First Monday 2001: Physicians for Irresponsible Socialism

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First Monday 2001:

Physicians for Irresponsible Socialism

by Ari Armstrong, October 9, 2001

"There's no such thing as a Second Amendment right."

That's the opinion of Ted Pascoe, an organizer of this year's "First Monday" anti-gun (civil disarmament) event. "First Monday," described as "a project of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Alliance for Justice," was held October 1.


A child psychologist, a medical doctor, and Tom Mauser advocate disarmament on First Monday, October 1.

For being so concerned with the alleged "deception" of the "gun industry," Pascoe and crew weren't themselves overly concerned about straying from the truth. For instance, Pascoe repeated the lie that has been disproved time and again: "A gun in the home is far more likely to be used in a crime than in self-defense."

The video Pascoe played was a little more specific: it claimed a gun is 22 times more likely to be fired in an assault or in a suicide than to be fired in self-defense.(1) Of course, in about 98% of instances of self-defense, the gun is not fired. Instead, the homeowner warns the criminal to leave, and the criminal almost always does so.

In addition, the video counts suicides, which is wholly inappropriate as no link has been found between suicide rates and rates of gun ownership.(2) All the evidence gathered indicates those who want to commit suicide can and do easily switch to other methods. For instance, in Japan the suicide rate is much higher than it is in the United States, though in Japan drowning is a more popular method. One of the speakers noted that "success" rates are higher in America when a gun is used in suicide, but all this proves is that those who are intent on killing themselves (as opposed to crying out for help) turn to a method they know will do the job. Suicide is a great tragedy that should be addressed, but it should not be used as a propaganda tool by the anti-gun lobby.

The video fails to address two other questions: what information are they using to determine defensive gun uses, and how many of the homicides were justifiable? Crime statistics are often based on arrest records, even if the defendant was found innocent or justified in court.

The four speakers who added their comments to the video presentation said part of the problem revolves around domestic violence. Again, this is a terrible problem, but not one that justifies victim disarmament. How many shootings involving domestic violence were actually cases of self-defense? Women like Debra Collins used a gun to defend against violent men. (Of course, Debra didn't "fire" her gun so she doesn't count as far as Ted Pascoe is concerned.) And it's not as if a gun in the home turns men into violent lunatics. Unfortunately, some violent men choose to hurt or kill their wives and girlfriends with whatever tool is in their possession. The absence of a gun would not usually lessen the violence against women, especially because men are on average physically larger than women. The way to address the problem of domestic violence is to put violent men in prison, help women escape dangerous relationships, and let women defend themselves -- not disarm peaceful citizens.

The vast majority of gun owners are safe, responsible, peaceable citizens. They make themselves and their families safer by having a defensive gun in the home. They also make non-gun owners safer by helping to deter criminals. The anti-gun lobby wrongly conflates normal gun owners with the small minorities of criminals and suicidal persons, and it wrongly ignores nearly every case of self-defense with a gun.

If we look at general crime rates, we find guns are used defensively more often than they are used in the commission of a crime. Additional gun restriction laws are likely to increase crime by rendering guns less useful for self-defense. But a reasoned, balanced discussion of the facts was not the aim of First Monday. The "22 times" claim was just one thread in the dishonest propaganda presented by Pascoe's group.

The Smoking Gun?

One theme that ran through the anti-gun video was that guns should somehow be compared to cigarettes. One of the speakers explicitly said that, just as cigarettes are treated as a public health problem, so guns should be treated. The video showed numerous tobacco executives testifying that cigarettes aren't addictive. Therefore, so implied the video, the "gun industry" also lies about its products. Photos of Joe Camel and other cigarette icons were shown perhaps as frequently as were photos of guns.


Ted Pascoe and Bob Glass hold a spirited discussion following the First Monday presentation.

Of course, "guilt by association" is listed as a logical fallacy in textbooks. For example, David Kelley writes in The Art of Reasoning (200), "Another situation in which people often commit the fallacy of the undistributed middle is the attribution of guilt by association." Here, the association seems to be, "Cigarette companies market their products, and gun companies market their products, therefore gun companies must be as bad as cigarette companies!"

