The issue of gun control has been hotly contested for years in our country, and opinions are expressed by everyone from your next door neighbor to the most popular people in society. It’s therefore no surprise that when famous astrophysicist and television personality Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted a factoid about domestic gun deaths, he was met with what could best be described as ‘mixed’ criticism.
On November 8th, Neil deGrasse Tyson sent out a tweet that outlined a particularly disturbing statistic. He tweeted that in the last 5 weeks nearly 3,400 Americans have died from home kept guns, which is the same number of Americans who have been killed due to terrorist activity since 2001. The point of the tweet was clearly to showcase that guns are dangerous and show that gun reform is required in America. That very point is what caused such a backlash against Tyson from the conservative community on Twitter.
Responses came flooding in to argue against the statistic, but many fell short of the mark. Other mortality statistics were shared in an effort to give perspective, such as deaths due to obesity, abortion, and auto accidents. Some responders cited annual deaths from other weapons, like hammers and knives, but many of those comparisons have been previously disproven. One such example included a graphic that claimed only 323 deaths were caused by rifles in 2011, but it omits the data showing an additional 356 deaths from shotguns and 6,220 deaths from handguns in the same year.
Some conservative responders parroted the common assertion by the National Rifle Association that people who know how to use guns are able to protect themselves and others from those who mean to do purposeful harm with guns. Of course, many of these statements were made by those also accusing Neil deGrasse Tyson of being an ‘idiot’, a word the astrophysicist is most likely unaccustomed to hearing about himself.
While the comments made by those seeking to undermine the statistical statements made by Tyson were often either based on misinformation or downright lies, many took the path of arguing with no factual retort of any sort. Some pointed out the illegality of most guns even under the current system of regulation, and still more decided to bypass common logic altogether and respond with nothing but insults or inflammatory statements.
Being the professional intellect that he is, Tyson was not rattled by those who rose up against him on the social media site. Instead, he continued to release valid statistical tweets that pointed out even more jarring gun facts. First he correctly pointed out that the number of Americans who have died from household guns since 1968 (1.4 million) is the same as the number of Americans killed in all wars since 1776, the birth of our country. Later, he also pointed to the fact that 400,000 Americans have been killed by home guns since 2001, which happens to be the same number of Americans killed in World War II. As one might guess, these additional tweets weren’t enough to draw the criticism away, but it was enough to bolster support from those who agreed with him.
A story like this reminds us that no matter how sane or logical a person can be when presenting facts to the public, there will always be those out there willing to not only ignore the facts but to actively fight against them in the face of being declared ‘wrong’. In either case, Neil deGrasse Tyson certainly learned from this experience that if you hope to separate a gun nut from his convictions you’ll need more than some impressive figures in a tweet.