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Gun control: deceit in the schools?

* I was a senior in high school the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Having watched the political maneuverings of the advocates of restrictive firearms legislation for a couple of years previously, I knew the instant I heard the news that an enormous pro-gun-control campaign was on the way. I expected a barrage of anti-gun propaganda, but didn't expect it in the schools, which I naively believed to be institutions dedicated to objective scholarship.

At the time I was enrolled in a course in American government and social problems. All members of the class were required to subscribe to a weekly current-events publication of newspaperlike format and of supposedly scholarly content designed for instructional use. Each week we would spend one class period discussing current issues.

About three months after the assassination, the weekly publication ran an article entitled "Nation Studies Gun Laws" which we used as source material for the class discussion of the all-too-current issue of gun control. Rather than use the source material, I challenged the publication as biased on two counts; first, although the text appeared upon initial examination to be objective and impartial, closer inspection revealed that the article used strong arguments in favor of controls and weak ones in opposition; second, and worse, it used a political cartoon by one of the most prominent and rabidly anti-gun cartoonists of the day. The cartoon took the form of an alleged advertisement for a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle of the pattern allegedly used by Oswald for the assassination. The text of the cartoon read, paraphrased as I am working from memory, "SPORTSMEN! KIDS! MANIACS! Now you can get your very own presidential assassination weapon by mail-order! Just $19.95!" The caption to the cartoon read, "A rifle like that shown was used to assassinate President Kennedy." There was no opposing cartoon published.

The instructor, himself a liberal who supported controls, agreed that the article was biased and then conducted a poll to see how many students had had their minds changed by the cartoon. The cartoon, by itself, was powerful enough to alter opinions from one student more than half the class opposed to additional controls to about 65 percent in favor of them.

That's not a bad piece of work for the other side, and it was not an isolated occurrence. It had been going on for some time previously, usually taking the form of statements in textbooks, that moderate controls (whatever that means) were alright and in everybody's interest. Such statements did promote drift in the direction of increasingly stringent controls but were nothing to compare with the hard-core propaganda of the current events paper and other, subsequent publications. It is in our interest to examine this problem with a view to defining it and, having done so, developing a solution.

I have watched the development of this practice for 20 years now. Things haven't changed much, and what changes have occurred have been mostly for the worse. Five years later (1969) my gunsmith told me that his kids were complaining about anti-gun information in the schools. In 1972 I examined five high school government texts and found four of them biased in favor of controls; the fifth noted that the Second Amendment confers the right to keep and bear arms but did not elaborate. More recently, as readers may recall, there was a furor over that allegedly educational film by Xerox.

In January, 1984, I went to the teaching resource materials center of a teacher's college near my home and examined 17 randomly selected high school civics or government textbooks in current or recent issue. I chose the number 17 simply because it made two reasonably convenient armloads and included most of the selection. Two of the textbooks (possibly intended for middle schools) omitted any mention of the Second Amendment and the controversy surrounding it. Two of them seemed to say that it was intended to be a qualified individual right but did not elaborate. One, with which I am much pleased, asked rhetorical questions designed to stimulate student thinking, even raising the possibility that strict controls might evoke an increase in crime, rather than a decrease.

The remainder were clearly biased on the other side, whether intentionally so or not, citing the usual collectivist drivel. Although I am satisfied that most of the authors made a reasonable effort at objective scholarship, I suspect that they, like everyone else, were prisoners to some degree of their own reference frames.

However, I am not satisfied that all of them tried to be unbiased. The objectivity of those who stated as revealed word and indisputable fact that the right to keep and bear arms is not an individual right, that it no longer has any real significance, and that it applies only to the formally organized militia must be called into question. I fault especially those textbooks which employed precisely the same propaganda technique as was employed by my current-events text--the use of strong arguments in favor of restrictions and weak ones in opposition, accompanied by political cartoons biased only in favor of gun controls. Even if, as is remotely possible, the authors of such texts really did try to write unbiasedly, they are sufficiently intelligent and well educated enough to know that their cartoons are hopelessly biased against sportsmen's rights.

Cartoons are especially effective because they are easily read emotional appeals with visual reinforcement. Recall now the effect of that one cartoon in my own class: it achieved substantially what its creator wanted to achieve, despite proof of bias.

Although I have focused discussion on civic or government texts, similar biases may be found in history or social problems (sociology) textbooks. I recall such bias in my own high school social problems text, but did not pursue the matter further for this article.

Now, assuming that most readers will consider this state of affairs objectionable, what shall be done about it?

Students should participate courteously and eruditely in class discussions, using propaganda analysis to draw attention to bias if such exists. They may also wish to draw attention to the illicit manufacture of zip guns and explosives in high schools and prisons, not to mention the manufacture by hand of revolvers, semi-automatic pitols, and submachine guns by the Viet Cong and the Pathans. This, supported by general-interest references (not sportsmen's) will do much to demonstrate the futility of controls and the bias in the textbooks.

