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Chris Honoré: Gaslighting, Russia and guns

Gaslighting, according to Wikipedia, is a “form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in members of a targeted group (or individual), hoping to make them question their own perception, memory and sanity using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction and lying.”

An example of gaslighting is Donald Trump’s recent denial that he ever questioned the intel-confirmed Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election. He now insists that what he referred to as a “ruse” or a “hoax” was never Russia’s meddling, but that his campaign never colluded or collaborated with the Russians. That is the “hoax.” Another example would be Trump’s claim that Hillary winning the popular vote by 3 million was a fraud and those voters were actually undocumented immigrants, bused by the Democrats to voting sites.

The most recent example of gaslighting can be found in social media regarding the mass shooting at Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High School in south Florida. Numerous online platforms are being used by those who would gaslight the students who are demanding change to our gun laws, as well as organizing demonstrations of outrage and protest.

The gaslighters are posting propaganda that the students speaking out are in fact “crisis actors” and therefore should be discounted. It is despicable and contemptible and unfortunately this form of gaslighting is not unfamiliar.

Consider the website Infowars, which has argued that the 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were also “crisis actors” and that the mass shooting was an orchestrated deception, an elaborate conspiracy involving not only those killed but first responders and parents. The mass shooting was instead fake news, and the purpose of this elaborate “hoax” was to create a rationale for those promoting gun control.

And while the National Rifle Association has never openly endorsed these detestable conspiracies, the organization has used mass shootings (the Pulse nightclub shooting, in Orlando, is another example) as an opportunity to argue, as Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA, recently stated, “To stop a bad guy with a gun, takes a good guy with a gun.” In other words, more guns are the answer.

Echoing this mantra of more guns to solve our gun problem is the solution offered by President Trump during a “listening session” in the White House with students who survived the shooting at Stoneman Douglas and their parents, as well as parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook. Trump suggested, with all seriousness, that the answer to a demented individual entering a school with the intent to kill as many people as possible would be to arm the teachers, meaning they would, in his words, “carry concealed” and therefore act as a deterrent. In other words, the “good guys” with guns will confront “the bad guys” with even bigger guns.

This is pure NRA rhetoric. Try and imagine a teacher, hearing gunshots and screaming, the words “Code Red” coming over the loudspeaker, stepping out into a hallway filled with panicky students and spotting a 19-year-old killer carrying an AR-15 and shooting students indiscriminately. To suggest that that teacher be the first line of defense is ludicrous. Nonsensical. A fantasy. What is being suggested is a shootout in a hall or in a classroom, a handgun against a semi-automatic rifle in the hands of someone who is fundamentally suicidal. But that was Trump’s solution.

But then it mirrors LaPierre’s suggestion that “we need to harden our schools.” Harden is taken to mean turning our schools into armed camps, saturated with weapons, teachers and administrators carrying and prepared to do what?

Keep in mind that Stoneman Douglas High School had countless “shooter” drills and a full-time armed deputy patrolling.

It is likely a bridge too far, but what is at the heart of this debate is the fact that a 19-year-old who cannot buy a beer in Florida can buy a weapon of war, one designed to do an extraordinary amount of damage to the human body. A bullet from an AR-15 turns soft tissue to mist.

When will we arrive at a point when we collectively decide that semi-automatic guns should not be in the hands of civilians?

— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.