Should Propaganda Be Penalized?

 

js1

On March 5, Pastor Frank Pomeroy was sitting in his car outside his church in Sutherland Springs, Texas when a man and woman approached and began vandalizing a poster on the church where a horrific massacre had occurred 4 months earlier.  When he confronted them, they recognized him and began verbally accosting him, calling the bloodbath a fraud and insisting that Pomeroy’s daughter, who was killed in the massacre along with 25 other people before his eyes, never even existed. “Show me her birth certificate”, the man yelled, “show me anything to say she was here.”

Sadly, this incident was not unique. There is a growing army of delusional people out there who believe that every gun massacre or domestic bombing is a “false flag” staged with “crisis actors”. Many of them also believe that astronauts never landed on the moon, that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, that 9-11 was an inside job, that climate change is a hoax, that the holocaust never happened, that Hillary caused the deaths in Benghazi, and/or that the earth is flat.

In discussing this massive “stupidification” of America, columnist Leonard Pitts asks exactly what, if anything, one should say to such folks. And the clear answer, as he duly concludes, is nothing. These individuals are utterly beyond reason because of a hopeless mental incapacity — whether due to deficient intelligence, disconnect from reality, intellectual laziness, the tunnel vision of ideological fanaticism or some combination of the above. Until they obtain professional help, or experience a paradigm-shifting cataclysm,  there is nothing anyone can do to convince them that black isn’t really white in disguise.

But there is a more vital question that Pitts neglected to pose. The mentally warped have always been with us. But the phenomenon we are now witnessing is peculiar to contemporary America. No matter how mentally incapacitated people are, there would not be such a mass subscription to the same nutty delusions if those ideas hadn’t been planted in their heads by someone else. For the past three decades, there has been a concentrated campaign to deliberately “stupidify” America for the personal profit of the demagogues doing the brain-planting. And the real question is, should those manipulators be held accountable for their actions?

Many people will maintain (at least in reference to propaganda that supports their own beliefs) that such an exercise would be a violation of First Amendment rights.  Horsefeathers, balderdash, poppycock and codswallop.

Freedom of expression is not absolute. Sometimes “expression” crosses bounds of civilized conduct; and it’s generally easy enough to determine when that occurs. There are laws, for instance, against “free speech” that constitutes slander and libel. It’s difficult in the U.S. to win lawsuits for these offenses, but it isn’t because guilt is hard to establish; on the contrary, it’s usually quite easy. But due to a strained reading of the First Amendment, the American legal system heavily skews such cases toward the defendants (particularly since they’re often individuals of power and prestige).

The usual litmus test for slander and libel is whether the false statements are injurious to the subject’s reputation (which quite often translates to whether it might cause them to lose money somehow). Shouldn’t there be at least as stringent a safeguard against someone being subjected to the kind of emotional cruelty that this minister was?

And what about the possibility of bodily harm and even homicide? There are also laws against “free speech” that incites violence. Remember Pizzagate? That little bit of right-wing lunacy almost got people killed. And the next time, we might not be so lucky. How many lives must be lost before we think it’s justifiable to put a damper on this kind of “freedom of expression”? Libel and slander are punishable by fines.  Inciting to violence is punishable by imprisonment. Pizzagate-type narratives often fall into both categories, in addition to being seditious.

But there are other means of penalizing propaganda without criminalizing it.  Recently, Great Britain barred visits by several American promoters of Pizzagate, white nationalism, and theories about “white genocide”. In refusing them entry, British authorities (quite understandably) designated them as potential troublemakers and a corrupting influence on society. Quite predictably, American reactionary pundits took up the torch for these individuals, calling them “reporters” (they were actually bloggers and trolls) and declaring that they had been refused entry merely for being “conservative”. And needles to say, they invoked the ever-handy straw-filled whipping boy of “political correctness”.

But the transgressions of such people go far beyond merely having or expressing a political viewpoint. Hateful and delusional narratives of the type spewed out by Fox “News” et al are slanderous, seditious, and provocatory. Yet they get away with it all day long, every day. (Bear in mind that this is in the same country where TV personalities can be fined heavily for uttering the f-word on broadcast media even once. ) It’s quite possible that some of the ideologues of Fox and Breitbart and other cesspools actually believe the lies they peddle (see Jones, Alex) — in which case they wouldn’t be guilty of lying themselves. But is that any reason they should be allowed to hawk them with impunity? Should kids be allowed to play with loaded guns just because they imagine them to be light sabers?

