Alternative Fact of the Week: Ted Cruz, school shootings and Japan

One of the more popular internet memes regarding Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made a head-turning point about gun violence. Asked about school shootings during a debate with his Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, the Republican senator pointed to a loss of Christian values, a not uncommon talking point from conservative Republicans, particularly those who court the evangelical vote. Specifically, Senator Cruz spoke of how “removing God from the public square” and “losing the moral foundation of much of our society” had served as factors in the uptick in school shootings.

Liberals quickly struck back, asserting that Texas is overwhelmingly Christian and averages one school shooting a year while Japan is “2 percent Christian” and has never had a school shooting. Their conclusion? “Worst theory ever.”

Are they right, or had liberals dipped into their own version of alternative facts? Had they stretched the truth in order to land a “gotcha” on the much-reviled Senator Cruz, who famously cooked and then ate a slice of bacon he had wrapped around the barrel of an AR-15 (the same type of assault rifle later used in Parkland, Fla.) before firing away? Snopes.com and other reliable fact-checkers dove into the data to see if the Cruz critics were straight shooters or, as they say in the Lone Star State, more crooked than a barrel of fish hooks and slicker than an onion.

Their conclusion? Aha, there were discrepancies. It actually appears to be worse than originally portrayed.

First, there’s simply no question that Texas is primarily Christian. Census results reveal that. The 2000 Census pegged religious preference in Texas as 93 percent Catholic, evangelical protestant or some other strain of Christianity. There’s also no doubt that Japan isn’t Christian at all. Shinto and Buddhism are the primary faiths in that country, and while there are more than a million Christians believed to be living in Japan, that represents less than 2 percent of a population that numbers more than 127 million.

That leaves school shootings. Japan hasn’t had one. Does Texas average one a year? As it turns out, no. Texas has averaged closer to two a year. There were two in 2017, two in 2016, four in 2015 and so far in 2018? Two with 11 deaths — most notably from the May 18 shooting in Santa Fe, when a 17-year-old brought a .38 revolver to Santa Fe High School and opened fire, killing 10 and wounding 13 others just three months after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Florida that left 17 dead.

Now, perhaps it’s a little too pat to imply that religion has no impact on personal behavior no matter the country. But it’s well within the bounds of the facts and reasonable argument to suggest that what distinguishes Japan from Texas is not Christian faith or Buddhist faith but the availability of guns. Nationwide, Japan experiences on the order of two gun-related homicides per year. Texas schools account for far more than that. The difference is that Japanese law prohibits most individuals from owning guns other than air rifles and shotguns, and even in those cases, a person has to jump through some pretty extensive hoops including taking classes, passing a mental health and drug test and undergoing a criminal background check.

Let’s grant that there are significant cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan and that it’s not reasonable, given our history, to expect the U.S. to treat guns with the same wariness and disdain that Japan has done, Second Amendment or no. But it is reasonable to look toward greater control of firearms as part of the strategy toward reducing gun violence. Keeping guns, particularly the most destructive weapons, out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill would seem to be the least a rational country could do (and what most developed countries have done) — yet we fail even in that. Baltimore’s recent spate of murders might not have been entirely prevented by reasonable national restrictions on gun ownership and purchases, but it certainly would help, if only to ensure the city’s much-beleaguered police hold the advantage in firepower on the streets.

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