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.