Here Comes Bloomberg And Some Senators May Not Be Able To Duck

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Several months ago I wrote a blog in which I pointed out that Mike Bloomberg’s access to media at all levels would make him a formidable opponent of the NRA when it came to talking to non-gun owners about guns.  The NRA has a lock on communicating with the gun-owning community, but a majority of Americans don’t own guns.  So how do you engage this usually-silent majority to counteract the power and influence of the NRA?  Well here comes a good test case.

Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on a bill introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn) that would more clearly define domestic violence and strengthen what is already a Federal prohibition against the purchase of guns by individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse.  The NRA is against the measure but in atypical fashion is opposing it in a rather quiet way, restricting themselves to sending a non-public letter to some Senators, but so far avoiding any public comment on the debate. Their stealth approach to this issue lies in the fact that they have been making a major marketing push towards women as owners and users of guns, but they know that opposing domestic abuse laws would, from the perspective of most women, put them on the wrong side.

bloom                It can’t be said, however, that Mike Bloomberg shares the NRA’s reluctance to make a lot of public noise. On the eve of the Senate hearing, he’s running a 30-second television spot in media markets covering territories belonging to Senators Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, three Republicans who last year voted against the Manchin-Toomey compromise after Sandy Hook and whom, it is felt, may this time with Klobuchar’s bill, be swayed to go the other way. The ad is pretty dramatic and the Everytown website also contains a quick-click method to send a message to Ayotte, Heller and Flake.

Last month the Everytown group won a big one when their pressure pushed the mega-retailer Target to issue a public statement requesting that shoppers refrain from bringing guns into their stores.  Target’s decision was a slap in the face of the NRA which has been pushing a roll-back of gun-free zones as part of their strategy to widen the acceptance of concealed-carry laws.  But the strategy used by Bloomberg’s group against Target was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a very targeted affair.  Inviting local media to a picket-line around a store entrance is one thing; inundating elected officials with emails and calls is quite another.  The latter tactic has always been seen as a major weapon in the NRA’s arsenal for swaying votes.  For the first time, the other side in the gun debate is doing the same thing.

It’s not really the number of phone calls or emails that makes politicians respond.  It’s a less tangible thing that we call the intensity of the folks sending their messages, a devotion to the cause that the NRA has diligently developed amongst its membership over many years. When something terrible and high-profile occurs like Sandy Hook, it’s not very difficult to get a grass-roots response from either side.  But a Senate hearing isn’t usually the stuff that makes for media buzz, so it will be interesting to see the degree to which Bloomberg’s group can generate a grass-roots response to their ad.  And if they do, the playing-field that has been tilted for so long in the NRA’s direction may just start moving back the other way.

Docs Versus Glocks – Round Three And Not Yet Finished

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Remember the Thrilla in Manila?  We’ve got Docs Versus Glocks and Round 3 has just come to an end.  The epic battle began in 2011 when the Florida legislature passed a law prohibiting physicians from inquiring about ownership of firearms unless the question was “relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety or the safety of others.” [All quotes from the decision posted on the 11th Circuit website.]  That was Round 1.  The law was then challenged in Federal District Court and overthrown by Judge Marcia Cooke who issued a permanent injunction because it violated physicians’ 1st Amendment free speech by curbing the ability of the doctor to freely inquire into situations that might impact a patient’s health. That was Round 2. The State of Florida then appealed to the 11th Circuit which declared the law constitutional last week. Interestingly, the Circuit Court did not order Judge Cooke’s injunction to be lifted, which means that as of the end of Round 3, it’s something of a tie.

I’m no constitutional lawyer, or any other kind of lawyer for that matter, but I have been following this case very closely because it’s part and parcel of the NRA’s attempt to push physicians out of the discussion about guns, a campaign they have been effectively waging since 1996.  That year Congress removed funding for gun research from the CDC budget, a prohibition that was later spread to other federal research agencies and remains in effect to this day.  And even though a meeting of the Institute of Medicine following Sandy Hook identified areas of gun research that should be pursued, there’s scant (which means ‘no’) chance that such funding will appear.

glock 23                The ‘official’ reason that the NRA is against research into gun violence is that the research is being carried out by public health and medical scholars who use such research to advance an anti-gun agenda.  And if by ‘anti-gun’ the NRA means any form of gun control, they happen to be right.  The basic public health research on guns shows again and again that the presence of a gun heightens the possibility of homicides, assaults and suicides, findings that the NRA says are contradicted by the research of people like Gary Kleck and John Lott whose research allegedly proves that more guns equals less crime.  But no matter how you shake or bake the data, it’s simply impossible to deny the intuitive judgement of the novelist Walter Mosley that “if you carry a gun, it’s bound to go off sooner or later.” And if the bullet from that gun hits another person, there’s only one group of professionals whose response we really trust.

