“Terror on Repeat” – The Washington Post tells you the AR-15 is extra scary, we disagree. Context backs us.

Screencap of the WP's article header. Democracy dies in darkness in a rather dark scroll post.

“Editor’s note: The photos, videos and personal accounts below are extremely disturbing and may be too upsetting for some people. Read why The Post is publishing this story.”Washington Post.

That line opens the Washington Post’s scrollable interactive. As you move down, the background brightens and a M&P-15 Sport rifle flanked by bloody pink flip flops is revealed. Blood stains the ground. A single line of text arrises next, not even a complete sentence.

[Editor’s Note, GAT Daily: Screen captures from the WP article are disturbing and show the violent aftermath of an attack, I believe these to be necessary viewing in a way not dissimilar from the WP writers and editors, our conclusions differ however.]

“When a gunman fires an AR-15…”

Then you scroll more…

And more…

…and more…

Kinda like I am making you do here… a little, but a great deal more. See below.

“…. a seemingly safe, familiar place instantly transforms into a hellscape of chaos, destruction and mass death.

The image lands with effect, that is certain. Screen cap from Washington Post.

The screen then fades to black, a picture from the Vegas music festival comes into focus. People are taking cover, hiding, and running. The image is again effective. Two more come up in succession from different events.

Then we scroll into standard text.

“Mass shootings involving AR-15s have become a recurring American nightmare.”

Okay, full stop.

Let’s start here. “When a gunman fires an AR-15…”

No, when a gunman fires anything.

Nobody, and I do mean nobody is relieved when someone opens up with a Glock handgun or a snub nose instead. That isn’t a thing. Violence delivered into a space devoid and unprepared for it is always horrific. The weapon makes little difference. The AR-15 has no monopoly on that terror. It’s current popularity does not change the imbalance of force during an attack with any firearm, with any weapon, when no appropriate opposing force exists in the space.

The AR-15 doesn’t hold the highest place for death toll in a mass attack, not even close. I’ll get to that.

“The weapon, easy to operate and widely available, is now used more than any other in the country’s deadliest mass killings.”

Nope. Deadliest mass shootings. Those are listed below. The deadliest mass killings still go handily to explosives and hijacked vehicles, and Jonestown’s murder/suicides but that is an outlier even among mass attacks and lethal events.

Yes, AR-15s and AR-15 adjacent firearms were used in several of these. However, note the third deadliest shooting is still Virginia Tech, committed with two mundane handguns, one a .22 with limited magazine capacity.

The deadliest deliberate non-state killing in the US was still, unquestionably, the September 11th, 2001 attack. The next I found is the Jonestown mass cult murder/suicide, which killed 918. The Beruit barracks and the Kenyan embassy bombings come up next in the descending death toll, with over 200 dead each, although not ‘within’ the US. Oklahoma City comes next with 168 dead. Then Waco, which was a cited motivation for Oklahoma City if you didn’t know. Then we finally get the deadliest US mass shooting, Las Vegas, with 60 murders and the shooter’s suicide, motive unknown.

I skipped dozens of incidents, accidents and natural disasters, war deaths, plane crashes (including deliberate ones), storms, among all of this death the most lethal mass killing by the especially dangerous AR-15 charts low. I suppose we could throw the recent attack from Gaza into Israel onto this list of AR-15 related events, since they had AR-15’s, but that would complicate the simplistic view presented in this narrative and is a foreign event. By adding an act of war/war crime to the list from what is the government of Gaza against the Israeli civilian population and tourists we would then have to consider other governmental/quasi-governmental acts against civilian populations, especially unarmed ones, and that is a very dark rabbit hole indeed. With the American death toll in Gaza at 29 however, it would rank as the 4th deadliest mass shooting, just behind Virginia tech, on those deaths alone.

Also from the same information as the above chart,

Mass shootings are incidents involving multiple victims of firearm related violence. Definitions vary, with no single, broadly accepted definition.[1][2][3] One definition is an act of public firearm violence—excluding gang killings, domestic violence, or terrorist acts sponsored by an organization—in which a shooter kills at least four victims. Using this definition, a 2016 study found that nearly one-third of the world’s public mass shootings between 1966 and 2012 (90 of 292 incidents) occurred in the United States,[4][5] In 2017 The New York Times recorded the same total of mass shootings for that span of years.[6] A 2023 report published in JAMA covering 2014 to 2022, found there had been 4011 mass shootings in the US, most frequent around the southeastern U.S. and Illinois. This was true for mass shootings that were crime-violence, social-violence, and domestic violence-related. The highest rate was found in the District of Columbia (10.4 shootings per one million people), followed by Louisiana (4.2 mass shootings per million) and Illinois.