Reactionary propaganda is as dishonest as slander or libel — which indeed it often is. It’s as incendiary and dangerous as sedition and incitement — which indeed it often is. Isn’t it time to start treating it as such?

Such a suggestion invariably provokes, especially among Americans, the knee-jerk response that there is something tyrannical and Orwellian about detecting and squelching dishonest and manipulative communication. They declare it to be overstepping by the big bad guvmint that will lead to all kinds of totalitarian consequences. They claim that it reeks of the “thought police”, and of government trying to shut down anyone who has a “dissenting opinion”. But contrary to the official spin in this Age Of Alternative Facts, not all beliefs are created equal. There are clear lines of demarcation between matters of opinion and matters of fact; and while scurrilous opinions may be relatively harmless, scurrilous lies can be very damaging indeed. (There is a middle ground: analysis, which is necessarily subjective. But it’s also clearly distinguishable from mere opinion and belief on one side and blatant falsehood on the other.)

Did we mention that most Americans seem to have no problem with the government imposing six-figure fines for saying “fuck” on TV? They also have no problem with the government regulating vehicle traffic, since the alternative would be chaos, disaster and tragedy. Nor do they object to the government operating a system of criminal justice, since the alternative would be mob rule and vigilantism.  Yet they can’t seem to grasp that propaganda can have consequences just as dire.

Well, let’s humor them and imagine a government crackdown on propaganda extended to its most dystopian extreme. Let’s suppose, first of all, that in instead of, or in addition to, being obsessed with preventing profanity from falling on pristine public ears, the government also took punitive and preventative measures to curb dishonest and defamatory polemic. That would mean, most likely, that Fox, OAN and NRATV among others would close up shop. Oh, the unimaginable horror.

Let’s go even farther and imagine government regulation applied also to social media and the citizenry at large. Imagine, for instance, that Facebook received fines for allowing dishonest and inflammatory memes to be posted. That most likely would prompt Facebook itself to crack down and penalize its users who post such material — by, say, suspending their privilege of use for a few days. And the users, in turn, most likely would start being more conscientious about what they post, and maybe even do some actual research before they hit the Share button. As a result we would end up with a public that is better informed, more cordial to each other, more broadminded, more willing to cooperate with each other, and more prepared to make sound choices at the ballot box. Which is to say it actually would result in a public better equipped to stave off overstepping by the big bad guvmint!

Explain to me exactly how all of this would be such a terrible thing.

 

Advertisements

How to Make People Believe Absolutely Anything (In 5 Simple Steps)

UFO-Cults-640x400

Anyone — yes, even you — can induce people, or at least a large number of people, to believe absolutely anything, no matter how absurd. And there is plenty of living proof out there. Consider Alex Jones, who has a huge following, many of whom believe that 9-11 was an inside job, that Sandy Hook was staged, that children are being abducted and shipped off to a slave colony on Mars, that pigs and gorillas have been given human brains and are running around talking, that a pedophilia ring is being run out of a pizza parlor, and that millions of people voted illegally in the last election. But perhaps the ultimate illustration of how preposterous persuasion works is a man who gets much of his “information” from Jones: his big fan and close ally, the man currently sitting in the Oval Office.

He is undoubtedly the most dishonest, corrupt and inept individual ever to occupy the White House. Yet he has a loyal cult following who still believe that he is honest, forthright and a successful businessman and brilliant leader who is somehow Making America Great Again — and even believe, perhaps most astoundingly of all, that he is a Good Christian. How did we get here?

Many people felt, and still feel, blindsided by the last election. But while the man himself seems to have come out of nowhere, it was inevitable that someone like him would be elected sooner or later. Because the way has been prepared for literally decades by a fringe media consisting of feverish AM talk show hosts, Fox “News” talking heads, and countless newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites. What they have done, anyone can do. And while it may require time and effort, it all boils down to 5 simple steps.