. The 11th Circuit majority found the Florida law constitutional because they believe that the professional-client communication doesn’t necessarily warrant 1st Amendment guarantees.   The law, according to the majority, only prohibits physicians from “inquiring about a private matter irrelevant to medical care.”  But what the majority avoided in its decision was spelling out who has the authority and obligation to decide the issue of relevancy, which, according to the dissenting judge in this case, is the responsibility of doctors themselves.  The dissent noted that gun violence is considered a public health issue by virtually every medical society, and physicians are performing their “chosen role” by informing their patients about risks that come with the ownership of guns.

I was in the audience at Madison Square Garden  when Ali won the Thrilla in Manila because he just outlasted Smokin’ Joe.  I think that Docs Versus Glocks will end the same way because no matter how hard the NRA keeps hammering, we value the competence and  expertise of physicians and we ultimately expect them to decide what’s best for our health.  The majority in the 11th Circuit recognized that “the patient must place his or her trust in the physician’s guidance,” which means listening to what the doctor says even if even it’s something we don’t want to hear.  And by the way, there’s no patient in America who ever has to do what the doctor says.

Score One For The NRA. And For Everyone Who Wants To Carry A Gun

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The NRA won a big one Friday when District Court Judge Frederick Scullin, Jr., issued a long-awaited decision in Palmer, et. al., vs. District of Columbia,  a case that was initially brought in 2005 against DC’s total ban on carrying concealed guns outside the home.  The judge not only ordered the District to stop enforcing its concealed-carry ban, but also ordered the District to stop enforcing the same ban against non-residents who want to travel through DC while carrying a gun.  This is because one of the plaintiffs, Edward Raymond, was a resident of Maryland and held a concealed-carry permit from his state of residence but did not have any legal authorization to carry a gun in DC.  Nevertheless the District Court noted that, “the District of Columbia may not completely bar him, or any other qualified individual, from carrying a handgun in public for self-defense simply because they are not residents of the District.”

scalia                Wow!  Talk about a gift.  If this ruling is not challenged and overthrown, Palmer vs. DC paves the way for the gun lobby to get what it has always wanted, namely, national concealed-carry without having to pass a federal law at all.  Every year pro-gun Senators and Congressmen routinely file bills that call for a reciprocal concealed-carry, much in the same way that a driver’s license issued by any one state is valid in every state jurisdiction in the land.  Such laws have never gotten to the floor of either chamber for a vote, but Judge Scullin’s decision may nullify the need to travel down this legal avenue any more.

Much of Judge Scullin’s reasoning followed from the recent Peruta decision, in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a concealed-carry law that had effectively made it impossible to carry a gun outside the home in San Diego County.  This decision struck down the County’s law which required applicants to show “good cause” for wanting to carry a gun outside the home, because the definition of good cause went far beyond a general desire for self-protection and basically required the applicant to prove that without a gun he or she would be unable to protect themselves against a specific threat and therefore would be placing themselves in “harm’s way.” The Peruta decision claimed that the 2nd Amendment, as decided in Heller, required some form of concealed-carry outside the home. This is an interesting reading of Scalia’s decision in Heller, which explicitly limited civilian ownership of guns to keeping them within the home.

There are now five federal circuit courts that have ruled on whether the 2nd Amendment protects concealed-carry outside the home.  Right now the score is 3-2 in favor of the more limited view of the 2nd Amendment that defines the “right to bear arms” as allowing people to keep a gun for self-defense inside their homes. But even the more expansive 2nd Amendment interpretations of the Seventh and Ninth Circuits give issuing authorities the right to “regulate” the issuance of concealed-carry as long as the regulations do not effectively prevent the average citizen from walking around with a gun. What cooked the goose of San Diego County was the willingness of the County to grant CCW to certain individuals (retired law enforcement, federal officers, etc.) which meant that the right was being extended to certain people but not others, a clear abridgement of any Constitutional right.

