5 Mind-Blowing Facts Nobody Told You About Guns
After every mass shooting, the gun debate splits into two camps: One side says it easily could have been avoided if these maniacs weren't allowed to have guns; the other says it easily could have been avoided if each innocent victim had only gone through their daily lives in cover formation, armed like the space marines entering the giant murder womb in Aliens.
And that's pretty much the entire gun control debate, as far as the mainstream media are willing to cover. And that is a shame, because it leaves out all of the most interesting parts. Trust us, the longer you look into this, the weirder it gets. For instance ...
Gun Owners Are Mostly Responsible, But Gun Companies' Ad Campaigns Are Fucking Insane
The world is no doubt full of level-headed gun owners who are all about safety and responsible ownership (Note: one of the authors of this article owns four guns, one of which he keeps up his sleeve in a spring-loaded apparatus). They scoff at ridiculous macho action movie fantasies, and they have never stuck a gun through the open fly of their pants and said, "Hey look, it's my gun dick." But gun manufacturers do not themselves appear to share their view.
For instance, do you insecure males want to get your "man card" back? Then you need to buy a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle, according to renowned masculinity experts Bushmaster (as their ad campaign puts it, "In a world of rapidly depleting testosterone, the Bushmaster Man Card declares and confirms that you are a man's man").
Wait, is that the same assault rifle the Newtown shooter used? It totally is! That's why they had to pull their "man card" campaign. In the aftermath of the shooting, these ads were forwarded around by disbelieving gun control advocates who seemed shocked to find that they existed, as if gun ads had been outlawed back when cigarettes stopped showing up in Sports Illustrated. It turns out that this is a pretty big blind spot in the gun control debate -- one whole side is made up of people who don't encounter gun ads in their natural habitat and therefore miss a big part of the picture. And that picture looks like this:
Hell, they even do product placement. You know those newfangled first-person shooter games the kids play these days, like Medal of Honor: Warfighter, where they go online and shoot each other over and over again? No, we're not going to say the games cause violence (they don't -- we'll get to that in a moment), but each level in that game starts with a long list of guns you can load yourself down with ...
... and those are totally real guns you can buy in the real world -- you can go to the game's website to find out how. So, you can go into a match arming yourself with the Daniel Defense M4V1 and, if you like it, just go to the Medal of Honor website and find the link to Daniel Defense, which is listed among other proud partners like LaRue Tactical (slogan: "The Dead Center of Precision") and the McMillan Group ("Shoot to Win").
Well, you can't go to the website now -- they pulled that page after Newtown, for some reason. So our question is, what's the gun makers' line of thinking here? What audience are they selling to? What's the message they want that audience to take home? You have a game where teenagers are doing this ...
... and the gun manufacturers who sponsor the game come off like they're saying, "Hey, if you ever want to do something like this in real life, do it with a Daniel Defense brand M4 carbine!" We know that gun manufacturers aren't actively trying to turn kids into school shooters (at the very least, it's terrible for business and forces them to run less manly ad campaigns). And in the single-player mode, the players are using these guns to shoot terrorists instead of each other. But even then -- are they hoping kids will remember to buy that brand when hunting terrorists? Because if the players join the military, they're not going to shop for their own guns. The Army gives you one for free when you join. They actually get mad when you bring your own.
So what is the goal of that product placement? What is the "something like this" that they hope kids will use their product to do? What fantasy are the gun makers playing into here if the goal is to affect a purchase decision down the line?
Maybe this can shed a little light on it. Gun maker Weatherby, Inc. sells a pump-action shotgun called the PA-459. What does "459" stand for, you ask? Is it the caliber? Is it the 459th iteration of their Pump Action line? Well, remember how rappers used to threaten to pull a "1-8-7" on each other instead of "murder"? That was a reference to the fact that homicide is covered by Section 187 of the penal code. Same deal! Except here, the "459" in the shotgun name is the code for "burglary in progress."
They're not selling it to burglars, obviously, but to people who fantasize about shooting burglars. You can find that gun in the "Threat Response" section of their website, where you can get everything from $500 home defense shotguns to $4,000 rifles promising "long-range, certified tactical accuracy." You know, in case you see your burglar coming from 500 yards away.
"What's wrong with somebody wanting to protect his family?" Nothing. And people do use guns to fight off bad guys (although nobody has any idea how often that happens, because the subject is so politicized, it's impossible to find statistics that agree). But how many of those same people who are willing to shell out used-car money on "home defense" firearms don't, for instance, bother spending 20 bucks to keep a working fire extinguisher or carbon monoxide detector in the house? That Bushmaster AR-15 that mass shooters keep using? It costs a thousand bucks, and bullets are a dollar each (and you need to fire a few thousand of those to get proficient with the weapon). So why not spend those thousands on an alarm system and better locks so the bad guy never gets into the house in the first place?
