The NRA’s anti-American narrative: No excuse for gun violence like the Uvalde school shooting

Former President Donald Trump stands on stage at the National Rifle Association's 2022 Annual Meetings and Exhibits.
AP Photo/Michael Wyke
Former president Donald Trump speaks during the Leadership Forum at the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, May 27, 2022, in Houston.

Anyone believing the nonsense spewed by speakers at the NRA convention in Houston this past weekend— which coincided with the grieving over the Uvalde, Texas, school massacre — would come away with the impression that the United States is the most evil, deranged and socially deviant nation in the world. The anti-science narrative being promoted by those who refuse to change America’s permissive gun laws, is that the easy availability of guns has absolutely no relationship to the high number of school shootings and other gun crimes that plague our nation.

According to the NRA parrots, the causes of gun violence are Americans who are evil, mentally ill and socially maladjusted, and who just happen to use guns rather than knives or bats to perpetrate their mass killings. “Guns don’t kill, people do,” according to this mantra. If this were true, then it would follow, from the indisputable fact that the United States is among the world’s leaders in gun-related violence and deaths, that we must also lead the world in people who are evil, mentally ill and socially maladjusted. But the NRA, which boasts of its patriotism, would never come out directly and level such an un-American and demonstrably false accusation against the American people.

The truth, of course, is that Americans are not different enough as a people from the citizens of other democracies to explain why these nations have so many fewer gun crimes. There are evil people in all countries, but in our country these evil people are much more likely to use their easily available guns to do evil things to good people. The rates of mental illness and social maladjustment are not different enough in this country than in Sweden, Ireland, Spain or most of the rest of the world to explain the enormous difference in gun violence.  The fact is that in our country more of these people use their easily available guns to commit mayhem against innocent victims.

There is only one variable that explains the dramatically higher rate of gun violence in the United States than in any comparable country. That variable is the easy availability of guns. No one has ever successfully challenged the direct correlation between gun availability and gun violence, and no one ever will.

The correlation is so clear and dramatic that it is impossible to deny causation. It cannot be mere coincidence that the nation with one of the highest levels of gun violence also boasts the highest level of gun availability. There is no escaping that lethal relationship. No amount of NRA blather about evil, mental illness or social maladjustment can erase the fact that these constant phenomena — that are roughly equally spread out around comparable nations — cannot possibly be the variables that explain our vastly higher rates of gun violence. The relevant variable, as any honest social scientist will confirm, is the easy availability of guns.

It is possible, of course, that tightening the gun laws will not immediately reduce gun violence because there are so many guns out there and criminals will keep their guns regardless of the law. It is also possible that the easy availability of guns prevents some crimes. Thses are fair debates to have. So, too, with the reach of the Second Amendment. What is not fair or honest is the phony attempt to deny the connection between the easy availability of guns and the high rate of gun violence, and to blame this American tragedy on factors that are not uniquely American. 

It is important to assess the causes of gun violence honestly, even if the cures are not easily available. The first step to curing or reducing any problem is understanding its causes, even if they are multiple. Leaving out a major — in this case, THE major— cause of gun violence, because of political and partisan pressures, will make amelioration impossible. The reality is that people with guns they shouldn’t have, have killed and will continue killing innocent people, including many children.

The mass-murderer in Uvalde was an obviously troubled 18-year-old who walked into a store and bought guns and rounds of ammunition capable of murdering hundreds of schoolchildren in a matter of minutes. It’s hard to believe that it could have been worse, but it is clear that it could have been — and may be worse in some future tragedy. This mass-murderer apparently had no mental assessment, waiting period or any other of the many barriers to gun violence currently being proposed by reasonable Americans and being opposed by unreasonable ones. 

Changing our gun laws to make it impossible for 18-year-olds like the mass-murderer in Uvalde to buy semi-automatic or assault-style weapons and unlimited amounts of ammunition may not end school shootings. But such measures, along with other reasonable restrictions, can go a long way toward reducing the number of funerals of gun victims that have become all too common in our country.

NOTICE: This post has been updated from the original to more accurately characterize the circumstances of the shooter’s gun purchases.

Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus for Harvard Law School, is the author of numerous books, including “The Case Against the New Censorship,” and “The Case for Color-Blind Equality in an Age of Identity Politics.” Follow him on Twitter @AlanDersh. His podcast, The Dershow, is available on Rumble. 

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on June 1 at 9 a.m.

Tags Alan Dershowitz Gun control. Mass shootings Mass shootings in the United States NRA convention NRA; Donald Trump; gun control Robb Elementary School Uvalde school shooting

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