EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS GABOR, COAUTHOR OF AMERICAN CARNAGE: SHATTERING THE MYTHS THAT FUEL GUN VIOLENCE

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July 5, 2023 (San Diego) – Most Americans may not know that gun control was common throughout much of America’s history, even in such iconic wild west settings as Tombstone, Arizona. The idea that the right to own guns is a foundational American belief is among the misperceptions shattered in an explosive interview with Thomas Gabor, Ph.D., author of American Carnage: Shattering the Myths That Fuel Gun Violence, conducted by Anat Tour, new host of the Bookshelf segment on East County Magazine’s radio show.

Dr. Gabor is an internationally recognized expert on firearms and public safety.  A professor of criminology for 30 years at the University of Ottawa, he holds a doctorate from Ohio State University and runs a criminal justice consulting firm, Thomas Gabor LLC, in Florida. His clients have included the United Nations, Canada’s Dept. of Justice, and the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister’s office. He has authored over 200 publications including articles and books.

His coauthor of American Carnage is Fred Guttenberg, an activist whose 14-year-old daughter was murdered in the Parkland High School massacre. Together, the authors have created a valuable resource book documenting that much of what many Americans believe about gun rights and gun violence are, in fact, fallacies.

Scroll down to read highlights of the interview and find links to audo, video, book review, author's website and more.

Contrary to popular belief, gun ownerships is not a foundational right that took root with America’s founding fathers.

“In fact, from the Revolutionary period to the wild west, there was generally more strict gun control than today,” Gabor reveals, “even in Dodge City and Tombstone, Arizona.” He adds, “From the mid’19th Century to the late 19th Century, virtually every state outlawed the carrying of concealed weapons.”

That changed starting in the 1980s, when the gun lobby gained power and influence.  “Now in every state you can carry a firearm,” Gabor says, adding that in 26 states there are no requirements for gun ownership—meaning anyone can buy a gun without any training, knowledge of firearms or when it is legal to use lethal force.

“The laws are far more extreme today” than in the past, Gabor observes.

Another myth is the oft-touted belief that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Each year, 48,000 Americans die of gunshots.  Over half of those are suicides. Evidence proves that most people who survive a suicide attempt were temporarily overwhelmed and do not kill themselves later on—yet guns are lethal in 90% of suicide attempts—far more deadly than other methods such as drug overdoses. “These are preventable,” Gabor says of the suicide gun deaths.

Another myth, according to Gabor, is that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is by a good guy with a gun.

“The F.B.I. found that of 160 active shooter incidents in public, only in one case was the shooting thwarted by an armed civilian, and that civilian had a military background,” Gabor notes.

What about guns for self-protection from intruders?

“A credible study looked at homicides involving guns in the home. For every intruder shot by a homeowner, there  are 22 times more when gun was turned on someone in home,” says Gabor. Those in-home shootings include homicides, accidents, and suicides.

How many Americans own guns?

Around the world, there is a perception that America is “awash in guns” with a “gun fetish” mentality that is prevalent, says Gabor.

But in truth, only 30% of Americans—less than a third—own guns.  Moreover, only about 6% of the population owns two-thirds of the guns in the U.S., a “real concentration of ownership” by a very small percentage of  “people we might call extremists,” says Gabor. “But with the help of the gun lobby, this group has managed keep fairly weak laws in place around the country.”

He proclaims, “Most of us are not gun owners and we have rights too-- among other things, a right to life enshrined in Declaration of Independence.”

What’s fueling mass shootings?

One factor is “an epidemic of loneliness, depression and even suicide among young people…Young people are less tethered to society than they used to be… less apt to participate in after school programs.” The mass shooters at Parkland High and  Sandy Hook Elementary School were both socially isolated individuals, Gabor notes. The pandemic worsened isolation, with people forced to work and study at home. 

A socially awkward person without an intimate partner may take out anger on all women, as occurred at the University of Montreal in 1989, when a man separated men from women at the school engineering, then started shooting and murdered 15 women.