Parents who are concerned about the possibility of misinformation should first gather the relevant information. It may well be that your schools are not teaching falsely, in which case you have no reason to be upset. In this regard, it is the duty of the schools to provide impartial and objective education. If they do this, you have no grounds for complaint even if some of the information should prove disagreeable.

If it does prove that the instruction is biased, a reasonable and rational approach will usually be rewarded. Many teachers may be indifferent to the gun control question and simply teach what the book says. They will, if shown reasonably learned materials, take the content into consideration in giving instruction. I would suggest showing the open-minded and interested teacher Bruce-Bigg's paper, Kates' book, and the report of the Subcommittee on the Constitution on The Right To Keep And Bear Arms.

A very few teachers do like to teach their personal opinions as fact, but even these will respond to reasonable complaints in most cases. If they don't, try using the legitimate channels of communication provided by the schools. Should that fail, there is always recourse to litigation, although I doubt that such an approach will ever be required.

It will be helpful to have communications carried out by professional people, including teachers, of who there are many in the ranks of sportsmen. Because these people are reasonably erudite and by the nature of their professions entitled to a certain deferntial recognition, their comments will carry much weight. Remember, don't lose your temper! That's exactly what the opposition wants. Not only can they use it to discredit our arguments, they can also use it as a rationalization for more controls in order to protect the community from "those rednecks."

Actually, most educators are pleased when parents take an interest in their offspring's education and wish that more would do so. I therefore suspect that most of them will prove quite cooperative.

Removing bias from the textbooks may prove more difficult. Textbooks are expensive and must last for several years, and therefore replacement of texts which even the school officials find disagreeable may require quite some time. Economic pressure can be applied against publishers by persuading the schools to adopt the less biased texts. Authors and publishers may also respond to direct communication. In some cases it might prove possible to induce local teachers to use existing texts to show how opinions can be manipulated by the selective presentation of information, especially when it is disguised as objective scholarship.

It is difficult to prove intentional bias in the texts, and therefore I would advise against making particular allegations. A more tactful approach would be to draw attention to the imbalance and request appropriate modification. In particular, one could request citation of references from both sides and a review of content by both sides when new editions are in the process of being prepared.

We can obtain a hint that textbooks can be intentionally biased by considering recent events in another commercial democracy much esteemed by the advocates of gun controls: Japan. In that nation recently an international controversy was sparked by the central government's decision to modify the history textbooks' descriptions of Japan's activities in China and Manchuria in the 1930s. In our society it is unlikely that textbook content would be determined officially in such a manner. Noting that most textbooks conform to the party line, however, it is possible that control is exercised through informal methods. Since publishing houses and authors tend to be located in cosmopolitan (and predominantly anti-gun) regions and tend to reflect the biases of those regions, there is an informal and automatic selection in favor of cosmopolitan and anti-gun values.

George Orwell noted in 1984 that the party man knows, without being told, what is the correct response in any situation. Perhaps that is what is happening in the case of the biased textbooks; the author, who will probably be a member of the liberal establishment, will not require orders to include the appropriate bias. He knows whose side he is on, and knows that objective statements would injure that side's interests, and therefore makes the appropriate adjustments. Perhaps, also, informal control is so effective that he inserts the appropriate bias unconsciously, honestly believing that he is presenting the best contemporary objective widsom.

There is at least one open statement to suggest that intentional manipulation is taking place. The Morton Grove gun ordinance was adopted in alleged response to the decision by a gun dealer to open a shop near a public school. One official stated that the supporters of the ordinance did not want kids thinking about things like that. Such a blatant confession is useful; almost useful enough to make that whole rotten mess worthwhile.

Although I have painted a rather bleak picture, the situation is not altogether disheartening. Many teachers are sportsmen and, within the limits of their professional objectivity, can offset the misinstruction. I know several social studies teachers who, although disinterested in guns and hunting, have rejected gun control as a dangerous and impractical social experiment. In fact, most teachers who do support gun control try to be unbiased and would do a better job if they had better instructional materials.

After finishing high school, I occasionally went back to see my former social studies instructor to discuss various social issues. On one such occasion he told me that what really disappointed him was not that students like me took seemingly contrary views, but that the overwhelming majority of students refused to think about anything at all. That's why it is so easy for manipulators to issue their opinion.

If we assume that each year for the past two generations, schools have turned out a graduating class property brainwashed into support of gun control, we can see how pollsters can report substantial majorities in favor of increasingly strict controls. The power elite first covertly creates the correct opinion on the part of the electorate, then pretends that this is the true opinion of the American people, then pushes gun control in pretended response to this manufactured opinion.

Our schools bear only partial responsibility for this, however, as in any nation whose average household watches television seven hours per day the predominantly anti-gun major networks must assume a major share of the credit or blame. The fact that, despite virtually continuous brainwashing of the public, pollsters report levels of support for control to be markedly less than 90 percent suggests that their grip on public opinion is tenuous indeed. With effort and logic that grip can be broken altogether.
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Article Details
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Author:Whisler, Norman J.
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 1, 1984
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