Can Bloomberg Win A Big One In Washington State?

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Everyone on both sides of the gun debate will be watching the vote in Washington State on I-594, which would expand background checks to nearly all private transfers of guns.  Like most states, Washington does not require a background check for transfers between individuals, only transfers conducted by federally-licensed dealers tied into the FBI-NICS system.  The issue has become an early test of the strength of Mike Bloomberg’s recently-announced strategy to promote gun-control initiatives at the state, rather than the federal level.  Hence, media interest has been intense.

As part of the pre-election game plan, Bloomberg’s group Everytown just rolled out a new report, “Online and Off the Record,” which documents the ability of disqualified individuals to circumvent background checks by purchasing guns listed for private sale on websites like www.armslist.com.  Armslist is kind of like a Craigslist for gun sales (Craigslist doesn’t permit sales of firearms) and its ads distinguish between sellers who are licensed dealers as opposed to private individuals just wanting to get rid of some guns.  Since private transfers in Washington State do not require approval from the NICS system, this means that any gun sold privately on this and other website might potentially wind up in the wrong hands.

bloom                The report argues that as many as 4,500 guns are purchased each year by individuals who would not be able to acquire a weapon if they had to submit to a background check.  The report then details an example in which an individual convicted of multiple felonies, including domestic violence assault and assault and battery of a police officer, posted a message on Armslist stating that he wanted to buy a certain kind of gun.  Although it was not possible to determine whether this particular person proceeded to acquire a weapon, there was nothing that would have necessarily prevented him from making contact with a seller and getting his hands on a gun.

This is hardly the first time that Bloomberg’s folks have issued a report showing the connection between gun violence and unregulated gun transfers.  In 2010 the Mayor’s Group issued “Trace The Guns” which showed the alarming number of guns originally purchased in southern states that ended up in northern cities like New York.  This report not only focused attention on the interstate movement of unregulated guns, but also heightened concerns about “straw sales” in which a qualified buyer would purchase guns from a dealer, pass a background check but then give or sell the guns to someone else.  To the extent that I-594 in Washington embodies legal constraints on private gun transactions of all kinds, this effort could become something of a template for extending state-level gun controls into other states as well.

Ironically, the vote is not only a test of Bloomberg’s strategy, but also puts him up against one of the gun lobby’s chief supporters, Alan Gottlieb, whose 2nd Amendment Foundation is headquartered in Bellevue, WA from where he organizes and directs mail-order campaigns, lawsuits and other activities to spread the gospel of the gun.  To counter I-594, Gottlieb filed his own ballot initiative, I-591, which prohibits any expansion of background checks in Washington unless a national expansion takes place which the state would be required to join.

I don’t necessarily see a connection between what gun-control activists really hope to achieve and the expansion of background checks to cover all private transactions of guns.  Why bother expanding background checks to rifles and shotguns when they are rarely used in acts of violence or other types of crimes?  Know what you get by requiring long gun transfers through NICS?  A bunch of pissed-off rifle and shotgun owners who might otherwise support background checks where it really counts; i.e., keeping handguns out of the wrong hands.

 

Want To Protect America? Join The Militia Or The Boy Scouts.

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Back in 2002 Michael Moore made a documentary, Bowling for Columbine, which vaulted him to the forefront of American filmmakers and reignited the argument about guns that followed the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, which was what the film was all about.  At one point Moore is talking to members of the Michigan Militia, several of whom respond to his tongue-in-cheek questions by explaining that the Militia had been formed to provide the first line of defense against terrorism, crime, tyranny and other threats.  As one of the members put it, “there’s no greater responsibility for every citizen than to protect his family and his home.”

I was thinking about Moore’s movie as I read a recent report issued in July by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) about the April stand-off between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management and how this event has sparked a ”boiling” of far-Right, anti-government sentiment that has been growing over the course of the Obama Administration and came to a head in the dispute at the Bundy Ranch.  As far as I can tell, there’s still a bunch of flag-waving, AR-toting dudes “protecting” Bundy from the Feds, even though his ill-timed racist remarks resulted in a quick evaporation of support on the part of various conservative politicians and, in particular, Sean Hannity and Fox news.

yellow-militia-logo-sm                But according to the SPLC, even without mainstream media and political support, the Bundy incident has given militia groups a new cause around which they can build a greater anti-government movement and enlist new members in their long-term battle against the New World Order, gun-grabbing liberals, Socialists and Presidents who weren’t born in the United States.  The movement had its roots in the late 60’s and early 70’s with something called the Posse Comitatus, whose racist and anti-Semitic message bore a likeness to the rhetoric and program of the Ku Klux Klan.

