They’ll Do It Every Time: CDC Gun Research Gets Defunded Again.

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“Listen, the CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect the public health. I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. And guns don’t kill people; people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual, not blame the action on some weapon. Listen, there are hundreds of millions of weapons in America. They’re there. And they’re going to be there. They’re protected under the Second Amendment.”

And who said that?  Not Wayne-o of the NRA, not that bunch from Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, and certainly not one of the five SCOTUS justices who decided back in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment gave Americans the Constitutional right to own guns.  It was, in fact, stated last Thursday by John Boehner, Speaker of the House, to explain why he and his colleagues voted against CDC-funded gun research for the thirty-eighth time since the CDC was first defunded back in 1998.

boehner                Now you can accuse John Boehner of lots of things, but being an expert on Constitutional law isn’t one of them.  So when he makes a comment about what the Constitution protects and doesn’t protect, at best you have to take it with a grain of salt, at worst there’s a good chance that he’s dead wrong.  In the case of what he said about the 2nd Amendment, it’s not so much that he’s right or wrong; it’s more that he’s just mouthing what he’s been told to say by whichever friendly NRA lobbyist told him to say it.  And in this respect he’s saying what he and his colleagues have been saying ever since the NRA decided to use the ‘guns don’t kill people’ slogan as an unofficial tag-line on bumper stickers and other promotions, even though the phrase has been floating around popular culture since nobody knows when.

I happen to be writing a book on the 2nd Amendment at the moment, so I have read Scalia’s majority opinion more times than I can count.  But in light of Boehner’s comment, I went back to the text once again, just to make sure that I hadn’t missed something or misunderstood what Scalia actually said.  Because the fact that the SCOTUS decided that guns are “protected” doesn’t explain exactly what the 2nd Amendment actually protects, and for that explanation we have to go back and refer to the 2008 Heller decision again. And here’s exactly what it says: “In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.”

Now it turns out that in 2013, the last year for which we have complete data according to the FBI, 281 Americans were justifiably killed by other Americans, of whom 223 were killed with guns.  Most of these killings occurred during the commission of another crime, usually but not always an assault. Which is exactly what the 2nd Amendment protects, namely, the justifiable use of a gun for self-defense. Now if someone would like to explain to me how the Constitution protects the 11,000 murders, 20,000 suicides and the 60,000 assaults that occur each year with guns, I’m all ears.

In 1980, only 11% of all motorists wore seatbelts, but by 2000 mandatory seatbelt laws probably saved upwards of 10,000 lives every year.  This remarkable change in driving habits and safety laws occurred because of safety research conducted by the CDC.  Did you ever hear the AAA say that “cars don’t kill people, people kill people?” Nobody would ever say something so stupid or dumb.  But John Boehner gets away with it every time he and his colleagues cave in to pressure from the NRA and vote to defund CDC research on guns.  Of course we all know that gun research is just a smokescreen for taking away all our guns.  Ever notice how CDC research got rid of all those cars?



Sorry, But The NRA’s Notion Of Gun Safety Just Doesn’t Work.

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One of the big changes in the gun debate is the degree to which advocacy organizations like Moms Demand Action and Brady have started moving into the safety space.  Shannon et les filles have launched a program called Be Smart, Brady wants to cut gun deaths in half by 2025 with their ASK campaign, suddenly a field that the NRA and the NSSF had all to themselves has attracted a new and vigorous group of gun safety campaigners who have the money and the experience to make their views count.

But if Moms and Brady are going to level the safety playing field, I think they need to really understand what the current gun safety problem is all about.  Because both groups seem to be looking at gun safety in a way not much different from how gun safety has been defined and taught by the NRA, and I happen to think that the NRA  approach ducks the biggest safety problem of all.

safety                Shannon’s program asks parents to try and keep their guns secure, keep the guns out of the hands of vulnerable people like those suffering from depression, keep the guns locked up or locked away at all times.  Brady focuses on one issue, also promoted by Moms, that parents should always ask other parents whether there is an unlocked gun where the kids are going to play. The NRA would never endorse the idea of parents communicating with other parents about guns ownership, but locking guns up or locking them away, what the NRA calls storing guns “so they are not accessible to untrained or unauthorized persons” is a standard M.O. announced in every NRA course.

