Dennis Henigan has been a lifelong leader in public policy and public interest research and advocacy, much of his work focusing on GVP. In 2009 he published a book, Lethal Logic, which presaged much of the growing noise over gun regulations that developed in the wake of Sandy Hook. In August, Beacon Press will publish an update of that work, “Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People” and Other Myths About Guns and Gun Control, which I am happy to review here.
And the reason I am happy to review it is because one of the tasks Henigan accomplishes is to create a nice roadmap of what he refers to as the ‘tortured mythology,’ namely, the pro-gun slogans created by the NRA which shape and permeate literally every noise made by Gun Nation about their guns. And if anything, Henigan is too polite when he characterizes the NRA sloganeering as ending “thoughtful, rational discussion,” if only because since 1977 it has never been the intention of the NRA to engage in any discussion about guns at all.
Here’s the way Wayne-o puts it every time he gets a chance: “Either you’re for us or against us.” He said it in his speech at this year’s annual meeting when he announced the NRA’s endorsement of Donald Trump, but he also said it ten days after the Columbine Massacre in 1999 when he stood up and claimed that the NRA was – ready for this? – in favor of making all schools completely gun-free zones. He then turned around right after the Sandy Hook massacre and argued for armed guards in every school because “only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.”
Henigan does a very good and comprehensive job of comparing these slogans, as well as others, to the realities of gun violence as it has been studied again and again. The notes include citations to a very representative listing of published research covering all the major issues of gun violence and Henigan stitches these sources together in a readable and engaging way. Here’s the bottom line: if you find yourself in a discussion with someone who explains their approach to gun violence by parroting a talking-point from the NRA, you can probably find a valid and fact-based refutation within the pages of this book.
Which brings me to the troublesome part of the book, or perhaps I should be more specific and refer to it as the troublesome non-portion of the book. Because although Henigan refers to the fact that polls show a majority of Americans supporting many of the NRA myths, he doesn’t really explain how and why people are willing to invest their feelings and their wallets in supporting ideas that simply aren’t true. After all, it’s not as if folks who think that only a good guy can stop a bad guy haven’t heard the opposite point of view. We have a President who has loudly and publicly stated that he doesn’t believe guns make us safe, and it wasn’t as if he was elected with less than 50% of the vote.
Last week a big brouhaha erupted because a bunch of diehard gunnies had some of their pro-gun statements deleted from Katie Couric’s great film. But what was really deleted was an unending recitation of the self-same myths without even a hint of self-doubt. If these myths were in their heads they were true and correct because they were in their heads. And while Henigan convincingly explains why these myths aren’t true, he doesn’t explain why Gun Nation accepts these myths as proven facts.
Which is not, by the way, a criticism of Henigan’s book. If anything, the power of this book lies in the fact that it made me reflect and think about my work which largely consists of responding to what the NRA and Gun Nation want everyone to believe. And that’s the reason I like Henigan’s book and you’ll like it too.