So many myths and misunderstandings about gun control from all sides of the debate, and so little time!

Myth: The extremism of the National Rifle Association and its leader, Wayne LaPierre, is hurting its cause.

LaPierre's seemingly unhinged recent performances have convinced gun-control advocates and members of the media that he is out of his mind. He isn't. His appearances were calibrated to appeal to the Second Amendment absolutists who make up the NRA's base, and to help sell weapons manufactured by companies that rely on the NRA to keep their market as unregulated as possible. The NRA's tactic is to gin up paranoia that President Obama is going to confiscate legally owned weapons.

Myth: Obama is going to confiscate legally owned weapons.

He is so far from doing so that it's comical to believe otherwise. There's no constitutional mechanism for him to do so. There's no practical way for him to do so. And he has no motivation to do so, because he's on record defending the rights of sportsmen, hunters, and people who believe in armed self-defense.

Myth: There is no proposed gun-control measure that would make the U.S. safer.

True, there are as many as 300 million guns in the country, with more coming into circulation every day. But some new regulations would help. Closing the so-called gun-show loophole - which allows many guns to be sold without benefit of a federal background check - would make it at least marginally more difficult for unqualified buyers, such as felons and the mentally ill, to get weapons. Since 1994, about 1.9 million purchases have been stopped because of background checks.

Myth: Renewing the assault-weapons ban is the clear answer.

By my definition, any device that can fire a metal projectile at a high rate of speed into a human body is assaultive. How deadly a shooting is depends as much on the skill and preparation of the shooter as on what equipment he uses. It may be beneficial to ban large-capacity magazines and other exceptionally deadly implements. But we shouldn't be under the illusion that this will stop mass killings.

Myth: Only extremists want to place police officers in schools.

Before LaPierre took up the cause, Bill Clinton advocated a similar program to assign police officers to schools across the country after the Columbine massacre in 1999.

Myth: Columbine proved that police officers in schools can't stop massacres.

It is true that a sheriff's deputy assigned to Columbine engaged in a shootout with the two killers but failed to stop them. It is also foolish to draw broad lessons from a single incident.

In 2007, at the New Life Church in Colorado, an armed volunteer security officer named Jeanne Assam shot and wounded a gunman who had killed two outside the church and two others the night before. Assam most likely saved many lives that day. Does this mean that all churches should have armed security officers? Again, it is difficult to extrapolate from one incident. But licensed, trained civilians carrying arms do represent one solution to gun violence.

Myth: More permits for carrying concealed handguns make society more dangerous.

There are more than eight million concealed-carry permit holders in the nation, and the number grows each year. They are vetted by local law enforcement and commit crime at a lower rate than the general population.

Myth: Video games are the real culprit.

Some reports indicate that the Newtown killer was a fanatical video-game player and liked such especially violent games as Call of Duty. But no studies have proved a strong link between these games and actual violence. This isn't to say that the games aren't perverse and repulsive: I don't allow my children to play them. But you can't shoot up a school or a movie theater with a video game. Blaming video-game makers alone for such complicated and incomprehensible crimes is a cop-out.

What do all these misconceptions add up to? Simply that we aren't even close to having a serious conversation about protecting ourselves from death by gun. I wouldn't mind having a national debate about the morality of the Second Amendment in the 21st century. But we're not even having a serious debate on the margins.

Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist and a national correspondent for The Atlantic.
He can be reached at goldberg.atlantic@gmail.com.