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Wild Conspiracy Theories: The Weird Side of the Gun Debate

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In the month since the shocking tragedy of the Newtown massacre, the debate it rekindled has taken a turn that no other bloody incident in our recent history had yet been able to motivate; that is, to actually stiffen the resolve of everyday Americans to take a stand, demanding that our political leaders finally do something about random mass gun violence in our own country. Up until this mass murder, the NRA and gun advocates have been able to stifle any discussion of the gun culture in America by accusing anyone who raised the issue of gun violence as "politicizing" people's suffering, always proclaiming that "now is not the time" to discuss gun violence. That strategy worked after every mass shooting, even the one in 2011 where Gabby Giffords, a member of Congress, was a victim of a crazed gunman in Tucson. Newtown finally changed the conversation, at least among normal Americans.

There is no question that reform of our gun laws is long past due. The data is clear, unquestionable, undeniable. The US is the most armed, most violent society in the OECD, that group of countries that are seen as those who represent the civilized world. Our numbers are shameful. Our rate of gun death is 20 times that of the average of the rest of our OECD neighbors. We have almost 1 gun per human being within our borders. The debate about gun violence, up until December 14, the day that 20 young children were slaughtered by a madman with an high capacity weapon, has been dominated by the NRA, an organization that has morphed from a sportsman's club to a major lobbying power representing the interests of gun and ammo manufacturers who make billions off of gun sales driven by paranoia and hate.

Unfortunately, though, the conversation hasn't changed in one small, but loud demographic, gun nuts who believe that even discussing gun violence is somehow a violation of their Second Amendment rights to own any weapon that they can carry. Beyond the tsunami of propaganda about the Second Amendment and the supposed right of a mentally unstable person to own a shoulder fired rocket launcher, gun advocates have embraced a nonsensical narrative that the cruel massacres at places like Newtown and Aurora actually didn't happen, or even worse, were staged by some black ops organization backed by the Obama administration designed to turn the American people against unregulated ownership of any weapon they choose. The source of this nonsense? Enter James Tracey, a communications professor from Florida Atlantic University who's blog, memory hole, is a stream of wild conspiracy theories and weird fantasies, where Tracey has publicly accused the Obama administration of coordinating recent mass shootings to turn Americans against gun owners so it can take away everyone's guns. In his post from Christmas Eve, Tracey makes the incredible claim that:

While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place--at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described.

In the ensuing weeks after the Newtown shooting, Tracey has woven an incredibly complex and paranoid narrative using unrelated news reports to describe a massive conspiracy, accusing grieving parents in Newtown of being "crisis actors" hired by the government to fein sorrow over the murders of non-existent children. These assertions are not only outrageous, they are horribly cruel to those families who lost loved ones. His university, or course, has disavowed his ravings. Unfortunately, though, the myth of massive government conspiracy has taken root in the patriot and gun cultures, and many now cling to this easily disproved nonsense.

Since I've been writing about gun violence and possible solutions over the last month, I have been receiving anonymous emails with similar ominous narratives of government conspiracy in both the UK and the US whose goals are to disarm innocent citizens so totalitarian governments can dominate their populations. One such email asserted (verbatim) that:

It‚s always the same people behind it ˆ the gun-grabbers who want the people to be defenceless against the gun-grabbers‚ employers ˆ the banksters who own all of the politicians. They get their politicians to pass legislation for them, in order to remove the people‚s freedoms and means of defending themselves, and enslave them in a draconian police-state, under a mountain of debt, and then exterminate the useless-eaters.

The hysteria amongst some gun owners against any regulation of gun ownership has reached fever pitch as Vice President Biden has lead the White House committee that is studying gun reform measures. Whipped up by guys like Tracey and hate radio talkers, sales at gun stores have skyrocketed, and online ammo dealers are sold out of virtually their entire inventories.

Making matters even worse, those terrified of losing their rights to own and carry high capacity weapons are resorting to displays of their weapons in public. One such display occurred last weekend when two idiots openly carried loaded assault-style weapons on the streets of Portland Oregon to "educate" their fellow citizens about their Second Amendment rights. The result was not quite what they had supposedly intended...terrified citizens called the police demanding protection. Chalk one up to experience; "educating" does not include terrifying normal people.

According to recent polling, the vast majority of Americans support reform of our gun laws. Those of us who are gun owners need to be accountable for our ownership of guns for whatever reason we own them. Gun owners and non-gun owners must continue to insist that our elected leaders take appropriate steps to protect our children in schools and everyday citizens going about their lives. I personally refuse to accept a society where school teachers, young mothers, and senior citizens must carry semi-automatic weapons in order to protect life and property. Other countries around the world have dealt with this societal problem. It's time for the US to do the same.