Many of these militia groups operate in covert fashion, if only because when the Feds do get serious and bring in the heavy artillery, the militants, like Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, end up on the short end of the stick. But after Michael Moore put his camera on the Michigan Militia, these hardy men and women decided they might as well use their new-found Hollywood status to promote their cause.  So I checked out their website which was set up in 2004 after “much discussion and field experimentation” because to join you have to prove that you meet the “readiness requirements.” And what are these requirements?  You have to show up with a rifle, at least 100 rounds of ammunition, a water bottle, suitable clothing (preferably camo depending on the “tactical situation”), then walk two miles in no longer than 48 minutes with all this gear in tow.

If strolling two miles in slightly more than three-quarters of an hour constitutes a test of physical fitness to defend America against its enemies, we better not count on this bunch to do much more than talk about protecting us from dangers real or anything else.  But in reading the Militia’s Readiness Manual it struck me that as a kid I belonged to something akin to this Militia group; namely the Boy Scouts, whose original Federal Charter, drawn up and signed by President Wilson in 1916, defined the Scouts as an organization that practiced, “patriotism, courage and self-reliance,” words literally echoed by the militiamen interviewed by Michael Moore.

Don’t get me wrong.  Of course there are people who are seriously deranged, prone to believe in all kinds of crazy conspiracies, and in this country they don’t have much trouble getting their hands on a gun.  But with all due respect to the SPLC and other groups who see an insurrectionist under every bed, boys will be boys, toys will be toys and yes, my Boy Scout troop practiced shooting our government-surplus 22s and shooting those guns was just a lot of fun.

 

Does The 2nd Amendment Allow Me To Carry A Gun Anywhere I Go? Not Yet But Maybe.

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Last year a young woman named Shaneen Allen purchased a handgun in Pennsylvania, where she lived, put the gun into her handbag, got into her car and drove over the Delaware River into New Jersey where she was pulled over in a routine traffic stop by a Jersey cop.  One thing led to another, Ms. Allen admitted that she was carrying a handgun for which she had no legal permission to bring into New Jersey and worse, the gun was loaded with hollow-tip ammo which can’t be used by anyone in New Jersey, CCW-holder or not.  Her case goes to trial later this year and, in the meantime, has become a cause celebre for the pro-gun community, who see in this incident the quintessential conflict between the armed citizen exercising her Second Amendment rights, and a capricious, arbitrary and anti-gun government trying to punish people who simply want to exercise their constitutional rights.

Wait a minute, you say.  I thought the 2nd Amendment, as defined by the SCOTUS in the Heller and McDonald cases, allowed citizens to keep a loaded, unlocked gun in their homes for purposes of self-defense.  Ms. Allen wasn’t in her home; she was driving in her car and she wasn’t anywhere near her home.  In fact, she wasn’t even in her home state and everyone knows that the laws governing gun ownership and use are set by the state in which you live.  Don’t believe me?  Let’s consult the experts: “Many states and localities have laws governing the transportation of firearms. Travelers must be aware of these laws and comply with legal requirements in each jurisdiction.”  And who says this?  The NRA, that’s who says it.

lapierre                Don’t get me wrong.  Wasn’t it Charles Dickens who said “the law is an ass” in Oliver Twist?  Giving Ms. Allen anything more than a slight wrist-slap because she “broke” a law wouldn’t do anything to stop the endless flow of illegal guns between Philadelphia and New Jersey, a situation that has reached epidemic proportions in Camden and other South Jersey towns.  But the legal problems created by Ms. Allen wouldn’t exist at all if we simply ignored what the SCOTUS said in Heller-McDonald and pretended that the 2nd Amendment said something that it really doesn’t say.

The reason that the NRA and other pro-gun groups have been venting their collective spleens at the treatment of Ms. Allen is because what they really want is to extend the 2nd Amendment to cover concealed-carry outside the home, whether the SCOTUS or any other court agrees with them or not.  Right now there are five different legal cases covering aspects of CCW that have reached the Circuit level but so far the SCOTUS hasn’t revealed whether it will hear any of these cases or not. Incidentally, the score is running 3-2 against the notion that the 2nd Amendment guarantees a law-abiding citizen the right to carry a gun outside the home.  And if one of these cases were ever to be put on the SCOTUS docket, and were the SCOTUS to reaffirm its Heller-McDonald rulings that legal guns have to remain within the home, this would create a pretty large dent in the side of the CCW express that the NRA has been running down the tracks over the last twenty years.