The association seems pretty silly, yet Tom Mauser, who both appeared in the video and spoke at the Denver event, said, "You have to understand -- this is an industry." What's more, it's an "unregulated industry!" (Of course, Mauser never explained how requiring retailers to get a license from the federal government and letting the BATF rummage through retailers' records on demand doesn't count as "regulation.") The video claimed gun advertising is "only a little different" than cigarette advertising. Speaking live, Mauser said, "I really want to emphasize it -- we're talking about a gun industry -- they're selling weapons." Apparently if gun makers don't give away their products, their motives are automatically suspect.

What evidence did the "First Monday" video, or any of the speakers, present that the "gun industry's" marketing is in any way deceptive? No such evidence was presented.(3) In his opening remarks, Pascoe said groups like the NRA "claim that guns make us safer." The NRA has referred to a gun as "a woman's best friend." Colt likened a gun to a fire extinguisher in that both are home safety devices. And Baretta referred to guns as "homeowners' insurance."

To back up its claims that such marketing is false, all the First Monday group could muster was a warmed-over Kellerman study that is itself flagrantly deceptive. Pascoe and crew completely ignored the overwhelming evidence that guns are used defensively more often than they are used in the commission of a crime. They completely ignored John Lott's comprehensive survey of concealed carry laws which show such laws reduce violent crime. They completely ignored the many concrete cases of self-defense which have been reported (albeit usually via alternative media outlets). They completely ignored the cross-county analysis which indicates higher rates of gun ownership are associated with lower crime rates.

The strategy of the First Monday group was obvious: demonize gun sellers and the NRA. In his opening remarks, Ted Pascoe said groups like the NRA are "reprehensible" and they spend "millions [of dollars] promoting their agenda." Of course, groups like Gun Owners of America and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership are never mentioned. The 80 million American gun owners are never mentioned.

"This is about money," one speaker on the video claimed. It's obvious that gun manufacturers sell guns for money. It's a more strained argument but perhaps plausible to the target audience that the NRA is also motivated by money (even though the NRA is funded by its membership, not gun manufacturers). Apparently the argument is that any industry which attempts to make money is inherently corrupt and must be "regulated" by the state. So by demonizing the "gun industry," Pascoe and crew find it totally unnecessary to ever explain just what's wrong with the gun industry today.

The Psychology of the Disarmament Movement

A child psychologist who spoke at the event made the shocking and entirely original suggestion that teenagers desire safety, acceptance among their peers, and control over their lives. Surprise -- these are the very values offered by gun manufacturers! In addition, guns are "powerful symbols" to children! "Guns and kids should not be mixed," the psychologist concluded. Apparently this implies the gun industry should be more heavily regulated. QED.

(Of course, cars are also "powerful symbols" for minors, and car manufacturers also tout the virtues of their cars in terms of safety, peer acceptance, and control. And cars are involved in a lot more teen deaths than guns are.)

The video described a study about the NRA's "Eddie Eagle" program. This program tells children that if they find a gun they are supposed to "stop, don't touch, leave the area, and tell an adult." After a group of young children watched an Eddie Eagle video and listened to a speaker talk about the issue, the children were let loose in a playroom which contained deactivated guns along with toys. The children often went for the guns first. (5)

I have little doubt that the Eddie Eagle program so administered would not be very effective, even considering the fact that the children were probably aware on some level that the environment of the test was an artificial one. However, the First Monday video completely ignores the fact that children whose parents teach them responsible gun safety grow up to be very safe around guns and tend to avoid crime. (Responsible, conscientious parents, whether they own guns or not, tend to raise responsible, conscientious children.)

But why does the First Monday video even include a section about Eddie Eagle? One person remarks, "The NRA, I don't think they care if it works." A few moments later comes the quote, "This is about money." Aha! The NRA consists of sinister, wicked people who care more about money than the lives of children. Therefore, their positions on the issues are automatically false, and obviously guns need to be "regulated" more heavily than they are today.

Disarmament "For the Children"

After an introduction, the video began by informing us, "Guns kill over 30,000 people every year." Guns have "made America into a killing field." The video specified domestic violence, "school violence," and "kids shooting each other." The clear implication was that gun violence by and large is represented by such incidents as the shooting at the Baptist Church in Texas.

That's pure deception.

Yes, America has a high rate of homicide relative to Japan and many European nations. But the 30,000 figure must be presented with care.

