Do Conservatives Believe There are More Bad People in America Than Elsewhere?

After every mass shooting in America comes the same refrain from gun-loving conservatives: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The causes of gun violence are always presumed to be something other than the guns themselves: mental illness, video games, parenting, et cetera, despite no correlation ever being found. What we do know is that the vast majority of mass shooter are men, that the looser a state’s gun laws the more mass shootings it has, and that America has far, far more gun violence and mass shootings than other developed countries.

What’s most curious about conservative arguments on guns is how easy they are to disprove. Economic and social theory will always have an air of mystery about them because it’s practically impossible to run complex enough models and experiments to definitively prove one ideological framework over another. But with gun it’s astonishingly simple just to look at the experience of other countries. Do the Japanese play a lot of violent video games? Yes. Do they have high rates of gun violence? No. Is there just as much mental illness in England as in the United States? Certainly. Is there as much gun violence? Certainly not. Literally the only possible correlating factor for American gun violence is American access to guns.

But one of the most amazing conservative arguments is that we should not enact stronger gun control measures because the problem is innate human evil. This notion comes up frequently among evangelical conservatives, including just this evening by Texas 6th district representative Matt Schaefer who embarrassed himself with a revolting twitter thread that included the following:

Let’s leave aside the fact that no divine entity or precept of natural law gives anyone the right to own an assault weapon. Let’s also ignore the fact that it’s entirely likely that gun control solutions would have denied the Odessa shooter easy access to the firearms with which he carried out his killings.

The most interesting question here is about evil intent. If human evil is the ultimate cause of gun violence–rather than the shocking ease with which modern firearms allow tense situations to escalate into deadly violence and unbalanced individuals to become mass murderers in a matter of seconds–then presumably there must be more bad people in America than anywhere else in the world.

It’s not clear to me if American evangelicals who tout this line about “evil” in the context of gun violence have spent even a few seconds thinking it through. Perhaps they haven’t stopped to consider why evil doesn’t seem to manifest this way in other developed countries. Perhaps they haven’t asked themselves why America seems to be beset by so much more human evil despite being much more religious than most other developed countries. Are the bodies of murdered children just part of God’s benevolent plan in divinely inspiring the 2nd Amendment, or are Americans unique in being especially susceptible to the wiles of the Devil? And why should that be?

It hardly matters, of course. The pro-gun crowd isn’t motivated by honest argument, but by motivated reasoning. There is no amount of evidence, no amount of logic, no number of dead and injured children that will convince them that the guns themselves are the danger, not the people wielding them. All that decent and good people can do is defeat this evil at the ballot box.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.