1. Tell them what they already want to hear

Savvy manipulators know that it’s easier to persuade people to wade in up to their necks if you can just convince them to get their feet wet first. Most of us are constantly seeking confirmation of what we already believe (the confirmation bias). When somebody reinforces our beliefs, we tend to regard them as more reliable and trustworthy in general. That’s why manipulators so often make a display of religiosity; committed religious individuals are especially prone to blind trust in anyone they perceive to be ardent followers of the One True Faith — otherwise priests wouldn’t be able to work their boyish charms so successfully. Begin with “Make America Great Again” (whatever the hell that means), and in no time you can work your way up to “millions voted illegally” and “I had a record-breaking victory”.

2. Stoke emotional responses, especially fear and rage

Ronald Reagan was gifted with that proverbial knack for faking sincerity; consequently, he is widely regarded, even today, as a man of impeccable honesty and character, even though he constantly lied through his teeth. (Indeed, with the exception of George W. Bush, it’s likely that no president lied more — until now, when the current White House Occupant dwarfs them both combined). But his sober demeanor was quite unusual among demagogues; they usually realize that while any statement carries more weight if delivered with emotion, the most potent emotions are fear and anger.

Typically, you just don’t hear demagogues speak in a calm, rational tone of voice; it’s more common to hear them sounding like fundamentalist preachers warning of hellfire and damnation than (like Reagan) kindly uncles delivering a homey morality tale. They will raise their voices, they will pound on their desks, they will relate little stories (factual or not) that supposedly validate their point, they will make their voices quiver, they will sometimes even bring themselves to tears.

The most effective message of all is “you are being threatened” or better yet “you are under attack”; particularly since these are messages that many people are already eager to hear. Thus the eternal popularity of silly narratives like transgender bathroom predators, the War on Christmas, and “they’re coming to take your guns”.

There is a part of our brain (the amygdala) that is constantly on the lookout for danger. In caveman days, it was conditioned to be suspicious of anything unknown; after all, that rustling in the bushes very well could be a lion scouting out lunch.  But even though the human race as a whole has long outgrown this mindset, there are still many people (we generally call them “conservatives”) who view the unfamiliar as something to be feared; and view people who promote, represent or advocate for acceptance of anything unfamiliar as enemies to be hated. Political opponents and ideological complements are no longer viewed as mere opponents and complements; they are mortal foes against whom you should prepare for “another civil war”.

3. Find someone to hate

It stands to reason that if you are going to control people effectively with fear and rage, then there must be a “them” to direct the fear and rage toward. You must find a suitable scapegoat to blame for all your (real or imagined) problems. It’s helpful to pinpoint specific individuals (e.g., Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) but entire demographic sectors work even better. In the past, a number of groups have served this purpose well: Muslims, gays, African-Americans, communists, and most notoriously, Jews.

The current White House Occupant targeted brown-skinned foreigners, falsely claiming that Mexicans have driven up crime and that Muslims celebrated in the streets on 9-11. His cult followers certainly jumped on board with those sentiments, but they reserved their most venomous hostility for a much larger and longer established enemy that the right-wing media have hammered away at for years: “liberals”.

“Liberals” are always an ideal target because they are a motley and loosely defined assortment that constitutes at least half the population of the United States, including many people all around you — friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers. Yet they are supposedly people who hate America, want to kill you and enslave you (not necessarily in that order), and want to sacrifice unbaptized babies on an altar devoted to the worship of Hollywood celebrities.

4. Project your own sins onto others

The quickest and most effective way to divert attention away from your true motives, flaws and misdeeds is to accuse someone else of the same thing — as loudly, and as quickly as possible, before people start realizing it’s really you who are the guilty party. Thus during the campaign the future White House Occupant made a point of branding his opponent as a liar and a crook, even while he himself was breaking all records for dishonesty and corruption. He was following the lead of his harbingers and cheerleaders in the right-wing media who have been howling for decades about how (all other) media is extremely biased and untrustworthy.

People with legitimate adult criticism usually focus on the specific complaint rather than making a broad generalization. When a person repeatedly applies derogatory labels or vague accusations to someone else, it’s usually a sign that you should examine the behavior of the person doing the applying.

5.  Lather, rinse, repeat

The more frequently people hear something, the more likely they are to believe it. So don’t just state your claims and make your case once. Proclaim them over and over and over, day after day after day. Crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary. Fake news, fake news, fake news. Liberal media, liberal media, liberal media. Worship me, worship me, worship me.

And there you have it. It may not be a quick and easy process, but this simple 5-step plan is guaranteed to produce results if you pursue it diligently and patiently. I look forward to seeing you in the White House.

