Brooks: The Hype Machine

During the holiday break, we all awoke to the terrible news coming out of Newtown, Conn. Our nation has endured a number of school shootings in the past I can personally remember the Columbine shootings quite well but the fact that an adult would take a gun into an elementary school and turn it on little boys and girls was both shocking and heartbreaking. However, before the shooter had even been successfully identified, the media and others took to the airwaves and the internet with one of two responses either that the government needs to institute gun control or that the government better not come after anyone's guns. Unfortunately, cries for the government to act are often ill-informed and lead to bad policy. Also unfortunate is the "out of my cold, dead hands" attitude that prevents any discussion on banning, much less controlling guns.

I have come to notice that many people advocating for gun control know precious little about gun policy or even the subject in question: guns. Only hours after the massacre, I read a Facebook post by a Dartmouth student who hoped that the U.S. would "finally address the major issue of automatic weapons in this country." The post was "liked" by quite a few people, including other Dartmouth students. However, automatic weapons are not a major issue and the Newtown shootings had nothing to do with automatic weapons. These kinds of knee-jerk responses actually harm the debate on gun control because anyone who knows a thing or two about weapons will quickly write these poorly informed critics off as imbeciles.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a similar gaffe in an interview with ABC News correspondent Cynthia McFadden when he equated assault weapons with automatic weapons. When McFadden politely corrected Bloomberg, the mayor did not acknowledge his ignorance but instead changed the subject to high-capacity magazines. The head of a media empire and of the largest city in the U.S., who funds gun policy studies at Johns Hopkins University did not know the difference between a semi-automatic rifle and an automatic weapon. How can you advocate policy for a subject you really have no knowledge about?

Yet the media keeps fueling the hype. The Los Angeles Times easily wins the prize for the most ridiculous piece of feigned outrage. When the Los Angeles Police Department held a gun buyback program in the wake of the Newtown shootings, the paper ran an article about two rocket launchers being bought at a gun buyback program. As part of the program, people could bring in their guns and receive $100 to $200 gift cards in exchange for their weapons. Apparently, two inspired entrepreneurs even brought in the spent tubes of an AT-4 anti-tank weapon. To be clear, these are military arms that once fired can never, under any circumstances, be reloaded or used again. However, the LAPD happily paid for both tubes, which is the equivalent of buying bullet casings and celebrating the guns you took off the street.

Seriously, in Afghanistan, AT-4 tubes are used as makeshift poles. Furthermore, it is illegal to own an AT-4. Even if these weapons had been live, their resale was not the consequence of loose gun laws, but rather a serious crime.

Stirring up outrage or advocating policy with woeful ignorance of the subject is detrimental to the debate on gun control. Gun loyalists view these gaffes with the same disdain most liberals would a birther. This fuels the idea among the gun crowd that there must be something more at play the government is coming for their guns or there's some sort of conspiracy at work. The gun lobby, with its "over my dead body" rhetoric, also hurts the debate, as most discussion of gun control is interpreted as a gun ban.

Yet gun control does not equal gun prohibition, and I fail to see the harm in waiting periods or registering a weapon as one would a car. Ultimately, both sides of the divide prevent meaningful discussion: one by viewing the subject as a totalitarian takeover and the other by demanding action with a stunning lack of awareness about the subject.

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