[Pause. Let us marvel that Washington D.C. has the most mass shootings per capita by a factor of 2.5x of the next state/territory]

Perpetrator demographics vary by type of mass shooting, though in almost all cases they are male. Contributing factors include easy access to guns, perpetrator suicidality and early childhood trauma, as well as various sociocultural factors including online media reporting of mass shootings. In one study, 44% of mass shooters had leaked their plans prior to committing the act.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation designated 61 of all events in 2021 as active shooter incidents.[7] The United States has had more mass shootings than any other country.[4][8][9][10][11] After a shooting, perpetrators generally either commit suicide or are restrained or killed by law enforcement officers. Mass shootings accounted for under 0.2 percent of gun deaths in the United States between 2000 and 2016,[12] and less than 0.5 percent of all homicides in the United States from 1976 to 2018.[13]

Pay attention to the last line.

Mass shootings accounted for under 0.2 percent of gun deaths in the United States between 2000 and 2016,[12] and less than 0.5 percent of all homicides in the United States from 1976 to 2018.[13]

The Washington Post’s hyperbolically infused story omits context, lots and lots of context.

Context, something that is cold and analytical, is tossed aside in order to generate an emotive response in the reader. A tragedy, a mass killing, any horrific and traumatic event, requires analytical level context in order to act effectively upon. Without context we cannot make effective decisions on prevention, reduction, or any other future change to make things safer. Context matters. Context is often uncaring, it does not care for your or my feelings or how close we are to an event. Context is the temper to our horror and our anger.

One of those cold, hard, and uncaring facts of reality is that evil, deranged, unhinged, or ultimately uncaring people have just as much freedom of choice, and the ability to act upon a choice, as those of morally and ethically sound character. Period. That is an unchangeable facet of the human experience. Even prison or a psychiatric hospital only limits some of that freedom of choice and freedom to act.

This WP story is not information for their audience’s education, this is a story to evoke emotion. It is not to find solutions, it is to cause a reaction.

WP continues…

“Fired by the dozens or hundreds in rapid succession, bullets from AR-15s have blasted through classroom doors and walls. They have shredded theater seats and splintered wooden church pews. They have mangled human bodies and, in a matter of seconds, shattered the lives of people attending a concert, shopping on a Saturday afternoon, going out with friends and family, working in their offices and worshiping at church and synagogue. They have killed first-graders, teenagers, mothers, fathers and grandparents.

Here, let me do that too.

Driving dozens or even hundreds of miles per hour, cars have blasted through intersections. They have gone the wrong way on highways, up ramps, and through crowded streets of innocent pedestrians. They have crushed and mangled human bodies in an instant. They have killed shoppers, commuters, and parade goers. They have killed babies, toddlers, children, teens, mothers, fathers, and grandparents. More than 30,000 people die every single year.

All of that perfectly true.

I am talking about Nice, France. I am talking about the Christmas Parade in Wisconsin. I am talking about the woman who murdered six people as she suicidally careened through an intersection because her boyfriend cheated… she ended up with minor injuries there by the way.

But now let’s add additional context, when was the last year the United States had under 30,000 deaths due to motor vehicles?

1945. Yep, nearly 80 years. Well over 2.4 million dead.

Let’s add some more, during that 8 decade timeframe we have also dramatically improved the fatality rate (cutting it about in half) while having more cars, faster cars, and all manner of illegal and dangerous activity that a person behind the wheel is capable of (and that regularly occurs).

About 1 in 8 drivers are uninsured. Approximately 1 in 6 are unlicensed or have their license suspended. Licenses haven’t stopped people from driving without them any more than other prohibitions have. Laws have not prevented people from driving intoxicated, making it illegal to drive intoxicated in a number of progressively more expensive and drastic levels hasn’t stopped people. All those deaths on the road are still occurring despite some of their illegality. The illegality of using a vehicle as a weapon of mass murder hasn’t stopped that from occurring either.

