On Monday, in response to the tragedy in Las Vegas, President Trump sent out a “presidential” tweet and then read prepared remarks off of a teleprompter. No mention of guns. Then, yesterday, when asked about America’s gun violence, he said “We’re not going to talk about that today.” At first, I was surprised because President Trump tends to share his gut reactions to just about anything, from Meryl Streep to Fox & Friends and mayors facing major crises. Then, I thought about it and realized that President Trump is scared to talk about guns because he knows that the shooting in Las Vegas illustrates exactly why the NRA is wrong about guns. The central argument made by the NRA is that more guns make a safer world because “good guys” with guns protect people from “bad guys” with guns. This idea of “good guys” with guns permeates the president’s and the NRA’s rhetoric on mass shootings, which they tend to blame on “gun-free zones.” According to Donald Trump and the NRA, mass shooters choose sites where it’s prohibited to carry concealed guns — for example schools or movie theaters — in order to prey on people who cannot defend themselves.
When I was a researcher at Everytown for Gun Safety, I looked into whether countless mass shootings took place at sites where concealed and open carry of guns was disallowed and what I learned was that it was meaningless to even try to look at shootings through this lens. Mass shootings occur without regard to where people have guns, the vast majority in private homes where no restrictions apply. To make their claims, the NRA most often cites the Alex Jones-esque “researcher” John Lott who narrows his definition of mass shootings to those that happen outside homes and with no criminal involvement. This is an offensive oversight, as it overlooks domestic violence ― muting the stories of countless women and children in data. The research that I contributed to as a researcher at Everytown shows that family members are targeted in 57 percent of mass shootings and 64 percent of people killed in mass shootings are women and children (compared to 15 percent women and 7 percent children killed in shooting homicides overall).
On a personal and gut level, I also know that the argument for more guns is ridiculous. I will never forget September 11, 2012. It was my best friend’s 21st birthday and a group of us drove from Vanderbilt University to East Nashville to attend our favorite party of the week, Motown Mondays at the Five Spot. We parked in the lot where my favorite burrito restaurant was located (and where under Tennessee law I could have had a gun in the car). As we exited the vehicle, a man came from behind another vehicle and pointed a gun at the five of us. I froze and dropped my belongings, as did my friends, and he ran away. I have relived this moment over and over again in my head and know that if any of us had taken out a gun, it would have made the situation more dangerous. My experience is consistent with research by Harvard’s David Hemenway. More deadly weapons do not save lives. They endanger more people. Right now, Donald Trump does not want to talk about guns because he cannot make an argument for more guns in more places, based on what happened in Las Vegas. More guns could not have stopped a man who made himself untouchable in a tower. Reducing access to guns through gun safety laws could have. I do not mean simply implementing universal background checks but thinking about new ways to prevent dangerous people from having guns like firearm restraining orders when someone displays red flag warnings (these now exist in six states, most recently Oregon) or returning to the idea of a registry so that law enforcement know where there are guns.
I am saddened and shocked by what happened in Las Vegas, but right now is not the time to pretend that guns do not play a tragic role in the story of modern America. This is a public health crisis, and we do not have time for Donald Trump to be silent, indecisive, or unwilling to discuss policy.