 

 

 

Fake Fake News, Real Fake News and Fake Real News

pizzagate

On a day in December, a would-be hero from North Carolina left his home and drove all the way to New York, where he fearlessly strode into a pizza parlor amid a barrage of pepperoni, pulled a gun and confronted the management. He was there to rescue the children, you see. The children who were being exploited in a sex trafficking ring by Hillary Clinton and her evil accomplices. He knew it was happening because he’d read it on social media. He’d no doubt even read about how the placement of symbols on the pizza joint’s menu was really an elaborate code for pedophilia practices.

The story sounds like it might have been scripted by writers at Saturday Night Live or maybe by the Coen brothers on acid. Yet it nearly led to violence because this fellow believed it totally. And he’s not alone. Millions of people out there buy into fake news stories. Facebook has finally taken measures to reduce the fake news traffic on its highways, but it’s too little too late, for it already hath wrought the election of Donald Trump.

Not surprising, then, that Trump’s cheerleaders, upon hearing complaints about fake news, shifted into gear with their defense of the phenomenon — which included ridiculing the complaints, redefining fake news and denying that it even exists. They’ve brushed it off with the glib comment that “fake news is a fake story”, and have even suggested that even if it exists, it’s harmless because most Americans recognize it when they see it.

Which does not jibe at all with the statistics: about a fifth of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, most think he has raised their taxes, about 40 percent believe in “death panels”, about 25 percent think evolution is a false belief,  about half think Saddam was behind 9-11, and 52 percent of Republicans believe Trump won the popular vote.

An ever-dependable, perennially flatulent AM talk show host characterized fake news as “satire and parody that liberals don’t understand”. Which brings up two questions: (1) Is he really so stupid that he can’t distinguish a Saturday Night Live skit from a supposedly serious report about “Pizzagate”? (2) Is he really so stupid as to think it was “liberals” who were taken in by all the phony (and often bizarre) stories about Clinton and Obama?

Like many other right-wing fanatics, he wants you to believe that the real fake news is actually the real real news — you know, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, etc. etc. He even offers some examples of fake news stories:

[Quoting someone else: “You want to hear fake news?  Fake news is every story you read reporting Obama said you keep your doctor if you like your doctor. You get to keep your plan if you like your insurance plan. Your premiums are coming down $2,500 average, every year, under Obamacare.”]  That was fake news, and that’s exactly right.

Yes, you heard that right. Accurately reporting what someone said — at least if that someone happens to be someone you loathe — is what he and his kind consider fake news. Another example he cites of his brand of fake news is the Obama administration saying that a video helped inspire the attack in Benghazi — which in fact is quite true; but since it doesn’t support the right-wing narrative, it must be fake anyway. Got it?

He does the same thing for the “hands up” narrative. It’s fake news, he says, because an investigation later appeared to contradict the witnesses who had said Michael Brown was trying to surrender when he was shot by a cop. (He doesn’t mention that the investigation also found there were strained relations between Ferguson police and the African-American community, the real point of the “hands up” meme.) Even though the media accurately reported what witnesses had said, it was fake news, just because he says so.

Media Matters reports on this habit of turning reality on its head:

Other conservatives are even using fake news to describe reporting from credible news outlets with which they disagree. Fringe right-wing conspiracy site Infowars.com declared that “The mainstream media is the primary source of the most harmful, most inaccurate news ever,” and included outlets such as The New York Times,The Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, and Politico (and Media Matters, for good measure) on their “full list of fake news outlets.” Fox contributor Newt Gingrich lamented the Times’ reporting on the fake news phenomenon, arguing,“The idea of The New York Times being worried about fake news is really weird.The New York Times is fake news.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham — a contender for Trump’s press secretary — lashed out at CNN while appearing on Fox News’ Hannity, stating “the folks over at CNN” and “the kind of little games they’re playing are so transparent … they’re the fake news organizations.”

 

These comments exhibit two tactics you will see reactionary propagandists exercising over and over and over again: projecting their own sins onto someone they want to demonize, and redefining terms to suit their purposes. “Fake news”, like any other word or expression, comes to mean whatever they want it to mean.

But despite such attempts by the punditocracy to muddy the waters, the complaint from “liberals” about fake news has never been about bias. Most “liberals” (and even a lot of “conservatives”) realize that news is always biased in some manner and to some degree. Nor is it a matter of accuracy; accuracy is certainly important, but errors invariably creep in from time to time, even in the most conscientious journalism. And fake news quite often is constructed at least partially with actual facts.