The WP continues…

But the full effects of the AR-15’s destructive force are rarely seen in public.

Maybe because they are greatly, often absurdly exaggerated by people who write for places like the Washington Post? Just a thought. Remember Kuntzman, from the Washington Examiner? Look that up, it’s… well… embarrassing. Another thought, as the AR-15 is a popular hunting rifle I would venture that the ‘destructive force’ is well known in public, at least the portions of the public who are interested enough in the information.

“The impact is often shielded by laws and court rulings that keep crime scene photos and records secret. Journalists do not typically have access to the sites of shootings to document them. Even when photographs are available, news organizations generally do not publish them, out of concern about potentially dehumanizing victims or retraumatizing their families.”

We also don’t publish gore strewn crashes or the charred bodies piled up after fires, like the recent one in Hawaii that killed roughly 100 people if I recall correctly. But worry not, dear reader, the Washington Post will disregard this practice in order to bring you the graphic and hyperbolically infused tale of murder being bad. Mass murder, of course, being mass bad. And AR-15 mass murder being mass… baddest? Mass worst?

I don’t mean for my tone to sound flippant here, I know it does.

I am tired of “journalists” taking a single method of injury and declaring it the source of all the ills in the world. Take the AR ‘away’ (an impossibility I am tired of entertaining as a serious topic of conversation, too. But that is a discussion for later) and people will use something else. Why? Because there is plenty to use, and violence will remain an attractive way to get attention and/or a resource for gain. That is not new. Nothing about that is new. The AR is 1950’s technology, which is only mildly updated from 1850’s technology. It is old. That technology is not the factor that changed and popularized spree killing.

What changed?

Modern mass media coverage started in the 90’s. The years 1994/95, with the OJ Simpson murder case, changed the way reporting happened and how much attention cable news could bring to an event. Oklahoma City Bombing, 1995. Columbine, 1999. How much attention a mass murder gets, and how quickly it gets it, was redefined in the 90’s by media companies and their evolving technology. Suddenly mass murder had a nearly instantaneous national, even worldwide, stage to be spotlit upon. That has compounded further with the rise of social media. When anyone anywhere can go ‘live’ with whatever they are doing it can be viewed. If it is wild enough, even horrifically so, it will ‘go viral’ and be seen by the world. Christchurch, New Zealand as a poignant example of just that.

But we don’t want to talk about that, or at least the WP doesn’t.

I think it is fascinating that the AR-15 was first commercially available in 1964, that the patents expired in 1977 so others could produce the AR-15 then too, that new machine guns were legal to purchase until the 1986 Hughes Amendment was added to the Firearm Owners Protection Act for a tax of $200, and yet it wasn’t until we had near real time coverage of tragedy in the 90’s that mass murder jumped in macabre popularity.

How many have now live streamed their crimes since the rise of social media? They don’t ‘need’ the news, the news will share it. We just had the release of the Louisville, Kentucky Old National Bank mass shooter’s motive. On the list of motives was how ‘horrible‘ current gun laws are. Do you think for a moment this shooter wasn’t influenced by the continuous reporting, and most importantly the tenure and tone of that reporting, on how our gun laws are the ‘worst in the world’ and enable acts like he committed?

Is it the AR-15’s existence for 70 years? Or could the tone of the media have the influence?

“The review lays bare how the AR-15, a weapon that has soared in popularity over the past two decades as a beloved tool for hunting, target practice and self-defense, has also given assailants the power to instantly turn everyday American gathering places into zones of gruesome violence.”

Given?

Given, when? The constant implication by anti-gun leaning journalistic organizations seems to be that would be mass murderers suddenly discovered a latent evil super power hiding inside firearms somewhere around 1999, or maybe 2005. They had to ponder on it for 41 years first, longer if we consider the Thompson or the BAR enough adjacent to the AR-15.

This was available in 1933

“This is an oral history told in three parts that follows the chronological order of a typical AR-15 mass shooting. It weaves together pictures, videos and the recollections of people who endured different tragedies but have similar stories to tell.”

Why not non AR-15 mass shootings? Why not Virginia Tech? Why not the Washington Navy Yard? Why leave out so much additionally relevant context?

