Gun violence denialism is just another form of science denialism


Another day, another US gun massacre, the biggest yet:

In the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, a hail of gunfire rained down from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Sunday evening, police said. The gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, is believed to be a “lone wolf” and was found dead in his hotel room, police said. More than 400 people were taken to area hospitals after the shooting, police said.

The details are horrific:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Gun rights advocates are denialists just like anti-vaxxers are denialists, and they are every bit as dangerous to public health.[/pullquote]

Under the neon glow and glitz of the Vegas Strip, thousands of concertgoers who had gathered for a three-day music festival dove for cover or raced toward shelter when the gunfire began at about 10 p.m. Sunday. Police said more than 22,000 people were at the concert when Paddock, who had checked into the Mandalay Bay on Thursday, began firing round after round.

Police believe the 64-year-old Paddock, a local resident, was a “lone wolf” attacker. Lombardo did not give further details, however, on Paddock’s background or possible motivation. “We have no idea what his belief system was,” Lombardo said during a briefing. “Right now, we believe he was the sole aggressor, and the scene is static.”

Recordings of the attack suggested that Paddock used an automatic weapon. He was found with more than 10 rifles, Lombardo said.

The proximate cause is obvious to everyone in the world but gun aficionados; the proximate cause is the easy access to guns brought to us by a corrupt legislative process orchestrated by the National Rifle Association and its mounds of cash.

Gun restriction is associated with decreased gun violence. Yet, the NRA opposes gun control and their cash contributions to legislators trump all including the victims of American gun violence, and common sense itself. The truth is that the NRA is a group of gun violence denialists who have an amazing amount in common with science denialists of all stripes from creationists, to climate change denialists, to anti-vaxxers, to purveyors of “alternative” remedies.

Don’t believe me? Consider this definition of denialism offered by Andrew Dart in an chapter from Building your Skeptical Toolkit:

Denialism … is driven by ideology rather than evidence. Now denialists may claim they care about the evidence and will happily display any that supports their point of view, but in most cases they reject far more evidence than they accept. Furthermore, denialists will cling to evidence no matter how many times they have been shown that it is flawed, incorrect or that it does not support their conclusions; the same old arguments just come up again and again. Denialism also tends to focus on trying to generate a controversy surrounding the subject at hand, often in the public rather than scientific arena, and does so more often than not by denying that a scientific consensus on the matter even exists.

Pretty much nails gun violence denialism, right?

1. Denialists start with a conclusion and work backwards.

It doesn’t matter how much evidence you show to climate change deniers, creationists or anti-vaxxers. They’ve embraced a conclusion and they’re sticking to it, regardless of what the evidence actually shows. Similarly, there’s no evidence that you could show gun violence denialists that would cause them to even question their beloved conclusions about guns, let alone change those conclusions.

2. Denialists love denial.

Who you gonna believe, the NRA or your lying eyes?

Like the climate change deniers who will still be in denial as the water rises above their heads, and the evolution deniers who insist that dinosaur bones were planted by God to test our faith, or the anti-vaxxers who can still claim with a straight face that vaccines don’t prevent disease, gun violence denialists are still denying the dangers of easy access to guns as the pile of dead bodies mounts beside them.

3. Denialists love conspiracy theories.

As Dart explains:

So the vast majority of the scientific community and an overwhelming mountain of evidence is aligned against you, what are you going to do? Well you could always claim that there is a conspiracy to suppress the truth …

The favorite conspiracy theory of gun violence denialists is that the government wants to take away people’s guns in order to stage a fascist takeover.

Conspiracy theories, whether blunt or subtle, are nothing more than evasions of the actual evidence that easy access to guns leads to massive numbers of gun deaths, as well as the absence of any evidence of any kind that gun control is the first step to a fascist take over the of the US.

4. Denialists love cherry-picking.

Cherry picking is the act of selecting papers and evidence that seem to support your point of view, whilst at the same time ignoring the far greater body of evidence that goes against your position.

Gun violence denialists claim that research shows that easy access to guns makes us “safer,” when the evidence is all around us that in countries with easy access to guns life is more dangerous for everyone, particularly innocent people.

5. Denialists love echo chambers.

They seek support and validation for their views at NRA conventions and on Fox News and refuse to directly address the concerns of victims of gun violence and public safety experts.

6. They vigorously defend their “rights” while ignoring the rights of those around them.

They extol the “right” to bear assault weapons with large capacity magazines and “cop-killer” bullets, but ignore the rights of citizens to be free from random death. Like anti-vaxxers, they refuse to recognize that as members of society, they have responsibilities to the rest of us.

The inevitable conclusion is one that anyone who cares about scientific integrity and intellectual honesty should keep in mind:

It is not the topic that makes someone a denialist, it is how they the handle evidence that contradicts their cherished, immutable beliefs, in this case, the rising tide of the blood of innocent people injured and killed in gun rampages. Do they deny the evidence that is right in front of their eyes. Do they invoke outlandish conspiracy theories? Do they cherry pick the data and only present those findings that agree with them? And do they congregate in echo chambers that always validate and never question their beliefs?

Gun rights advocates are denialists just like anti-vaxxers are denialists, and they are every bit as dangerous to public health.