To date the SCOTUS has refused to resolve the disagreements between the different federal circuit courts over how far to extend 2nd Amendment guarantees.  But even if that bench remains silent, the decision by Judge Scullin to extend concealed-carry reciprocity to people who visit but do not live in DC could effectively make concealed-carry the de facto law of the land. Given the fact that only 9 states had any degree of unfettered concealed-carry laws less than thirty years ago, perhaps it’s time for the NRA to stop preaching that gun owners constitute a persecuted minority whose rights to own and carry guns are constantly under attack.

 

Where Should Americans Learn To Shoot? In School Of Course.

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Last week the National Education Association posted a video by Billy Johnson, who does “news commentary” for the NRA.  Despite the disclaimer that the video does not represent the “opinions of other organizations,” the content is the usual NRA-admixture of half-truths, sophomoric clichés and outright lies.  THE NEA gave it front-page coverage because it promotes the idea of universal gun education as part of the normal school curriculum, kind of like driver’s ed and just as necessary as reading, writing and math.

What’s the justification for this nonsense?  According to Johnson, we should be teaching shooting in schools because Americans “need” guns and guns are “good.”  This polite rant reflects an emerging NRA strategy is to reach beyond the organization’s core membership with a broad-based message to drive home the idea of guns as just another, regular consumer product that everyone should own.  After all, once we get past purchasing the absolute necessities each week, don’t our decisions about what else to buy usually reflect only the fact that it’s something we really want?  What’s it going to be this week?  New shoes? New clothes? A new gun?  Let’s go shopping.

             Billy Johnson

Billy Johnson

The NRA messaging is an effort to “normalize” gun ownership, but also reflects their awareness of how Americans increasingly educate themselves, communicate with each other, and thus make decisions about what to buy, own, and otherwise pony up the consumer bucks.  Not only is the whole society moving towards digital and particularly video channels, but the Millennials, the only generation who have yet to decide whether or not they want to own guns, are twice as likely to use Facebook and other social media outlets to make contact and communicate with others.

A bit of recognition of this problem was recently voiced on Huffington Post by Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign, who talked about the importance of messaging gun safety by “taking the emotion out of a debate that has gotten all tangled up in the second amendment.”  He cites as a successful effort the joint Brady-American Academy of Pediatrics ASK program that encourages parents to ask if there are unsafe guns in homes where their children visit.  I’m not taking anything away from either organization, but this approach completely misunderstands the NRA whose cavalcade of video commentators not only talk the talk directly to potential gun owners, but also – and here’s the key element – talk specifically about guns.

                Gun control advocates feel comfortable talking about things like safety, background checks, mental health, concealed-carry and the like.  But to the average gun owner or the wannabe gun owner, that’s just so much noise.  The real question the gun control crowd should be asking is simply this: Do you really want to walk around with something which, in an instant, can end a life or change your life in an unalterably terrible way?  But somehow the advocates for more gun control always seem to gloss over the only thing that really makes a difference, and that one thing is the gun.  Meanwhile, the NRA forges ahead on the video playing-field selling the idea that guns are natural and good.  On this issue, the most important issue, the other side doesn’t even field a second-string team.

We have grown accustomed to believing that the size of the gun-owning population is decreasing as the public surveys continue to show a decline in the percentage of households which claim to have guns.  There is also plenty of internet chatter about how the NRA membership claims are vastly over-stated.  Even if this is all true, and I’m not sure it is, the NRA and the gun lobby in general aren’t rolling over and playing dead.  They are out there with their videos, their Facebook pages, their Tweets and the other channels that comprise a new media environment which they completely own. Do you think the other side can catch up?

How Many Victims Of Gun Violence? More Than You Think.

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Over the last twenty years we have been bombarded with endless noise from the NRA about the value of guns because they protect us from crime.  This “social utility” argument is based on the mostly-discredited research of Gary Kleck and John Lott, of whom the latter’s work doesn’t really qualify as research since it basically panders to what he perceives to be the fears and prejudices of his audience.  But for the moment let’s assume that some people do use guns for self-defense, and try to compare those numbers to the numbers of people who are injured or killed by guns.