I hazard that it is because a mass shooting scene looks pretty similar, regardless of the weapon. Bodies and blood.What does the greater context provide to, or remove from, the microcosm of an attack and the weapon involved? Contextualizing an event does not diminish any of the physical and emotional damage, but it can limit an over emotive response when a logical one is required.

Why the AR-15

The AR-15 gained more recent popularity, why? Simple, we’ve talked about it often here. The Global War on Terror and the advent of oft titled ‘Gun Culture 2.0’. The emphasis and attitudes of younger people towards firearms shifted to personal protection and home defense, away from hunting. This paralleled the continuing rise of concealed carry too, again an intellectual shift of emphasis towards defense. The general comfort of GWOT veterans with the AR-15 and the semi-fame of its use during the war fueled interest further. Younger people were and are interested in, and more comfortable overall with, modern firearms and the concepts of fighting with them.

The Gen X and Baby Boomer generations, overall, did not hold this same point of view and the Millennial and Gen Z consumers have very different methods of educating themselves and the resulting influence from information sources. Most of the sources are live, online, detailed and very frequently updated.

Why did mass murder rise in frequency decades after the alleged technology became publicly and easily available? Why did a rifle available and popular in its own right from the 1960’s onward not enable such murderers prior to the 2000’s. Why after modernized restrictions, including an assault weapon ban and background checks, were emplaced did the trend increase and not curb? Why didn’t it enable and empower the ascribed carnage for the first 40 years after its public release, only after the rise of the 24 hour news cycle?

The AR-15 was available and the murder rate during those decades was significantly higher than it is today.

Statistic: Deaths by homicide per 100,000 resident population in the U.S. from 1950 to 2019 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

But mass killings for attention rose later, and rather suddenly, because? We’ll get to that.

‘Easy to acquire’

I mentioned above that access to the weapon, and similar ones, didn’t change much. It actually became more restricted with the implementation of the FBI background check system and other gun control measures. We know the overall popularity changed, the Global War on Terror and GC 2.0, with troops showcasing how nice the rifle was and an increase in personal defensive awareness. Without doubt the AR-15 is an individual weapon that excels, it is a global standard in individual small arms, but nothing about it is new.

Popularity was also fueled by the governments attempt to ban certain variants in 1994 with the Clinton Assault Weapon ban, but that only passed with a sunset provision set for 2004. The ban is objectively absurd, declaring features like a threaded on flash hider to increase the lethality of the 5.56mm projectile in some incomprehensible manner.

The ban sunset with no demonstrable effect on violence, violence continued to trend downward, GWOT was on in force showcasing how excellent the rifle was, cue the American contrarian antiauthoritarian streak and self preservation planning. The AR and like firearms would not have had the surge they did had they been mundanely available the whole time, I still suspect a surge would have occurred in parallel to GWOT but not to the degree the ban helped fuel nor the talks of renewed bans consistently refuel.

The Gun Culture 2.0 attitude shift had something to do with it too, as advances in entertainment and information access made integrating all of these sources together more seamless. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and every sequel and similar game, have assuredly fueled interest in firearms directly. They used to link to the real world pages of the real world weapons. “Marketing to kids!” no, not so much. Video games became an adult hobby as video gamers (millennials) became adults and someone under 18 couldn’t buy a gun through the game, or anywhere else, until they were of age and could buy it regardless of seeing it in the game.

But did any of these AR-15 factors enable mass murder, where before the publicly available AR-15 and similar weapons were just lying dormant all unmassmurdery?

Mass murder isn’t new. It wasn’t as common, especially disregarding government or quasi-government (terrorist) actions, but mass killings involving firearms have taken place for centuries. The oldest school massacre on record here in the United States happened in 1764, Greencastle Pennsylvania. 11 dead, 1 injured at Enoch Brown school. This was during the Pontiac War and natives shot the school master then killed the children with melee weapons.

But don’t worry, only the AR-15 is capable of turning familiar surroundings into hellscapes of chaos, destruction and mass death.

Even with the elevated murder/violent crime rates of 2020, 2021, and 2022 we don’t match 1995, or the 1990’s, 1980’s, or 1970’s. So why the hyper focus on a specific method of murder, and a specific format, when it accounts for about half a percent of murders in the US? Additionally it accounts for only a fifth of a percent of gun deaths, majority suicide.

