Dumb, Dumber And Dumbest: The NRA Responds To The FBI Report.

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I used to think that the dumbest pro-gun writer was Emily Miller of The Washington Times, with John Lott running a close second.  But I think top honors should now go to the NRA staffer who wrote the organization’s response to the new FBI report on “active shootings,”  which covers 160 multiple-shooting incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013.  What the report shows is that the annual number of such shootings has doubled in the last seven years, and the number of victims injured in such shootings has tripled over the same period.

Actually, the NRA response wasn’t directed at the FBI per se, because the last thing the NRA is going to do is challenge the findings of a law-enforcement agency which also is responsible for approving every gun purchased by all federally-licensed gun dealers.  Rather, the NRA went after the manner in which The New York Times commented on the report because, after all, you can always rile up NRA members by mentioning The New York Times.

NYT                And what did The Times report say?  It said what the FBI said, namely, that the number and impact of multiple shootings has increased dramatically over the last seven years.  And how did the NRA respond to this information?  The writer did what NRA writers usually do when someone, anyone, makes a statement that doesn’t conform to their point of view.  The writer simply said things that are not true.  I’m not saying the writer lied; I’m saying he’s probably too dumb to know the difference between fact and non-fact.  For example.

The NRA response claims that the FBI’s numbers are inflated because “active shootings” involved three or more persons who died from their wounds, whereas the more traditional (and lower) “mass shootings” always involved at least four deaths.  But the FBI report specifically stated that the victim count in “active shootings” did not include instances in which the shooter also took his/her own life, which basically accounts for the overall difference in shootings.

The NRA, desperate to show that this report doesn’t contain any bad news for the gun community, also cited a report in USA Today which claimed that between 2006 and 2013 there were 61 mass murders claiming 286 victims in which the perpetrator used a knife, a club or some weapon other than a gun, whereas the FBI claimed that there were only 34 “mass murders” (minimum of four victims, including the shooter) in which the killer used a gun.  But the USA Today report defined a mass murder as any criminal event in which four or more persons were killed, even if these killings took place over several days or even weeks at a time.  The whole point of the FBI report was to examine episodes during which the events that took place were continuous because the whole point was to determine the correct response that should be made by law enforcement and civilians while the murders were taking place.

In other words, the NRA used a definition of multiple murders that simply can’t be compared to the definition used by the FBI in their new report.  And the reason that the NRA deliberately twisted the evidence was to obscure the most important finding of the report, namely, that in 160 multiple shootings, nearly all of which took place in public space, the number of such episodes that ended with an armed civilian using a gun was exactly – one!  The idea that good guys stop bad guys with guns is simply not true and the FBI report shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s not true.  No wonder the NRA would publish such a dumb response to this report.

But here’s the real problem.  The gun control community will discuss this report at length but the discussion will remain largely among themselves.  The dishonest statements by the NRA were sent to me and to the other 4-5 million members of the NRA.  How do you reach that group with much-needed correctives for what the NRA wants them to believe is the truth?  That problem remains to be solved.

 

Do Good Guys Stop Bad Guys With Guns? Not According To The FBI.

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After years of listening to Wayne Lapierre croon away about how ‘only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,’ we finally have some real data to test whether this rationale for arming civilians (and selling more guns) is really true.  I’m referring to a report on active shooting incidents just released by the FBI which analyzed 160 “active shootings” resulting in injuries to 1,043 victims, including 486 deaths, between 2000 and 2013.

Most of the media coverage of this report will no doubt focus on the FBI’s claim that the number of incidents and victims totals of these shootings has of late been going up, with the annual number of incidents averaging 7.5 between 2000 and 2006, and jumping to an annual average of 16.3 between 2007 and 2013.  The increase in casualties each year is even more dramatic, with the totals (not including the shooters) going from 247 between 2000 and 2006 up to just under 800 over the following seven years.  It should be noted, incidentally, that the FBI defines an “active shooting” as an incident during which  “both law enforcement personnel and citizens [my italics] have the potential to affect the outcome of the event based upon their responses.” Which is exactly what Wayne-o claims his gun-toting compatriots are all about.

fbi                Here’s how these incidents ended.  More than half (56%) were terminated by the shooter who either took his or her own life, simply stopped shooting or fled the scene.  Another 26% ended in the traditional Hollywood-like fashion with the shooter and law enforcement personnel exchanging gunfire and in nearly all of those situations the shooter ended up either wounded or dead.  In 13% of the shooting situations, the shooter was successfully disarmed and restrained by unarmed civilians, and in 3% of the incidents the shooter was confronted by armed civilians, of whom 4 were on-duty security guards and one person was just your average ‘good guy’ who happened to be carrying a gun.