Keeping guns secure in the home, making sure that kids can’t access guns under any circumstances is all well and good, and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that Shannon’s gals and the Brady Campaign are now engaged in safety programs as an aspect of their involvement in the gun debate.  But all that notwithstanding, I still don’t believe that ‘lock ‘em up, lock ‘em away’ is either sufficient or necessary for responding to the safety risk posed by guns.  Because as long as the gun industry and its supporters continue to promote gun ownership primarily as a means of self-defense, by definition you can’t defend yourself with a gun if it’s locked up or locked away.

The problem becomes even more vexing because the 2008 Heller decision, which proclaimed a constitutional right to private ownership of guns, was based on what Scalia called, the “tradition” of keeping a handgun in the home for self-defense.  In fact, the Court’s Number One Gun Nut invented this so-called tradition out of whole cloth, unless he really believes that a cynical marketing ploy to compensate for the decline in hunting after the 1980s constitutes some kind of traditional belief.  Be that as it may, if you’re going to walk around in the daytime with a concealed weapon and then leave it out on the end-table when you go to sleep at night, you can’t lock it up or lock it away.

And this is where I think Shannon’s ladies and the Brady folks need a message that more clearly distinguishes their notion of safety from the nonsense being peddled by the NRA.  And why do I call the NRA safety message nonsense?  Here’s a quote from the 2011 edition of Home Firearm Safety, a book the NRA has been selling for twenty-five years: “A gun stored primarily for personal protection must be ready for immediate use.  As a general rule, a gun stored for any purpose other than personal protection should never be loaded in the home.”  My italics and thanks a lot.

One week after Sandy Hook, Wayne-o belligerently reminded America that a bad guy with a gun could only be stopped by a good guy with a gun. Which means we need a lot of good guys walking around and lying down to sleep with their loaded, unlocked guns.  Sorry, but that doesn’t sound all that safe to me.

Want To Learn Nothing About Public health And Guns? Listen To The DRGO.

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There are a couple of loud-mouth fools out there masquerading as physicians who run something called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO).  Actually, what they run is a website that is sponsored by the 2nd Amendment Foundation, and these characters have been pandering to the NRA and the gun-nut audience since medical research on guns became verboten thanks to defunding of the CDC.

Their latest screed is an all-out attack on the decision by the major medical societies, along with the American Bar Association, to take a more aggressive stance on gun violence, something which has been defined as a public health issue since 1981.  And by the way, in case you’ve forgotten, the President that year happened to be a fairly-conservative guy named Reagan, not some gun-grabbing liberal like Clinton or you-know-who.

Gun violence was and is considered a public health issue for one simple reason, namely, that shootings result in the deaths and injuries of more than 100,000 human beings each year.  And it doesn’t matter whether these human beings are mostly old, White men living in small towns who impulsively stick a gun in their mouths and pull the trigger, or young, minority males who just as impulsively settle arguments with guns rather than their fists, the bottom line is that much of this damage wouldn’t occur if it wasn’t so easy to get one’s hands on a gun.

emt                I wouldn’t have any argument with the DRGO gang except for the fact that what they claim to be the mission and method of public health is so far removed from the truth.  In fact, not only do they misrepresent public health, they don’t even remotely or accurately convey what the public health community thinks about guns.  Instead, they pretend there’s no difference between the strategies promoted by advocacy groups like Brady or VPC, as opposed to peer-reviewed research conducted by experts in public health.

The fact is that gun-safety advocacy relies on public health research for many of the arguments that they promote in the public domain, but advocacy still drives public opinion, evidence-based or not.  The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “We are all entitled to our own opinions, but we’re not entitled to our own facts.”  Public health research on any issue is an exercise in fact-building, how those facts are then used or not used by advocacy doesn’t invalidate the research itself. On the other hand, the pro-gun community not only eschews reliance on evidence-based research in forming and promoting their point of view, they often distort or wholly lie about the little bit of research which they claim proves what they say to be true.

And the most flagrant example of such lying is found in the attack on public health by DRGO.  Here’s the DRGO verdict on public health and guns: “Today the phrase ‘public health perspective’ as applied to gun violence only takes into account the harmful results of gunfire. It ignores the variety of reasons guns are valued. Most significantly, it ignores people using guns defensively at least 760,000 times per year (90% of the time not even needing to fire them) and the disincentive for criminality that promotes.”

