David Keene
  • AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
  • David Keene

My college roommate was watching the news in Saint Louis the other day and he learned something that astonished him. David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, was being interviewed, and Keene had this to say:

“You know what weapon is most used for committing murders in the United States in the last year? Hammers. Not guns. Hammers. Long arms, the AK-47, the AR-15, the so-called assault weapons—more people are beaten to death every year than are killed by those guns. It’s the person who commits the murder is the problem, not the tool, not the weapon that he uses for that purpose.”

What my friend learned—and brought to my attention—was not that the lowly hammer is a more frequently employed, more lethal instrument of death and mayhem than the firearm. Not at all. Even though counterintuitive information has its charms, this claim of Keene’s struck him as so ridiculous he didn’t believe it for a minute. Even so, as a trained journalist he looked for facts to confirm his position. These facts were easy to come by.

He quickly found them online in FBI crime statistics for 2011. In that year, 8,593 murder victims were killed by firearms, 496 by “blunt objects.”

No, what my friend learned was that the NRA was shamelessly making this poppycock claim (which, incidentally, went unchallenged by the interviewer). It came as news to me too, which just shows I hadn’t been paying attention.

Two months ago, a Slate article by Brian Palmer explored the roots of this whopper. Palmer traced it to back some 20 years to a a conservative attempt to be funny:

When the Senate debated the Brady bill in 1992, Republican Bob Smith of New Hampshire wondered, “Should we ban baseball bats?” Other members insisted satirically that the Brady Bill’s waiting period must be extended to bats, knives, and automobiles.

As often happens when the right experiments with wit, things spun out of control. The distinction between fact and fantasy was quickly lost. My own research turned up a telling exchange between Keene and the editor of the Denver Post in early February.

Keene: “This is really the divide, in some ways, in the country. We think it’s unfair to blame a firearm for the acts of a criminal or someone else who misuses the firearm.”

Editor Greg Moore: “Mmm hmm.”

Keene: “In this country, for homicides, the weapon of choice in recent years seems to be the hammer.”

Moore: “Right.”

Keene: “But we don’t have three-day waiting periods for hammers, although I’ve often said that I know a lot of guys who have to-do lists from their wives who would appreciate a three-day waiting period.”

Moore: “Exactly.”

Keene: “But the fact is, it’s not the hammer, it’s not the firearm, it’s not the knife, it’s the criminal or the person who shouldn’t have any of those things in their hand because they’ve got severe mental problems.”

What this conversation demonstrates, aside from the fact Keene has his story and is sticking to it, at least until someone calls him on it—Moore didn’t—is that the humor of the right is incomprehensible to me. Waiting periods, and wives with to-do lists? I’m still working on that one.

Can adversaries who can’t agree on what’s funny agree on anything? What about a deal where the right keeps its guns but the left removes the hammers?