One of the most striking aspects of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, is the wild inaccuracy in much of the reporting. As Peter Preston in the Observer noted, it was not only the number of casualties that wavered, but also the name of the killer, the details of the death of the mother (whether it was at home or in front of her class), and, significantly, the type of weapon the killer used (at first, the weapons were identified as two 9mm pistols – later reports noted that it was a semi-automatic rifle). But confusion over the details was nothing compared with the ridiculous myths and stories propagated as facts in relation to more general issues surrounding the tragedy at Sandy Hook school. Here are some myths we should challenge.
1. School shootings are a regular occurrence in the United States
School shootings are incredibly rare and, statistically, children are safer at school than they are at home, and they are far more likely to be killed by their parents than by anyone else. According to Gary Kleck, a child is more likely to be struck by lightning at school than a bullet. To put it in perspective, the homicide rate at primary schools in the UK – that nation most favoured by gun-control activists – is slightly higher than that in the United States, lest anyone thinks that school violence is endemic to the US. The fact that we have all heard of school shootings does not mean that there is much danger at all of them occurring.
2. Gun controls would have prevented such killings
Former UK home secretary Jack Straw, speaking after the Connecticut killings, said there is no doubt that tighter gun control laws would make school shootings less likely. ‘The more you tighten the law, the more you reduce the risk’, he said, taking credit for the lack of school shootings in the UK since he brought in legislation after the Dunblane massacre of 1996. Taking credit for the lack of incredibly rare incidents is hubris indeed. Had he put forward legislation concerning fatal elephant attacks, would he similarly take credit for the fact that the UK has been free of elephant attacks since the 1990s?