Gun Nuts Discover The Trace And Guess Who Wins?

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It took about three weeks for The Trace to earn its first rave review from the gun-nut community in the form of a rant delivered by Larry Keane, a Senior Vice President at the NSSF.  And it only took Larry less than two sentences to deliver what is always the first and foremost reason why something, anything is a threat to all those nice folks who own guns, namely, the word Bloomberg which works every time.  Come to think of it, I can’t recall any statement by the NSSF over the last several years about alleged threats to gun ownership that hasn’t mentioned the word Bloomberg, unless the statement substituted the word Obama for Bloomberg, although many NSSF rants about threats to gun ownership usually mention both.

Since this online newspaper got some start-up dough from Bloomberg, there’s no question that you can’t trust anything it says.  And gun owners, according to Keane, are wise to the nefarious ways of Bloomberg because they know just how biased and anti-gun he is.  The proof that the pro-gun community is savvy to the Bloomberg anti-gun strategy is the fact that The Trace “has readers outraged over one-sided reporting on issues and reckless disregard for facts.” Which is an interesting statement coming from Keane since nowhere on the Trace website do we find any statement from readers at all.

trace                I guess what Keane is referring to is The Trace Facebook page which, like all Facebook pages, does allow visitors to make statements about content that is posted on the site.  So in the interests of fairness, I thought I would test the NSSF’s claim about the degree to which readers are “outraged” by all this one-sided, anti-gun reportage spewed forth by the Bloomberg cabal on this new site.  I chose as my test of Keane’s assertion a link back to a story about the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s plan to melt down 3,400 guns seized over the past year, a Facebook posting which in the following 15 hours received almost 80 comments from viewers of the page.

Before I share the results of my little survey, I should say that there aren’t many things that piss off gun-nuts more than the destruction of guns.  After all, we know that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  So why get rid of the guns?  I’ll tell you why: because the Los Angeles County Sheriff is caving into pressure from gun-grabbers like Bloomberg who want to get rid of all the guns.  And what better way to get rid of guns than to melt them down? That being the case, if readers are truly “outraged” by the anti-gun bias of The Trace, we should certainly find this outrage expressed in the comments posted on their Facebook page.

So I read all the comments about the gun meltdown and if this story provoked reader “outrage,” all I can say is that I’d love to see my weekly Huffington column generate such an outrageous response.  Here’s an example of the kind of outraged reader comments posted on the site, beginning with the initial comment to which five other readers then made a response:

Comment:  The Los Angeles police department should sell those guns and distribute the proceeds to various crime diversion programs. …

Response #1: You honestly believe that is the solution

Response #2:  NO ! Read the article , the whole idea is to destroy the guns SO THAT they cannot be used against innocent people ever again !!

Response #3: The point is to get guns off the street DA

Response #4: My point exactly.

Response #5: So, selling guns to people who can pass background checks automatically means these guns will be used against innocent people? Basically, gun owners that can pass background checks are “guilty until proven innocent”.


Some outrage, right?  And what I have reproduced above is fairly typical of the comments attached to every story posted by The Trace.  The NSSF won’t ever admit that a gun story can be published which would generate thoughtful, intelligent and respectful comments from both sides, because they don’t want the gun debate to be based on informed opinion or facts.  Which is exactly what makes The Trace such a threat to gun-nut promoters like Larry Keane.





Want To Take On The NRA? Make Sure You Know The Facts.

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I bought my first real gun when I was twelve years old, have maybe owned 300 to 400 guns since.  Don’t ask me why I’m a gun nut, I just am.  Now a report has been issued which, for the first time, attempts to quantify the size of the gun nut population, or what is called social gun culture.  And based on a ‘nationally representative’ survey of 4,000 respondents, the number of gun nuts is roughly 14 million, which is based on what the survey believes to be 13.7% of the 100 million Americans who own guns.

Wowee – Kazowee!! Can there really be 14 million other gun nuts like me?  If this were true, I’d have lots more gun shows to visit every weekend, lots more gun shops with guns I just have to own.  The problem, however, is that I don’t think these numbers are true because I’m not persuaded that the survey questions which elicited the data are the questions that should have been asked.

gun nuts              To begin, the survey reports that 29.1% of the respondents answered ‘yes’ to one of six questions used as indicators to capture the number of people who own guns.  One of the questions asked whether the respondent had attended a gun safety course; another asked whether the respondent advocated gun safety.  I happen to live in the only state (MA) that requires a safety course prior to the purchase of any kind of gun, a majority of states require no course at all, so the response to this question from a ‘nationally representative’ sample is meaningless at best.  As for advocating responsible gun ownership, 606 answered ‘yes’ and 3,394 answered ‘no.’  Since 1,200 respondents are presumed to own guns, does this mean that at least half of all gun owners would say they were against responsible ownership of guns?  Give me a break.

As to the overall number of gun owners and, by extrapolation, the number of those owners who are gun nuts, again I don’t get the warm and fuzzies from the manner in which the research team analyzed the results.  Again, the survey was based on a ‘nationally representative’ sample, so I have to assume that every respondent lived at a different address. Which means that the 29.1% who were identified in the survey as gun owners was really a count of households which contained guns, and not a count of individual gun owners themselves.  If the survey counted gun-owning households, then the 29.1% figure would be similar to what other polls have recently found.  And if 14% of these households contained one gun nut, then we are down to around 4 million of us gun nuts, which happens to be the official membership figure claimed by the NRA. And yes, I’m a Life Member of the NRA.

Don’t get me wrong.  My criticisms of the report should not be taken as a lack of respect for the work and diligence of the research team which conducted the survey and analyzed its results.  My concern, rather, is the degree to which the attempt to define gun culture and the behavior of gun owners may not reflect a clear understanding of what guns mean to the people who own guns, use guns and define themselves in terms of guns.

Want to figure out who likes guns?  Ask how often someone has been in a gun shop over the past six months.  Because people who make multiple trips to a gun shop really enjoy their guns.  Dropping “the wife” off at Wal Mart and spending a half hour playing with guns is a much better indicator of gun culture than whether someone bases their opinion about someone else because the latter person does or doesn’t own guns.

If understanding gun culture, in the words of the report, is important for developing “prudent” gun policies, then you’re stepping on the NRA’s turf in a very big and direct way.  So you better make sure that your information is fundamentally correct.  In this respect, the new report falls a bit short.


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.


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