But there’s another way the NRA can skin the CCW cat without risking a losing legal fight, and it looks like Wayne LaPierre and his friends are just hoping that a Republican congressional majority in 2015 will deliver the goods.  I am referring to the scheme, first proposed in 1997 by then-Senator Larry (“bathroom boy”) Craig, to nationalize CCW by passing a federal law that would make a concealed-carry permit issued by any state valid from sea to shining sea.  The proposed legislation is routinely introduced and just as routinely defeated every year, but it’s high on the NRA wish-list this time around, and whether she likes it or not, Shaneen Allen’s become the NRA’s poster-child to try and get it done.   Just imagine the joy in Fairfax, VA, if a CCW license would be treated no differently than a driver’s license in all 50 states.  Just imagine…

Is Gun Violence Committed By Bad Guys? I’m Not Sure

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Will more gun control reduce gun violence? This may sound like a stupid question but I feel compelled to ask after reading a very good article about Shannon Watts and Everytown in the current issue of Mother Jones.  Entitled, “Mothers in Arms,” Mark Follman perceptively explains why the Moms constitute a threat to the hegemony of the NRA, given the extent to which the Everytown message resonates both with gun and non-gun owners who together may be looking for an alternative to the stridency and combativeness of Wayne LaPierre and his friends.

So let’s play a little parlor game and assume that Shannon is able to muscle aside the NRA and actually get some “meaningful” gun control laws passed, like expanded background checks, tightened licensing procedures, “safe” guns and so forth.  In other words, making it more difficult for the ‘bad guys’ to get their hands on guns.

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There’s only one little problem.  How do we know that gun violence is committed by people who shouldn’t be able to get their hands on guns?  After all, we agree that the 2nd Amendment allows law-abiding Americans to own guns. We also agree, more or less, on the legal definition of ‘law-abiding.’  That being the case, how do we know that most of those 31,000 deaths and 60,000-70,000 injuries attributed to guns each year are committed by people who don’t meet the legal requirements for owning or possessing a gun?

We don’t have any data on how many of the 20,000 people kill themselves with guns actually have the legal right to own the gun in question, but I’m willing to bet that most victims of gun suicides, even teen suicides, used a gun that was either legally owned by themselves or by another family member or close friend.  And don’t delude yourselves into thinking for one second that someone, even a kid who wants to commit suicide can’t break open one of those crummy, ten-dollar gun locks or learn the combination of the family safe.

As for the 11,000 gun homicides, it’s easy just to assume they are all ‘bad guys’ who shouldn’t have been able to get their hands on a gun, but that’s a judgement made after the fact and frankly, distorts the whole question of how and why guns are used to commit capital crimes.  More than three-quarters of all homicides arise out of circumstances that are not necessarily criminal in nature at all.  This includes all kinds of domestic situations, like children killed by babysitters, as well as the run-of-the-mill household arguments, disputes between friends, spousal and non-spousal IPV and the like.  Only 20% of all homicides occur between perpetrators and victims who don’t know each other, whereas in 4 out of 5 cases they involve family members, neighbors, friends, and even an occasional employee and boss.

Not only do homicides involve a familiarity between perpetrator and victim more frequently than any other type of violent crime including rape, but the fact that someone pulls out a gun and shoots someone else doesn’t automatically mean that the perpetrator is a criminal (a ‘bad guy’) whereas the person who gets shot (a ‘good guy’) is simply the victim of a crime.  The most eminent American criminologist, Marvin Wolfgang, once wrote, “In many cases, especially in criminal homicide, the victim is often a major contributor to the criminal act.”  And while aggravated assaults with weapons involve two strangers roughly half the time, there’s no reason to believe that in the other 50% of cases Wolfgang’s admonition to look beyond traditional penal categories wouldn’t hold true as well.

Both pro-gun and anti-gun advocates subscribe to the idea that it’s those ‘bad guys’ who commit violence with guns.  But how many of those bad guys are simply people who use guns stupidly or impulsively but otherwise have every legal right to own a gun?  I’m all in favor of reasonable measures for reducing gun violence, but I hope we understand that the issue can’t just be reduced to good and bad, right and wrong. Things just aren’t that simple.