Adapted from a piece that first appeared in July 2015.

37 Responses to “Gun violence denialism is just another form of science denialism”

  1. Thiel
    October 9, 2017 at 5:08 pm #

    It’s amazing (by which I mean depressing) to what lengths gun advocates will go to deny that guns are a public health issue. Sure, argue that guns are an important part of our republic, yadda yadda yadda (not that I agree, but I can kind of see where it comes from), but don’t stick your head in the sand about the fact that more guns mean more danger.

  2. MaineJen
    October 4, 2017 at 9:06 am #

    There will be nothing done. There was nothing done after 20 first graders were killed. There will be nothing done now. Sometimes I hate this country.

  3. Nick Sanders
    October 3, 2017 at 9:36 am #

  4. Russell Jones
    October 2, 2017 at 6:16 pm #

    The sheer number of Congress critters who took NRA blood money during their most recent campaigns and today are busily tweeting “thoughts and prayers” to the victims is making me feel more than a little murderous myownself.

  5. Zornorph
    October 2, 2017 at 5:14 pm #

    In my experience, most people love echo chambers. I actually don’t, but I’m kind of weird that way.

    • Who?
      October 2, 2017 at 5:56 pm #

      They get dull after a bit. Different perspectives are interesting, even if you don’t agree with them.

    • Empress of the Iguana People
      October 2, 2017 at 5:58 pm #

      I do a bit, but mostly because I’m actually triggered on certain topics. No matter what a few of my older male relatives suggest, triggering a bout of suicidal depression isn’t really something to mock.

    • J.B.
      October 2, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

      Internet interactions take away a lot of the possibility for nuance. I am happy to have an in person conversation with someone I disagree with, but am so sick and freakin’ tired of memes and uber simplistic solutions being presented such as more guns making us safer. Life cannot be solved through memes. There has to be compromise somewhere or we’re all screwed.

      • Emilie Bishop
        October 2, 2017 at 10:36 pm #

        Yes! In person, I can love my entire family. On Facebook, I have to wade through a lot of crap in order to find posts reflective of the loving people I know them to be.

  6. attitude devant
    October 2, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

    What really fries me every damn time is that Congress has forbidden the CDC to fund any study of the health effects of ready access to guns. So we have precious little research…..and still it all points the same way: more guns means more deaths. DUH.

    • Who?
      October 2, 2017 at 6:00 pm #

      Well you can’t talk about that stuff too soon as it’s disrespectful to those who have been killed, and then after a while it’s time to move on.

      Also that would open a discussion about responsibilities, whereas the dominant narrative has to be about rights.

  7. Empress of the Iguana People
    October 2, 2017 at 1:04 pm #

    and a couple more preschoolers killed themselves last week with a relative’s not very secure gun.

    • MaineJen
      October 4, 2017 at 9:07 am #

      But you have to understand those were ‘responsible gun owners.’ Those were the ‘good guys with guns’ we’ve all heard tell about.

      • Empress of the Iguana People
        October 4, 2017 at 9:25 am #

        yeah. we all have our blind spots, but that’s a doozy. They all* think their reaction times and their skills are going to be enough to stop the “bad guy”, that their gun isn’t going to be used to hurt someone in their own family. I watch too many shows like Air Emergency to think that reaction times of ordinary people are all that great.

        *not counting the ones who really do keep their guns unloaded and locked in a safe of some sort.

        • guest
          October 5, 2017 at 11:46 am #

          I grew up around guns and the hunting culture and was all for gun rights until I was an adult and owned my own gun. I found it difficult to be a responsible gun owner (just get distracted and when it’s common place it can be easy to be lax about how serious it is), so I just unloaded it and locked it in a gun safe. My husband bugged me to get a concealed carry license, but I didn’t trust myself to carry in public and have to constantly worry about it. Of all the gun owners I know, only 1 or 2 actually keep their guns unloaded and locked in a safe. Now with kids, I trust NO one to be a responsible gun owner and my whole view about gun rights has changed. Now I am more concerned with a person’s right not to get shot and killed. Luckily, my husband agrees that it’s best for our family not to have guns in the house and we have sold all of ours.

  8. Azuran
    October 2, 2017 at 12:24 pm #

    Their belief that they need guns to protect themselves from the government is so ridiculous. But even more ridiculous is their beliefs that IF the government decided to take control of the country with a violent takeover, they’d be able to fight back.
    The US military is one of, if not the biggest in the world. They have the numbers, they have the equipment, they have tanks, they have long range missiles, they have freaking drones. Do you really think that any amount of guns would prevent them from blowing you up?

    • Emilie Bishop
      October 2, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

      I swear, the folks who think that way are teenagers at heart: “Stay out of my business, don’t take my money, I can stand up to you if I have to because I’m so right…but look at that pothole down the street! Where’s the government to fix it for me?” Only, er, teens grow out of this mentality, or they should.

  9. Madtowngirl
    October 2, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

    Again, another on-point post. I’m already seeing the denialists come out of the woodwork, because heaven forbid we have a productive discussion on how we can stop this.

