Abortion Barbie” Erickson to take the moral high ground in the debate, insisting that “now is not the time” to make political arguments. Of course, the idea of Erickson denouncing inflammatory political rhetoric is a bad joke — after all, this is the guy who, minutes after Texas practically outlawed abortion, encouraged pro-choice women to purchase coat hangers.

President Obama referred to the incident as “yet another mass shooting,” prompting Washington Times author Emily Miller to accuse the president of using the issue “to stoke fear” and “push [an] anti-gun agenda” (Obama didn’t make any legislative or policy proposals in his comments, but never mind that detail).

On the other side of the world, Russian legislator Alexey Pushkov helpfully tweeted that “nobody’s even surprised any more” by mass shootings in America, and called today’s slaughter is “a clear confirmation of American Exceptionalism.” Shortly thereafter, The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi criticized Buzzfeed for reporting Pushkov’s initial tweets.

And so, mere hours after seven people were killed in a shooting at a U.S. military installation, the conversation had completely devolved into a series of meta-arguments over how the press should report contentious tweets, whether or not it’s polite to talk about gun control after a mass shooting, and precisely how delighted liberals are when people get killed with guns. Well-done, guys.

The NRA, as usual, was silent.