01/14/2013 03:51 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2013

The Disastrous Myths of the NRA

In the White House talks about gun control, I hope someone exposes the deceptive, pernicious and incendiary myth of redemption through violence that props up Wayne LaPierre and the NRA gun lobby. Despite their political impotence in the last election, they are at the talks.

That suicidal, delusionary myth has dominated right-wing Christianity since the first Puritans arrived in Massachusetts and defeated the Wampanoag people in the bloodiest war in the history of this continent (the winners lost half of their colonial settlements). To discern why God had inflicted such suffering upon them, Puritan preachers decided it was because they lacked sufficient piety, so god had used slaughter to compel more prayer and Bible-reading -- not to compel ethical treatment of the people and land that had welcomed them a half-century before. The Puritans were instructed to be grateful for their horrible suffering and to love their god more deeply for having inflicted it because, in his grace, he had drawn them back, rather than abandon them.

On the heels of the Newtown massacre, this colonial myth slithered out of the mouths of Gingrich and Huckabee, among others. According to them, godless America caused the murder of innocent children. Their god is so threatened by atheists that he had fled the premises and failed to protect the children (but guns would have?). Their god is so thin-skinned, he would destroy the entire planet to eliminate doubters and save a fanatically faithful few.

The only power this violent NRA god has is destruction, and he recruits through fear. That is the logic of this myth: make people afraid enough to follow you and exploit every massacre to hold true believers close. He is the god of Caesar who killed Jesus, not the divine spirit of love and mercy Jesus preached, who cares for the whole world, forgives sins, and created the earth as blessed and good.

Among the truly wrong NRA credos is "the way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." It's wrong because the internal moral prohibition against killing another human being runs deep in normal people. The only people who can kill human beings without any moral inhibitions are sociopaths, who are estimated to be one in every 25 people. It will not make our society safer to arm them. Every decent society teaches that killing another human being is the worst crime you can commit. In fact, 80 percent of Americans don't even own a gun and many don't want their children around them.

Training to kill cannot always compel people to kill, even when their lives depend on it. General S. L.A. Marshall's controversial World War II study discovered that a high percentage of soldiers in Europe never shot at the enemy. To overcome this inhibition, the military changed its training practices to teach soldiers to shoot without thinking, a method called Reflexive Fire Training.

Ordinary people who own guns learn to handle them by shooting at targets, tin cans, skeet, fence posts and other inanimate objects. They may also shoot at small animals -- my sensible and sane cousins Robert and Olin spent hours every summer evening as young boys on their farm in Mississippi shooting gopher rats, and they own guns and still like to hunt. But they are careful and responsible with their weapons. Gun safety classes expressly teach people NOT to point a gun at a human being because killing is a capital crime and guns are extremely dangerous. I don't think we want to turn school teachers into a lethal paramilitary force by teaching them to kill people; schools and public places are not war zones and shouldn't be turned into them.

For the NRA, guns are the magic talisman of their faith in redemptive violence. But a gun is more likely to kill its owner or members of the family than any other single target. Three times as many women are murdered by guns used by their husbands or intimate acquaintances than are killed by strangers' guns, knives or other weapons combined, and women have a five-fold increased risk of their partners murdering them when the partners owns a gun.

Many sensible people have noted that, in the chaotic conditions of most mass murders, the likelihood that a civilian with a gun will shoot an innocent person is very high. They could be confused about the killers and shoot each other. How effective would ordinary people with guns be in a crowd of milling, panicked people attacked by a well-armed murderer, ready for opposition. Not only would the killer be focused and probably wearing protection but also, perhaps, prepared to die. If people kill people, more people with guns in a panicked crowd equals more dead people.

As Iraq veteran Joshua Casteel observed in his analysis of the video game, Call of Duty, even highly realistic simulations of war cannot capture the actual conditions of combat, and until faced with the complete horror and sensory overwhelm of such violence, no one can predict how people will behave. And they certainly cannot capture the moral effect of killing a human being.

Warranted killing, such as killing in self-defense, can still be devastating to normal people. Many soldiers, even if they follow orders and do the right thing by killing, struggle with the return to civilian society as the moral impact of war sinks in. Recent work on moral injury in veterans suggests that the cost of violating one's moral conscience can be life threatening and last a lifetime. Reflexive Fire Training cannot entirely eliminate the moral values of civilian life that regard killing as criminal behavior. How will communities and families handle the devastating effects on ordinary people who kill during a mass murder, especially inexperienced civilians who shoot in a panic and mistakenly kill innocent people?

Since the first test of whether a fully armed citizenry might stop a mass murder would be at an actual massacre, we have no evidence that arming more people can actually stop it. But the case of Australia demonstrates that disarming citizens works, and we have no evidence of a fully armed society stopping them.

The one exception might be Switzerland, which requires military service and issues weapons to soldiers who take them home so they can engage in regular practice with their weapons. When I lived there for two years in the mid 1970s, I grew acustomed to the startling sight of entrances to restaurants with automatic guns in umbrella stands -- put there by reservists who stopped to eat before heading to target practice. As far as I know, no guns were ever stolen, and strict controls were in place for those who carry them. Anyone with a military weapon must account for every bullet issued to him (should we do bullet control instead of gun control?). The Swiss have one-seventh the U.S. gun homicide rate and half the suicide rate. But Australia, the U.S., and Switzerland all have far higher gun death rates than the U.K., which has extremely strict gun control and one of the lowest rates of gun death in the world.

The NRA approach to school safety and a safer society makes no sense, but now they are trying to inflict their myths on the international community. In seeking to block a U.N. treaty banning gun sales, they look more like an enabler for terrorist and drug-running groups than anything related to human safety. According to the Guardian, the U.N. treaty asks:

governments to agree not to export weapons to countries that are under an arms embargo, or to export weapons that would facilitate "the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes" or other violations of international humanitarian law. Exports of arms are banned if they will facilitate "gender-based violence or violence against children" or be used for "transnational organized crime."

Since the NRA seems to have a sociopathic inability to feel empathy for those afflicted by gun violence, they will never listen to facts and reason. So why, in God's name, are they at the table to discuss gun control?