In a town hall Thursday evening, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) rejected a constituent’s suggestion that stricter background checks for gun sales could have kept a mentally disturbed young man from threatening a Georgia elementary school Tuesday with an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
To explain his opposition to background checks, Pearce argued, “They don’t have guns in Rwanda, yet (more than 500,000) people died by machetes.”
According to Las Cruces Sun-News, Pearce offered the vague suggestion that “America’s heart” needed to change, not gun laws.
The claim that the 1994 Rwandan genocide was carried out with machetes, despite strict gun laws, is a favorite talking point of the gun lobby. Pearce’s colleague, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) even compared President Obama’s push for stricter background checks to a Rwandan government registry used to round people up for slaughter.
But Pearce’s claim that Rwanda was gun-free ignores history and shrugs off the thousands who were killed by firearms. While machetes were the primary weapon used in the genocide, the government made a concerted effort to buy firearms and distribute them among elites. In the years leading up to the genocide, local officials ordered “quantities of arms and ammunition that far exceeded the needs of their local police forces…guns, Kalashnikovs, machine guns, grenades, and large quantities of ammunition.” While civilians were encouraged to use traditional machetes and spears, guns were the preferred weapon for mass killings. In one horrific incident detailed in the Journal of Peace Research, the killers locked a crowd up in a stadium and opened fire with machine guns. Other victims were gunned down after being gathered into schools and churches. In sum, at least 17 percent of genocide victims were killed with a firearm.
Nevertheless, Pearce and his like-minded colleagues continue to hold up Rwanda as an excuse to ignore the overwhelming popularity of universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT.