Is Kavanaugh A Threat?A Little Debate.

Ladd Everitt: The Kavanaugh Court is an Existential Threat to Gun Violence Reduction Efforts

“Justice Kavanaugh your life and family are not ruined. Try having a child murdered by a weapon that you refer to as ‘common use.’ You will get through this and hug both of your children tonight.” — Parkland survivor Fred Guttenberg

The national nightmare of Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the Supreme Court has dire consequences for the health and welfare of millions of Americans on a range of different issues. One area of particular concern is the ongoing, high rate of gun violence in the United States (to include daily mass shooting horrors). Kavanaugh — the serial perjurer and subject of multiple allegations of sexual assault — has made it clear he would allow no innovation in firearm regulation and roll back what few gun laws America still has on the books. If he remains on the Court, it seems certain he will join conservative majorities in rulings that cost lives by further bastardizing the meaning of the Second Amendment.

Before Justice Anthony Kennedy retired to make way for Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court rejected a series of cases from lower courts dealing with gun regulations including state assault weapons bans and permitting systems for individual who carry concealed guns in public. After Justice Antonin Scalia’s expansive rewriting of the Second Amendment in the landmark 5–4 ruling in D.C. v. Heller (2008) — which ignored our Founders’ writings and debates about the Second Amendment, choosing instead to exalt gun laws in the antebellum South — Kennedy was apparently unwilling to provide a fifth vote for further efforts to erode public safety. Brett Kavanaugh has no such compunctions.

The scorn with which Kavanaugh treated Parkland survivor Fred Guttenberg at his first confirmation hearing is reflective of his total lack of concern about the human impacts of gun violence.

In a 2011 dissent in a second Heller case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit [Heller v. D.C., commonly known as Heller II], then-judge Kavanaugh articulated a radical and dangerous view of the Second Amendment. While echoing propaganda from gun lobby groups like the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sport Foundation (NSSF), Kavanaugh opined that the District of Columbia’s popular assault weapons ban and firearms registration law are unconstitutional.

His analysis of D.C.’s assault weapons ban ignored entirely the damage that semiautomatic battlefield rifles like the AR-15 are capable of doing in civilian settings. Because AR-15s and similar weapons are now in “common use” among Americans, Kavanaugh insisted (using an arbitrary test Justice Scalia created in the first Heller case), they must be constitutionally-protected. “Common use” was not defined, but assault weapons wouldn’t seem to be in common use in the United States under any reasonable definition. The NRA and gun industry have been mass-marketing and selling assault weapons since the late 1980s, but in 2014 only 22% of Americans reported owning a gun of any kind, much less an assault weapon. Assault weapons constitute a small percentage of the 393 million privately held firearms in the United States.

Kavanaugh also declared the District’s firearm registration system unconstitutional in Heller II because he believes it is inconsistent with the “history and tradition” of firearms regulation in America.¹ Again, it’s difficult to see how this conclusion was reached. Gun registration requirements are as old as the Militia cited in the text of the Second Amendment. As historian Saul Cornell has pointed out, state governments kept lists of privately-owned weapons required for service in our Founders’ militia. Kavanaugh also ignored the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA), a federal law that requires registration of fully-automatic machine guns held by civilians. The law has been an overwhelming success — machine guns have rarely been recovered from crime scenes in the 80+ years since it was enacted.

While Kavanaugh has never publicly commented on concealed carry, during his time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit he did embrace a lower-court ruling that would have struck down the District’s permitting system as unconstitutional (pending appellate review). In a dissent in the case of Grace v. District of Columbia, Kavanaugh was sympathetic to the plaintiff’s view that the city could not require “good reason” from residents before issuing them permits to carry concealed firearms in public.²

financially-struggling NRA plunked down $1 million to pay for TV ads to get Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court. They knew exactly what they were paying for — a Justice who will reliably vote against gun regulation at each and every turn. Any faith in Chief Justice John Roberts to moderate the Court, or Justice Neil Gorsuch to tarnish his pro-gun bonafides (e.g., Gorsuch has already indicated he believes the Second Amendment confers an individual right to carry a pistol in public) seems to me to be tragically misplaced.

Reform efforts aimed at addressing gun violence (more than 38,000 gun deaths and somewhere between 25,000 and 115,000 injuries per year in the United States³) face an existential threat in the Kavanaugh Court. The practical effect of the Heller I ruling in 2008 was not great (Scalia’s ruling did not affect a single policy being worked on by an American gun control organization), but the gun rulings of the Kavanaugh Court will be devastating. The new conservative majority will cast off important, democratically-enacted laws aimed at disarming violent individuals and demilitarizing our society. They will accomplish this by writing further fiction about the Second Amendment that ignores the original intent of our Founders (who never would have used the amendment as a cudgel to beat off attempts to save American lives being lost to an epidemic of violence). The interests of the gun industry will be prioritized over the safety of citizens. George Zimmermans and Adam Lanzas across America will be emboldened, their violence facilitated. Americans’ most fundamental freedoms (our inalienable rights to life and liberty, the First Amendment right to assemble peacefully in the public space, etc.) will be forfeit in favor of a legally sanctioned gun culture in which the last (white) man standing is king.