Even if it were true that guns prevent 760,000 crimes each year, the idea that this transforms the 100,000 gun deaths and injuries each year into something other than a public health issue is absurd, and no physician who takes medicine seriously would advance such a stupid state of affairs.  But worse, the 760,000 figure wasn’t derived from any research at all; it was “estimated” by Gary Kleck in a Politico piece attacking critics of his research not because of what they said, but because their criticism was ‘proof’ they are part of the gun-grabbing cabal.

I’m going to send a note to DRGO that I’m willing to debate them any time, any place, on the issue of public health and guns.  They won’t agree to such a debate because they’re all about denying gun risk, not about truth.  Whatever happened to the Hippocratic Oath?




Now That Gay Marriage Is The Law, Shouldn’t The Same Reasoning Apply To Folks Who Want To Carry A Gun?

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In response to one of the most important social issues ever decided by the Supreme Court, the pro-gun community has begun an all-out campaign to get themselves next in line to benefit from the idea that no state law can restrict what is a Constitutional right.  In the case of gay marriage, the right in question was equality as defined by the 14th Amendment; in the case of guns it’s the 2nd Amendment right to ‘bear arms.’  And what the pro-gun gang claims is that the right to bear arms also includes the right to carry a concealed (or open) weapon outside the home; hence, the SCOTUS should affirm the constitutionality of concealed-carry  reciprocity that would make CCW legal in every state.

The idea of national concealed-carry has been kicking around Congress ever since then-Senator Larry Craig took himself out of a men’s toilet in 1997 and introduced a national CCW bill.  Every year the NRA finds another Congressional flunky to re-introduce this measure, and every year it gets closer to a vote.  There was some vague talk this year that the bill might actually clear the Senate, but as long as you-know-who is the tenant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s nothing more than loose talk.  Of course if Donald Trump became the 45th President…. Did I actually say that?

lapierre                Anyway, ever since the SCOTUS declared private gun ownership to be a protected Constitutional right, the pro-gun folks have been banging away at the issue of national concealed-carry, and to a certain degree, they appear to have public opinion on their side.  Gallup has been asking Americans whether they would back a ban on handguns since 1959, and that year 64% believed that handguns should be banned, this year 73% believe that handgun ownership is okay. According to Pew, for the first time a majority of Americans also believe that guns make us safer from crime and represent less, rather than more of a risk.

Even though there still appears to be overwhelming support for such things as universal background checks, the findings by Gallup and Pew don’t give much comfort to folks who advocate less access to guns, in particular access that would allow any law-abiding individual to stick a gun in his or her pocket and stroll down the street.  I don’t care how many pro-gun zealots gang up on me about this one, but there is simply no credible evidence that keeping a gun in the home or in your waistband for self-defense makes you or anyone else safer from crime. And in case you’re still not sure what I mean by the previous sentence,  it means no as in nothing at all.  The NRA and its legions of media supporters can riff from today to next year about how good guys with guns protect us from bad guys with guns, but I’m sorry, what they are saying simply isn’t true.

The problem for those who want more common-sense gun policies is that those damn public opinion polls all seem to be going the other way.  And like it or not, judicial decisions tend to follow and reflect social norms.  It’s not surprising that the Court ruled in favor of gay marriage given that support for same-sex unions has more than doubled over the last twenty years.  Which means that if public opinion keeps moving in favor of more, rather than less ‘gun rights,’ perhaps the NRA and the national CCW-movement will finally get what it wants.

But I’m not so sure that this will be the case.  In fact, polling on issues related to guns shows a much different pattern than polling over civil rights.  In the latter case, more Americans have steadily and consistently favored equality when it comes to gender and race.  As to the former, the poll numbers tend to go up and down.  The NRA can proclaim that it’s America’s oldest civil rights organization, but I didn’t notice Wayne-o applauding when Obergefell v. Hodges was announced.

An Open Letter To Professor Alex Gourevitch: Guns Are One Thing, Racism Is Another.

