Oops!Docs Can Talk To Patients About Guns But Patients Can Keep Their Guns.

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Six years ago the State of Florida decided that doctors could not talk to their patients about guns. The state of Florida has become the legislative sandbox for every attempt by Gun-nut Nation to rid the country of any and all protections against the violence caused by guns. Stand Your Ground, Concealed Carry – both of these harebrained schemes came out of the Gunshine State. But the law known as FOPA (Firearm Owners Protection Act) was the craziest of them all.

doc-glocks             What made the law so crazy wasn’t the fact that it criminalized doctors who talked to their patients about guns; it was that in a state of 18 million people, the law was based on six unsubstantiated anecdotes which, as the 11th Circuit Court noted, didn’t even address the same concerns.  Which was one, but not the only reason why the 11th Circuit Court ruled 10 – 1 that the law was unconstitutional and couldn’t stand.

Throwing doctors out of the discussion about gun violence has been a major and ongoing NRA project since the medical profession first started warning about the risks of guns. Which is exactly how the Hippocratic Oath defines the role of physicians, namely, to reduce risk.  But I can’t blame the gun industry and its noisemakers like the NRA from taking an anti-doctor stand; after all, if you manufactured a consumer product which was considered by physicians to be too risky to own, you’d be up in arms (no pun intended) against those physicians too.

But what the Court said in this regard effectively stood the NRA’s argument on its head, because 10 out of 11 justices found that “there was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights.”   And this is what the argument is all about, namely, whether any attempt to regulate gun violence or even talk about gun violence is somehow always construed as an ‘attack’ on 2nd Amendment ‘rights.’

Right now a bill is being debated in the State of Washington Legislature which would make a failure to secure guns in the home a reckless endangerment felony if an individual who, under law, cannot have possession of a firearm gets his hands on the gun and discharges it or uses it in a criminal or threatening way.  The NRA is opposed to this bill, calling it “an intrusive government legislation [which] invades people’s homes and forces them to render their firearms useless in a self-defense situation by locking them up.”

The bill does no such thing. Nor does a doctor talking to a patient about guns threaten the patient’s ownership of that gun. But if we now have a President who stands up in front of the entire nation and after he’s corrected about the size of his electoral victory repeats the same falsehood again, should we be surprised when the representatives of Gun-nut Nation continue to promote their own false claims again and again?

No doubt that when the dust settles and the smoke clears, Gun-nut Nation will come up with their own, self-fulfilling narrative about the ‘Docs versus Glocks’ case.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if the first thing they say is that the 11th Circuit is tainted because 9 of the 10 judges who supported the majority decision were appointed by gun-grabber numero uno, Barack Hussein.  But that’s nothing more than another riff on Trump-o’s attack on the ‘politicized’ judiciary, which seems to be the latest in a dwindling list of options available to the Chief Executive before he’s forced to resign.

The decision by the 11th Circuit not only puts an end to a six-year battle that erupted when the FOPA law was first announced.  It also puts a big dent in the thirty-year campaign waged by the NRA and others to keep evidence-based information about gun risk and gun violence on the margins of the public domain. This just isn’t a victory for doctors and patients, it’s a victory for the value of reasoned, public debate.

 

 

 

A Great Concert For Newtown, A Good Time For You.

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Yesterday I had a lot of fun writing and posting a column about the new musical video that the New York Gays Against Guns group has put up on YouTube.  So in the interests of giving everyone equal opportunity to strut their stuff on my website, I’m going to use this column to promote another gay event on gun violence, in this case a concert to benefit the Newtown Action Alliance which will take place this coming Monday, February 20 in New York.

disarm             But this concert isn’t being held at just any old theater or concert hall; it’s going to happen at The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, and I can’t tell you the memories that the Stonewall brings back to me.  Because it was a police raid of this gay bar on June 28, 1969, that precipitated a bunch of spontaneous demonstrations (referred to by the denizens of law and order as ‘riots’) that probably marked the public emergence of the ‘gay rights’ movement and led to the triumphs (and still some frustrations) experienced by the LGBTQ community today.