Why the out of proportion attention and why the blinder to the parallel rise of media coverage? The AR and ilk isn’t what enabled mass murder, this destruction has been ‘enabled’ for centuries if we are regarding ‘enabled’ as ‘possible’.

What made it alluring? What made it attractive as a decision?

Instant fame and attention, a horror drenched TikTok trend if you will. Write it down or stream it and people are going to want to know what you said, what you thought, why you acted, if only to see what brand of psycho you were and condemn you properly. It pains me to say that we are so fractious when it comes to violence of this scale that we regularly and nearly equally want it to be violence from another faction, not one we are associated with, in addition to wishing the violence didn’t happen in the first place.

Certain factions and demographics have stereotypical types of mass violence. Don’t believe me? What type of mass shooting does a Black man or small group of Black men commit? Something came to mind, didn’t it. Now how about a white man? Different shooting, right? This despite the fact we have every demographic represented as an example in mass killing statistics as shooters. Mass killings are such outliers we cannot draw statistical significance from vague demographic bracketing. Yet the stereotypes spawn anyway.

The Washington Post language holds the key to their intentions

Allow me to point out, again and still, that the AR-15 is an intermediate caliber autoloading rifle. It is not particularly more or less dangerous than other firearms. It is, on a shot for shot basis, often less dangerous than many other firearms that are older, popular, and plenty available. Remember also that a 5-shot revolver, with no additional ammunition, is more than capable of committing what is the commonly accepted definition of a mass shooting (four or more people shot and injured or killed, not including the shooter).

The Glock handgun is the most recovered weapon in firearm related crime in the US, the AR-15 isn’t even close. Handguns account for the most deaths, the most injuries, the most mass shootings, etc. It is only when we apply the ‘deadliest’ filter, we discount the third deadliest shooting as an outlier among outliers, and discount whether or not a handgun would have been just as capable of the lethality in the situation as a rifle was does the AR become so allegedly terrifying comparatively.

This is not to suggest I do not understand that the AR-15, from a physics and ergonomics perspective, is ‘more lethal’ than a 9mm handgun. It is. But a 7.62, like an AR-10 or an M1 Garand even, is a magnitude more lethal than the AR-15 too. Yet those are not so utilized. There are other factors, other influences at play than raw vague ‘lethality’ alone.

On that list of 11 shootings. Only Las Vegas and University of Texas required a rifle to be as lethal in their environments as they were because, of the distances involved, given the circumstances of the attacks. In all the other shootings close proximity was involved and a shotgun or handgun could have served, and has in other shootings, to deliver a comparable effect. But they (as in hyperbolic gun control types) love to point out the ‘damage’ of the AR-15 in isolation. They use a vague but colorful and emotive illustration of AR-15 lethality without discussing comparative lethality to declare it a unique menace.

Why?

Context matters. So does lacking or omitting context.

The audience for this Washington Post piece has no context, or very limited context. These injuries are severe. The images are brutal and graphic. This is all bad and we do not like it. But they are not contextualized for study towards prevention. To do that would require an admission of comparative lethality and several other factors.

Firearms injuries are possibly fatal. Full stop. A firearm can kill. An injury from a firearm is a big deal. So are other injuries, both accidental and deliberate.

But WP and those like them can focus on the AR-15 as unique because the audience has little to no context for other fatal injuries. It isn’t something that is a common knowledge item in our collective societal thinking. So when a figure or an organization of authoritative knowledge transfer, like a journalistic publication, says AR-15 wounds are horrible, they can put an overemphasis on the carnage by leaving out contexts they choose. You can ‘lie’ with facts by both context and lack thereof.

WP doesn’t have to talk about vehicle fatalities, or how gruesome being killed by a car can be. They don’t have to talk about the fatalities and violence related to alcohol. They don’t have to mention how infrequent a mass shooting death is as a specific homicide. They don’t have to mention how infrequent a homicide is as a cause of death. They don’t have to put things into those contexts, their audience is trusting that they do so at some level. That is their power.

It is often called shaping the narrative.

Why? Because they, WP and kind, are an information authority. Journalists convey information and do so in short form so we can contextualize that information ‘accurately, in short’. But they possess the ability to dramatically shape that context, readers only reading the headline is often utilized this way. Consider the Louisville shooter at his bank and workplace an example again. If they want us to contextualize it a certain way because they want us to think about what they are saying in a certain way, they have that power. We are often trusting, by consuming the media we do, that the given media has enough context to ground us. It often does not.