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You recently published a long and detailed commentary on gun control and racism which I have read with interest and care.  Your basic point seems to be that the usual response to mass killings, as reflected in President Obama’s first remarks about Charleston, is to call for stricter gun control laws which you believe will have the ultimate effect of increasing the racism of our criminal justice system while having no real impact on controlling gun violence, particularly mass gun violence.  You assert that there are already too many arrests of minorities, too many racially-motivated defendant pleadings and too many incarcerations, all of which would simply increase if we institute more criminal laws to control gun violence in response to events like the slaughter at the Emanuel AME Church.

roof               You also bring to the discussion some comments about research by scholars like Levin, Fagan and others concerning stop-and-frisk policing methods employed by the NYPD whose value in allegedly bringing down gun crimes has been evaluated in both positive and negative terms. Some of this research argues that stop-and-frisk was entirely based on racist assumptions about who might have been walking around with illegal guns, and that this strategy, useful or not, was yet another example of an extra-legal effort to combat gun violence that served only to engender racism between the police and the community whom they are sworn to protect.

I’d like to respond to the second issue first.  It’s true that New York City experienced an unprecedented drop in gun violence first under Rudy and then continuing with Mayor Mike.  And much of this decline is tied to stop-and-frisk policing tactics which is obviously tied to racial profiling which is tied to racism, etc.  But you have to be careful about perhaps pushing this argument too far.  The decline in violent crime and gun crime in particular since the mid-1990s (although the decline largely flattened out after 2000) occurred in virtually every metropolitan center whether a change in policing and police tactics took place or not.  In fact, an entire cottage industry has grown up around figuring out why America and other OECD countries appear to be less violent over the last twenty years. I am not sure that any of the multiple crime-decline theories explain the issue pari passu, but inconvenient or not,  scholars have yet to settle on a single, determining factor when it comes to explaining criminal behavior with guns.

Now let’s move to your central argument, namely, that from the perspective of the inner-city community, more gun control means more criminal laws and, hence, more racism in the legal and penal systems that minority populations disproportionately endure.  Nobody would or should argue that the penal process delivers equal justice to minorities and the poor.  And with all due respect, we really didn’t need Dylann Roof to walk into Emanuel AME Church with a Glock 21 to remind us that racism is still alive and well.  But where I think your argument falters is the assumption that because the President calls for more gun control, there will be more criminal laws that will result in more minorities getting arrested, going up before a judge on some trumped-up charge and then going off to jail.

What is really happening is that laws making it easier for anyone to gain access to a gun, or carrying a gun on their person, or bringing that gun into what was formerly a gun-free zone have increased exponentially, while laws that restrict gun access or restrict ‘gun rights’ are the exception, not the rule.  One year after Sandy Hook, 70 new laws had been passed easing gun restrictions, while only 39 more restrictive measures had been signed into law, half of which concerned updating mental health records, a strategy with minimal impact on controlling the violent use of guns.

We need to defeat racism and we also need to defeat violence caused by guns. But each issue deserves to be challenged on its own terms.


Gay Marriage Didn’t Happen Overnight And Neither Will Sensible Laws Dealing With Guns.


The day after the SCOTUS announced Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalizes same-sex marriage in all 50 states, Shannon Watts will speak at the national PTA convention in Charlotte, NC.  And if you don’t think these two events aren’t connected in a way that tells us a lot about the future of guns and gun violence, then think again.

The linkage happens to do with the fact that opposition to gay marriage and support of the 2nd Amendment usually go hand in hand.  For that matter, support of gay marriage and opposition to the 2nd Amendment also link together in most public-opinion polling and fundraising efforts that accompany political campaigns.  With a few exceptions, political liberals never bother to use a mailing list from the NRA; political conservatives wouldn’t get caught dead sending out appeals via any of the pro-gay groups.

gay                Don’t get me wrong; I’m not expecting the gay culture or the gun culture to change overnight.  And the response of the various Republican presidential candidates to yesterday’s decision made it clear that law of the land or no law of the land, conservative audiences will continue to be provoked by opposition to gay rights. But when Shannon gets up in front of the national PTAs, she’s going to say what she always says, that the battle against gun violence won’t be won overnight.  And her precedent in this respect will be the fact that less than twenty years ago, coming out of the closet as a gay was still big news.  I’m not saying it will take another 20 years for Congress to pass some sensible gun-control legislation or for the NRA to get real about gun safety and stop peddling the nonsense about how armed citizens protect us from crime.  What I am saying is that you can’t jump into the gun debate and assume that things will change overnight.