Other mass shootings arise due to workplace conflicts or conflicts among groups.

Another factor is the sheer availability of firearms. “Guns, especially weapons of war, are far more available today”  Gabor points out.  Twenty years ago,  deadly AR-type weapons capable of killing many people quickly accounted for just 2% of gun sales.  Today, they account for 25% of gun sales.

Copycat crimes are also occurring.  Mass shootings are, in a sense, “contagious” as people emulate previous shooters. 

Another myth is that most gun killings are planned.

“The majority of homicides are not premeditated,” says Gabor. The most common reason for a homicide involving a gun is a dispute between individuals or between groups of people. Another major reason is during a crime such as a robbery, when the perpetrator didn’t plan to kill anyone, but winds up fatally shooting a witness or victim. In such “spontaneous” crimes, “the presence or absence of guns becomes more consequential,” Gabor contends. While the gun lobby contends that if a person wants to kill someone else, they can do so with any sort of weapon.  But Gabor notes, “a gun attack is at least three times more likely to end up in death than a knife attack.”

How does gun ownership and gun purchase requriements in the U.S. compare with other countries?

“Gun ownership in the U.S. is still an outlier,” Gabor says. “We have 120 guns for every 100 people. No country in the world comes close, in terms of privately held firearms. Most advanced countries have a system of licensing.” That includes stronger vetting of who should or should not be allowed to own a gun, interviews with law enforcement, reference checks, and mandatory training.

By contrast, “the U.S. has a very weak system,” he states. “People buying on the private market don’t have to pass a background check at all,” such as at gun shows, “and if one buys from a dealer, it’s about a two-minute check through the F.B.I. database.” As long as the person does not have a criminal record, they can still get a gun in most places, even if they have a very disturbing background,  as in the case of with the Parkland High School shooter.

While it’s permissible to own guns for self-protection in the U.S. as an entitlement, in  Canada, an applicant must prove that they are in danger, such as from an estranged spouse, and that law enforcement can’t protect them, in order to buy a gun for self protection.

“In many countries, there aren’t many handguns. They are considered restricted weapons,” Gabor explains.  “We have more guns, more gun carrying for self-protection, poorer vetting, no mandatory training, and we don’t have a national safe storage law.” Many other nations do have such laws.  Only one state in the U.S., Massachusetts, requires that household firearms be stored unloaded and out of reach of children.

Polls including one by Fox News havefound that 80% of Americans believe in stricter gun laws. Why are they so hard to pass?

Gabor says one reason is the “conservative majority on the Supreme Court that has passed some rulings that some people would say distorts meaning of the  2nd Amendment, leading to laws on books in different states being challenged, even assault weapons bans.  The current Supreme Court majority is “not representative of the general population,” he notes.

Another reason is a powerful pro-gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association (NRA). The gun lobby has the ability to  mobilize its  members to contact elected officials and to donate money to pro-gun candidates.

“Legislators are afraid of them. They know that if they propose strong gun laws, the gun lobby will mobilize constituents against them,” says Gabor.

What can be done?

“I urge people who want to see change to get as active as those on other side. We are in majority….If the majority was to become far more active and vocal, that could make a difference.”

He cites Australia as an example. After 35 people were massacred, despite a strong lobby and historically pro-gun culture, “90% of the population demanded change—and it was a conservative government that worked to bring about national reforms” in gun laws, Gabor recalls.

“Outrage on a wide scale is really important,” he recalls. “I think we’re starting to get closer, but we’re not quite there yet in the United States.”

View full podcast of interview

Read book review by Dennis Moore

Buy American Carnage: Shattering Myths That Fuel Gun Violence

Read more about Dr. Thomas Gabor’s books.

Visit Dr. Thomas Gabor’s consulting site.

View a podcast of Anat Tour’s full  interview with Dr.Thomas Gabor

Hear audio of interview for the East County Magazine Radio Show on KNSJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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