In 1993 I was in San Francisco on business, it was a Friday evening and I was sick of going back to the Beverly Hills Hotel to eat yet one more Marriott-catered meal.  So I asked someone where I could get a really good, home-cooked meal with some interesting conversation to boot, and he told me to go to the gay and lesbian synagogue in the Castro district which had a pot-luck dinner after the service every Friday night. So there I am after the service, standing in front of this great, pot-luck buffet, eating my head off and talking to whomever would talk to me. And one of my conversations was with a guy who had moved out to San Francisco from Brooklyn because, as he told me, his parents were Orthodox and he couldn’t break their hearts by staying in New York and coming out gay. He told me that even though he had to entirely remake his life with a certain amount of anxiety and fear, he had ultimately done the right thing.

Later that evening as I was back at my hotel I wondered how many people were like this guy, born before mainstream culture was accepting of gays, having to live a shadow life or change everything in order to come out.  What did Obergefell v. Hodges mean to someone like him?  It’s a question I ask myself from time to time but the answer tells me that just because something is difficult, just because progress seems to be interminably slow, don’t ever assume that things won’t change. And this is how we have to think about ending gun violence – things can change.

Which is why I’m so happy that the concert for Newtown is taking place at the Stonewall Inn.  And what a concert it’s going to be. Dig this: Cate Blanchett’s the headliner in what they are calling a ‘Broadway Review,’ and Jason Hayes, who put together the Disarm Hate rally in DC last year, will also be working this gig.  I don’t know the rest of the lineup but what’s the difference? It’s another opportunity to let the world know that gun violence, like gay rights, isn’t something to be swept into the closet and never discussed, which is what Gun-nut Nation hopes to occur.

Because the truth is that reason that gun violence continues to plague our communities is because those of us who want to reduce it don’t make enough noise.  Now don’t get me wrong. The gun violence prevention (GVP) community works very hard and many GVP advocates have devoted their lives and their energies to pushing GVP issues to the fore.  But what made LGBTQ a mainstream issue was when the mainstream decided to support the cause. And GVP needs to engage more folks from the mainstream in order to win their fight.

MONDAY – SEPTEMBER 20 – THE STONEWALL – GREENWICH STREET – NEW YORK

 

Gays Against Guns Keep Doing Their Thing And Their Thing Is A Good Thing.

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When I was in high school, I earned weekend money by playing in a band which performed at various school dances, weddings and bar-mitzvas around town. At some point we got a gig in a private club somewhere on the Jersey shore which featured a group of very talented female impersonators performing a gay version of the Radio City Rockettes.  The club was private because in those days, the 1950’s, you didn’t walk around advertising the fact that you were gay. And you certainly didn’t let it be known that a bunch of ‘female imps’ as they were known, were performing on a public stage.

gag             I got friendly with the members of this troupe and I never imagined that I would ever see the Supreme Court of the United States proclaim that these talented artists could live and behave any way they chose to be.  Which is why, believe it or not, I remain convinced that someday gun violence will also come to an end, because ending gun violence rests on a moral imperative – thou shall not kill – and morality will sooner or later always win.

In that regard, I take a special interest in the doings of an organization, Gays Against Guns (GAG,) whose mission can best be described in a statement from their website: “Gays Against Guns NY is an inclusive group of LGBTQ people and their allies committed to nonviolently breaking the gun industry’s chain of death–investors, manufacturers, the NRA and other lobby groups, and their puppets in Congress that block good gun laws.”

There are other GAG chapters around the country, but the New York group has provided some of the most original responses to the continued flood of gun violence, in particular some very engaging videos that spell out their message loud, hip and clear.  Their latest production is a theatrical performance with original lyrics set to the song ‘My Funny Valentine,’ which is apropos as I am writing these words on February 14, which happens to be Valentine’s Day.

This brief musical theater is staged in the Union Square subway station in New York City, and features a character made up like Trump and another character playing the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre.  The lyrics, of course, reflect the group’s concerns about gun violence, along with the flinging around of a pile of money obviously representing the dough spent by the NRA on the Trump campaign.  The musical performance jumps back and forth between the subway platform and above ground next to the famed arch in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park.  It’s a funny, lively spoof on the relationship between the NRA and Trump but it has its serious side as well, particularly a scene above ground where players in the troupe display pictures of a gay couple, both of whom were shot to death during the massacre in The Pulse.

When you finish viewing this video, jump to another video which shows members of the GAG group staging an appearance in front of the NRA booth at last year’s New Jersey State Fair. Now you would think that at a state fair, particularly at a booth for the NRA, that the appearance of a gay group talking about gun violence might provoke some rather heated or even nasty comments from the passing crowd. But watch this video closely and you’ll see that with the exception of one older guy who appeared to be either confused or pissed off, most of the crowd were polite in their reaction to the GAG folks, and engaged them in brief discussions about gun violence in a proper and respectful way.