We previously mentioned an internet story claiming that President Obama took a separate plane along on his vacation just for his dog. Part of the story was true: the president did take two planes, and the dog flew on a separate plane from the family. But the plane was not deployed just for the dog; it was carrying crucial personnel and the dog just hitched a ride.

Fake news is determined neither by bias nor error; it is determined by a false narrative that serves as the spine to which bias and error  are so often attached, along with real facts. The “War On Christmas” narrative is a good example of fake news because it uses a phony narrative supported both by lies (President Obama, contrary to Fox claims, wished Americans a Merry Christmas on numerous occasions) and facts (some people really do say “happy holidays” instead).

It may not always be easy to classify a story as fake news. Should every false rumor be tossed into that bin? Sometimes false rumors begin with an honest misunderstanding of the facts. One likely specimen is the rumor that only 5 (or 6) percent of the Clinton Foundation’s proceeds actually go to charity. This probably stems from ignorance about what kind of organization the Clinton Foundation actually is. Despite its rather misleading name, it’s not really a foundation at all, but a public charity. That means, among other things, that it performs its own charitable services rather than acting as a conduit for funds (as a foundation would do). And 89 percent of its proceeds go toward that function. Additionally, the organization donates 6 (or 5) percent of its proceeds to other charities. Some people just assume that’s all it does, because that’s what they want to assume. (Incidentally, contrary to additional rumors, the Clintons don’t make a dime from it.)

It may be questionable whether that story should be classified as fake news or merely a false report. In many other cases, however, there is no doubt. These occur when the perpetrator either deliberately creates a false narrative or creates a narrative without due regard to whether it is true or not. This applies to all of the manipulative videos distributed by James O’Keefe. It also applies to a story recently posted at Breitbart about a mob of Muslims attacking a German church.

Breitbart is uquestionably one of the prime purveyors of real fake news.  And its chairman, Steve Bannon, is going to have a special role in Trump’s administration. Which is altogether appropriate, since the election of Trump is the culmination of the work that fake news and distorted news outlets have been doing for some three decades. They have created an alternate universe for their fans. And now the rest of us must live in it as well.

Make My Day: Mention Gun Defense “Statistics”…

There’s a certain number that gun fanatics just love. Well, actually there are several numbers they love, but there’s one in particular that they lustfully salivate over: 2.5 million. That’s the putative number of defensive gun uses (DGUs) that occur in the United States every single year. That’s a highly impressive “statistic”, which is why you’ll see it starring on bumper stickers or websites or wherever else people want to emphasize the need for firearms in order to feel safe from all the THEMs out there.

Except the “statistic” is not really a statistic. It’s a projection, an estimate, put forth in a “study” by Florida criminologist Dr. Gary Kleck (in collaboration with Professor Marc Gertz), based on interviews of alleged defenders in 1993. Except the “study” wasn’t really a study; it was a survey, which is a sort of glorified poll.

Whatever terminology you choose to use, the point is that the Kleck “study”, which involved 222 respondents, didn’t really estimate how many DGU’s actually occur; it estimated how often gun owners say they occur. That’s a different thing, but just how different is it? Well, let’s see how it stacks up against the real world.

Dr. Kleck, Meet Mr. Gallup

According to Gallup (a poll, not a study, but generally rather reliable) 30 percent of American adults own guns. With a U.S. population of 313 million, roughly 75 percent of whom (about 230 million) are adults, that translates to about 70 million gun owners. The gun culture estimates its own strength at 80 million, so let’s assume they’re right, and Gallup not so much so.  That would mean that one out of 32 gun owners is involved in a DGU every year.  Seriously? Even if we factor in the additional 12 percent who, according to Gallup, live in a household in which someone owns a gun, that means 99 million who have access to one.  And that would still mean that one out of 40 of them is involved in a DGU every year. If that sounds like a reasonable ratio to you, let’s draw a tighter bead on it.

Washington, DC has a population of about 600,000. That means it should have about 450,000 adults and about 189,000 with access to a gun. According to the Kleck ratio, we would expect that Washington would experience 4725 DGUs annually. (Actually much more, since DC is one of the most dangerous cities in the nation -and for several years in the recent past was the most dangerous.)  That means almost 13 per day. Seriously? Let’s return to DC later.