First, justifiable self-defense shootings, including shootings by police officers, shouldn't be counted. Next, guns don't cause domestic violence; they are sometimes used in instances of domestic violence. If all the guns were somehow magically whisked away, domestic violence would continue on more or less the same trajectory. Further, suicides should not be included because all the evidence shows those intent on killing themselves can and do easily switch to other methods.

Finally, America has a high homicide rate because it has an incredibly high rate of gang violence. It ought to (but doesn't) give the anti-gun lobby pause to contemplate the statistics showing violent crime is much higher in large cities -- where gun laws are most severe -- whereas violent crime is much lower in rural areas where rates of gun ownership are high and gun laws are relatively lax.

Pascoe took written questions from the audience, and to his credit he read one of mine: "Professor Jeffrey Miron of Boston University found drug prohibition increases the American homicide rate by 25% to 75%. If you want to reduce violence, aren't you looking in the wrong place?"

One of the speakers, a doctor who says he discusses guns with his patients, responded to my question, saying there are "multiple factors" behind the crime rates. He said if you "take the guns away" there will be "no gang gun violence."

Apparently, this is what passes for profundity among members of the anti-gun lobby. If people don't have guns, they won't commit GUN violence! Of course, if we reduce gun violence but leave over-all rates of violence unchanged, we haven't really accomplished much. The doctor also neglected to explain how he intends to take all the guns away from gang members, who are already experts at manufacturing and distributing illegal items. If simply passing a law would achieve the desired results, gangs wouldn't have any drugs, either. It's already illegal for any felon or drug dealer to possess a gun, but those laws don't seem to have deterred gang violence. Because prohibitions create violent black markets, Miron wonders if gun prohibitions might actually increase rates of violent crime in America.

The upshot of this discussion is that disarmament has nothing to do with saving little kids from gun violence. Nearly all the "children" who are "shooting each other" are older teenage gang members fighting over turf or drugs. The reality is that accidental gun deaths have declining over the last century to record lows today. By focusing on young children and innocent suburbanites, the First Monday video presents a false picture of the victims of gun violence, and it uses "the children" as a propaganda tool to further its disarmament agenda. Obviously, it's a good thing to address problems of American violence. But the First Monday crowd isn't going to help us do that by lying about guns.

Back-Door Gun Bans

The anti-gun lobby knows it gets into trouble when it talks about out-right gun bans. Yet it is attempting to push gun bans through the back door.


Bob Glass challenges Ted Pascoe to a public debate on the issue of civil arms. Pascoe declined.

Pascoe said he wants to place guns under the regulatory power of the Treasury Department. Of course, by this he meant the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, created in part to enforce taxes on guns. (Federal gun laws are based on a tax scheme passed in 1934.) At an opportune pause in Pascoe's remarks, I threw out, "Would the BATF 'control' guns with the same efficiency it 'controlled' the situation at Waco?"

Just what sort of additional powers does the anti-gun lobby want to grant to the BATF? A document from the Violence Policy Center fills in some of the details (Where'd They Get Their Guns? An Analysis of the Firearms Used in High-Profile Shootings, 1963 to 2001).

Guns are virtually the last unregulated consumer product. Specific firearm design characteristics -- concealability, high capacity, and large caliber, among others -- make certain guns more prone to use in multiple shootings. Today, the gun industry is virtually free of any government oversight regarding the design, manufacture, and distribution of firearms. The result is the ready availability of assault weapons; ultra-concealable, high-capacity, high-caliber "pocket rockets;" and junk guns small and light enough for six-year-olds to carry and fire. The Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 671 and S. 330) would end the firearms industry's deadly exemption from health and safety regulations. The bill would empower the Department of the Treasury to set minimum safety and design standards, issue recalls, and ban specific firearms in extreme cases when no other remedy is sufficient.

In other words, the BATF may ban any gun it deems to be too large or too small, and any semiautomatic gun with a capacity to be determined by the BATF. What sort of "design standards" might the BATF concoct? What guns might it "recall?" What methods will the BATF use to enforce its "recalls"?

Note that VPC defines all or nearly all semiautos as "assault weapons." Of course, semiautos and small handguns are some of the most effective tools for self-defense, particularly for women whose hands are smaller on average.