I think that this country has come a long way in its attitudes towards LGBTQ. Not that there won’t always be a few hardy souls coming out of the woodwork to lay claim to the idea that non-traditional lifestyles are the Devil’s own work. But think about how a culture has changed as regards LGBTQ and don’t dismiss the idea that the same culture change can’t happen when it comes to guns.

Does Gun Violence Go Down When We ‘Get Tough’ On Illegal Guns?

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Our good friends at The Trace have responded to the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as the People’s Lawyer by running a detailed analysis of how he prosecuted gun cases during 1993, the last year of his tenure as U.S. Attorney in Mobile. During his recent confirmation hearings Sessions came down hard on prosecuting gun crimes, citing a Federal sentencing statute which calls for a mandatory, five-year prison term for someone who commits a violent crime with a gun.  And the gun sentence doesn’t run concurrent with the sentence for the violent crime itself – it’s tacked on after the other sentence has been served.

sessions              The study published in The Trace covered 70 gun cases that went through Sessions’ office in 1993, of which 19 were tied directly to a violent crime and thus might have become what prosecutors call a ‘tack-on’ charge, which is often used as a threat to get a defendant to cop a guilty plea.  His office also charged drug dealers with being ‘repeat offenders’ if they carried a gun during multiple drug sales on the same day, and these charges often resulted in sentences of between 25 years to life.

Now here’s where things get a little sticky, both in terms of what a detailed analysis of these gun cases shows, as well as how Dan Friedman, who wrote the piece for The Trace, chose to explain what went down.  Of the 70 gun cases prosecuted by Sessions in 1993, 25 were for a felon who had possession of a gun, which is a violation of the gun-control law of 1968.  Most of these individuals were not charged with any other crime, some got reduced sentences by copping a plea, others served three years or more.

Friedman’s article suggests that the surge in the number of felons-in-possession cases wasn’t tied directly to an increase in violent crime, but was simply a way for Sessions and other U.S. Attorneys to ‘pad’ their caseloads with more successful prosecutions which meant more people serving more time in jail.  He notes that when Geoffrey Holder became Attorney General under Obama, he told federal prosecutors to relax the guidance on chasing and convicting defendants of gun charges, no doubt a reflection of concerns about the rising incarceration rates, in particular the incarceration of blacks. The result, according to Freidman, is that federal firearms-violations cases dropped from 11,067 in 2004 to 8,528 in 2015.

Friedman’s article concludes with a statement from Professor Daniel Richman who teaches law at Columbia University and previously served as a federal prosecutor for the Federal District of New York. “Gun prosecutions can cover a range of people,” says Richman, “you are getting someone with a gun and that’s something, but the likely effect on violence is far from clear.” Which was perhaps one of the reasons that motivated Holder to relax the aggressive prosecution of gun cases during his tenure in D.C.

So I decided to test Richman’s theory about what happens when we ‘get tough’ on gun crime, which is clearly uppermost in the mind of the new Attorney General, as well as his boss who ranted endlessly about protecting America from the criminal hordes during the 2016 campaign.  Know how many homicides were committed in Mobile in 1992, the year before Sessions really cracked down on guys who were walking around with illegal guns? There were 35 homicides in Mobile, of which at least half were committed with guns. Know how many homicides occurred in Mobile in 1993, when Sessions was locking up everyone who was found with an illegal gun?  The homicide number for that year was 42 and every other violent crime category was either significantly down from the previous year or remained the same.

In other words, while Sessions was busily locking up all the criminals with guns, more people in Mobile ended up getting killed. So if there’s any connection between getting ‘tough’ on illegal guns and violent crime, it might be exactly the reverse of what Sessions, Trump and the NRA have said.  Hmmmmmmm….

Does Stand Your Ground Work? Sure Does If You Want To Shoot Someone.