Media Rare

Dr. Kleck can get away with such extravagant claims because we don’t have real comprehensive statistics as such on defensive gun use.  But we do have accounts of them reported in the media, along with phony accounts reported in emails. And even the real ones and the fake ones together do not number in the millions.

In challenging my observation that many of the anecdotes are bogus, a writer at The Truth About Guns whipped out a list of “75 real ones, just from the last 4 months”. Except that many of these “real” ones were, um, not so real.  He didn’t say where he came up with this collection, but everybody who produces such a list produces essentially the same list, a roster of news headlines apparently meant to confirm the 2.5 million tally. If so, it indicates that maybe gunsters aren’t quite as proficient at counting people as they are at killing them.

Because 75 in 4 months does not quite add up to 2.5 million. It adds up to 225. And at that rate, you would have – quite literally – a substantially greater risk of being struck by lightning. So, since the NRA has only your best interests at heart (wink wink nudge nudge) why isn’t it promoting handy dandy designer rubber suits to go along with those portable miniature lightning rods it pushes?

Even on the busiest day, there are rarely more than 2 or 3 DGUs in the news; and in order to meet the quota of 2.5 million annually, you would need to have 6849 daily, more than 2 per day in each of the nation’s counties.

Okay, okay. I can hear the screaming from the gunster gallery, so we might as well acknowledge what they’re saying:

‘YOU IDIOT! NOT ALL DEFENSIVE GUN INCIDENTS APPEAR IN THE MEDIA!!!”

Well okay, I guess it wouldn’t greatly surprise me if that’s true. But it would greatly surprise me indeed if the number of non-covereds greatly exceeded the number of  covereds – especially to the extent Dr. Kleck maintains. If an incident is truly serious enough to warrant pulling out a weapon, it’s generally serious enough to warrant notifying the police. And what makes it into the police blotter is generally fair game for the media.

There are exceptions, of course – some defenders have good reason to keep their actions under their sombreros. But even among Dr. Kleck’s subjects, 64 percent said the police learned of the episode either from them or someone else.  My calculator says that 64 percent of 2.5 million totals 1,600,000 police reports and 1,600,000 potential media stories. So where are the other 1,599, 775?

Okay, they’re screaming again. Let’s see what they’re saying this time.

“YOU MORON! ALL THE MEDIA EXCEPT FAIRANDBALANCED FOX ARE OWNED BY A BUNCH OF LIBERAL COMMIES WHO SUPPRESS DGU STORIES BECAUSE THEY HATE FREEDOM AND WANT THE TERRORISTS TO WIN!!!”

Well, let’s say that we buy into the “liberal bias in the media” canard. It will require a tremendous effort to say it with a straight face, since the myth is so easily discredited, but we’ll give it our best shot. Say that the media suppress 90 percent of DGU stories – no, hell, let’s let our persecution complex really run wild, and say 99 percent. Still, one percent of 1,600,000 is 16,000. So where are the other 15,775? (And if you think the media suppress even more than 99 percent – well, I’m very sorry, but I just can’t take you seriously at all.)

The truth is that if you ask someone who’s actually worked in the media (like, er, um…well, yours truly, maybe) they’re likely to tell you that the media love this kind of story. They have a lot of column space and airtime to fill, and they’re savvy enough to know that the public would much rather hear about a sensational crime than a church bake sale. And lacking a sensational crime, the public will settle for a sensational crime prevention, thank you very much. Some editors would just about break into someone’s house themselves to get this kind of story.

The Great Equalizer

Yet it’s fine if you choose not to believe this. Thing is, the gunsters who invoke the specter of the librulmedia to explain the phantom DGUs are overlooking something. A little thing called the Internet – even though most likely they’re using it to state their case. While referring to guns as “equalizers”, they overlook the greatest equalizer ever : ye olde world wide web.  Thanks to millions of websites and blogs, thanks to email and Facebook and YouTube and Reddit and Twitter and so on, we no longer have to rely on the sinister librulmedia to give us The Truth About Guns.