Now we start to deal with Gell-Mann Amnesia.

What is that?

“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

-Michael Crichton

So when I read a piece, like this, about firearms I can tear it apart for inaccuracy and hyperbole if it is full of such errors. But most of the audience, here or there, does not have my background. However much of that same audience, if reading a subject they are familiar with, will be just is irritated, bemused, or frustrated as I am on my subject and will mentally dismantle the inaccuracies within.

But, almost paradoxically, we all then have that tendency to turn/click the page to the next and just assume that the reporting authority, here the Washington Post, gets the rest of it right. They only suck at reporting our thing, because we have expertise in our thing.

Looking at the three young contributors to this particular piece, I highly doubt any could stand as an SME on firearms. That is not an aspersion on them, their character, or their good intentions. They do not know what they do not know, but they are making an obnoxious and ill supported attempt to make me and the rest of the audience feel a certain way. That peeves me.

This also leaves I, as an informed person in the space, looking like the irate reactionary because of course the Washington Post did all their homework and proper contextualization so I must just be a bitter clinger, right? Expect on subjects each particular reader is familiar with and can pull apart as readily as I do something on firearms, this trend will again appear.

How to lie with context instead of information or misinformation

Think about the simple question, “Do you support background checks to prevent violent crime?”

There is only one reasonable short answer to that question, asked in that manner, “Yes, of course.”

Why?

Because the context forced upon you with the question is that background checks prevent violent crime. They must at least help, right?

…right?

Of course they do, the question states as much. It is a given within the contextual tone of the question. ‘To prevent violent crime’ or if we want be a little more vague ‘to help prevent violent crime’ could be used. In this new context we’ve made the burden of efficacy so vague as to be meaningless, but still feel positive. Gone is the mandate ‘prevent’ replaced with ‘help prevent’ and that can could be as little as a ‘well intentioned’ effort to prevent. That effort has no burden of real world efficacy placed upon it. Thus the phrase, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

No requirement that background checks prove they are helping exists. If it did, data showing the false positive rates, improper records, number of felons who were caught with a firearm they acquired another way, number of denials that were and weren’t followed up on by law enforcement, and any events where harm came to someone who was denied a firearm or delayed purchase of a firearm by the system would all be relevant and tracked data. It would be necessary to prove efficacy.

But it isn’t. None of that it is monitored, especially not by NICS who do the background checking. We have only the number of initiated checks, delays, and final denials, we also have the number of appealed final denials that are overturned (approximately 29% of appeals) and the assumption that those people who did not appeal were in fact properly denied.

Stat analysis suggest the number of false positives is likely reasonably consistent or of predictable scale to the actual number of overturned denials on appeal. It could be around the actually appealed and reviewed 29% for all denials or could scale off lower if we audited all denials and more turned out to be proper legal denials. Appeals are not pursued for a variety of reasons. The appeals process is, notably, another bureaucratic pain point and people have enough issue keeping their IDs and other otherwise ‘simple’ legal processes updated. I have denied active law enforcement personnel through NICS, how would that stack up in the false positive column? Is the cop, who is wearing a gun, a prohibited person? My computer says so, it must be right. No other context needed.

One more comment, just a single word really. Marijuana. Think on that bit of absurdity.

The point being that background checks as an effective preventative with a low error rate is a complex matter and likely an inaccurate assumption, but it is one we are encouraged to make by the positive association of background checks as ‘preventative’. We are so encouraged to make that assumption that the number often quoted by advocates of the system for how effective it is at denying guns to ‘the wrong people’ are the initial denials, the delays. These are the checks that need more research and overwhelmingly clear and result in a transfer. I have been delayed for a transfer before, that would be counted in the pile of ‘keeping guns out of the wrong hands’ stats many gun controllers quote while advocating for ‘Universal Background Checks’.

For context, I have an FFL and SOT. I can possess guns most people cannot, I can even bring them into states where they otherwise aren’t allowed. How does a delay on my private transfer background check, likely because I have an FFL/SOT but could be for many reasons, count as a positive stat in the ‘kept out of the wrong hands’ pile when I assuredly have that gun in my hands?

