Pyle: The myths of Santa and the NRA
In the next day or two, this newspaper and newspapers all over America will participate in the annual Christmas tradition of reprinting Francis Pharcellus Church's editorial of 1897, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."
Bah, humbug. Editorial writers, practitioners of a craft dedicated to the search for truth, have been sawing away in this country for a long time. And the only product of ours that most people remember is a piece arguing for a continued belief in a mythical being.
Which brings us to the National Rifle Association and its front man, Wayne LaPierre.
He held a press conference Friday in which he blamed every part of American society except the gun culture for the deaths of 20 children and six teachers the week before in Newtown, Conn.
It's the media's fault, he said. Video games. Violent movies. Gun-free school zones. Lax tracking of mentally ill people. And particularly the void of gun-toting guards in every school in the country.
Fantasy. Every word. And a lot more dangerous than any story about a toy-giving fat man.
Comparing us to other modern nations, the U.S. is a clear outlier in murder committed with guns, particularly the murder of several people at once. And the only thing that is also different about us is we have, not just different laws, but a whole different attitude, toward firearms.
Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Norway, etc., etc., all have violent movies and TV shows, not all of them imported from the U.S. Bloody video games exist everywhere, even, especially, in Japan, where murder is rare and gun crimes unheard of.
So when folks such as Utah's Vichy Democrat Congressman Jim Matheson wonders if it isn't really Hollywood that's to blame, he is touting a theory that we already know belongs in the same category as, well, Santa Claus.
The NRA claims that there is a statistical correlation between permissive gun laws and low crime rates. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg claims there is a correlation between lax gun laws and high crimes rates. Politifact, the Pulitzer-winning fact-checking website, drilled down into the numbers and came up with a rating of mostly true for Bloomberg's statement and a rating of false for the NRA's.
We might know more about all of this but, for the past several years, Congress has inserted language in budget bills that specifically bans the masters of public health data, the Centers for Disease Control, from researching any cause-and-effect relationship between guns and violent death.
Meanwhile, conservative blowhards like Mike Huckabee and James Dobson are out with their predictable claims that it is the lack of religion in schools that has allowed so much violence to enter them. They ignore the clear fact that places with the largest numbers of believers (the American South) are among the most violent and places with the fewest faithful (Western Europe) are the least.
Nate Silver, the statistical guru who called the last election most accurately, minimizes the influence of religion on gun attitudes, comparing church attendance habits with gun ownership rates and finding little correlation one way or the other. But his chart does note that half of Protestant and evangelical households own guns, while only 32 percent of non-religious homes do.
Suggested conclusion: People who think that people cannot be good without the fear of eternal damnation hanging over them also think people won't be good unless there is a real possibility that you might shoot them. People who think you should just be good rely on neither guns nor God.
More research, as they say, is called for.