One website that regularly circulates the latest version of The List is keepandbeararms.com. And hoo boy, if you want to stoke your paranoia and justify your gun addiction, you’ve come to the right place. There are ample links to stories abut the big bad guvmint wanting to take away your so-called Second Amendment rights, and about the incompetence of law enforcement personnel – we all know that they’re not nearly as skilled and responsible at using firearms as we are. And of course stories about defensive gun use. In fact – get this – this website even recruits a team of volunteers to scrape up these stories and send them in. Even so, they can’t come up with more than a few hundred per year (even assuming they’re all genuine) – while there seems to be a higher incidence lately, the archives indicate  that 75 in 4 months is more or less typical. And guess what? From what I can tell, every one of these incidents was reported in the nefarious librulmedia.

Or take the NRA. Please. Since 1958, this humanitarian organization has maintained (first in print and now online as well) a feature called Armed Citizen, which also collects these stories. And it doesn’t just rely on the commie librulmedia; its 4 million-plus members are all invited to submit items to be listed. There is an archive of “thousands” of these in the past 53 years (only thousands??) and the NRA assures us that there could be many more, editorial space permitting, because there are millions of DGUs to pick from every year. And how do they know this? Why, that famous “study”, of course.

One only hopes that the good folk at NRA are more competent handling weapons than they are handling editorial space. Armed Citizen easily could accommodate one DGU per day, 365 per year. And how many did it print last year? Barely more than 100. And guess what? It appears that every one of them was reported in the terrorist-coddling librulmedia. Can I order my rubber suit now? Surely they must come in red, white and blue.

Capital Offenses

NRA headquarters sits across the river from the nation’s capital. Because of this proximity, and because the NRA is so intensively involved in influencing government policy (to put it mildly), its personnel no doubt have spent a great deal of time in DC and crossed paths with its criminal elements – and we’re not referring to Dick  Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Therefore, they should have had plenty of opportunity to bag their very own share of those 4725-plus annual DGUs. If nothing else, they surely have heard about many of them through the grapevine, even those that were buried by the scumsucking librulmedia.

And how many did they list for Washington in 2011? A grand total of zero. In fact, the last one I found was more than SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO!  This excludes a 2004 story in The Washington Times about a hiker shooting a bear. No, no, not on the National Mall. In Alaska. Yep, the straight-shootin’ NRA feels that if it appeared in a Washington newspaper, that makes it a genuine DC DGU – even though it also was listed under Alaska’s database. Which really makes you wonder how many of their other untold “thousands” are also duplicates – especially since, contrary to what the gun culture clams, these episodes are usually covered by a number of media sources.

Armed Citizen recently has been revamped.  Before that, the search options were more user-friendly, and I counted 24 DGUs in the former Murder Capital of America for the 53 year period, falling a tad shy of our expected total of 250,425.  But those 24 include the ursine encounter in Alaska; and I didn’t confirm the legitimacy of the other 23.

Studying the Studies

Unless you’re really heavily immersed in a gun propaganda website, I probably don’t have to tell  you that there is a wee bit of difference between 2.5 million and 2.5 hundred. The question is, which is closer to the truth? No, strike that. The question is, how could a reputable researcher like Dr. Kleck, even given his apparent propensity for gun worship, have fucked up so royally?

I don’t claim to have a solid answer for that. I don’t believe he deliberately cooked the books, and even if he did, it hardly would cover the bases. There have been at least a dozen other “studies”, one by the Department of Justice, that also generated some preposterous projections. Granted, there was quite a range in the totals, with the lowest being 65,000. That, contrasted with the high of 2.5 million, is a point spread of  4000 percent, for crying out loud; and that, if nothing else, ought to raise a matador-size red flag about the challenges of obtaining accurate data on such a subject. But even 65,000 seems greatly overinflated.

So it appears that Dr. Kleck is not to blame. Instead, the probable explanation is that the respondents to such surveys tend to give consistently and wildly distorted responses. Why? Well, that might take an actual study or two to figure out.  Prof. David Hemenway of Harvard has made some illuminating comments, which of course have been attacked ferociously by the gun lobby. He  notes by way of comparison that among 1500 adults contacted at random, 10 percent claimed to have witnessed a UFO, and of those, 6 percent claimed to have had personal contact with space aliens.  Which would mean that 1,380,000 American adults have encountered Klingons. And hey, 579,600 of those may have been hauling a heater. Hmmm… maybe so many DGUs are missing because they occur on the far side of the chronosynclastic infundibulum.