The fact that 21 of these shooting situations were terminated by unarmed civilians as opposed to a single incident that ended because a good guy had a gun might come as a big surprise to the NRA, but for those of us who try to engage in the gun debate by issuing statements based on facts, this finding is consistent with other evidence that the pro-gun community chooses to ignore.  For example, in 2005 Gary Kleck published a study funded by the Department of Justice which showed that persons who resisted assaults by running away or calling the police had a better chance of escaping injury than if they resisted the assault with a gun.  This is the selfsame Gary Kleck whose 1994 paper claiming that millions of Americans thwart crimes each year with guns is still cited by the NRA as its gospel for justifying civilian armed defense.

The FBI report not only debunks the ‘good guy stops the bad guy’ nonsense, but also gives us some important data to judge the validity of another NRA mantra, namely, whether ‘bad guys’ are drawn to commit shootings in gun-free zones.  This bromide was all over the media after the Aurora theater shooting when it was pointed out by John Lott that the Cinemark was chosen by James Homes because it was the only theater showing the movie Batman that had a policy against allowing patrons to carry guns.

According to the FBI, of the 160 active shootings, 39 or roughly 25% took place in educational facilities and the shooters were overwhelmingly students who either attended or had attended the particular school.  In most of these cases the connection of the shooter to the school was the motivating issue, not the fact that the schools were gun-free zones.  More than two-thirds of all the active shooting incidents between 2000 and 2013 took place in locations which were not readily understood to be gun-free zones.  But why let facts stand in the way of an opinion or, better yet, a good marketing scheme?

 

 

What’s The Real Connection Between Violence And Guns? I’m Not Sure.

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One of the axioms of the gun control movement, if not the foundation on which the entire movement rests, is the idea that we have a much higher rate of gun violence than other countries because we have a much greater number of privately-owned guns.  This is particularly true in the case of homicide, where other advanced, Western societies often experience the same degree of random violence, but no other country experiences violence that is as deadly as ours.

Over the last several years, our intentional homicide rate has run around 5 per 100,000.  The average rate for other OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, aka, the rich countries) is between 1 and 2 per 100,000. For those numbers I randomly chose Switzerland, Sweden. France, Canada, Austria, New Zealand, Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg.  Now let’s look at the per capita private ownership per 100,00 of guns in those same countries:

United States 90,000
Switzerland 45,000
Sweden 31,000
France 31,000
Canada 30,000
Austria 30,000
New Zealand 22,000
Greece 22,000
Berlgium 17,000
Luxembourg 15,000

 

We have twice as many guns as Switzerland but five times as many murders.  We have three times as many guns as Sweden or France but also five times as many murders and so forth.  But what if we turn it around and assume that these other, relatively non-violent countries had as many guns in private hands as we do?  After all, the argument is that our homicide rate is a function of how many guns are in private hands. Which means that we are assuming a causal relationship between gun ownership and intentional deaths.  Wouldn’t this relationship therefore hold true no matter how many guns exist in private hands?

gun homicides                Triple the per capita gun ownership and homicide rates in Sweden, France or Canada, and their homicide rates which are now between 1 and 2 persons per 100,000 would move up to 4 to 6 homicide victims per 100,000, which is higher than the current murder rate in the United States.  If we were to quadruple the per capita gun ownership in Belgium, which would still leave them short of the U.S. ownership rate, wouldn’t we also have to quadruple their homicide rate which would bring Belgium’s murder rate per 100,000 up to slightly less than 10?  That’s twice the current U.S. rate for intentional deaths.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not just playing Peck’s bad boy with the data.  I have been attacking the NRA sans cesse for their “more guns less crime” strategy.  I think it’s based on bogus research, false data and worse, is actually dangerous because it makes people believe that carrying a gun will protect them from crime.  The truth is that it usually ends up escalating an argument into a much worse, even fatal event.  But I must point out to my friends in the gun-control community that perhaps the opposite assumption that more guns equals more violence may not necessarily be true.  Australia is the only advanced country where we can analyze homicide rates before and after government intervention that led to a significant decline in civilian guns, and while the gun buy-back program appears to have made a difference in suicide rates, the evidence on homicide is somewhat mixed.  Not that there hasn’t been a decline in Australian homicide after the gun buyback program in 1996-1997, but that same decline has occurred to an even greater degree in the U.S.A. without any guns being turned over to the police.

Violence is injury and guns are the most harmful way to injure someone else.  We know the epidemiology of violence but somehow when we connect violence to guns, we fall back on arguments about causality that don’t seem to get us past first base.  It’s a fact that Americans own more guns than anyone else and it’s a fact that’s not going to change.  But gun ownership doesn’t make us more violent in and of itself and I’m not sure we yet understand how and why violence here and elsewhere is connected to using a gun.

 

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.

everytown logo
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.

 

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