According to Brady, an average of 100,000 are killed or wounded each year by guns.  This seems to be the standard gun violence number bandied about by gun control groups. I think the number is way too low. The gun violence report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the number of fatal and non-fatal gun victimizations at 478,000; add the suicides and you’re around one-half million. I think this figure is also way too low.  The number is based almost entirely on data from the National Criminal Victim Survey (NCVS) which is conducted twice each year with respondents from 90,000 households who are asked to describe any criminal incident in which they were victimized over the previous six months. The good news is that the respondents are asked to describe criminal events regardless of whether or not they were reported to the police.  The bad news is that some of the methodological problems attendant to this survey result in substantial underreporting of crime.

gvFor example, the survey only involves individuals who are permanent members of a household at the time that the interviews take place.  This means that the non-permanent population, which has been estimated to be as high as 12% of the entire population, is not captured in the NCVS results.  Another group that is underrepresented are the elderly, particularly those living alone who may or may not be able to respond to visits or calls from representatives of the NCVS. Both of these populations, particularly in inner-city environments, are susceptible to being victims of crime.

Note however, that the discussion above only concerns figuring out how many unreported gun crimes occur each year.  But that’s a very narrow definition of gun violence.  To understand the true dimensions of the problem, we also must try to figure out how many people are affected by either witnessing gun violence or by being exposed to the possibility of gun violence when someone brandished or otherwise made them feel vulnerable because they had a gun.  For all the talk by Kleck and Lott about how many people used guns to thwart what otherwise would have been a crime committed against them, what about all the people who were on the receiving end of an explicit or implicit threat of violence because someone showed them a gun?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not jumping on the anti-CCW bandwagon and accusing or even hinting at the possibility that law-abiding gun owners who carry around a concealed weapon ever use it to intimidate, scare or otherwise threaten family, strangers or friends.  The idea that an expansion of CCW leads to more gun violence on the part of licensees is an old canard that should be put to rest.  What I am saying, however, is that witnessing an actual or even possible act of violence is a traumatizing, and not-easily forgotten event.  And we can assume that most acts of gun violence are witnessed by ancillary, non-participants who are affected acutely and emotionally when they see an act of gun violence or gun threats take place.

If the gun lobby wants to buy the idea that several million crimes are prevented each year because someone protected themselves or others with a gun, I can say with the same logic and certainly more evidence that the real toll of gun violence is just as high. Let’s not kid ourselves into believing that something as lethal as a gun isn’t an object whose use can be considered in anything other than the most serious and consequential terms.

Why Do Some People Shoot Other People? We Really Don’t Know.

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In the past week I found media accounts of at least five cities which held community events to talk about gun violence.  The events are usually sponsored by a coalition of community groups, religious congregations, law enforcement representatives and the requisite political leadership from City Hall.  There will be some entertainment, probably a youth choir, a passionate, tug-at-your-heartstrings appeal from the mother or sibling of someone recently gunned down, and a “let’s get rid of the guns” rant from the head of the local Everytown group.  Pardon me if I’m sounding a little cynical, but I don’t see any real connection between these admittedly honest endeavors and any change in the rates at which we keep killing or wounding ourselves or others with guns.

I know, I know, the problem isn’t guns.  The problems are joblessness, hopelessness and all the other ness’s that pervade inner-city neighborhoods where the overwhelming amount of gun violence occurs.  Want to get rid of gun violence?  Get rid of the ghetto; it’s as simple as that.  But I’m not so sure that lifting sixty million people above the poverty line is such an easy task.  After all, we started trying to eradicate poverty after Michael Harrington published The Other America in 1962 and I think the only thing we’ve accomplished in that regard is to validate the old homily about how God loves the poor because He made so many of them.

gang boys chap 1                On the other hand, let’s not forget the fact that even if 11,000 people are killed with guns each year and another 50,000 are wounded, that gun violence is still a comparatively rare event.  In 2012, according to the UCR, there were roughly 10 million serious crimes against people and property committed in the U.S., of which 1/10th of one percent were gun homicides and another 1.5% were armed assaults.  So even though the chances of being the victim of a violent crime are about one person out of every thirty, the chances of being injured or killed with a gun are a lot less.  Which means that even in “high-crime” neighborhoods, there are an awful lot of people walking around with criminal intent who don’t use a gun.