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Caroline Light’s provocative and original book, Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair With Lethal Self Defense, is making its official debut next week and you can pick up a copy at (where else?) Amazon but I’m sure it will be at your independent bookseller as well.  Its appearance, incidentally, will no doubt coincide with the beginning of another attempt by Gun-nut Nation to push a bill through Congress that will let anyone with a concealed-carry license carry his gun through all 50 states.

light_standyourground_2             The idea that a gun license should be no different than a driver’s license has been a cherished gun-nut dream since then-Senator Larry Craig came out of his men’s room stall to speak in favor of a national, concealed-carry bill on the Senate floor. The bill is routinely filed every two years, it has always been just as routinely ignored, but guess who’s sitting in his office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just waiting to sign such a bill into law?  And what better way to rev up his sturm und drang base and take their minds off the fact that he can’t really get anything done than to announce that they can now run around anywhere in the United States carrying their guns?

And this is what concealed-carry is really all about, namely, playing out a fantasy that I can protect myself from all those street thugs and bandidos because I’m carrying a gun. The fact that most of the folks who have concealed-carry licenses happen to live in places with little or no violent crime is entirely beside the point.  I really loved it when Trump-o said he could stand on the 5th Avenue sidewalk, shoot someone down and his supporters would still give him their votes. If he did, it would be the first time that a violent crime was committed on 5th Avenue since I don’t know when. But that didn’t stop Trump from bragging about how he allegedly walks around carrying a gun.

Caroline Light’s book isn’t about concealed-carry per se, it’s really a study of a peculiarly American legal phenomenon known as Stand Your Ground (SYG.) Because other Western countries may make it more difficult to get a concealed-carry license, but they are issued if you can show cause.  On the other hand, SYG laws are a peculiarly American phenomenon, and Professor Light does a first-rate job of explaining how and why our ‘love affair’ with lethal, self-defense departs so dramatically from Common Law traditions which, in England and other British colonial zones, don’t support the SYG legal position at all.

When the Supreme Court gave Americans a Constitutional protection in 2008 to keep handguns in the home for self-defense, the majority based its reasoning on a rather arbitrary analysis of the phrase ‘keep and bear arms.’ But according to Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, it also reflected an American ‘tradition’ of using guns, particularly handguns, for personal defense. What Light shows is that from the very beginnings of the country, the earliest legal cases which codified SYG involved physical disputes that were settled with a gun. I’m not sure that we yet fully understand exactly how and why guns proliferated in the United States, but the connection between gun ownership and the legal sanction of SYG is made very clear in this book.

The problem we have today, however, is that with so many guns floating around, what to the shooter may be a defensive act could be an offensive act to the person who gets shot.  Recently a 60-year old St. Louis man was found not guilty of assault after he shot and killed a 13-year old kid at a distance of 70 feet.  The teenager was running away after breaking into the man’s car, but under Missouri law, since the man felt ‘threatened,’ he had the right to yank out his gun. What kind of country do we live in where something like this can occur?  Some answers to that question are provided in Caroline Light’s new and important book.

 

 

Want The Craziest Florida Gun Law Of All? Here It Comes.

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Now that Florida legislators are once again debating how and where state residents can and cannot go carrying a gun, a new wrinkle has been added to the discussion by a bill just filed by a longtime, pro-gun State Senator named Greg Steube.  He’s been in the legislature for six years and this year chairs the Judiciary Committee where pro-gun bills died in 2015 and 2016, but he’s going to really lead the fight for SB 140, which would allow guns on college campuses, as well as in airports and public meetings.

pulse             The bill has attracted the usual attention from both sides of the gun debate, particularly in the wake of the Fort Lauderdale shooting in January which killed five and injured a dozen more. But lost in the controversy over this piece of legislation is another bill filed by Steube himself, SB 610, which if enacted, would allow someone who voluntarily left his gun behind when he entered a ‘gun-free’ establishment to sue the owner if they were injured by someone who entered the same location with a gun and proceeded to blast away.

Now the way this crazy law would work is that if an owner decided that his establishment should be free of guns, he could always avoid litigation after a shooting if he elected some kind of reasonable strategy to keep his disarmed patrons out of harm’s way, such as hiring an armed guard or maybe installing a metal-detector at the front door.  You may recall, incidentally, that there was an armed guard at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, who traded gunfire with the shooter before the latter then barricaded himself at the rear of the club.  Fat lot of good the armed security guard (an off-duty cop) did for the 102 club patrons who were killed or wounded in that attack.