 

The ‘Show Me’ State Won’t Show Anyone Anything With Its New Gun Law

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Nobody really knows how Missouri got the nickname the “show me state,” but what we do know is that under a new gun law passed last week, Missouri residents will be able to walk around openly showing their guns.  And what we further know is that this law drops the CCW age requirement from 21 to 19 and allows local school districts to grant CCW privileges to teachers whose job will be to protect everyone else in the school from all those bad guys carrying guns.

The intent of this new law obviously is to make Missourians more safe because lowering the CCW age to 19 will qualify more people to walk around armed and letting teachers bring concealed weapons into schools will also protect the children and other teachers when a bad guy with a gun comes into the school.  In other words, the new law supports a favorite theory of the NRA which can be summed up as “more guns equals less guns.”  Oops, what we mean is more guns carried around by the “good guys” means less guns carried around by the “bad guys.”

The last time Missouri made it easier for its citizens to arm themselves was in 2007 when the Legislature abolished a law which required that people wishing to buy handguns first had to go to the police department and get a permit-to-purchase (PTP,) in order to take possession of the gun.  To show you how successful this measure was in helping good-guy Missourians use guns to protect themselves from bad-guy Missourians, the gun homicide rate over the next three years jumped by almost 25%, even though the non-gun homicide rate remained about the same.

pink gun                Of all 50 states, only Louisiana currently has a higher gun homicide rate than Missouri, and while the overall violent crime rate in Missouri has declined by about 20% between 2007 and 2012, the homicide rate has remained remarkably stable and remarkably high, a testament no doubt to the Legislature’s uncanny ability to understand how making it easier for everyone to acquire handguns would lead to a safer and more secure place to live.  Having seen the positive impact of easier handgun access on gun homicide rates, the Legislature in its wisdom now believes that it will move the gospel of ‘good guys with guns protecting us from bad guys with guns’ into the schools.

But what are the facts about the utility of using guns to protect kids (and teachers) in schools?  Actually, the number of homicides that take place in schools each year has shown the same gradual decline over the last twenty years that has characterized violent crime rates in the United States as a whole.  From 1994 to 2013, violent crime dropped roughly 50%, with most of the decline taking place prior to 2004.  As for school homicides, according to a Justice Department study, they have dropped by about the same amount over the period 1992 to 2010, and serious victimizations, including robberies and assaults, have declined by as much as two-thirds.

Most of this decline in school criminality seems to have been the result of increased attention paid to people entering school buildings and increased surveillance within the buildings.  By 2011, nearly 90% of all public schools had some kind of security measures to monitor access and the same percentage reported requiring visitor sign-ins.  On the other hand, less than one-third of all schools had armed security patrolling on a full-time or part-time basis.  And while I don’t have specific numbers on school security in Missouri, I can tell you that the last school shooting in the ‘show me’ state occurred in 1993.

Do you think there was any connection between the passage of the new Missouri gun law and the racial strife in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown?  It’s as good a theory as any about what really motivated legislators to let guns into schools, because there sure isn’t any violence problem in Missouri schools that this law will solve.

Can Technology And Entrepreneurship Solve Gun Violence? Worth A Try

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This week more than 1,000 people have gathered in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco for the annual TedMed conference, which is one of those fast-paced, international meetings bringing together people who want to come together to make deals, make connections, make friendships, make whatever people like to make who get together and then be able to tell everyone who wasn’t there how much they missed by not being there.  Think the Aspen Institute conference, think Davos, think TedMed, get it?

TedMed claims that its meetings explore “the technology, creativity and innovation that contributes to a healthier future,” which is an understated way of saying that if you have a new idea that will make a gezillion dollars in today’s health technology market, you’ll meet plenty of deep pockets belonging to people who want to help you get it out there as long as most of the profits end up belonging to them.  But that’s the way entrepreneurship works and that’s the reason why the TedMed meeting was video-streamed to more than 140 countries worldwide.

tedmed               I normally avoid having anything to do with such meetings because I know that the real action takes place not on the speaker’s platform, but in the hallways and the lounges where the conference delegates meet and greet.  But I had to watch today’s session because one of the main speakers was Daniel Webster, who runs the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.  And if readers of my column find that this name strikes a familiar chord it should, since the School in which the Center is located is endowed by the NRA’s chief antagonist, the former Mayor of New York.

If you’ve read the Center’s publications, you won’t find anything in Webster’s remarks at TedMed that would surprise.  And the prescription for reducing gun violence, which he described artfully and fully to the TedMed audience, can be found in the many published articles of the Center and are summarized in the book, Reducing Gun Violence in America, which the Center released following  the massacre at Sandy Hook.  In sum, Webster and his colleagues believe that gun homicides can be reduced by roughly half of the 11,000 that occur each year, a goal which could be met if gun ownership standards were more higher and more consistent, gun dealers were better regulated, private gun transfers came under NICS, and safe-gun technologies, particularly ballistic prints of ammunition, were implemented by manufacturers prior to retail sales.