Many Americans are questioning the legitimacy of government in the era of Donald Trump, voter suppression, and (unrestrained) foreign interference in our elections/politics. Brett Kavanaugh, with his perjury and partisan threats, further weakened Americans’ faith that our current government represents them. When government repeatedly fails its most basic duty, to protect its citizens,⁴ the people must answer to a higher power and act in order to preserve life and prevent suffering. Gun rulings by the Kavanaugh Court that present a threat to our communities and families should be met with bold and widespread acts of nonviolent, civil disobedience. This should include elected/appointed officials refusing to enforce Court rulings they know will lead to further gun violence, and accepting the legal consequences for their actions.

As other observers have pointed out, this is not an ideal way for democratic government to function, but creative, outside-the-box solutions are needed to prevent the further destruction of American families and communities. The GVP movement should begin planning for the Kavanaugh Court’s rulings now, as pro-choice advocates have. That means communicating about our government’s gross dereliction of duty concerning public safety, preparing advocates to engage in direct nonviolent action (like we saw on Capitol Hill during the Kavanaugh hearings), and offering a clear and inspiring vision of a future America with fewer guns and safer communities.

###

ENDNOTES

1. The conservative majority in Heller I took no issue with the District of Columbia’s firearm registration requirement. The majority opinion authored by Justice Scalia ordered the city to allow plaintiff Dick Heller to register his handguns so he could keep them at home.

2. In D.C., permit applicants weren’t allowed to simply say “I want to defend myself.” They were required to cite an actual threat (i.e., from a stalker, because their job requires them to deliver millions in cash, etc.).

3. The figure for gun deaths is from CDC’s WISQARS fatal injury data for the most recent year available (38,658 gun deaths in 2016). Estimates of annual gun injuries range from 25,000 (National Impatient Sample) to over 115,000 (CDC WISQARS).

4. The very first line of the Constitution indicates that one of the chief purposes of the document is to “insure domestic Tranquility.”

You can read Ladd Everitt’s original piece on Medium.

And My Response:

My response to Ladd’s piece should in no way be taken as any kind of personal criticism for what he does or what he says. Ladd has been an extremely effective advocate for gun control and I trust he will continue in that vein. Nevertheless, I believe that those who agree with Ladd (including myself) that gun violence is an irreparable stain on American society, as well as a tragedy of uncalled-for proportions for those whose families, friends and neighborhoods have been impacted by shootings or the threats of shootings, still need to hear different opinions and different points of view. Unless, of course, if Ladd believes that only he should be defining the argument for everyone else, which I am sure is not the case.

Ladd says he is writing about the ‘Kavanaugh court.’ But actually, it happens to be the Roberts court, and Ladd is somewhat selective in explaining how and why the Roberts court has dealt with the issue of guns. In fact, it is not accurate to assume that Kennedy represented a ‘swing’ or ‘soft’ vote on gun issues, and that his replacement by Kavanaugh represents a hard swing to the Right. Yes, Scalia only needed to convince 4 other justices that he could use selective historical information to rewrite legal precedent on Amendment Number Two. But in fact, not five, not four, but only two justices (Scalia and Thomas) agreed with Ladd when he says that the Court “ignored entirely the damage that semiautomatic battlefield rifles like the AR-15 are capable of doing in civilian settings.”

In 2013, a suburb of Chicago, Highland Park, banned assault rifles in their town. They didn’t ‘grandfather’ in existing guns, their law said that if you owned an AR-15 and didn’t want to get rid of it, you had to move out of town. This was the first and only time that a government jurisdiction not only banned the ownership of this gun, but also did not compensate assault rifle owners who had purchased their guns legally in prior years. In other words, Highland Park didn’t copy the Australia assault weapons ban, it also didn’t copy the Clinton assault weapons ban passed in 1994.

The law was upheld by the 7th Circuit and was then denied certiorari by the Supreme Court, with only two justices dissenting. What was the reason why the law was upheld on appeal? Because both the circuit court and then the SCOTUS agreed that the law effectively demonstrated that assault rifles were a threat to public safety, and government has a ‘compelling interest’ in protecting its citizens with properly-written laws. Incidentally, the exact, same opinion was written by the Chief Judge of the 2nd Circuit, William Skretny, who upheld Andy Cuomo’s SAFE ACT because it also was based on the idea that government had the unquestioned authority to deem certain behaviors (such as owning an AR) contrary to public safety and health. You should know, by the way, that Skretny was appointed to the Circuit Court by G. H. W. Bush.

Ladd believes that the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement should begin preparing to deal with a ‘Kavanaugh court’ by “communicating about our government’s gross dereliction of duty concerning public safety,” but to date, every time a governmental authority can show that a new gun-control law is a response to threats against pubic safety, the law has been upheld. In May, a federal trial judge upheld California’s ban on open carry, citing the testimony of none other than John Donohue:

“California relies on the expert report and testimony of Professor John J. Donohue III of the Stanford Law School. . . . Based on the evidence California has submitted, it has shown that the State reasonably could have inferred that there was a relationship between prohibiting individuals from carrying firearms openly in public and promoting and achieving the important governmental objective of public safety. That these objectives would be advanced could be inferred from Donohue’s findings that the enactment of right-to-carry laws lead to increased violent crime rates. . . .”

Could the SCOTUS, with the addition of Kavanaugh, rule on gun laws and ignore what is now a substantial group of recent decisions which supports the government’s right to determine public policy based on government’s ‘compelling interest’ to keep us safe? They might, except that even Kavanaugh’s own opinions and statements about gun control don’t actually support that point of view. Everitt claims that Kavanaugh’s minority dissent in the DC registration case (Heller II) is based on a wrongful claim about whether assault rifles are in ‘common use,’ echoing Scalia’s rationale for Constitutional protection of personally-owned weapons in 2008. He says, “ ‘Common use’ was not defined [in the Heller decision] but assault weapons wouldn’t seem to be in common use in the United States under any reasonable definition.” After all, according to Ladd, only 22% of Americans actually own guns.

For the percentage of American gun owners, Everitt cites a study from the Violence Policy Center which is based on a study by our friend Michael Siegel who published an article that correlated gun violence with gun ownership in all 50 states. But Siegel’s study used a ‘proxy’ for determining state-level gun ownership, namely, the number of gun suicides which occur in each state. Which is all fine and well if you want to believe that regression models should be considered definitive when it comes to explaining cause and effect. The bottom line is that numerous public surveys by the most credible research organizations (e.g., Pew Research) estimate national gun ownership rates at between thirty and forty percent. Not only does Ladd cherry-pick his sources to promote an argument about the Kavanaugh ‘threat’ which may or may not be true, but he certainly knows that in many states, particularly the South, the Midwest and the mountain states, gun ownership runs much higher than fifty percent.

I happen to believe, and I have said this again and again in print, that walking around with a gun in or outside of your pocket does not, as Ladd says, ‘promote domestic tranquility.’ I also agree with Ladd that the GVP should be “offering a clear and inspiring vision of a future America with fewer guns and safer communities.” But it just so happens that many Americans think that the benefit of gun ownership far outweighs the risk, despite clear evidence which points the other way.

Ladd is an effective and ardent communicator for his cause. But he might think of channeling a bit of his strength and talent to crafting a gun-control message that would appeal to gun owners rather than just preaching to his own side.

Express VPN: Four guides that will help improve your digital security.

VPN1

January 31, 2018

The ExpressVPN blog features advice, explanations, reviews, information security updates, online privacy, politics, ExpressVPN products, and all the things about which we are passionate.

Some things, however, don’t easily fit here, often because they’re too long or detailed. Most of this long-form content finds its home in the Internet Privacy pages.

With Safer Internet Day just around the corner, we thought it would be a great time to highlight all of our internet privacy and security guides.

VPN2

Tech safety for survivors of domestic violence

Technology is often used by abusers to monitor, track, stalk, and control their victims. But technology is also a tool to defend against abuse and allows people to maintain an important lifeline to supporting family, friends, and organizations.

The guide has five sections:

  1. How to trust your devices in an abusive home
  2. Online accounts and your data
  3. Communications
  4. Achieving financial independence
  5. An introduction to TAILS and how it can help you.

VPN3

How to defend against online stalkers and doxing

This guide covers the benefits of pseudonymity and discusses threats to your location and legal name.

Threats not only come from people we know, but also from the people we meet online. To protect our readers against unwanted harassment online becoming a physical threat we have published our guide against online stalkers and doxing.

VPN4

Protect your financial privacy with Bitcoin: A comprehensive guide

Bitcoin is often criticized for both being too anonymous and for not being anonymous enough. In this guide, we explain how Bitcoin works from a privacy perspective and what methods there are to de-anonymize your transactions.

This guide contains step-by-step instructions on how to make anonymous payments with Bitcoin.

VPN5.jpg

Everything you ever needed to know about mobile security

Your mobile phone is always with you. It contains information about where you are and where you have been, who you have contacted, plus private photos and financial information.

The ExpressVPN mobile security guide discusses everything from how a telco or government can triangulate your location to how to secure your mobile apps and phone.

 

Do We Really Need More Gun-Violence Research?

Later this week I am scheduled to attend a two-day conference at the Academy of Sciences Health and Medicine Division Institute in Washington, D.C. The conference topic is: “Health Systems Intervention to Prevent Firearm Injuries and Death.”  The purpose of the conference is to update recommendations for additional gun research, a task recommended by President Obama after Sandy Hook. Of course this would mean that the CDC research spigot would be turned back on.  Yea, dream on.

smith manual              I’m not going to the meeting because I do not believe we need any more research on gun violence.  What are we going to find out? That there’s some way to point a gun at yourself or someone else, pull the trigger and not suffer an injury or death? Oh, I forgot. We can always do yet another study which assumes that keeping the gun ‘safely stored’ will reduce gun violence.  Except other than a couple of hundred youngsters who are accidentally shot each year by a dumb parent or older (or younger) child, safe storage doesn’t do squat.

You don’t walk around with a gun safely stored. You walk around with a live gun because you believe it will protect you from someone else who has a gun, or from someone else who wants to steal your money, or from someone like the kid in Corpus Christie this past weekend who got into an argument with another family member “over nothing” (according to a witness) then pulled out a banger and – bang! – four people were dead.

The Urban Institute study indicates that one out of three adolescents and young men in certain Chicago neighborhoods either have or plan to walk around their neighborhood with a gun. These neighborhoods experience killing rates twenty or thirty times higher than the national fatal gun-violence rate. How did that happen?

If one more physician tells me that he or she would like to advise patients to avoid guns but, after all, the Constitution gives the patient the ‘right’ to own a gun, I’m going to suggest that said doctor go back and read the Hippocratic Oath which happens not to mention the Constitution at all. If a patient walked into a clinic and admitted to being a smoker, would a physician dare avoid telling the patient that he shouldn’t smoke? Because in case you didn’t know it, smoking is also a Constitutional ‘right.’  It’s Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 – the Commerce Clause.  I can buy as many cigarettes as I want.  In my state I have to be 21 to buy smokes. But I also have to be 21 to buy a handgun.  How come the doctor insists that I shouldn’t exercise one Constitutional ‘right’ but I should just behave in a ‘reasonable’ way when I want to exercise the other Constitutional ‘right?’

Lester Adelson was Cuyahoga County coroner for almost thirty years. He had plenty of experience with gun violence and wrote a remarkable textbook on forensic homicide which should be read by everyone in the gun-control crowd. In 1980, he published what I believe is still the best and most concise opinion-piece on gun violence, and you can download it from my website here. I quote Adelson apropos of what happened in Corpus Christie: “With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

Next time you buy a gun (ha ha) open the box and you will find an owner’s manual. If you don’t want to buy a gun, you can read one right here.  Notice right on the first page it says in big, bold, red letters: “FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE WARNINGS MAY RESULT IN SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH TO YOU AND OTHERS.”

If gun makers don’t try to hide the fact that their products are dangerous, why do we need more research to learn the same thing?  Since the medical community hasn’t figured this one out I’ll explain it: you reduce gun risk by getting rid of the risk. Gee, that was a tough one.

 

 

A New Gun Violence Report That Should Be Required Reading.

Our friends at The Urban Institute have just released a new report, ‘We Carry Guns to Stay Safe,’ which they say represents ‘perspectives on guns and gun violence from young adults living in Chicago’s West and South Sides.’ You can download the report from the Institute’s website, or from my website right here.  The report is a sobering account of the reasons behind the decision by many inner-city youths to carry guns in a city where gun violence in certain neighborhoods exceeds gun violence just about anywhere else.

urban             In 2017, Chicago experienced more homicides than New York City and Los Angeles combined; the Windy City’s population was 2.7 million; the total population of New York and LA  was five times as great. But the fatal violence doesn’t occur in equal amounts throughout ChiTown; neighborhoods on the West Side like West Garfield Park or Englewood on the South Side have a killing rate above 80 per 100K. That’s higher than the killing rate of any country in the entire world.

To understand the degree to which this problem appears to be simply uncontrollable, the research team at The Urban Institute interviewed 345 residents of these killing zones, of which almost all were African-Americans between the ages of 18 and 26, and slightly more than half were males. The research teams strikes a somewhat defensive tone in discussing their methodology because they seem to believe that the manner in which they recruited respondents may have biased the selection and therefore skewed the results. Let me break it to Jocelyn Fontaine and her colleagues: to the degree that they believe their findings should be taken with a small grain of salt in terms of overall validity, the value and importance of this work goes far beyond what has previously been produced in the entire field of gun violence research. In other words, this report should be required reading for anyone and everyone concerned about how and why 125,000+ Americans get injured every year with guns. Period.

Why am I willing to describe this effort in such grandiose terms? The best way to answer that question is to let the researchers explain why they did what they did: “The purpose of this research was to learn from young adults firsthand whether and why they decide to carry guns, how they acquire firearms, how they experience gun violence, and what they view as the best strategies to reduce gun carrying and promote safety in their communities.” So, for the very first time, we learn about gun violence from the individuals most at risk for committing gun violence which, if nothing else, should serve as a reality jolt for all the public policy aficionados promoting this gun-control law and that gun-control law without ever speaking to the people whose behavior, it is hoped, will be positively influenced by new regulations and laws.

I’m not going to go through all the report’s findings because I don’t want to save anyone the ‘trouble’ of reading the report. But one point deserve special mention: Of the one-third who said they carried a gun, albeit illegally in most cases, more than 90% claimed the gun was for self-protection.  Now it turns out that study after study confirms that guns increase, not decrease, the risk of injury. Yet every public opinion survey confirms that a majority of legal gun-owners Americans believe that their gun is a positive, self-protective device.  Guess what?  The illegal gun owners believe the same thing, if anything, to a much greater degree.

Advocates for gun control talk endlessly about imposing new regulations that will keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’  So here we have a survey in which virtually every respondent represents a pair of ‘wrong hands.’ Not only do they have no more trouble buying a gun than someone with ‘right hands,’  but the folks with the ‘wrong hands’ are becoming gun owners for the exact, same reason as the folks with the ‘right hands.’

Please read and think about this report, okay?

 

 

 

Meet The Bogle Family – A Very Special Bunch.

Want to meet an exceptional American family? Read Fox Butterfield’s just-released book, , and spend a few hours with the Bogle family. Actually, if you want to meet any member of the Bogle clan, you’ll have to get on the visitor’s list of one of any number of prisons scattered throughout the Midwest, the southwest and the far west, because that’s where most of the Bogle family happens currently to reside. In fact, beginning in 1923, when the progenitor of the Bogle family, Louis Bogle, was jailed for bootlegging, at least 60 members of the family have spent multiple sentences in prison, costing the United States taxpayers, according to Butterfield’s estimate, somewhere between $250 and $430 million bucks. And that’s just the penal cost, never mind the costs incurred by the victim of all their crimes.

bogleThree of the Bogles’ went to jail for murder, at least a dozen were convicted of robbery and/or burglary, a few kidnapping charges here and there, God knows how many assaults and, of course, most of the Bogle bunch have served time for drugs. We’re not talking about jaywalking, a traffic ticket or perhaps a tax lien. Butterfield spent ten years (ten years) researching this work, combing judicial archives, interviewing everyone he could find, even up to and including a man, Jeremy Vanwagner, now 40 years old, who had a cellmate named Bobby Bogle and discovered that Bobby was, in fact, his father because the latter recalled that he once had sex with a woman who sported an interesting tattoo on her rear end and Jeremy, outing together the time, the place and the tattoo, realized he was sharing a prison cell with his old man.

The 60 Bogle men and women who ended up doing time were all related, in some way or another, to Louis Bogle, whose five children were each responsible for creating families which then spawned the criminality that characterized the Bogle clan as a whole. And what Butterfield found in interviewing members of each family, along with talking to assorted welfare, penal and other social service professionals was not just that these families existed in poverty, but these families also existed in a state of violence, chaos and rootlessness which affected every family member from pre-adolescent ages on. Almost without exception, every Bogle child was viewed as a school ‘problem’ in their early grades, assuming that they attended school at all. With one or two exceptions, none of them learned trades, none held steady jobs; there were simply no positive role models within the Bogle clan. In fact, many of the parents often took young children with them when they were committing a burglary, drug deal or other crime.

The author has immersed himself in the relevant research literature about domestic violence where the inter-generational element looms large. But those studies are just numbers; Butterfield’s narrative brings the cold data to life. And if nothing else, you are made aware of the extent to which violent criminality is not an aberration within this family environment. If anything, it is considered a validating form of behavior to demonstrate an understanding and acceptance of the family’s social norms.

Given my specific interests, however, one thing struck me as somewhat odd. You would think that a family whose entire identity and existence revolved around violent crime would also be a family where guns were frequently used, as well as found. This happens not to be the case at all. None of the homicides involved guns, the assaults were the usual mélange of barroom brawls, domestic abuse, or grabbing a handy 2 X 4 and whacking someone over the head. How is it that the propensity for violence in this family doesn’t involve guns? After all, they live in Texas where everyone has a gun.

Any chance that people who use a gun to hurt someone else are exhibiting a behavior learned from someone else in the home? After all, kids learned how to use guns for hunting from good old Pa or Gramps, right?

Tom Gabor: Democrats and Republicans – Where Have They Stood on Gun Rights Versus Public Safety

I usually deliver a nonpartisan message but we are approaching the midterm elections and voters should be aware that the two parties have a very different record over the last 50 years.  When we look at major pieces of legislation passed at the federal level, the Democrats have supported laws designed to regulate guns to improve public safety and the Republicans have passed laws that have promoted the rights of gun owners, reduced oversight of the gun industry, impeded research on gun violence, and resisted gun regulation.  Let’s look at their records.

democratsGOP

The Democrats:

  • In 1968, after the assassinations of Senator Robert Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King, President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, signed into law The Gun Control Act of 1968. This comprehensive Act established categories of individuals prohibited from purchasing firearms (many felons, mentally ill individuals, those dishonorably discharged from the military, fugitives, etc.).  The Act also mandated the licensing of those engaged in the business of selling firearms.

 

  • In 1993, President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act. This law, as an interim measure, imposed a five-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm from a licensed dealer.  The Brady Law also mandated the instant background checks introduced in 1998 to determine whether buyers from a licensed dealer fall in a prohibited category.

 

  • In 1994, President Clinton signed the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, which prohibited the manufacture of certain semi-automatic weapons defined as assault weapons, as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines.

 

  • In 2013, following the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barak Obama, a Democrat, in what he called “a pretty shameful day for Washington”, saw his proposals to expand criminal background checks to all gun sales, to ban certain assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines voted down by a Republican-controlled Senate.

 

One exception was Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, who, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was formed in 1972, inserted a provision exempting guns and ammunition from the agency’s oversight.  The CPSC regulates the safety of about 15,000 consumer items, from toys and hair dryers to mattresses and lawn mowers.  Rep. Dingell served on the board of the National Rifle Association.

 

The Republicans:

 

  • In 1986, President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, signed the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. This Act strengthened the rights of gun owners and dealers by prohibiting the development of a gun registry, ending recordkeeping for ammunition, and limiting dealer inspections to one per year.

 

  • In 1996, Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican, inserted an amendment into the Federal Government Omnibus Spending Bill which effectively prohibited the Centers for Disease Control from funding research on gun violence.  This amendment was a major priority for the NRA.

 

  • In 2004, the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 expired under the administration of President George W. Bush, a Republican.

 

  • In 2005, President Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Several cities had filed lawsuits against gun makers and dealers, claiming that their actions had compromised public health and created huge financial obligations for the municipalities.  The Act shields the industry from lawsuits relating to the use of firearms and ammunition, when “the product functioned as designed and intended.”  The PLCAA provides broad protection to companies in the gun industry that make unsafe products and engage in distribution practices that result in easy access by criminals. No other industry benefits from such protection.

Above, we see the factual record over the last half century.  On the major initiatives at least, there is a clear pattern.  Democrats support reasonable gun regulation, such as expanding background checks to all sales and banning assault-style weapons.  Republicans are more concerned about the rights of gun owners, protecting the gun industry from liability, and obscuring the role of guns in deaths and injuries by suppressing research on gun violence.

 

Tom Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.    

So What If The CDC Gun-Violence Numbers Are Wrong?

Our friends at The Trace dropped a real bombshell last week by exposing the fact that the gun-injury data published by the CDC may or may not be correct. And if the data which we use to understand gun violence isn’t any good, then how can we figure out what to do about the problem that kills and injures more than 125,000 Americans every year? Or maybe the real number is as high as 160,000, or maybe it’s around 90,000; according to the intrepid Trace reporting team, the CDC estimate could be off either way by as much as 30 percent.

cdc             To arrive at this shocking state of affairs, the reporters from The Trace enlisted the help of another organization whose expertise, when it comes to figuring out data, is above reproach.  I am talking about the help they received from a team that works for Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight website – remember how accurate they were in predicting the outcome of the Presidential election in 2016?

With all due respect to this earthshaking news about the possible lack of precision in CDC gun-violence numbers, I published not one, but two columns on exactly this problem back in June. I also was unable to get a list of the hospitals that provide the data for the injury estimates, but I did find a national map which indicates the location of each medical center whose injury numbers are gathered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and then forwarded to the CDC.  The Trace quotes the editor of a major medical journal as stating that if the hospital sample includes sites which treat lots of gun injuries, this will influence the overall estimate in significant ways. This is nothing more than someone saying something because he’s been asked to say something; if you look at the map of participating hospital sites, you discover that, au contraire, some of them are located in places where gun violence rarely occurs.

Of course no article on anything having to do with public health gun research can be published by The Trace unless they get some quotes from some usual suspects such as major public health researchers like David Hemenway and Philip Cook. The former says he doesn’t trust the numbers, the latter was actually trying to figure out how many gun injuries end up resulting in deaths (the ‘case-fatality’ rate) which is a somewhat different issue than just trying to validate the non-fatal injury rate itself.

This report is grist for the mill of groups and organizations who are trying to re-start gun-research funding from the CDC. And I would certainly never (read: never) state or insinuate that there should be any kind of prohibition on such funding in any way. But this article raises two concerns that The Trace team does not appear to acknowledge or understand, nor are these issues found on the radar screen of their friends at 538.

With the exception of live births and deaths, both of which must be reported as accurately as possible to the U.S. Census so that we know how many people are actually living in the United States, virtually all of the data produced by the CDC on illness and health issues are estimates, and while the CDC does a much more comprehensive tracking of heart attacks than gun-shot wounds, take a look at the data on heart disease and you’ll notice that the reported numbers always are preceded by the word ‘about.’

More important the fact is that while everyone keeps barking up the tree about how we need more funding, I see little attention paid to another branch, namely, research not on the victims of gun violence, but on the perpetrators of this dread disease. If 75,000+ individuals didn’t pick up a gun every year and use the weapon to try and kill someone else, we wouldn’t experience a gun-violence rate that is many times higher than the rest of the OECD. Any chance The Trace might try to figure that one out?

 

Does Emma Need To Be Afraid Of Those Dopes With Their AR-15s? I Hope Not.

“Going up against the country’s largest gun lobby organization was obviously something that needed to be done, but it means that the people we’re arguing against are the ones with the guns. I am personally deathly afraid of them, and I know, from traveling the country during the summer for the Road to Change tour, that many of the people who disagree with us mean it when they say that they only want to talk if we’re standing on the other end of their AR-15s.”

emma             This is an excerpt from an op-ed written by Emma Gonzalez published today in The New York Times.  The piece is making the rounds in Gun-control Nation, and will be used by every gun-control organization to energize the troops for the big showdown on November 6th.

I notice, by the way, that over the last five days, according to Nate Silver, that the odds of the House going blue have slipped from 80.4% to 73.9%, and over that same period, the odds that the GOP will retain control of the Senate have gone from 68.1% to 78%. Weren’t both trends supposed to be going the opposite ways?  This mid-term election is beginning to smell slightly like the national election in 2016, a contest on which Gun-control Nation pinned all its hopes and dreams which then came to nothing at all.

That was then, this is now. Now we have remarkable kids like Emma Gonzalez whose determination to inject a note of reality into the gun debate has energized Gun-control Nation like nothing before.  It has also, of course, provoked a response from the other side, the Gun-nut Nation side, specifically responses like the one Emma says here: “many of the people who disagree with us mean it when they say that they only want to talk if we’re standing on the other end of their AR-15s.”

Last time I checked, the gun industry claims to have sold somewhere around 15 million AR-15s, or what they used to refer to as ‘modern sporting rifles,’ over the last ten years. The industry no longer promotes this ‘sporting’ nonsense because the word ‘sporting’ is out and the word ‘tactical’ is in.  When the President of the United States finds it convenient to excuse the fact that a bunch of schmucks were marching around Charlottesville wearing Nazi armbands and toting their assault rifles to protect a statue of Robert E. Lee, you have to figure that the United States has a tolerance for stupidity unmatched by any other national state.

Unfortunately, the same people who tell you they have a Constitutional ‘right’ to own an AR-15, will also tell you that the Constitution gives them the ‘right’ to wave it in your face. And I am sure that Emma is not exaggerating when she says that she has been threatened by acolytes of Gun-nut Nation in appearances here and there; God knows I get enough crazy emails from the same bunch and I’m not leading a national, gun-control movement like the movement that has emerged in the wake of activities by Emma, David, and their other high school friends.

But in measuring the degree of animosity created by Emma, I think we have to distinguish between serious threats and what, in many cases, is nothing more than an increase in the general volume of hot air. Of course, you can argue that had authorities in Florida responded when Nikolas Cruz first began making a nuisance of himself, perhaps the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School wouldn’t have occurred. Which is probably true.

On the other hand, why should we surprised when some dopes say they will only debate Emma if she’s in the crosshairs of their guns when the President tells a raptured audience that he would still get elected even after shooting someone down in the street? My friends in Gun-control Nation need to acknowledge that right now verbal excess is not only condoned but expected, particularly when the discussion happens to be about guns.

 

 

 

Want To Go Into The Gun Business? Now’s Not The Time.

There used to be a joke in the gun business which went like this: “Want to make a million in the gun business? Start with two million.”  Well, the FBI has just released the monthly NICS background-check numbers for September, and if things keep going the way they are going, the old joke will have to say that if you want to end up with a million bucks from guns, better start with three million, or even more.

business            Yea, yea, I know that FBI-NICS checks only count the initial sale of a gun, except that since most gun shops have an inventory which consists of at least 30% used guns, the background check number each month is a very good indicator of the overall trends within the gun industry. And lately, the trend has been going down.

September is a benchmark month for the gun business, because guns have never been able to compete with the beach.  The only reason I kept my gun shop open in July and August is because the air-conditioning system worked better in my store than it did at home. But come Labor Day, those boring beach vacations are over, the kids are back in school, the leaves in northern states are just beginning to turn, and the hunting season is in the air. And don’t for one moment believe that hunting is no longer a key activity for driving gun sales. Even if a majority of gun owners claim that their primary reason for having a gun is self-defense, there is still something about Fall weather that translates into an interest in guns.