Lack.

of.

Context.

So why, if the background system is so objectively full of limitations (even if it works alright within those in limitations), would an inquiry be made along the lines of that simple initial sentence I wrote above? That sentence dismisses all errors inherent in the background check system and dismisses any negative outcome those records, or lack of records, could possibly generate. It instead assigns a simplistic ‘positive’ effect to the vague notion of ‘background check’ in the in context of the inquiry?

The same is true of asking vague things like, “Should gun laws be ‘stricter’ to prevent gun violence?”

What is ‘stricter’? What is the efficacy associated with the ‘stricter’ gun law?

What if someone were to then point out the number of mass killers who passed their background checks? How about just those shooters who perpetrated the top 11 mass shootings listed above? Yikes, right? I’m not saying we start arming felons tomorrow (they have guns already anyway), I am suggesting an honest assessment of the limitations on a ‘background check’ be seriously considered for context.

Instead of a serious evaluation of the limitations, the notion of a ‘universal background check’ remains a popular ‘solution’ to this problem of terroristic level mass violence and all the other ills of violent crime. Or more accurately, ‘part’ of the solution. We can’t go locking in an efficacy requirement now, can we? It is implied therein that the solution and problem are both complex, which is true, but that any efforts made on behalf of solving the complex problem are all ‘part’ of the complex solution. They are all assumed to have positive efficacy as ‘part’ of the solution. They aren’t measured for actual efficacy, but because they are well intentioned to be part of the solution they are assumed to be positive parts.

This is once again why context and objective measurement is crucial to building better preventative and response initiatives. It also requires recognizing the unassailable limits of mankind to prepare for everything another human can or could do to them. You cannot. It is impossible. You cannot prevent the free actions of an autonomously acting person or group, you can only react and bolster the conditions that make the actions you would prefer people to take the most advantageous objectively (and hopefully subjectively, too).

The context given

The Washington Post authors deliver to us a three part story of fear and death. It is meant, it seems, to tell us how death is bad, very scary, and it is the fault of the AR-15 existing that this death is bad, and scary, and possible at all.

This all, again, is presented devoid of acknowledging many additional truths, many necessary contexts. It avoids the previous decades of the AR-15 existing. The nation’s murder rate being higher during those earlier decades, but mass attacks were less frequent. The rise in popularity of the mass attack coming in obvious parallel with the rise of 24 hour media, then the later rise of the AR-15 during the Global War on Terror and the parallel rise of Social Media influences. The confirmed ability for other firearm types besides the AR-15 to cause this ascribed level of death and injury. The confirmed ability for other non-firearm methods of injury to cause as much, or more, death and injury. The confirmed inability for government to protect you from threats of any scale from state, to quasi-state, to lone terrorist, to petty murderous criminal, with anything approaching total assurance, they can only assure you of some manner of response.

Here’s one more bit to consider. The AR-15’s popularity due to the combined factors of ease of use, ease of production, reasonable cost of use and production, denial of and return by the government to full production due to the ban, the inefficacy of the ban but efficacy of the firearm, the inefficacy of state bans, the popularity of it with US Forces, the parallel popularity of games and media featuring hero types using it righteously, none of that can be divested from its physical efficacy as a tool and therefore of unrighteous horrific violence too. If it is good at one, it can be good at the other. These combined factors can only explain its popularity within the populous at large, that large scale popularity does correlate and influence the rise of use across all contexts. This includes negative contexts. They are inseparable.

The AR-15 and ‘assault weapons’, AKA modern autoloading firearms, aren’t the best weapons for ‘mass shootings’ and slaughter, they are simply best individual weapons. Period.

But you could go with the Washington Post and the, ‘it’s totally the AR-15’s mere existence’. But it is weird how it took nearly 40 years to warm up. A great deal of effort went into this Washington Post visual horrorscape. And for all of that it has nothing more nuanced to say for its conclusion other than ‘bad things happening to people are bad’.

So we should (probably) make them more illegaler right? At least that is the implied conclusion from the given context.

Awesome, thanks WP. Very cool.

Keith Finch
Keith is the Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. editor@gatdaily.com A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. A Certified Instructor since 2009, he has taught concealed weapons courses in the West Michigan area in the years since and continues to pursue training and teaching opportunities as they arise.