As I was listening to Dan Webster’s remarks, however, it occurred to me that perhaps something needed to be considered beyond the strategy for change that he outlined in cogent and hopeful tones.  Because while there’s no question that a majority of Americans, even a majority of gun-owning Americans, support (at least in theory) sensible measures to reduce the carnage from guns, perhaps the audience at the TedMed conference included entrepreneurs and investors who view this issue, like they view all such issues, as a question of market, products, profit and loss.  So why not enlist them in figuring out how to translate some of these policy ideas into profitable ventures – the real American approach to solving problems – which will create financial incentives to help reduce harm from guns?

The smart-gun technology stuff has been kicking around for years, but the Number 1 reason why guns go off when they shouldn’t is because the owner forgot to unload it before he put it away.  We have sensors that tell us if we forget to turn off the lights on our cars.  Would anyone believe that their 2nd Amendment rights were under attack because they were reminded electronically to unload their guns?  Don’t get me wrong – the Hopkins gun violence research team understands the policy imperatives that would bring gun violence way down.  But asking entrepreneurs to advance the goals of those policies through market-based ideas and products certainly wouldn’t be wrong.

All Of A Sudden The NRA Doesn’t Want To Mention Guns

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Two weeks ago, coincidentally on the same day that the unfortunate nine-year old girl accidentally shot and killed a firearms instructor in Arizona, the NRA kicked off a series of Netflix-style video ads that are perhaps the organization’s most disingenuous effort to present itself as something other than what it really is; namely, an organization devoted to ownership and use of guns.  In fact, having watched all 12 one-minute productions, I can tell you that the only way you would know that this is an effort of the NRA is that each commentator ends his or her spiel by telling the viewer that their wholesome and didactic script was produced by the “National Rifle Association of America” with a slight pause and then heavy emphasis on the word ‘America’ even though officially the NRA is still just the NRA, not the NRAA.

panera                This new media blitz by the people who used to bring us messages like “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”  is significant insofar as the word ‘gun’ is never mentioned in any of these videos, not even once.  You would think the NRA had become some kind of touchy-feely civics organization devoted to uplifting our moral virtues rather than a trade association committed to getting everyone in America to own a gun.  And not only are the minute-long lectures all about honesty, and decency, and respect for everyone’s point of view, but only four of the homilies are delivered by White males, who just happen to own most of the guns in America – seven of the commentators are women, one is Asian-American and, of course, there’s always room for Colion Noir, aka NRA’s house Black man.

When I first started watching these videos I thought I was looking at a remake of the Reagan “its morning again in America” campaign ads from 1984.  Those were slickly-produced messages which never showed Reagan, who was beginning to look his age, but instead had a variety of American families proudly standing in front of a farmhouse, a factory gate, a well-manicured suburban lawn, all smiling, all happy, all gently reminding us that if we just remembered to vote Republican that all those things we cherished and loved would never be taken away.

The NRA scripts flow back and forth between a kind of Tea Party lite condemnation about the problems we face – government spying, unlawfulness in high places, fear of crime – and an immediate sense of setting things right with the help of the ‘good guys,’ the real Americans who can be counted on every time to keep us safe, honest, decent and sound.  And who are these good guys?  They are your neighbor with a decal on the back of his truck which reads: N-R-A.

I can’t imagine anyone actually watching one of these messages and coming away having learned anything at all.  But I don’t think that’s the point.  What the NRA is trying to do is cast itself in a softer, more reasonable and, if you’ll pardon the expression, less combative way, because for the first time they are up against an opponent whose money, smarts and media access can sway lots of people to go the opposite way.  And not only does Bloomberg have that kind of dough, for the first time he might be able to energize non-gun owners to stay active and committed to the gun control fray.

This week we have another retail chain, Panera’s, who is walking down the path blazed by Starbucks and Target and asking gun owners to leave their weapons at home.  Like the other chains, Panera’s isn’t posting a gun-free sign on their front doors, but if any of the 2nd-Amendment vigilantes believes that this isn’t a victory for the folks who want more gun control, they better think again.  The fact that Panera’s announcement coupled their concern about guns with their desire to build social “communities” in their stores should tell you why, all of a sudden, the NRA has stopped talking about guns.

 

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