In other words, are they obsessed with security, or are they obsessed with the idea of getting to shoot some motherfuckers? Are gun manufacturers selling guns they think people will actually use, or are they selling a fantasy? Are they, in fact, filling an emotional need?
All right, so we're blaming gun company ads for all these mass shootings? Nope! In fact ...
The Standard Explanations for Mass Shootings Are All Wrong
The increase in indiscriminate mass shootings isn't just a media invention -- there's a pretty clear trend:
But why? Let's play criminal profiler for a minute. Describe the next school shooter. We know he's out there; the stats prove that. We know he's a he. But we know more than that, right? If you pay attention to the news, this shouldn't be very difficult: These guys are all nerdy or autistic loners who get bullied at school and play violent video games at night until they can't tell the difference and finally lash out. The Columbine shooters are the poster boys: goth outsiders who even made a Doom mod to simulate the shooting. These kids get picked on and can't defend themselves, and they see guns as the only way to get even.
Except it turns out that the Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, weren't bullied and weren't "goth" loners. In fact, they boasted about bullying the "fags" in school themselves. They didn't target bullies or "jocks" who wronged them (the bombs were supposed to kill everyone, including their friends). It turns out that Eric Harris was simply a psychopath -- an intelligent, charming mass murderer like you've seen in a dozen bad serial killer movies. Dylan Klebold was just a depressed kid who went along with it -- so even the two people involved in the same shooting had totally different reasons for doing it.
So here's the bizarre, horrifying truth: There is no "typical" school shooter profile, other than the fact that they all tend to be depressed (which is not all that helpful for narrowing down a list of teenagers). For instance, the narrative after these recent shootings was "Don't cover these guys on the news, that's what they want! They're in it for the notoriety!" Sure, some of them are -- the Virginia Tech shooter sent his manifesto to NBC News -- but the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, not only didn't publish a manifesto or leave a note, but actually destroyed his computer before he left home so nobody could go digging through it.
OK, what about the adult shooters who supposedly just "snap" under stress, like the famous "clock tower" shooter, Charles Whitman? He was an outwardly normal Eagle Scout and model Marine for the first 24 years of his life. When he was 25, he stabbed his mother and wife, climbed the University of Texas Tower in Austin with a locker full of guns and ammo, and spent an hour and a half shooting 45 people below. His example has become shorthand for "tightly wound guy who finally snaps" (fans of Kitchen Confidential know that Anthony Bourdain likes to accuse people of being ready to snap and become clock-tower snipers, and a narrator in a Farrelly Brothers movie says that "when his heart has been broken ... some men break down and cry like a baby. And some others take an Uzi and climb a clock tower").
Except Whitman didn't just "snap." In the last months of his life, he experienced terrible headaches and violent urges he couldn't explain. He went to a doctor, who turned him away, and in his suicide note he even suggested that they look at his brain to figure out what had suddenly changed. Sure enough, when they opened him up, there was "a tumor the diameter of a nickel" pressing on his amygdala, the part of the brain that "is involved in emotional regulation, especially fear and aggression."
Well, shit, that doesn't make the picture any clearer. You can try examining all of the elements of American society that cause these massacres, but they're hardly an American invention -- in 1996, an Australian man killed 35 people, which was right after a guy in Scotland murdered 17 children. You can try to figure out what it is about the mass media and the modern world that breeds these killers, but you have to remember that the worst school massacre in American history isn't Columbine, but an incident in Michigan where a farmer blew up a school and killed 45 people, mostly kids, all the way back in 1927. Why did he do it? Nobody has any fucking idea.
The truth is, we have no idea what causes mass shootings, and just about every case is different, no matter how hard we try to put the focus on the standard "pushed around until they finally take revenge" narrative.
And if you're not confused enough, let's give you a stat that will pretty much obliterate everything you thought about gun violence ...
Two-Thirds of Gun Victims Live in the Same Body as the Murderer
Bizarrely, the entire gun debate tends to completely ignore two-thirds of the deaths: Gun suicides are almost twice as common as homicides in America (19,392 to 11,078 in 2010). You wouldn't know it, since every murder gets reported on the local news and suicides don't, even though they dwarf murders by a wide margin (maybe even more than the stats say, since loved ones have motivation to cover up suicides). The reasonable person will reply, "But that's not saying anything about guns, Cracked -- if depressed people want to kill themselves, they'll just find another way!"