Know how all the really crazy stuff like half-and-half and Ronald Reagan first appears in California and then spreads nationwide?  When it comes to the worst laws for encouraging gun violence, they start in Florida; i.e., laws that promote CCW and Stand Your Ground (SYG.)  But this law is the craziest and worst sop to Gun-nut Nation of any gun law that has ever been introduced, because you can make the argument that under certain circumstances and with proper training, a responsible individual might be allowed to walk around with a gun.  As for SYG, while those laws have exacerbated gun violence when the alleged assailant happens to be black, the law itself doesn’t speak to the issue of what kind of weapon might be used to make it easier for someone to remain in place against an attack, it just makes it easier to claim self-defense.

This crazy law, on the other hand, is built entirely around the idea that a person who voluntarily gives up access to a gun should therefore expect the individual whose establishment has a no-gun policy to protect him if he suffers an injury due to an “unlawful or reckless act.”  Now let’s say I’m standing in a bar and someone next to me jiggles the drink I have in my hand and the contents of the glass spill out and soil my new shirt. The whole point of gun-free zones is that if I’m armed and slightly drunk, there’s a good chance that I might pull out my gun.  In the brilliant words of Lester Adelson: “With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”  This is what a gun-free zone is designed to prevent – the all-too-often escalation of an argument into a horrific injury or a death because someone had a gun.

Gun-nut Nation’s obsession with ridding the country of gun-free zones is based on no credible research showing that armed citizens make a difference in protecting us from crime.  But tell that to Senator Steube and the other gun-nut supporters from the Gunshine State.

Why Are School Shootings Different From Other Shootings? They Aren’t.

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When we say goodbye to our kids in the morning as they trundle off to school, we all hope they will spend their day in a safe and secure space. But ever since the Sandy Hook massacre near the end of 2012, the issue of school shootings and gun violence in schools is never far from our minds. And while I don’t think that the arming teachers and staff is a smart thing, I can sympathize with parents of school-age kids who fear that their school might be next.

sandy              Now we have a detailed report by a research team at Northwestern University who believe that school shootings are ‘significantly correlated’ with increased unemployment and conclude that these shootings reflect ‘increasing uncertainty in the school-to-work transition’ which became more problematic during the Great Recession beginning in 2008.

Not surprisingly, this effort is gaining its usual share of attention from both sides of the gun violence debate, with Gun-nut Nation claiming that the findings underscore the need to have armed guards in every K-12 school, and Gun-sense Nation of course arguing the other way.  But after reading the report closely and carefully, I’m not so sure that the correlation between rates of school shootings and indicators of economic distress are as meaningful or exact as the authors of this report would lead us to believe.

First as to the raw data on the number and trend of K-12 shootings – it’s pretty thin.  Which is not the fault of the researchers, you work with what you have. But what they have are six datasets, only one of which goes past 2012, and none of which are particularly exact or comprehensive in terms of giving us any kind of complete information on K-12 shootings, particularly over the last 5-6 years.

Despite these gaps, there are some findings of note.  When all the datasets were merged and checked for accuracy, the researchers were able to construct a list of 381 school shootings, which works out to an average of 15 shootings per year.  That works out to a rate (per 100K) of .03 shootings a year, and while the report does not quantify the deadliness of the shootings or the number of victims, if we assume a mortality rate of 50% and one victim per incident, notwithstanding the fearsome emotions precipitated by such events, K-12 schools still seem to be pretty safe places where kids can spend their days.

As to the increase in school shootings since 2008 and the onset of worsening economic trends, we can also see an increase in gun violence outside of school environments over the same period of time.  If we combine data on gun homicides and gun assaults published by the CDC, we come up with a yearly average between 2001 and 2014 of 62,316 gun injuries, an annual number that was at least 20% higher in 6 of the 7 years between 2008 and 2014.  In other words, if school shootings are on the rise, so are shootings which occur everywhere else.  And since more than 60% of all school shootings, according to the report, were attempts by an armed individual to injure a specific person who happened to be present on the property of a particular school, why should the reasons for school shootings be any different than the reasons for gun violence wherever it takes place?

If I had a nickel for everyone with a theory about why gun violence occurs I wouldn’t have to work for a living, so I’ll add my own pet theory to the mix.  I believe that every act of gun violence occurs for at least one reason, namely, the presence of a gun.  And since 2008 there are a lot more guns around.  And no matter who owns all these guns and no matter how strict the laws, more and more guns will get into the ‘wrong hands.’ Know how it used to be the economy, stupid?  Now stupid, it’s the gun.

 

 

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