Note also that nobody argues that today's guns are inherently dangerous; that is, the guns are not unsafe to the responsible user. The explicit argument of the anti-gun lobby is that guns should be banned if they are used for committing crimes (regardless of whether they are effective for self-defense). But any type of gun may be used in a crime (just as any type of car may be used in a crime), so the logic of the position leads to comprehensive bans.

Tom Mauser explicitly said he wants a "registration system" for all guns. The video claimed that "crime guns" consist of "assault [semiauto] rifles" and "powerful handguns," including small handguns. Those are the "favored guns of criminals." Of course, that category is so broad it includes most guns. The grouping is illegitimate; no specific type of gun is a "crime gun," and semiautomatic rifles are rarely used in crimes.

Pascoe couches his position in terms of "common-sense product regulations," but skeptics will be concerned about giving the BATF with its sordid history the power to ban and recall guns at whim.

The Experts Who Would Run Our Lives

F.A. von Hayek warned us of "fatal conceit."

Tom Mauser (speaking live at the event) said he wants to put "bullet indicators" on "semiautomatic revolvers." This was not a mere slip of the tongue, as he repeated the phrase several times. There is such a thing as a "semiautomatic revolver," though I've never seen one because they're exceedingly rare. (I can't imagine why anyone would want one.) But clearly, Mauser has no idea what he's talking about when it comes to firearms.

Mauser also seems not to realize that "bullet indicators" are incredibly unsafe on pistols. There's only one safe way to see if there's a round in the chamber: that's to drop the magazine, pull the slide back and LOOK. Always treat a firearm as though it's loaded! Never point it in an unsafe direction! If Mauser would care to learn anything about firearms before he deigns to write gun laws for America's 80 million gun owners, he would realize "bullet indicators" are superfluous at best and downright dangerous at worst. No person is safe who relies on such a device.

Mauser also wants more regulations concerning gun locks. Similar concerns apply. If young children or irresponsible persons are around, no gun lock is adequate. There's a reason why a popular joke is to ask children to take off child-safety caps. Those who live in a home without children or other irresponsible persons need no gun lock. Indeed, they are made less safe with such a device, because their gun is made less useful for self-defense against violent criminal attackers.

Gun safety has been increasing for decades. These gimmicks listed by Mauser can only make guns less safe. But why is there this conflation of unintentional gun deaths and homicides? Why does the anti-gun lobby talk about things like "bullet indicators" in the same breath that it mentions empowering "Treasury" to "regulate" guns? In short, it's subterfuge. Things like "bullet indicators" sound great to the ignorant do-gooders of the world. Statements like, "We want to let the BATF ban and recall any gun at whim" go over less well.

Guns and September 11

In his opening remarks, Pascoe said there is a "pall over all of us since September 11." He said our goal is that "all violence is prevented." He referred to the fact that gun sales are up 30% in Colorado, following a national trend. He said that fear leads to the power of the NRA.

The introduction to the video also referred to the "tragedy of September 11." The woman on the tape asked us to "use the pain and grief of September 11 to energize our efforts against all violence." A nice sentiment. But Mauser added (live) that it is "people living in fear" that causes them to purchase guns. "Increased sales are going to go on for a long time," he said.

It is surely true that Americans are more fearful than they were before last month. However, it's a mistake to characterize the motive to buy a gun as some sort of irrational paranoia. It's simple preparedness. Similarly, it's healthy to stock up on groceries if you're expecting a hurricane.

The anti-gun lobby continually attempts to malign the motives of gun owners. Gun owners don't care if children die, we are told. If people buy a gun, it's not because they are being prudent, it's because they are "living in fear."

Mauser referred to gun owners as "Rambo wannabes." Mauser referred to the police officer who was "shot by two twins who liked guns." Apparently the essential point is not that these were evil men, but that they "liked guns." In the video, Mauser said he was "shocked by what I saw at the gunshow" he went to. He saw people buying guns! Mauser saw one "young man" looking at a gun, and he "couldn't help but think -- what did he have on his mind?" Apparently, Mauser can't conceive of a person wanting to buy a gun (especially a "high-capacity" gun) for self-defense or for target practice.