Actually ... no, they won't. Whether guns are legal or not, whether you believe in gun control or not, here's the most important reason you'll ever hear for not keeping one in your home. It has to do with ovens.
In the first half of the 20th century, ovens in England used to burn coal gas, which happened to be completely lethal in concentrated doses and was thus the preferred way to commit suicide. By the late 1950s, sticking your head in the oven accounted for nearly half of all suicides committed in England. By the early 1970s, these ovens had been phased out, so nobody was surprised to see coal gas fall out of the top ten British suicide methods (one of Cracked.com's least popular recurring articles). So what did all of those suicidal people do instead? In a startling number of cases, they just went right on living. The suicide rate dropped by a third, and it never went back up.
Wait, really? The decision to off yourself is kind of a big one, isn't it? It's not the sort of thing you just wait to do when the opportunity arises and your schedule opens up. Yet you can find plenty of examples of people being inconvenienced right the hell down from the ledge. Adding a suicide barrier to a bridge in Washington lowered not just the number of suicides that occurred on that bridge, but the overall suicide rate (meaning those people didn't just go find another bridge to jump from). A study of more than 500 Golden Gate Bridge jumpers who were stopped in the act found that 94 percent didn't try it again.
Suicides, it turns out, are often split-second decisions -- add even a few minutes' thought or just plain inconvenience to it, and a lot of the victims change their minds. Of course, that's not possible if your method involves instantly splattering your brains all over the wall with one pull of the trigger. If a bridge with a low barrier and a coal gas oven are Regis Philbin asking you to lock in your final answer, having a gun is like the Jeopardy! clicker -- all you have to do is press one button a single time and it's done. No going back. So it's no surprise that one of the biggest risk factors for suicide is simply having a gun in the house.
And nobody wants to talk about it, even though this is twice the problem of all other gun violence combined. Gun suicides kill the equivalent of two Sandy Hook shootings a day. But it's just so goddamn depressing to talk about, so we just ... don't. Except, you know, on comedy websites. Here's a video of a puppy learning to play catch:
So clearly it's time to educate Americans about the danger -- we'll just treat it like any other product safety issue, right? Like cigarettes, or defective cars.
Well, here's where it gets really weird ...
America Is Obsessed With the Idea of Guns, But Not the Reality
There is a fantastic chance that if you are trying to change someone's mind about guns by spouting a long list of statistics about gun violence or gun accidents or crimes thwarted by guns that you might as well be manipulating your butt cheeks to modulate your farts into a Skrillex track -- sure, it may impress a crowd at parties, but it won't change anyone's mind. This is what people who aren't from America, or who grew up somewhere like Portland or whatever, don't get: America's love of guns in most cases has nothing to do with actually using them.
It's all about what they symbolize. And what they symbolize is God, and cocks. We weren't kidding about the firearms manufacturers catering to guys with gun dicks.
After all, taking away our guns is like asking us to get castrated, according to an Illinois state representative. If you don't own a gun, we're taking away your "man card," says Bushmaster. "I am never seen without both a gun and a beautiful woman," say the posters for all 24 James Bond movies.
Quite frankly, we're a little surprised that nobody sells that dick gun they had in From Dusk Till Dawn.
Is that weird? Is it weird if we can't get an erection unless somebody is pointing a gun at us at the same time, like in Swordfish? Is there anything strange about what these guys are doing?
Or is it weirder that in large sections of America, we don't feel truly close to God unless we're strapped? For instance, did you hear that Arkansas passed a law specifically to allow concealed guns in church? Did you wonder why in the hell they went out of their way to draft that law and then pass it and publicize it? It wasn't over some famous church shooting or anything like that. It's because it appears there's a whole branch of Christianity where automatic pistols are part of the worship service. Search Google for "gun Bible" images, see what you find:
It's not exactly subtle -- the attorney general in Texas ran this ad during the election:
Is it really just those two things Americans should know? They should know how to use a toothbrush, too, right? And a computer? And since they're worried about the safety of their family, they're all presumably proficient in CPR ...
Meanwhile, the popular bumper sticker in rural parts of the USA is "God, Guns, and Country" ...
... or maybe it's "God, Guns, and Guts."
Or "God, Guns, and Glory."
The point is, the third thing is actually unimportant, as long as God and guns are on there.
So yes, Mr. Grad Student Wearing a Fedora, please quote them some more statistics about per-capita gun violence in the USA versus Europe. We're sure that eventually you'll stumble across the magical set of numbers that convinces them to disavow their God. Perhaps while you're at it, you can offer to cut off their scrotum.