That being the case, and the numbers don’t lie, we have to assume that the guys (and it’s almost always males) who do use a gun to damage someone else have made a conscious choice.  Because it’s not as if the shooters are the only people in the ghetto without a job; it’s not as if they are the only people in the neighborhood whose income doesn’t make it above the poverty line; it’s not as if they are the only ones without two parents in the home.  If this were the case, all we would have to do to solve the gun problem would be to get our hands on the U.S. Census neighborhood report, identify the folks who fit this down-and-out profile, and follow them around until they pull out their gun.

The problem really lies in the fact that we can do all the sociological research we want, we can amass and correlate all the data, and we still come smack up against one, unassailable problem; namely, we can’t talk to the people who pulled the trigger of the gun.  The victims are ready to talk from today to next year.  They’ll talk while they’re waiting for the EMT, they’ll talk while they’re being stitched up in the emergency room, they’ll talk at a community anti-violence event.  But the shooters won’t talk because: a) half of them aren’t found, and b) when they are apprehended the penal system and their lawyers won’t or can’t let them talk at all.

We need to figure out a way to get into the heads of the people whose behavior results in gun violence.  Most people, even criminals, don’t walk around with guns and even fewer use them in violent ways.  Until we understand what separates the shooters from everyone else by asking the shooters why they separated themselves from everyone else, we’ll have to hope that those anti-gun events make our streets and homes more safe.

 

 

Surprise! A Study Reveals That Unlocked Guns Are A Health Risk.

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Earlier this month The New York Times ran an editorial about a recent study on gun violence and children published by Everytown, aka Moms, aka Bloomberg, et.al.  Like a similar study published this year on mass shootings, the major sources were media reports about unintentional gun deaths of children which, according to this report, is substantially higher than the numbers furnished by the CDC.

The issuance of the report, according to a letter to the Times, coincided with the annual ASK day, which is a collaboration between Brady and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to encourage safe gun storage in homes with young children.  The ASK campaign has been around for more than ten years and, according to its website has “inspired more than 19 million households” to keep guns away from where children play. Unfortunately, if the numbers of unintentional child deaths from shootings can be believed, the ASK campaign has a long way to go.

everytown logo                I don’t doubt Brady’s claim about reaching 19 million households, although I’m not sure how many of these households either contain guns or keep them around unlocked.  My impression is that very few gun owners are willing to listen to what Brady or Bloomberg has to say, just as there can’t be more than a handful of non-gun owners who are members of the NRA. When all is said and done, this is the real problem in the debate about guns, namely, that the flagship advocacy organizations speak only to their like-minded constituencies, there’s no real communication between adherents on the two sides.

According to the Newtown report, there are 21 states that have no child access prevention (CAP) laws at all.  What this means is that if a kid (or an adult, for that matter) picks up a gun and bangs away, the gun’s owner doesn’t face charges even if someone is injured or killed.  Many of these states are out West, where gun controls have been traditionally lax, but while these states don’t suffer much in the way of unintentional shootings, they do experience higher-than-average gun suicide rates, which might also be mitigated if guns had to be locked up.  On the other hand, Eastern states like Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina all had multiple juvenile deaths from gun accidents, and none of these three states have any CAP laws that might have helped prevent access to guns.

I’ll leave it to Brady to figure out how to mobilize even a portion of those 19 million ASK households to help drive their agenda forward; my primary concern is to look at the role that pediatricians should play in diminishing the health risks of unlocked guns.  Jim Perrin, a co-signer of the New York Times letter and President of the AAP, believes that unlocked guns present the same kind of health risk to children as lead or unattended backyard pools. And he makes the point that just telling children about the risk of guns isn’t enough; kids are naturally curious and in this case curiosity could do a lot more than kill the cat.  After all, many pediatricians ask parents whether they lock children into a car seat before going for a ride.  How much longer does it take to add the word ‘gun’ to a question about locks?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not trying to add a minute’s extra work or responsibility to everything that medical professionals are now required to do in the brief time they spend with patients each day.  But the physician’s task is to lessen risk, and no matter what nonsense Rand Paul and the NRA promote about how doctors are a threat to the 2nd Amendment, anyone who believes that an unlocked gun in a home with children isn’t a health risk is presenting a degree of stupidity that no amount of medical care will ever cure.

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