Mauser said armed citizens would have "few opportunities to shoot down terrorists." True. People have few opportunities to use the fire extinguisher or cash in on their life-insurance policy, but those are nice things to have around. If a significant number of Americans carried a concealed handgun (say, 5%), chances are very good that any attempted terrorist act would meet with armed resistance.

Referring to September 11, Mauser said, "We're being terrorized by guns." The doctor who spoke said America is suffering the equivalent of "4.5 terrorist attacks yearly" in terms of gun violence.

Here again is the fallacy of guilt by association. "Some people are killed by terrorism. Some people are killed by guns. Therefore, guns are similar to terrorism." Of course, an armed citizenry is a demonstrated deterrent to terrorism, as the Israelis know well. The First Monday speakers didn't care to address the issue of whether they would have armed a passenger or pilot on the hijacked flights, if it had been in their power to do so.

There is no doubt but that Tom Mauser suffered a horrible tragedy and he deserves our sympathy. However, his political advocacy is simply off the mark. Mauser was an anti-gun activist before Columbine for all the wrong reasons, and he continues on that same path. Some comments he made at the meeting indicate the problems with his perspective.

Mauser told us that his son "crouched under a table in the library" of Columbine. "I heard the 911 tape" after the fact, he told us. He listened as students were murdered "one by one by one. I heard the gunshot that killed my son." We all feel sorrow and outrage about this horrific crime, and Mauser's account saddened us all. He has truly gone through what no father should ever have to suffer.

As I listened to his words, the words of an Israeli rang in my ears: in Israel, the children are taught to either escape or attack en masse. Tom Mauser was able to hear the entire 911 tape of his child being murdered. What good did that 911 tape do? It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Dial 911 and die." Mauser heard the children being murdered "one by one by one," and during that time nobody did anything to stop it!

Many Americans have learned to be always passive, to rely on the proper authorities for protection. That strategy just doesn't work. Self-defense is a moral imperative. Columbine could have been prevented at so many steps along the way it makes a person sick. The police were informed about death threats before the fact! At the time of violence, though, nothing but self-defense is effective. And armed self-defense is the best recourse. The only gun laws proven to reduce mass murders and crime generally are liberalized concealed carry laws.

International Comparisons

Pascoe claimed the United States suffers higher rates of violence than other countries because of our lax gun laws and high gun ownership rates. "To say there's not a connection is ludicrous," he said.

There's not a connection. What's ludicrous is that Pascoe doesn't bother to back up any of his claims with serious evidence.

As David Friedman summarizes in the June 2001 Liberty Magazine,

The high U.S. murder rate is frequently attributed to the high rate of gun ownership in the United States, relative to most comparable nations. One problem with that explanation is that while it is true that there is a significant correlation in international comparisons between gun ownership and murder rates, that correlation is driven by a single observation -- the United States. Regressions with the United States omitted show much weaker results, despite the existence of other countries with relatively high gun ownership rates -- and without anomalously high murder rates. A second problem is that the behavior of murder rates over time, both in the United States and elsewhere, does not seem to be closely linked to gun ownership or legal restrictions thereof. That suggests that U.S. murder rates are due to something other than gun ownership, and that the gun ownership rate is either unrelated to the murder rate or a consequence of it.

Friedman agrees with Miron that drug prohibition increases the homicide rate in the United States.

Legal Accountability

One of the speakers suggested we get serious about prosecuting straw purchasers. (Could an NRA membership be next?) While current laws make a mess of it, in principle it should be illegal to knowingly purchase a gun for somebody who's going to use the gun to commit a crime. Doing so is akin to driving the get-away car. If you know somebody is planning to commit a crime, you have a responsibility to intervene and notify the authorities and/or the intended victim. People who buy guns knowing they will be used for criminal purposes may be held criminally or civilly accountable. This does not justify any sort of registration or tracking scheme.

Mauser lamented the laws which forbid lawsuits against gun manufacturers "for anything other than direct negligence." In other words, if somebody commits a crime with a gun (or car), you can't sue the gun (or car) manufacturer. That's a good thing. What's more, while libertarians are all for holding negligent manufacturers civilly accountable, we certainly disapprove of government-initiated law suits.