  10. J.B.
    October 2, 2017 at 12:18 pm #

    I just started a Facebook break and am so glad. It gives me some space from the awfulness of this, without having to see posts from people who I have an otherwise high opinion of that the answer is more guns. I am so sorry for the lives that were lost and all the lives lost in the day to day grind of available weapons. And so afraid that nothing will be done.

    • attitude devant
      October 2, 2017 at 12:53 pm #

      I am OFF Facebook permanently. Those twits have steadfastly refused to police racist posts, groups promoting violence against women, etc, etc, etc, and NOW, come to find out, they can’t be arsed to police Russian operatives who want to destroy my country. To hell with them.

      • J.B.
        October 2, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

        I’m pretty close to that, the only thing worthwhile any more is kid pictures and even that is becoming a chore. According to WaPo some right nuts ran with a possible early suspect name in the shooting and because that person liked some liberal things hoo boy. Nevermind that crud.

        • Azuran
          October 2, 2017 at 2:31 pm #

          Yea, only reason I’m still on there is because my family uses it as their main mean of communication.
          Otherwise I got really fed up with FB since they started showing only a portion of what a portion of my friends comments on (not even their own posts, just their COMMENTS on other’s posts) It keeps showing me comments that my ‘FB friends’ (which whom I haven’t even interacted with in years on facebook) put on their own FB friends posts (whom I don’t even know)
          Yet, many of my ACTUAL friends have made actual posts that I have never been shown.

    • October 2, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

      Right. More guns. The shooter was on the 32nd story of a hotel … so the answer is to take a pistol and start shooting it randomly at a hotel full of innocent people? 1) the bullet won’t get that far in any meaningful way and 2) you’ll probably kill other innocent people in the hotel even if it does because accuracy goes to shit at that range.

      Logic and facts, people. They matter. This rant isn’t directed at you, obviously, but I know the ones that’re going to come out and you get the rant by proxy since it’s apparently rude to take my family to task on Facebook.

      • J.B.
        October 2, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

        Oh, I get it. Joining you in a rant.

      • Empress of the Iguana People
        October 2, 2017 at 2:26 pm #

        I had a bit of a fantasy of being the hero when I was a youth. And I was a fairly good shot at stationary clay pidgeons. but for heaven’s sake, why do some people assume they’ll have the skills to “take out the bad guy” when none of the secret service agents and police officers at Dealy Square (sp?) could stop Lee Harvey Oswald?

      • Sheven
        October 2, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

        Same with the movie theater shootings. Does anyone honestly believe that a second shooter would be able to take out the first? In a dark theater? Full of running and screaming people?

        But seriously, from what I’ve read, people didn’t even *know* there was gunfire until the second round. They thought it was fireworks. But there are some delusionals who actually believe they’d be able to correctly identify gunfire, isolate it in a crowd of screaming and running people, and then turn and fire back, accurately, at a shooter multiple stories off the ground, in a building full of innocent people.

  11. Roadstergal
    October 2, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    Slightly OT – as soon as I heard the news outlets saying “lone wolf,” I assumed he was white.

    Honest question, has a non-white shooter in the US ever been called a “lone wolf”?

    Oh, and as someone who’s been on the wrong end of three guns in a home invasion/hostage/robbery (three ‘lone wolves’), I struggle to remain dispassionate about this issue.

    • Madtowngirl
      October 2, 2017 at 12:18 pm #

      Not to my knowledge. These white shooters are domestic terrorists, straight up, but they are rarely reported as such.

    • Emilie Bishop
      October 2, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

      Nope. Nonwhite mass shooters here tend to be Middle Eastern, therefore they’re readily labeled “terrorist.” No one cares about the mental health and social conditioning that leads a young Muslim man to pledge allegence to ISIS (though it’s vitally important to dismantling them), but the NRA will pick those things apart in a white mass shooter to prove that “guns don’t kill, people kill.” All of which to say, you’re exactly right. Unfortunately.

    • attitude devant
      October 2, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

      Robert Dear

    • October 2, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

      Nope! White men who do terrible things don’t reflect badly on men, white people, or white men. They are all unique individuals with their own tragic backstory. Only they can be lone wolves.

      • Linden
        October 4, 2017 at 11:28 am #

        And there is almost always a history of domestic violence that gets ignored…

    • Russell Jones
      October 2, 2017 at 6:13 pm #

      Brown/Black mass murderer = terrorist

      White mass murdered = mentally ill

      The perceived mutual exclusivity is almost – ALMOST – funny. Someone who straps a bomb to his chest and sets it off in a crowded market based on a belief that some invisible magic sky daddy wanted him to do it and will reward him with access to dozens of virgins in the afterlife is both a terrorist AND mentally ill.

      • Azuran
        October 2, 2017 at 6:32 pm #

        Sadly true, Alexandre Bissonette, a white man who shot and killed 6 Muslim in a mosque in January has just been formally accused.
        He’s accused of 6 counts of premeditated murder, not terrorism…

        • Linden
          October 4, 2017 at 11:26 am #

          You have to wring your brain into knots before that makes sense.

    • StephanieJR
      October 3, 2017 at 11:59 am #

      A brief history of some of the recent big stories:

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