Chal­leng­ing in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about guns

A fair de­bate on the is­sue is needed, but lib­eral lob­by­ing groups refuse to par­tic­i­pate

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By John R. Lott Jr.

When you re­ceive glow­ing me­dia at­ten­tion and have hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to spend, you don’t re­ally have to de­bate. Michael Bloomberg just an­nounced last week that he would be putting $25 mil­lion into next year’s House and Se­nate races. From 2013 to 2016, he do­nated $48 mil­lion to­ward con­gres­sional races. By con­trast, the NRA con­trib­uted a measly $2.1 mil­lion. And Mr. Bloomberg spent about 85 per­cent more on lob­by­ing, more on tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing, and much more for state and lo­cal po­lit­i­cal races.

Mr. Bloomberg’s groups, like other gun con­trol or­ga­ni­za­tions, usu­ally have con­trol over whom they de­bate on TV and ra­dio. I know this from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. On a half dozen oc­ca­sions, I have been asked to ap­pear on CNN or else­where, only to be can­celed on be­cause the rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Mr. Bloomberg’s group didn’t want to ap­pear with me on the show. I have even been told this as I was driv­ing to the stu­dio. All that the pro­duc­ers could give me was their sym­pa­thy. A cou­ple of them even asked me if I could rec­om­mend some­one to re­place me.

In April 2015, CSPAN’s Wash­ing­ton Jour­nal in­vited me to par­tic­i­pate in a one­hour de­bate with Ted Al­corn, re­search di­rec­tor at Mr. Bloomberg’s Every­town for Gun Safety. Mr. Al­corn had al­ready agreed to ap­pear, but said he was un­avail­able as soon as the C-SPAN pro­ducer in­formed him of my par­tic­i­pa­tion. He said some­thing had come up. When the pro­ducer sug­gested that the two of us could ap­pear in sep­a­rate, half-hour seg­ments, his avail­abil­ity changed once again. How­ever, he was only avail­able for the half-hour seg­ment af­ter mine. Con­ve­niently, that pre­vented me from re­spond­ing to his points.

I learned all of this from the C-SPAN pro­ducer, who en­cour­aged me to let viewers know about Mr. Al­corn’s un­will­ing­ness to de­bate me. From the show tran­script:

Lott: “I was re­ally dis­ap­pointed that the peo­ple from Every­town — your pro­ducer said that I should men­tion this — weren’t will­ing to go on with me right now to dis­cuss this. I think that the au­di­ence would gain a lot more from the give and take, where some­one could make a claim, and the other per­son could re­but it. I am dis­ap­pointed that they have con­tin­u­ally re­fused to ap­pear at the same time.”

When Mr. Al­corn fi­nally ap­peared on “Wash­ing­ton Jour­nal,” the first caller asked him about his un­will­ing­ness to de­bate.

Caller: “my first com­ment is that I think it is quite telling that the peo­ple who are op­posed to gun rights refuse to ap­pear on screen with Dr. Lott or other econ­o­mists or crim­i­nol­o­gists . . . why is that?”

Af­ter re­spond­ing with a long dis­cus­sion about how we “live in a mo­ment when gun rights in the U.S. have an un­prece­dented level of pro­tec­tion,” Mr. Al­corn even­tu­ally got to his point.

Al­corn: “When there’s a cred­i­ble sci­en­tist — some­body who wants to have a real con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tion about this, we’re go­ing to be there. But folks who seek to min­i­mize the is­sue of gun vi­o­lence, the grave is­sue of gun vi­o­lence in this coun­try or to draw at­ten­tion away from the real is­sues to them­selves — that’s not a con­ver­sa­tion that I think is pro­duc­tive to be a part of.”

I don’t min­i­mize the is­sue of gun vi­o­lence. I just dis­agree about what poli­cies will ef­fec­tively com­bat that vi­o­lence.

But Every­town can af­ford to make ex­cuses and miss op­por­tu­ni­ties for de­bate. Af­ter all, they have mas­sive re­sources and can count on the main­stream me­dia to push their agenda.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, only Fox News has stood its ground. Once more, Every­town re­fused to par­tic­i­pate as soon as they learned that I would be ap­pear­ing at the same time. But the show went on, and host John Stos­sel point­edly men­tioned their un­will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate.

On lit­er­ally hun­dreds of oc­ca­sions, how­ever, gun con­trol ad­vo­cates have re­fused to have a straight-up de­bate. Last Novem­ber, pop­u­lar Las Ve­gas talk show host Alan Stock tried to set up a de­bate about Mr. Bloomberg’s bal­lot ini­tia­tive in Ne­vada on gun back­ground checks. But a per­son work­ing on the cam­paign re­port­edly told Mr. Stock that they would “only de­bate a lo­cal per­son who didn’t know as much about the is­sue.”

Last month, the pres­ti­gious, bi-par­ti­san Texas Lyceum in­vited me to de­bate gun con­trol is­sues. They asked Every­town, the Brady Cam­paign and the Vi­o­lence Pol­icy Cen­ter if they would par­tic­i­pate. Once again, they re­fused.

Mr. Bloomberg and his groups are un­will­ing be­cause they don’t want viewers to see their in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion be­ing chal­lenged. They would rather peo­ple just take their false­hoods at face value.

John R. Lott Jr. is the pres­i­dent of the Crime Preven­tion Re­search Cen­ter and the au­thor of “Dumb­ing Down the Courts: How Pol­i­tics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench” (Bas­com Hill Pub­lish­ing Group, 2013).

Every­town can af­ford to make ex­cuses and miss op­por­tu­ni­ties for de­bate. Af­ter all, they have mas­sive re­sources and can count on the main­stream me­dia to push their agenda.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY DONNA GRETHEN

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