Mauser also stumbled into the issue of prior restraint. At one point, he lamented the legal shortcoming that if "they're not in trouble with the law [we] let them go." He was talking about people with "bad" guns. I found Mauser's remarks disconcerting, to say the least. However, Mauser soon backed off from his statement. He admitted we "can't arrest them just because of that [possessing certain guns]." It's a relief to hear that Mauser at least pays lip service to the presumption of innocence. Still, I think Mauser's comments reflects a certain tension in his thinking. On one hand, he wants to legally prohibit an entire range of peaceful activity; on the other hand, he senses the problem of sending (armed) enforcers out to capture people who haven't done anything wrong.

Incidentally, speaking of prior restraint, the video asked, "Who could argue against" the Brady registration bill? The video suggested the NRA argued against it, even though gun owners know too well the NRA actually helped draft the Brady law and campaigned for its passage. Even anti-gun researchers admit in JAMA that Brady has not reduced homicides. And John Lott has found that Brady increases rape. The Brady law makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to purchase a gun for self-defense -- sometimes by outright denying a purchase illegitimately -- while it does nothing to deter criminals. And Brady has already registered thousands upon thousands of peaceable gun owners with the BATF.

A Disarmament Activist Turns Violent

On at least two occasions in Colorado, an anti-gun activist has attacked a civil arms activist. On the night of First Monday, a disarmament activist tried to pick a fight with a TRT member.


This disarmament activist tried to pick a fight with a member of the TRT.

Inside the building the guy told Bob Glass that Glass was "in his way." Glass bowed and extended his arm signaling the guy to proceed. The guy told the TRT members present that they should leave because "nobody cares about you people." He also said, "I can make your lives miserable." When asked if he worked for the IRS or some other government agency, he declined to comment further.

Outside the building, the guy exchanged verbal barbs with a couple TRT members. The guy left the immediate area for a few minutes, then returned and said, "I told you those were fighting words." He held his keys between his fingers in a tight fist.

At that point, Bob Glass said to the man, "Let it go. It's not worth it." Fortunately, other members of Pascoe's party were able to drag the guy away before he could physically attack anybody.

Positive Discussion

Fortunately, everybody else was much more civil. After the formal presentation, Glass stood up and formally challenged Pascoe to a public debate. Pascoe declined. I held upbeat, positive conversations with several members of the audience. Most people in the room were well-intentioned, even though many gun foes hadn't looked deeply into the issue. I learned something interesting about Ted Pascoe -- he had traveled to Africa in the Peace Corps and was hosting a teacher he met there. The teacher was friendly and engaging. I had a really fun time, actually. Yes, these issues are of grave importance. And I believe that if civil arms advocates continue to approach the issue with passion and intellectual honesty, others will see that disarmament is a counter-productive policy.


Notes

(1) Bruce Tiemann, who reviewed this article, adds, "This is the Kellerman study, which originally claimed 43 times. Even Kellerman retracted the 43-to-1 claim, and replaced it with 22. Nevertheless, what you quote misrepresents the statistic, which is accurately, 'a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to KILL friend or family than KILL an unknown intruder.'" This is an important distinction. Even when a gun is fired in self-defense, the criminal rarely dies. So the sub-set of all defensive gun uses in which the gun is fired is small, and the number of times the criminal is killed is even smaller. In other words, Kellerman ignores virtually all instances of defensive gun uses.

(2) Tiemann adds, "Actually, a 'study' of equal honesty to Kellerman's is that suicide is 5 times more likely among new buyers of handguns... of course this study did not attempt to correct for those people who specifically bought a gun for this purpose.

(3) Tiemann adds, "It is important to mention here that the tobacco industry lied about the health effects and addictiveness of tobacco products, not only to Americans but before Congress, under oath. No similar deceit has been perpetrated by the gun industry. If lying [is] bad and actionable, the First Monday people need to be hauled into court."

(4) Tiemann relates, "It is important to note that the NRA receives *100%* of its money from membership fees and donations. The NRA receives ZERO [dollars] from 'the gun industry' -- all corporate contributions go to the National Shooting Sports Association, a sporting-only and non-legislative [organization] legally distinct from the NRA."

(5) Tiemann adds, "I don't know about this particular case, but there are similar ones where kids were shown Eddie Eagle and then told to go into a room with 'toys' and that they should 'play with the toys.' Lo and behold, real guns were mixed in with the toys, and the children played with them. In other words, these children were lied to about the contents of the room."

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