Add All of This Up, and Gun Crime Is ... Down
So the culmination of the rash of mass shootings, the relentless promotion of guns, the spike in gun sales, the proliferation of violent video games, and the creepy worship and fetishizing of firearms is ... fewer gun murders.
"But that graph cuts off in 2005, before the mass shooting craze began!" Nope: Since 2005, they're down even more -- for instance, handgun murders dropped all the way down to 6,220 in 2011, having plummeted by more than half since their peak in the early '90s and another 20 percent from what you see on the graph there. By the way, this is the graph to pull out any time somebody blames gun violence on video games -- the first-person shooter genre became popular with Doom in 1993 -- the exact moment when real gun violence began dropping like a rock.
Wait, is it possible that violent video games reduce violent crime? You know, like maybe it lets people get it out of their system? Some experts have suggested it. But the truth is, no one has any fucking idea why crime is down. One theory is that banning lead from gasoline did the trick, because lead was eating the part of our brain that makes us not murder each other. Or maybe it's the Internet -- some have observed that when you increase access to Internet porn, the rate of sexual assault falls. Not because Internet porn somehow cures the worst impulses of mankind, but because it's just more difficult to rape a woman if you're never in the same room with one.
OK, we're not scientists here, but bear with us for a moment. Go back to the suicide stats we talked about before, and how adding that extra couple of minutes of inconvenience was enough to defuse the situation and save thousands of lives. If potential rapists are abstaining from rape because they're instead spending all of their time at home merely fantasizing about rape, and real rape is simply too inconvenient, is it possible that we're seeing the exact same thing with gun violence?
We play games about guns and read magazines about guns and hang calendars with pictures of topless women holding guns ... but it's all just porn. It's all a substitute for the real thing, which never actually occurs because we spend all of our energy on the substitute. You get enraged at somebody over the Internet or Xbox Live, but is that rage really worth getting out of your chair for?
What about the people who actually buy guns? Statistics tell us that fewer people are buying guns, but those people are buying more of them. To the grad students on the anti-gun side of the debate, this looks like a bunch of crazy rednecks, stocking their militia for the coming war on Obamacare. Why else would the NRA be fighting to get states to legalize silencers if they don't want to shoot people and keep it a secret?
But people familiar with gun culture will recognize it as something far sillier: a bunch of grown men collecting firearms like little girls collect Barbie dolls (we're not being insulting -- it's a running joke among gun enthusiasts).
Take another look at the graph of murder by weapon type. Notice what's missing? Assault rifles. They barely chart -- even when lumped in with "other guns." The NRA isn't trying to arm a militia. They want to be able to sell silencers for the same reason Mattel sells hundreds of accessories for the Barbie Dream House. Hell, you can trick out your AR-15 with all pink "furniture" if you want to.
So the rural gun owner in Wyoming buys the biggest, sexiest assault rifle he can find and tricks it out with all the accessories from the catalog, but he never actually uses it because nobody is going to break into his house because he lives in fucking Wyoming. If he wants to murder his wife, he'll get the revolver from the nightstand -- he's not going to go dig out and assemble his huge assault rifle. So why did he buy it? For the same reason his daughter will buy a dinette set for her Barbie Dream House even though she will never get to eat actual food at that table: for the fantasy.
Maybe this explains how hospitalization for gun injuries can be up even though the three types of gun-related crimes that cause such injuries (murder, robbery, assault) are all way down. Those ads that treat guns like toys for grown-ups worked, and people are treating guns like toys, instead of deadly weapons.
And maybe this new breed of mass shooters are just those rare people -- 1 in a million, or 1 in 10 million -- who don't realize it's all just porn and toys, that it's not supposed to be anything but a shared fantasy. Is it possible that all of the power fantasies and tough talk and murder simulators that pacify the rest of us have a different effect on these guys? And that the occasional horrific mass shooting is just the price we have to pay for a system that does a damn good job of keeping the rest of us on the sofa?
We'll probably be able to have a really good discussion about it as soon as everyone stops seeing it as a political issue, or accusing everyone who brings it up of having an agenda. So, by the year 3113 or so.
DISCLOSURE: One of the writers of this piece not only owns multiple firearms but has profited directly from fictionalized violence.
For more real conversation for your asses, check out The 9 Most Statistically Terrifying Days On the Calendar and 5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Insane Ways People Torture Themselves in the Name of Sport.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover the best way to twirl your guns like Jango Fett.
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