A 2004 investigation – one actually might call it a study –  by J. F. Denton and Dr. W. V. Fabricius that examined shooting incidents over a period of 3.5 months in the Phoenix metropolitan area confirmed that of 81 shootings, only 3 were of a defensive  nature; two occurred in a single encounter with two security guards firing at the same offender, and the third involved a family quarrel. The Kleck data would have projected 334 defensive shootings for the time frame and location. Denton and Fabricius illustrate the drawbacks of the Kleck survey by discussing another clash involving a drunken quarrel between two acquaintances, one of whom shot the other to death, which was ruled to be criminal homicide, but which Dr. Kleck would have misclassified as a DGU. Undoubtedly, there have been many cases that were misclassified.

Indeed, a close inspection of the Kleck data reveals some major thorns. As we mentioned, at least 36 percent of respondents stated they didn’t even notify police. Which makes you wonder whether the incidents really were serious enough to justify calling in the infantry.  Furthermore, 46.8 percent admitted (the actual percentage could be higher) that the supposed offender neither attacked nor made a threat. So what made the hardware necessary? In more than half of the cases, the supposed defender admitted (the actual percentage may be higher) that the supposed offender had no weapon of any kind.  And since 57.6 percent of defenders say they verbally referred to their guns and 75.7 percent brandished or showed their guns, that seems to indicate that about 25 percent only referred to them verbally. And this counts as a defensive gun use? I could do the same thing, but since I don’t even own a gun, the weapon du jour would be bullshit, not a Glock.

In 8.3 percent of the cases, the subject claimed to have wounded or killed the offender. There is no breakdown of what percentage was killed, but let’s conservatively guess one percent. Most likely, the true percentage is much higher, especially given that there seem to be a great many gun incidents that are falsely classified as DGUs; and a higher percentage of fatal shootings means a lower number of DGUs. But even one percent of 2.5 million would be 25,000; and we should be able to verify this because gun deaths are a matter of official record. Oops. According to the FBI, there were only 232 justifiable homicides by firearm in all of 2010 – and this was an increase over recent years.  No matter how you slice it, something in Kleck has to go.

Perhaps most interestingly, the subjects claimed to have experienced an average of about 1.5 DGUs each for a 5-year period; in other words, many of them said they were involved in multiple incidents.  Talk about red flags. This supposedly random sampling that supposedly represents the typical American gun owner nonetheless seems to be comprised largely of people who live in the world’s worst neighborhoods. In contrast, this group of gun owners, in response to a query about how often they’ve drawn their weapons (which doesn’t necessarily mean a DGU)  typically say once or twice in 15 years or 25 or 30 years; some even say “never”, although such an individual is probably not as likely to respond to this question at all.

Defensive or Offensive

All told, these facts shoot a big gaping hole in one of the gun culture’s prime tenets: that guns are used in self-defense more often they are used to commit crimes – some even claim ten times as often or more! In the Phoenix sample, however,  the score was 78 to 3 in favor of the Offense. Granted, these were actual shootings and most defenders don’t open fire – but neither do most offenders. While there are only a few hundred confirmed DGUs per year, there are at least 400,000 gun crimes per year. Among those committed or attempted, there is a 100 percent chance that the offender has a gun, but only a 42 percent chance that the victim even has access to a gun, much less is armed at the moment and able to use it successfully. Of course, there are many other crimes in which the criminal is not packing; but they are less likely to warrant firearm defense. In many of them, the victim is not even aware of the crime, and indeed may not even be present. But none of this will stop the gun lobby from peddling the illusion that guns make us safer.

At least one blogger out there is making an effort to chronicle the destructive use of firearms, both intentional and accidental – there are thousands of accidental gun deaths and injuries every year, but I’ve yet to hear of a gun accidentally preventing a death or injury. He seems to be waging a war of anecdotes with the gunsters, but it’s not much of a war. Despite their persistent claims of vastly superior firepower, he’s been blowing their asses out of the water.

Not that I expect it to make a great deal of difference. People will believe what that want to believe, and for the gun culture it’s important to believe that lead is more vital than oxygen. For all their rant and cant about “defending liberty”, many gunsters are quite willing to enslave themselves to the unscrupulous marketing machinations of the firearms cartel. And every time a trigger clicks, a cash register ka-chings.

(STILL TO COME:  A more reasonable approach to calculating DGUs; and the assault on “gun control”. Stay tuned.)