Actually, the PTA organization first began talking about guns back in 1999, which was almost a decade after then-Senator Joe Biden introduced the Gun-Free School Zones Act that was signed into law by then-President George H. W Bush.  The law has gone through numerous iterations since then, but it basically imposes requirements on every school district which receives federal aid to set up and monitor a program to keep schools as gun-free zones.  And despite the stupid notion that gun-free zones are less safe, legal efforts to allow teachers and students to bring guns even onto college campuses haven’t gotten all that far. Currently the PTA position on guns goes far beyond whether they should be allowed in schools. Among other things, it calls for restrictions on internet gun sales, waiting periods, safety locks to prevent juveniles from accidentally discharging guns – Shannon should feel right at home.

But the real importance of her appearance at the PTA convention is not so much the fact that what the Moms and Everytown organizations promote in terms of guns and gun safety aligns with the PTA position on guns which nobody’s going to read anyway. What’s really important is that she’s at the meeting, talking to Moms, Dads, teachers, school administrators and others about guns.  What I have always liked about Shannon and the gals is that they get out there to meet and talk to Mr. and Mrs. Average American who, thanks to yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling, will increasingly be the same sex, even if they are man and wife.

Back in April, the Moms held a rally at the NRA meeting in Nashville, and the pro-gun noisemakers like Breitbart immediately assured their followers that the rally was of no consequence because only a few hundred people were outside the convention hall.  I’ve been going to NRA meetings since 1980, and this was the first time that anyone other than some crazy guy with a ‘Jesus Saves’ poster ever walked outside at all.  Want to talk to average Americans about guns?  I don’t notice Wayne-o talking to the PTA.

Another Well-MeaningPublic Servant Tries To End Gun Violence And Gets It Wrong.

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Every time there’s a particularly-nasty shooting, one that makes the national as opposed to just the local news, you can count on our elected officials, or at least a couple of our elected officials, to respond by filing yet another new bill that will do this or do that in response to the simple problem that there are people out there who shouldn’t be able to get their hands on guns.

      Cong. Don Beyer

Cong. Don Beyer

A case in point?  A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives yesterday by Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) called the Keeping Guns From Criminals Act, which would make it a felony for anyone to sell a gun to a buyer who could not pass a NICS check.  Under current Federal law, someone who buys a gun knowing he will then give it or re-sell it to someone else can be charged with lying on the 4473 form that is used to conduct the NICS check, but conducting a private transaction without NICS is legal in most states.  And if the person who buys the gun turns out to be a felon, or a nut, or someone else who shouldn’t have a gun, as long as the transaction occurred in a state that doesn’t require NICS checks for private sales, the seller hasn’t done anything wrong at all.

So Beyer’s bill would de facto extend NICS checks to private transactions, even though a seller could still decide that he wasn’t interested in conducting a NICS check with the particular purchaser of his gun.  The press release accompanying Beyer’s bill makes the point of noting that most FFL-dealers will perform a NICS check for a “nominal fee” of $30, and that there are “nearly 130,000 FFLs nationwide” so there’s little cost or inconvenience in running a background check before selling a gun.

I only wish there were 130,000 FFL-holders who could conduct a NICS check.  Because if there were, I could have a lot more fun driving around this weekend and going into all those gun shops looking for that one gun which I just have to have.  In fact, although Congressman Beyer claims to have gotten his FFL information from the ATF, which regulates all federal firearms licenses, not surprisingly what the ATF told him isn’t true. After all, why should the federal agency that regulates firearms transactions know what it’s talking about?

4473new3In fact, as of May 10, 2015, there were 140,313 active federal firearms licenses, but only 55,873 are 01 dealer licenses, which happen to be the only FFL-holders who can run NICS checks.  Ooops, I forgot;  there are also 8,153 federally-licensed pawnbrokers, and they can also run NICS checks.  In the interest of full disclosure, it should also be noted that many of those 01 license-holders don’t actually engage in any kind of retail sales – they use the FFL to purchase guns for themselves and they’re not interested in running NICS background checks for anyone else.

You would think that a Member of Congress intent on curbing gun violence by asking gun owners to conduct NICS checks on private transactions would at least get his facts straight about what a gun owner would be facing in order to comply with this law.  You would also think that the ATF, which would love to see an increase in NICS activity because it would give the agency more work and hence, more of a reason to justify its own existence, would give a Member of Congress valid information in order to help him craft a realistic bill.  The result of Beyer’s honest and heartfelt response to Charleston will be one thing and one thing only; namely, that the NRA will send something out to its membership warning them of another knee-jerk, insidious effort to grab all their guns.  And in this case are they wrong?

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