If you are losing, change the definition of the argument.
There is a classic tale about Amtrak. They had a lousy on-time record. After months of investigation and planning, they implemented changes and quickly began boasting that their on-time record was fantastic. What they changed was the definition of “on-time” from plus or minus five minutes to 30 minutes.
When empirical evidence does not support gun control, members of the gun control industry change definitions. It is a classic propaganda technique and one that has found new life in this election cycle.
The news item which brought this to mind was when several reporters blindly echoed claims that mass public shootings were sharply on the rise. A quick dig into the data these reporters failed to vet showed that the definition of “mass public shooting” was itself inaccurate. The enduring and traditional definition of a mass shooting is one where the murderer kills at least four people, not including himself, in a single episode and location. It also excludes homicides tied to a crime in commission. A mass public shooting would be the same but in an area open to the public. 1
The report some journalists aped included any instance of two or more people died, regardless of location, regardless of circumstance, and included the gunman committing suicide.
I wish I could say that this form of propaganda was rare, but it seems to be the very skeleton of the gun control industry. Whenever a suspicious sound bite erupts from Michael Bloomberg’s alleged mind, it is far too often based on an irrational reordering of concepts. Here are some of the most commonly recurring definitions that the gun control industry and politicians have corrupted:
MASS PUBLIC SHOOTING: As described above, mass (4+ victims) people are murdered in a public location. One source for continued confusion are web sites like the Gun Violence Archive, which does not take great care in isolating data to conform to definitions established in criminology.
CHILDREN: In the last election year when gun control was a hot topic (the year 2000), gun control industry groups like the long defunct Million Mom March egregiously altered the definition of “child”. A child is a human who has not yet reach puberty. Yet some gun control groups, seeing that a very tiny number of actual children die from guns, included people up to age 24 in their statistics. When cornered, they changed their claim to be “children and young people” but by that time their con was uncovered (for the whole story on that, see Chapter 3: The Children Who Never Were in Shooting The Bull).
GUN DEATHS: About 2/3rds of the people who catch bullets as their last act shoot themselves. The gun control industry routinely includes such suicides in their “gun deaths” statistics. This leads to scary sound bites like “33,000 people died from gun violence last year.” This sound bite is then followed by stories of just homicides. Combined, the goal is to fool voters into believing that over thirty thousand people were gunned down in the streets when in fact 22,000 died by their own hand.
ASSAULT WEAPONS: Way back in 2004, a gun control industry group admitted that there was no definition of the phrase “assault weapon”. San Francisco’s own Legal Community Against Violence (which has morphed into the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence) noted that eight different jurisdictions banned anywhere from 19 to 75 firearms, using six differing generic classification schemes and several legal systems. In short, “assault weapons” are whatever the gun control industry wanted to include on ever-expanding lists (for the whole story on that, see Chapter 1: The Guns That Never Were in Shooting The Bull).
UNLICENED DEALERS: The dictionary – a very inconvenient book for propagandists – defines a dealer as “trader or merchant, especially a wholesaler”. In other words, someone in the business of selling a product. When the gun control industry wanted to demonize the 5,000 annual gun shows in America, they devised the term “unlicensed dealer” to denote anyone who sold a gun and did not have a Federal Firearms License (a ticket specifically for people who make a living selling guns). If you ran across your Uncle Jim at a gun show and sold him your spare hunting rifle, then the gun control industry claimed you were an “unlicensed dealer”.
How to spot it
One good rule of thumb if that is a claim doesn’t match your personal observations, it might be bogus. When you heard that 33,000 people die from gun violence each year, you likely said “Nah. Can’t be.” When they said 13 children die every day from guns, odds are you thought “That’s a lot. Doesn’t match what I’m reading in the paper.” Rational disbelief is the first step.
The next part is where the work begins (and what we do daily at the Gun Facts Project). Read the entire story. Odds are you will find no attribution to a reliable source. The story might refer to claims made by a group within the gun control industry (ignorable). It might even point to one of the bought-and-paid-for schools that create horrifically bad research (like the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health). Or it could be a politician who on any given day could not distinguish their arse from their elbow.
If a credible source is cited, then you have to dig (or pass the baton to the Gun Facts Project). A good deal of credible sounding yet utterly worthless research needs to be picked apart, to identify bad methodology, suspect data sources, or irrational conclusions.
What to do about it
The main thing is to keep talking to your neighbors, keep posting on Facebook, keep taking the basic talking points of the gun control industry and inserting empirical data into uncomfortable places. It is the long game, but over the last 15 years that the Gun Facts Project has been around, it has worked.
- Serial Murder, FBI, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime ↩