My point is that September gun sales always show a significant increase compared to the prior month. But if we compare September background checks this year to background checks in the month of September in previous years, the decline of the industry becomes very clear.

The NICS checks cover four separate categories: handguns, long guns, ‘other’ guns and ‘multiple’ sales.  The first two categories are self-explanatory; ‘other’ guns refer usually refer to a receiver without a barrel, which is often how AR-15 rifle kits are sold – it’s still a gun because the receiver is serialized but it might be a handgun or a long gun, depending on what length barrel is then attached. Multiple guns means that the purchaser bought more than one gun; he could have bought two, he could have bought ten. In doing my numbers for this column, I’m assuming that ‘multiple’ equals two.

So here we go. Last month NICS background checks for gun transfers from dealers to customers totaled 869,636.  A year earlier the total was 957,597. Ready?  In 2016 the September number was 1,100,334. That’s a two-year drop of 20 percent.  Want to find the last year that September NICS numbers were under 900,000? You have to go back to 2011, which was before Sandy Hook put gun control on Obama’s brain.

Given the fact that I’m a yellow-dog Democrat what I am now going to say may sound like it shouldn’t be said, but from the point of view of reducing gun violence, I’m not sure that what we need in November is a blue wave. Because the truth is that unless the Hill goes blue and Sleazy Don decides to shove Wayne Lapierre under a bus in order to make a deal with the Democrats for something he really needs, I’m willing to bet that the slide in gun sales over the last two years may well continue at least until the next Presidential year, by which time NICS numbers could be almost half of what was registered during the Obama regime.

And when all is really said and done, you can talk about armed, self-defense and terrorism and all that other stuff, but an industry that is selling half as many products as it did ten years earlier, is an industry that will begin to look like…remember something called pay phones?

Don’t Worry About School Security. Joe Da Plumber Will Keep Your Kids Safe.

Remember Joe da Plumber?  Actually, his name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, and he became a right-wing media icon during the 2008 Presidential campaign, when he asked Barack a question during a campaign stop.  Joe claimed that he wanted to buy a plumbing business, but the proposed Obama tax program would have screwed up the whole deal, which immediately got Joe linked to the McCain campaign as representing the ‘average American’ who McCain was going to help.

joe            Now the fact that Joe da Plumber wasn’t actually a licensed plumber; the fact that McCain got involved with Charlie Keating, the banker who rooked tens of thousands of ‘average’ Americans out of their life savings; oh well, oh well. But until and even after the 2016 election, Joe da (unlicensed)  Plumber made a nice few bucks shooting his mouth off on Fox News.

Joe then got a job with Chrysler, but now he’s started a new gig involving school security products, which is clearly a growth field.  Joe’s hawking something called Swiftshield, a device that locks school or office doors against anyone trying to break in; the website claims that for $139.99 you get a product that is ‘virtually indestructible’ and ensures ‘peace of mind.’

For all the talk  by Republicans about the virtues of the free market, it’s amazing how they have no trouble cozying up to the ‘deep state’ when there’s money involved. The latest giveaway is $350 million that schools can use to ‘harden’ their entrances, but this dough is a drop in the bucket compared to what would have to be spent to protect all our school kids. The group which lobbies for the security manufacturers, the Security Industry Association, says that a comprehensive, nationwide security plan for all schools would run about $11 billion.

No wonder school systems have either implemented or are considering programs to arm classroom teachers. After all, a Glock only costs around $600, and I’ll sell you my used Model 19 right for $400 bucks.  The fact that being trained to respond to lethal force with lethal force is something that even most cops don’t do very well shouldn’t stand in the way of sticking guns in every teacher’s desk, and more than 200 school districts around the country evidently agree.

Now what I am about to say should not in any way be considered as diminishing the pain, tragedy and community trauma which follows from a mass shooting within a school building (e.g., Sandy Hook, Parkland, etc.) But notwithstanding those horrific events, the fact is that public K-12 schools happen to be very, very safe environments, and the safety level has been remarkably stable for the past 25 years.

The data for the graph comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, which just happens to be a branch of the Department of Education:

These numbers, incidentally, include not only students who die from violence within a school building, but also going to and from school, as well as going to school events at some other location.  In 2015, there were roughly 51 million children enrolled in public K-12 schools. Which means that the national violent death rate was less than 1 percent, and even though homicide is the second leading cause of death for the age cohorts 5 – 18, less than 2% of those 2015 deaths occurred within an educational environment. The bottom line is that schools are often much safer environments for children than the neighborhoods in which schools are located.

The takeaway from this data is very simple, namely, that once again a terrible but relatively rare event, like a mass school shooting, creates an atmosphere of fear and exaggerated concern which leads to solutions that simply don’t fit the problem at hand. But why should we be surprised? After all, with guys like Joe da Plumber leading the conversation, why should we expect anything less?