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

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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.

3 Comments

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.

Leave a comment

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?

A New Approach To Gun Violence May Make A Big Difference In How We Talk About Guns.

2 Comments

There’s a new gun in town, pardon the pun, when it comes to news about gun violence.  It’s called The Trace, and it’s a Bloomberg-backed web informational startup that may turn out to be a very important development in the ongoing debate about guns.  It’s not a blog and thank God doesn’t let readers post their comments after each story so what we get is a combination of content from various media outlets plus in-depth reportage from Trace writers themselves.  In other words, it’s a real online newspaper entirely devoted to the question of what to do about guns.

trace                Well, not so much what to do about guns, but what to do about gun violence.  Which is what distinguishes it somewhat from the NRA media outlets which never mention ‘guns’ and ‘violence’ in the same sentence because guns don’t have anything to do with violence at all.  That guns account for 30,000 deaths and 60,000 injuries each year – that’s just a figment of the Bloomberg imagination.  And the number of gun violence incidents that is updated (and undercounted) every day on the front page of The Trace?  A small price to pay for those millions of crimes that are prevented by all those armed citizens patrolling their homes and streets with guns.  Like the way George Zimmerman was patrolling his street, remember?

Anyway, the point is that this new venture not only injects some reality into the gun debate (boy, are the gun nuts going to whack me around about that one) but, as far as I know, it’s the only media outlet whose entire focus is on gun violence and, what gives it real strength, is that the content is not dependent on the usual snip-snip from other online sources, because in addition to links here and there, you can read original stories by experienced journalists like Alex Yablon and Jennifer Mascia, both of whom have covered gun issues for such small-time outfits as New York Magazine and The New York Times.

In an interview, one of the site’s financial backers  stated that the online publication would aim at winning a Pulitzer.  I like that approach for two reasons.  First, it’s refreshing that anyone would set their sights so high, given the schlock that usually passes for information in the gun world. More important, this venture may be able to do what nobody else seems inclined to do when it comes to guns, namely, to reach beyond the ranks of the most committed pro-gun or anti-gun activists and engage the wider audience in the debate about gun violence.  If The Trace becomes known as a source for original, first-class writing, it will attract a readership that, generally speaking, wouldn’t otherwise be interested in anything having to do with guns.  And those are the people who can and should play a much more informed and active role in this state of affairs.

The second reason I like this new effort is that Pulitzer-level reporting not only requires an attention to detail and honesty bolstered by facts, but also demands that the story-line embraces the whole informational spectrum, no matter whose precious ox gets gored.  In this respect, the staff of The Trace may find themselves on occasion having to deliver critical, rather than informational reports on activities carried out by the gun-sense side, but that will only increase their credibility with the non-affiliated audience that the gun debate needs to attract.

I went to my first anti-war demonstration in 1964, but it wasn’t until 1972 that everyone agreed that we were fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And this happened because Frances Fitzgerald published a story, “Fire In The Lake,” in The New Yorker Magazine, which then became a best-selling book.  The book won a Pulitzer and all of a sudden everyone was talking about nothing other than Viet Nam.  It could happen again around the issue of gun violence and it could happen again because someone publishes exactly the right story in The Trace.  Ultimately, words are much more powerful than bullets or guns.

Want To Argue About Gun Violence? Let’s All Follow The Same Rules.

Leave a comment

Yesterday I called for my friends in the gun-sense community to declare a moratorium on debating about guns with pro-gun advocates who really on everything except fact-based evidence in order to support their point of view.  Let me make it clear that I have no issue with anyone who wants to promote or argue in favor of gun ownership, I just want the gun debate to be conducted on a level playing-field.  The pro-gun community has gone out of its way to encourage and support pro-gun arguments that tilt the playing-field in their direction precisely because their arguments are devoid of facts.

The most insidious and intellectually-bankrupt pro-gun argument is based on the notion that guns protect us from crime.  The NRA began peddling this nonsense in the 1990s when they discovered that fear about crime, particularly crime committed by a certain easily-definable population which happened to live in inner cities, was a smart strategy to rebuild the organization’s membership which had declined by more than 12% after it came out that a particularly active NRA member happened to be named Timothy McVeigh.  The anti-crime issue then morphed into a growing anti-government, New Right sentiment whose niche issues – abortion, busing, school prayer – would drive conservative politics from Newt Gingrich to Sarah Palin and beyond. What this meant was that supporting the 2nd Amendment means that you will protect your family, your neighborhood and everything else that we hold near and dear.  In Marketing 101 that gets an A+.

2A                Meanwhile, on the other side, clinical research published in peer-reviewed journals was busily establishing that gun ownership was more of a risk than a benefit in social terms; i.e., owning a gun increased the possibility that someone in the family would use the weapon to shoot themselves or shoot someone else.  And the incidence of deliberate or accidental shootings by gun owners was far greater than the number of times that these same gun owners used a gun to defend themselves or their families against crime.

