Following the tragic wave of recent mass shootings, it is easy to see how some passions are running high. However, some supporters of the Second Amendment are now taking issue at how “misinformation” is regularly shared online, especially on the social platforms.
Facts are facts, and yet, when it comes to the issue of gun control, such misleading information is allowed to often remain unchecked by the platforms.
This week, Occupy Democrats (@Occupy Democrats) tweeted, “BREAKING: President Biden declares that ‘The Second Amendment is not absolute’ and points out that when it was passed ‘you couldn’t own a cannon’ or ‘other kinds of weapons; because there have ‘always been limitations.’ RT IF YOU AGREE WITH BIDEN AND WANT ASSAULT WEAPONS BANNED!”
President Biden, who has repeatedly made the claim that citizens couldn’t own a cannon, is actually wrong on the issue. The Second Amendment has never specified any type of firearm that could be owned by civilians. Cannons could – and still can – be legally owned by American citizens.
Moreover, it wasn’t until the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934 that there were even restrictions on the purchase or transfer of automatic weapons (machine guns). The president’s claim regarding the private ownership of cannons was even given “Four Pinocchios” by the Washington Post last year, while more than a dozen media outlets have fact checked the statement.
Yet, this misinformation continues to make the rounds on social media, and the platforms have done almost nothing to stop it.
The AR And The Nazis
This week, the calls to ban the sale and even ownership of AR-style semi-automatic rifles have increased again – and so has the hyperbole.
It is true that it was the weapon of choice used in the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvlade, Texas. Yet, instead of offering facts about the AR, some on social media relied on misinformation to make their case. Some of this could even be forgiven, such as incorrectly describing the AR-15 as a “machine gun” or suggesting that AR stands for “assault rifle.” Neither is true of course, but others have taken their claims to extremes.
Marc Fisher (@mmffisher), a senior editor at the Washington Post, tweeted, “Invented for Nazi infantrymen, further developed by the US military, the AR-15 was the Texas school shooter’s weapon of choice….”
Many supporters of the Second Amendment were quick to call out Mr. Fisher, and it was noted that the AR-15 was invented not by Nazi Germany but by Eugene Stoner, an American World War II veteran, at the Armalite Company, which was only founded after the war ended.
The AR-15’s patent was subsequently acquired by Colt Manufacturing, which produced the rifle for the military as the M16. However, the civilian-made version lacks the select fire capability, and is only available in semi-automatic.
Now in fairness to Fisher, his tweet should be put in context.
It is true that during the Second World War, German arms designer Hugo Schmeisser led the development of the Maschinenkarabiner 42(H). That eventually resulted in the Maschinenpistole 43, which was later re-designated the Sturmgewehr 44 – or “assault rifle 44.” Thus, the Nazis did in fact develop the world’s first true assault rifle, and after World War II, Schmeisser likely had a hand in aiding Mikhail Kalashnikov in developing the AK-47.
Yet, even in this context it is still misleading to suggest that the AR-15 was in anyway developed or designed by Nazi Germany.
While we can all agree that something needs to be done to stop this senseless cycle of violence, misinformation should be seen as a problem regardless of the issue.
Even supporters of gun control agree that such posts can hurt their cause.
“One lesson I learned early on, is that I have to understand the technical details on firearms when debating this issue,” explained Mike Lawlor, associate professor of criminal justice at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven, and gun control advocate.
“I do see all too often that people who are pro gun control have little to no background on the issue apart from their view,” Lawlor warned. “When you state something that is wrong on any issue, you’ll be ridiculed, and this is true on social media. You really don’t want to find yourself in that position. Before you dive into this topic, you need to learn about it. That is what you should do to have a well-rounded opinion, but also because once you get caught saying something that isn’t accurate, it will certainly undermine your position.”
Such misinformation isn’t limited to gun policy issues, but it is notable that Twitter hasn’t identified such tweets that are so misleading about firearms.
“There are a lot of discussions that fall through the cracks,” said Lawlor. “Who is to determine at Twitter whether it is misinformation, and there just isn’t the time to fact check everything that is flying around on the platform.”