Don’t get me wrong.  The early research showing guns to be more a risk than a benefit was incomplete; there were numerous research gaps that remained to be filled in, and much of what would have eventually been published and discussed was stymied by the prohibition on CDC-funded gun research rammed through Congress in 1997 and continuing to this day.  Meanwhile, what was the research produced by the pro-gun community to support the notion that guns represented a positive social good?  It took the form of one major effort by the criminologist Gary Kleck who ran some questions past 213 randomly-chosen individuals and, based on their entirely-unsubstantiated responses, announced that guns were used more than 2 million times each year to prevent crimes.

Kleck’s paper appeared in 1994 and was published in a student-run law journal which made absolutely no pretense to being peer-reviewed at all. And from that time until the present, the debate over guns has been based on one side by a continued reliance on scientific, peer-reviewed publications and on the other side by a reliance on political hyperbole, character assassination and access to right-wing web media and Fox News.  Kleck had an opportunity recently to refute two new critics, the editors of the blog Armed With Reason, and his response was in keeping with virtually every pro-gun response to peer-reviewed research, which is that the research isn’t valid because the researchers are anti-2nd Amendment, or what Kleck referred to as the “prohibitionist position” on guns.

Yesterday my column advocated that the gun-sense community declare a moratorium on arguments about whether or not we suffer from gun violence.  I’m going to amend that position somewhat and instead ask my friends who believe gun violence is a threat to sit down and draft some ‘rules of the road’ for debating the other side.  What’s important is holding the debate on a level playing-field, and once that field is established either the other side shows up or they don’t.

 

 

 

It’s Time To Stop Debating About Gun Violence. Period.

4 Comments

Happens every time.  All you need is one good shooting, Barack says a few words about how we need to do something to end gun violence, and we are treated to the nonsense about how there is no gun violence.  That they happen to use a gun to kill either themselves or someone else 31,000 times a year, oh well, it’s a small price to pay for the fact that all those armed citizens are walking around and protecting us from millions of crimes each year.

And what’s the response from people who sincerely want to see gun violence brought under control?  Please don’t misunderstand us – we’re not against the 2nd Amendment, we’re just for some sensible gun laws.  And I’d be the first one to sit down with the NRA or one of their sycophantic mouthpieces like John Lott to come up with some reasonable solutions to the problem.  But the other side isn’t interested in reasonable solutions because there’s no problem.  And if you want proof that gun violence in America isn’t a problem, all you have to do is compare our gun violence rate to rates in other countries, particularly gun violence that takes the form of mass shootings, and you’ll quickly understand that we are, in fact, a very non-violent country after all.

Best gun salesman ever!

Best gun salesman ever!

The CDC first listed gun violence as a public health issue in 1981, and it has made the yearly CDC list ever since.  Remember who was President in 1981?  A guy named Reagan who remains the most iconic figure for the Conservative movement, which also happens to be the pro-gun movement, notwithstanding the fact that Reagan signed a major piece of gun-control legislation while he was Governor of California, and also later came out explicitly against hi-cap magazines in the run-up to the assault rifle ban in 1994. But in those days you could be a Conservative and still be in favor of sensible gun controls.  That was then and this is now.

And now means that when the President says something, anything about guns, the media immediately goes out to solicit a response from the other side, meaning the self-appointed guardians of American exceptionalism as exemplified by the 2nd Amendment and the Confederate flag.  Not that a single, Republican presidential candidate is willing to say what the residents of South Carolina should do about the stars and bars, but they’re sure willing to tell everyone what we should do about guns, which is that we should do nothing at all. So what do we end up with?  Not an informed and intelligent debate about gun violence, but a spectacle that is so stupid and senseless that we really shouldn’t be having a debate at all.

Here’s how dumb it gets.  John Lott goes on a conservative radio show and immediately labels Barack’s comment about our ‘unique’ propensity for mass shootings to be “bizarre.”  And what’s his proof that the President got it all wrong?  He pulls the 2011 Norway shooting which killed 67 people out of his hat.  But there’s only one problem which neither he nor his talk-show host bothered to mention, namely, that the attack at a summer camp on Utoya Island was the only mass shooting that occurred in Norway between 2000 and 2014, while over the same period the U.S. experienced at least more than 130 mass shootings that claimed nearly 500 lives.

I think it’s time for my friends in the gun-sense movement, or the gun-safety movement, or whatever they are calling themselves these days to declare a moratorium on debates over whether we have a gun violence problem after all.  Because as long as we continue to be seduced by the notion that both sides deserve ‘equal time,’ what we are going to get is not an argument against reasonable gun controls, but an argument against any kind of gun controls.  And since that argument has nothing to do with facts, it’s an argument that you just can’t win.

Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 136 other followers

%d bloggers like this: