What Should Doctors Say To Patients About Guns?

Today a group of well-meaning and thoroughly ignorant physicians are getting together in New York City to discuss for the umpteenth time the appropriate medical response to what is called a ‘national public health crisis;’ i.e., injuries caused by guns. They will no doubt draft yet another set of proposals to deal with the problem which will include all the usual things – more research funding, comprehensive background checks, ‘red flag’ laws, assault rifle ban, maybe even a mandatory delay in gun transfers or mandatory training before someone can walk around with a gun.

The reason I say these medical professionals are ‘thoroughly ignorant’ is because none of them know anything about guns. If they did know something about guns, they would understand that you can’t make something ‘safe’ which is designed not to be safe. How do we define the word ‘safe?’ It means that when we use something the way it’s supposed to be used that no injury occurs.

That being said, let me break the news gently to all those folks shooting their mouths off at today’s meeting in New York: The guns which are used to commit virtually every act of gun violence happen to be designed for one purpose and one purpose only – to kill or injure either the user of the gun or someone else. To use such guns in a ‘safe’ way is to invent a narrative that could only be taken seriously by people who know absolutely nothing about guns.

Want to ban assault rifles? Fine. Such a ban might result in reducing the number of people killed or injured with guns by, at best, 2 percent. What about the other 98 percent? Oh no, we can’t ban Glocks, we can’t ban tactical shotguns, the Constitution says Americans can own  those guns. And the last thing that medical professionals would ever want to be accused of doing is coming up with a response to a public health problem that didn’t align with 2nd-Amendment rights.

I have never understood how or why physicians need to be concerned about what the Constitution says or doesn’t say about guns when the evidence-based research that physicians are supposed to use to define all medical practice clearly proves that access to a gun is a significant health risk. Is the risk somehow lessened by locking the guns up or locking them away?  Sorry, but I have to gently break something else to my medical friends: There is not one, single study which has ever shown any connection whatsoever between ‘safe storage’ and the injuries caused by guns.

There are studies all over the place which find that when patients are counseled on safe behavior with guns, many of them later report that they have taken the doctor’s advice and are behaving with their guns in a safer way. But none of these studies are based on a before-and-after analysis of gun violence rates; it is simply assumed, with no evidence whatsoever, that behaving in a safe way with guns results in gun-violence rates going down.

When anyone puts their hand on a live gun (that’s a gun with ammunition ready to go) they have moved into a high-risk zone. And the only way to mitigate that risk is to make it impossible for anyone to put their hands on that gun. Now there happen to be many people (one of them me) who have decided for all sorts of reasons that they have no problem accepting that risk. There are also a lot of people who still like to ‘light up a Lucky’ or walk around with 40 extra pounds on their frame. And by the way, the Constitution gives every American the ‘right’ to do both.

Would any physician ever claim, in the interests of  ‘non-partisanship,’ that these patients should be advised to find a safer way to eat or smoke? Of course not. And that being the case, the physicians who think they can find some kind of neutral pathway to reducing gun violence are simply showing their ignorance about guns.

Want to get rid of gun violence? Get rid of the guns designed to cause gun violence. An approach which, by the way, doesn’t run counter to the 2nd Amendment at all.

Hunting And Conservation Are A Good Thing.

You may recall that last month Rudy Giuliani’s business buddy, a.k.a. Donald Trump, threatened to cut off federal aid to California because the state wasn’t doing an effective job on fighting wildfires. Now the fact that the Federal Government owns half the forest land in California whereas state forest lands represent 3% and thus the problem is one for the Feds to resolve as opposed to being the responsibility of Governor Newsom’s administration is only yet further proof (as if we need more proof) that the 45th President of the United States is the most misinformed Chief Executive of all time. Be that as it may, this exchange brought back to mind a brief chapter of American conservation history which deserves to be recalled.

In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was an effort to combat the high rate of unemployment during the Depression while, at the same time, use government resources to expand and protect natural resources, particularly forest lands. When it comes to conservation we usually think of the other Roosevelt, Teddy, because he was an active conservationist his entire life and created five major national parks as President from 1901 to 1909.

Today the National Park System covers 85 million acres and everyone has either visited or would like to visit parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Yosemite, Zion, the list goes on and on. I have been in every national park and my own favorite is Joshua Tree outside of Palm Springs because it is mostly desert which means the solitude is immense. A close runner-up to Joshua Tree is Capitol Reef in Utah, another amazingly undisturbed place.

What is often overlooked when we talk about federal government efforts to preserve our natural space is that in fact it was Franklin Roosevelt’s CCC that enlarged the National Wildlife Refuge system which now covers more than 150 million acres, including 566 national wildlife refuges in all 50 states. In my state, Massachusetts, there are 11 refuges and I often wander in and around the Oxbow Refuge, which is 1,667 acres of totally unspoiled, natural swamp with nesting places for various migratory birds.  During the years when the CCC was engaged in wildlife conservation, one of their chief tasks was to fight fires that threatened wildlife sites.

As open space becomes an ever-increasing precious resource, the fact that virtually everyone living in the United States can gain access to these unspoiled places by driving a short distance from their homes, means that the ability to appreciate the wildness of nature remains an experience we all can share.  What group among us is dependent upon this environment to help them enjoy the outdoors? Hunters, whose purchase of hunting licenses, firearms and ammunition have contributed more than $14 billion to the upkeep and extension of these natural zones.

Much of the current debate about the place of guns in American culture ignores how the use of small arms for hunting and sport is a vital element in preserving the space needed by wild to flourish and grow. This may sound like something of a paradox, insofar as we usually consider hunting to be a threat to wild animal life. But in fact, hunters understand and support the Boone & Crockett idea of a ‘fair chase’ is really all about helping to maintain the vital balance between all living things – humans and animals sharing the Earth’s natural space.

For me, the importance of hunting for strengthening conservation is a much more fundamental argument for gun ownership than anything having to do with armed, self-defense or 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ Which is why I got involved with Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), a remarkable organization whose scientific research is moving our understanding of  how to protect wild species to an entirely new level.

I am going to be writing more columns about C2S2 but in the meantime I invite you to look at their website (https://conservationcenters.org/) and subscribe to their Facebook page. I guarantee you’ll like what you see.

Want To Learn About Guns? Try This Magazine.

              One of the reasons I like to write about guns is because it was when I first started reading about guns that I decided to become a gun nut. I had been given a Daisy Red Ryder when I was nine or ten years old; I also was a member of an NRA-sponsored shooting team when I was eleven (and have been a member since that time), but I got my first, real gun in 1956 when I was twelve years old. I’ll save that story for another time.

              About a month before I bought my first gun, the first of at least a thousand I have bought and sold over the following sixty-plus years, I found myself on a train going from Washington, D.C. to Florida, looking for something to read. What I picked up from a vacant seat close by was a copy of Field and Stream. And right inside the cover was a full-page, color photograph of some hunting gun, probably a Winchester or a Remington, which was the most beautiful photograph of anything I had ever seen.

              Why do some boys become gun nuts instead of collecting model trains or getting into ham radios, which is what most of my friends did back in those days?  I have absolutely no earthly idea. But what I do know is that I started wandering around gun shops and gun shows in my late teens, an activity which continues to the present day. And I also never go into Barnes & Noble without wandering over to the magazine rack and leafing through Guns and Ammo, Shooting Times or Field and Stream.

              The last-named is rather interesting because it just so happens that of late I am devoting myself to animal conservation and the restoration and protection of animal species which live in natural space. But we can’t assume that open, natural space is likely to remain open or natural without conscious efforts being made to keep things that way. And we certainly can’t assume that these spaces are large enough to provide the environment required for all wild species to survive. Which is why I have become a supporter of a remarkable organization, Conservation Centers for Species Survival, but that’s also a story for another day.

              Getting back to Field and Stream, it was founded in 1895 and absorbed its chief competitor, Forest and Stream, in 1930. The editor of Forest and Stream from 1876 to 1911 was America’s first conservationist, George Bird Grinnell, who founded the Boone & Crockett Club with Theodore Roosevelt in 1887. Neither Grinnell nor Roosevelt ever wrote about guns, but they encouraged gun writers to contribute content to both of these magazines because they understood that hunting was an integral part of how humans have always interacted with the outdoors. And by the way, if you think for one second that the members of Boone & Crockett are just a bunch of right-wing yahoos running around in the woods with their AR-15’s, take a look at what the club says about climate change.

              As far as writing about guns is concerned, most of the writers who helped me become a gun nut happened to be contributors to Field and Stream.  I’m talking about guys like Townsend Whelen, Warren Page and Jack O’Connor who managed always to strike a wonderful balance in their work between the technical aspect of gun design and manufacture versus the joys and challenges of taking a gun out to the field.

              Many of the hunters and the gun writers I met growing up are long gone; for that matter hunting is also slipping away. When kids talk about enjoying the outdoors, they are much more likely to be carrying a kayak on the roof of their cars then carrying a gun in the trunk. But the outdoors is still the refuge for most of the wild species whose existence we both need and enjoy.

              And I am still grateful that I first became aware of this wonderment in the pages of a hunting magazine called Field and Stream.   

Josh Montgomery: AR-style rifles – What Should You Pay Attention When Buying.

You’re probably very excited to buy your first AR-style rifle, yet you’re afraid you might end up choosing one that is not right for you. You’re not the first nor the last. After all, not everyone can be an all-around expert, right?

AR-style rifles are semi-automatic performers that are capable of being used in combat. They are of multiple types, such as polymer, AK-47, AR-15, compact and many others. However, combat is not the only way assault rifles can be put to work, as they can be used for hunting and self-defense as well.

Especially if you’re a first-time buyer, the many choices you find on the market could be overwhelming and can easily give you the “this is not for me” mindset. However, it is not as difficult as you think, and all you need is some guidance. So, if you’re thinking of purchasing an AR-style rifle, here’s what you need to look for before you spend your money.

  • Brand

Is it even worth mentioning that there are a lot of brands out there? Just like it’s the case for any other product, there are different brands that are trying to manufacture the best model on the market. In case you were thinking the brand doesn’t really matter, well, think again. Each one hires different experts to manufacture the weapons, so it’s only normal the rifles differ from each other, depending on who made them.

That being said, some brands sell their rifles for lower prices, while others seem quite expensive. While we don’t suggest choosing the pricier item, don’t settle for the cheapest one either. Unless you want to end up with a gun that will have a poor performance and won’t resist for too long, you should avoid it.

Look for one with a decent price. Some popular brands are Smith, Colt, and Wesson.

  • Triggers

The trigger is the one determining the bullet to pass through the barrel, so it only makes sense you have to consider this factor. Some triggers are harder to pull than others, and choosing the right pull weight depends on your strength and preference.

Make sure you choose one that’s not too easy to pull, nor requiring all of your power to work. Also, if triggers have screw adjustments, avoid them, as they may back out.

  • Feel

How you feel with the rifle while handling it is really important. So, this should definitely be one of the decisive factors before you invest in it. You wouldn’t want to feel any discomfort while struggling to shoot accurately, would you?

Of course, this also differs from one person to another. So, you have to test the assault rifle before deciding if it’s the right one for you. You can do this by picking it up and putting it on your shoulder.

If it feels uncomfortable, it’s best to avoid buying that model because you will have to spend extra money on adjustments.

Test each rifle you set your eyes on and make sure it feels comfortable when you handle it.

  • Fit

Whether the rifle fits or not is yet another very important aspect to take into consideration. Just like the feel, this depends on each individual. It can be figured out through a simple test.

You have to hold the rifle and use your dominant hand to make a firing grip. See if you’re able to reach every control, such as the safety, bolt catch, magazine release and, ultimately, the trigger. Don’t be surprised if some rifles make this the most difficult task in the world. As they are manufactured differently, not each one allows for smooth, easy operation, so reaching every control may not be possible.

That being said, choose one that allows you to reach the controls without putting in too much effort. Otherwise, you might drop the weapon and you’ll not be able to use it efficiently. Look for a different model if the one you tested doesn’t fit.

  • Durability

Let’s be honest, who would want to buy a gun knowing it will most likely die after barely being used? Nobody wants that, given the amount of money spent. It’s important to look carefully at the weapon and do some research before you settle for it. Assault rifles should be able to withstand years of usage without losing their good condition.

Coming as no surprise, the market has many low-quality rifle models that are not only about to crumble after a few uses but may also be really dangerous. So, you need to be really careful and not just choose a cheap option, or one from a brand you haven’t heard of. Check out the rifle, do some research and ask the shop worker for as many details as possible to be sure that you’re getting the right item.

  • Accessories

Sometimes, you have to look for some additional items that will make the experience much better. When it comes to AR-style rifles, you may want accessories such as optics, lights, and slings. So, the rifle you choose should have attachment points for them.

This is why you should look at how many attachment points the weapon has. Particularly if you want to do competitive shooting, the more attachment points, the better. This is because accessories can greatly improve your performance by helping you.

So, look for rifles with a higher number of attachment points, and you can add versatile and useful accessories.

Final Thoughts

AR-style rifles are not like children’s toys and looking for one is a task that should be taken seriously. Since assault rifles can be a really solid investment, you need to know what to look for to choose one that delivers exactly what you wish. Hopefully, our article has helped you in this regard.

Want To Find Common Ground Between Gun Owners And Non-Gun Owners? Think Conservation.

 An interesting article appeared today on a website which caters primarily to residents of Ohio who earn their livings by owning or working on farms. There are still 75,000 farms in the Buckeye State, which means that the farmers and their families account for less than 3% of the population, but together agriculture contributes more than $100 billion to the state’s economy, which isn’t bad considering that taken together, farmland accounts for about half of all the state’s physical size.

The article, written by the Director of Agricultural Law at Ohio State, summarizes what landowners need to know when they allow hunters to go trekking across their land. Ohio has passed any number of statutes covering who can hunt on  someone else’s land, what kind of permission is required, how many hunters can be on a specific piece of land at the same time, who needs to be notified about trespassers, and so on. As the author of the article states, “hunting raises many questions and concerns for agricultural landowners. Ohio law offers rules and remedies that can ease those concerns.”

What I find interesting is the degree to which hunting and farming both help to sustain the natural balance  that allows all living species (including humans) to survive. The farmer plants a crop which both draws and restores natural ingredients to the land. After the harvest (which produces sustenance for animals and man) the stubble and vines provide nourishment for all kinds of living things. Then the hunters come and trim the flocks  and herds attracted to the open, farmed space and the whole cycle repeats itself again.

The importance of this process and the role played by hunting in maintaining the natural balance of this cycle was recognized by Theodore Roosevelt and George Grinnell when they founded the Boone & Crockett Club in 1887.  This followed from Roosevelt’s first hunting expedition in 1883 when he went out West to bag a trophy-sized bison. What he thought would be an easy hunting trip into the Dakota Territory, turned into an arduous trek into Montana because the American bison, once native to the entire continent, had become almost extinct in the continental United States. The founding of Boone & Crockett was the first of many steps taken by Roosevelt and other hunter-conservationists to regulate the taking of game so that herds and flocks would continue to flourish and grow.

I did my first serious hunting in South Carolina in the mid-1970’s, going after white tails both in highland and lowland sites. When I moved to Massachusetts in 1993 I froze my rear end several times hunting high-flyers from duck blinds on the Atlantic coast. I also briefly hunted elk in Wyoming and antelope in West Texas; in neither place did I even get off one shot.

What impresses me about this country is that we have almost an endless supply of open space, most of which represents farms that are no longer in production but offer all kinds of landscapes where hunters can go and engage in what Boone & Crockett calls a ‘fair chase.’ This means that at all times the hunter is aware of his responsibility to “conserve wildlife natural resources, especially game species.”

It just so happens that an organization, Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2) has been working on ways to maintain and augment the natural balance so that wild species can survive in what is increasingly less amounts of natural space. The group is an offshoot of the Smithsonian, and the CEO, Katy Palfrey, just happens to be the great-great granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt, I kid you not.

You can see what they are doing on their website, but I’ll just summarize it quickly and tell you this. They work with ranchers and farmers who have open land that can be used to study the most effective ways to protect and grow natural species, and some of their spaces are shared with hunters as well.

Want to find common ground between gun owners and non-gun owners?  Here it is.

Bruce Pankratz: Using Zoning to Limit Assault-style Rifle Violence.

This article is written out of personal curiosity about the merits of an idea. It is personal curiosity not advocacy.

A perhaps new,  interesting idea came long recently along. I cannot remember it being discussed in the many gun posts or articles I have read over the years or in places mentioning solutions to gun violence like the Bloomberg School of Public Health course on gun violence or in Tom Gabor’s recent book ENOUGH! Solving America’s Gun Violence Crisis.   The idea died as far as I know when Beto O’Rourke stopped running for president. But the idea was not confiscation. It was zoning. 

Recently the Des Moine Register said  “Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said Friday he was open to allowing people to use assault-style weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s at gun ranges and hunting clubs, despite his plan to ban the weapons purchase and to require owners of existing weapons to sell them to the government. “ (see Note 1)

America already has some forms of place control or zoning for guns so the idea is not really new.  You usually cannot hunt in a crowded city park or take guns onto private property without the owner’s permission being examples of place control. But applying place control to the so-called assault weapons seems new or at least seldom discussed. The concept described in this article then is to use zoning to help prevent made-for-television mass shootings with assault-style rifles while still letting people own them.

What this all means is there would need to be gun clubs with ranges for people to shoot their assault-style rifles where the rifles would be stored securely at the clubs and owners could clean or maintain their rifles but not take them off premises. Currently unless people live in the middle of nowhere they probably would have to go to a range to shoot anyway. The difference then would be the rifles stay at the club with the range so people cannot tinker with the guns at home in their basements. The clubs would need to have an  FFL who could only accept assault-style rifles from another FFL or send them to other clubs with an FFL and to state the obvious safe storage. Finally, with place control anyone who could legally buy an assault-style rifle could buy  one from an FFL and have it shipped to an FFL in a gun club who would accept it. They do not need to jump through all the hoops needed to own a machine gun.

Much of what we hear about gun control regulations has winners and losers. What follows are some tentative thoughts about who wins and who loses with this concept. 

Winners with place control:

1)School kids living in a world where the assault rifles only are used in gun clubs would not have to worry about them in schools. They would still have to worry about handguns so it may not be a big change 

2)Gun controllers would call it a victory

3)Fighting this idea would bring money into the coffers of the NRA and similar organizations

4)Assault-style rifle owners in the states where the ‘antis’ are trying to make the rifles illegal might be able to work towards legislation allowing people to keep their rifles in clubs instead of not at all

Losers:

1)TV news people (they would not longer be able to report on assault-style weapons used in school shootings and maybe fewer mass shootings)

2)People who live in the country who shoot assault-style rifles on their property

3)People who like to build or maintain assault-style rifles in their basements

4)Companies and dealers selling assault-style rifles could see sales slip

5)People who hunt wild pigs from helicopters using assault-style rifles

6)People who want an assault-style rifle for home defense

Some Open Issues (out of many possible others):

1)Grandfather clause for existing owners?

2)How get guns to a shooting match?

3)Would people actually obey the law?

4)How many aspiring school shooters would just switch to handguns?

5)How do families handle estates when the owner of a rifle dies?

This is only a first try at exploring the concept. Any constructive thoughts out there?

Note 1: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/elections/presidential/candidates/2019/10/25/election-2019-democrat-beto-orourke-open-idea-letting-some-keep-ar-15-s-ak-47-s-hunting-clubs-gun-ra/2456493001/

Is The NRA Finished? Don’t Be So Sure.

              Last week the Wall Street Journal ran a story about NRA finances based on the publication of the organization’s 2018 tax return. If this story had appeared before the impeachment thing heated up, it would have been big news. But right now media click-bait is based overwhelmingly on the contest between Schiff and Trump, with an occasional aside about how yet another member of the MAGA team can’t keep his you-know-what in his pants. Anyway, back to the fiscal and financial doings at the home office in Fairfax, VA.

              The headline of the story was what has become the standard gotcha’ narrative employed by Gun-control Nation to throw a little dirt on America’s ‘first civil rights organization,’ namely, that while everything the NRA touches these days seems to  be going to Hell in a handbasket, Wayne LaPierre’s salary and benefits keep going up. Putting together his salary and some other financial perks, Wayne-o’s compensation package increased by 55%. Not bad for a guy who looked like he was going to be jettisoned from the top position earlier this year.

              The WSJ article went on at length about how Wayne-o continues to draw support from the group’s major donors, but the reporter who did the story happened to miss the most important news of all; namely, that revenue from membership dues also went up by more than 30% last year. In 2017 the revenue from dues was $128 million, last year the annual members kicked  in $170 million. Remember when everyone was predicting that the NRA was going down the tubes? Yea, right.

              I have been involved with various advocacy organizations for years, including the usual conservation, wilderness and outdoor groups. All of these organizations play an important role in promoting what I believe to be a public narrative which needs to be heard. Lately I have become invested in supporting the Boone & Crockett Club because they are becoming a strong voice in conservation and the protection of wildlife.

              That being said, most not-for-profit advocacy organizations tend to spend much of the money they receive from donations on themselves. Between salaries, perks and other staff benefits, the average dollar received by these organizations is usually split about 50-50 between the costs of getting their message out to the general public and the costs of standing around the water cooler comparing who got the best Black Friday deal.

              In that regard, the NRA’s balance sheet doesn’t look all that bad. Given the fact that next year’s financials will not contain the hefty $30 million they were spending every year on NRA-TV, if anything, they will probably be back to operating in the black. Where they are still legally vulnerable is the continuing New York State investigation concerning how Wayne, Ollie and a couple of others were double-dipping by drawing paychecks from both the NRA and Ackerman-McQueen. Know what will happen if it turns out that this behavior violated New York State not-for-profit rules?  The NRA will be assessed a financial penalty, the lawyers will negotiate over the amount for a couple of years, and then  they will pay a fine. As my grandfather would say, “det’s det.”

              I was never impressed by the NRA‘s attempt to become yet another alt-right media presence via NRA-TV. Never mind the attempt to promote a political line right out of Breitbart and Alex Jones, the one-minute spiels by Dana Loesch and Grant Stinchfield, along with Colion Noir’s prancing around were just boring to the extreme.

              People join the AAA because it’s something which just goes with owning a car, and it’s not like the annual dues make such a dent out of the household budget each year. I have renewed my AAA membership at least 20 times, I have used their emergency towing service exactly twice.

              It’s not protecting the 2nd Amendment or the fear of losing their guns which keeps NRA members in the fold. If you’re a gun owner, it’s simply something you do. Think this habit can be broken by digging up some dirt on Wayne LaPierre? Think again.

High Five to Margaret Ayers for sending me the WSJ article.

Happy Thanksgiving!

According to the accepted legend, the first wild turkey consumed at a Thanksgiving dinner was at the feast held at Plymouth Colony in 1621. The guests at that event were members of the Wampanoag Tribe who are still trying to open a casino in Massachusetts – so much for how we have thanked them for bringing a turkey to the first Thanksgiving meal.

After the holiday I am going to change somewhat the focus of this website because I want to spend more of my own writing time looking at the issue of hunting as it impacts conservation, wilderness and the whole question of the outdoors. Today’s column marks the 1,399th column posted on this website, so why not widen the perspective a bit?

Also, I just want to thank everyone who has contributed content to this site and encourage the current Contributing Editors to send more content as well as to encourage everyone else to consider joining the group. I make absolutely no editorial decisions about any column I receive in terms of length, topic or anything else. My only request is that writers refrain from profanity and personal insults – a request I make to anyone who wants to post a comment here as well.

All of that being said, please have a happy, safe and sober holiday.

Column #1,400 will appear on December 2nd.

Tom Gabor: Unrelenting Gun Violence and Lax Gun Laws Erode Our Freedoms

The gun lobby and gun rights advocates often claim that increasing gun rights makes Americans more free.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Yes, permissive gun laws increase the freedom of the minority (30%) of adults who are gun owners to purchase virtually any weapon they choose.  However, increasing the availability of firearms erodes our freedoms–including those of gun owners and their families–in a number of ways. 

There is significant evidence showing that higher gun ownership levels, more gun carrying, and increasing the presence of guns in homes tend to make people less safe.  While guns are sometimes used for self-protection, they are used far more often in crime, against domestic partners, in suicides, and in unintentional injuries and fatalities.  It follows that lowering gun ownership and gun carrying will save lives and prevent injuries, thereby sparing many Americans from the loss of life and the unimaginable injuries and horrors associated with losing or caring for a loved one who has been shot. 

More Americans are reporting being mindful of the dangers of being shot when entering shopping malls, houses of worship, theaters and entertainment districts, night clubs and other crowded places.  Such fear is certainly not freedom.  Nor is the fear of students who are often terrified to go to school.  An American Psychological Association survey has found that the fear of being caught in a school shooting is at the top of the list of stressors for students between the ages of 15 and 21.  Freedom is not the term that comes to mind when we think of K-12 students participating in active shooter drills and cowering in classroom corners and under desks.

In response to school shootings, states like Florida with especially influential gun lobbies prefer to do anything but address the widespread availability of guns and assault-style weapons.  They want to focus on arming teachers and school staff, turning school properties into high security prison-like settings, conducting drills, and focusing on mental health despite the fact that most school shooters do not have a serious mental illness.  The militarization of schools represents the antithesis of freedom for students and school staff.

Requiring or incentivizing teachers and school staff to carry guns is dangerous and will cost lives rather than free people from gun violence.   Active shooters are almost never taken down by armed civilians but putting arms in the hands of improperly trained individuals will lead to fatal shootings within the school, thefts of guns, accidental shootings, and other misuses.  It forces talented teachers out of education and interferes with the right of students to have the best education possible.  Teachers, students, and administrators alike oppose the practice and, yet, the gun lobby is pressing to arm teachers since Wayne LaPierre of the NRA famously stated: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

The militarization of schools through arming teachers and active shooter drills provide constant reminders to students of the dangers of an active shooter.  Rather than freedom, this is a constant distraction from their studies.  At the college level, allowing guns on campus seems counterproductive as universities have consistently been shown to be safer than the surrounding community.  Why import the community’s problems onto campuses? 

Two years ago, three University of Texas at Austin professors filed a lawsuit against the stateAttorney General and several officials at the university over a 2015 law allowing concealed handguns on college campuses. The professors argued the law infringed their First Amendment right to academic freedom, saying the carrying of guns into classrooms created a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.  As a former criminology professor, I would imagine that the free-wheeling discussions we had on such controversial topics as abortion, sexual assault, and race and justice, would have been far more subdued or would not have been broached at all had students been “packing.” 

The most extreme manifestation of how individuals wielding guns can deprive others of their First Amendment rights are displays of menacing behavior by gun rights activists aimed at groups who are engaging in activism to bring about gun law reform.  Armed groups such as Open Carry Texas and the Utah Gun Exchange have bullied and threatened individuals organizing voluntary gun buybacks and have stalked activist students seeking changes in gun laws as they made their way around the country.

Finally, a shocking example of how the gun violence epidemic can lead to an erosion of our freedoms is shown by a Senate Republican bill that would tackle mass and school shootings through the enhanced  monitoring of students’ communications.  Rather than addressing the roots of the despair that lead young people to commit school shootings and their easy access to weapons capable of mass slaughter, the GOP, a party historically concerned about invasions of privacy, recently filed a bill that would dig deeply into the online activities of students. 

The legislation would require federally funded schools to install software to surveil students’ online activities, potentially including their emails and searches, in order to identify “violent” or alarming content.  Education groups say that such intensification of social media and network surveillance can discourage children from expressing themselves online.  Social media monitoring has already increased dramatically in response to gun violence.  The Brennan Center for Justice notes that, from 2013 to 2018, the number of school districts across the country that purchased social media monitoring software increased from six to 63.

Schools are being inundated with alerts, with some receiving over a hundred a day.  The technology does not merely monitor student activity during the school day but operates 24/7, monitoring school email accounts, web searches, and, in some cases, students’ public social media accounts as well.

The jury is still out in terms of the impact of this dramatic escalation in student monitoring.  There is a significant concern that student communications may be misinterpreted due to student cultural differences and casual conversations that may be mistakenly viewed as threats by the software employed, potentially exposing a much wider pool of students to the attention of law enforcement.

While some monitoring of student activities may be desirable, there is a difference between encouraging young people to come forward if they witness threatening behaviors or statements and the routine, around-the-clock electronic surveillance of young people that will often misinterpret loose talk of kids as a threat and bring some form of heavy-handed response.  Ultimately, the latter will lead kids to be more secretive and find ways to communicate with their peers that will circumvent the monitoring.  Surveillance may be politically more palatable than dealing with the alienation and trauma experienced by young people, as well as the enactment of effective gun laws.  However, such monitoring does nothing to address the social, psychological, and familial factors that lead young people to commit horrific acts.  To the extent that we persist in ignoring the reasons for the carnage we are seeing, we will continue to fail to free our kids and society from the ever-present threat of gun violence.

Thomas Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist and author of ENOUGH! Solving America’s Gun Violence Crisis (thomasgaborbooks.com)

Thank God for the 2nd Amendment. How Else Would The Militia Keep Us Safe?

In case you’ve forgotten, the revered 2nd Amendment requires that every male citizen own a gun in order to serve in the militia and thus protect our country from harm. While of late the term ‘militia’ has become synonymous with crazy, government-resistance strategies promoted by dummies like Cliven ‘let me tell you about your Negro’ Bundy, the idea of para-military citizen’s groups defending themselves, their families, their friends and their communities remains central to Gun-nut Nation’s messaging about guns.

It just so happens that we actually possess a first-person accounting of how one of these citizen-militia groups behaved back in the good old days long before enemies of the ‘right to bear arms’  like Mike Bloomberg or Pete Buttigieg reared their ugly heads. The narrative is found in a book, The Pine Barrens, written by John McPhee. The author has been teaching writing at Princeton University for more than forty years, and has contributed more than 100 pieces to The New Yorker magazine since 1963.

 To many of my readers, the Pine Barrens is associated with a great episode from The Sopranos, where Paulie and Christopher drive into the area in mid-Winter to bury a guy they have killed who then turns out not to be so dead. Their victim runs off, the two North Jersey gumbahs quickly find themselves in the middle of millions of acres of semi-wild woodlands, they end up spending the night cursing at each other inside their semi-frozen car.

What McPhee explains in his brief and beautifully-written book, is that the Pine Barrens weren’t so barren in times past. In fact, the woodlands provided all kinds of raw materials used before and during the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, such as iron ore, charcoal and wood. But as new technologies and modern modes of transportation emerged, the villages in the Barrens began to disappear and the whole region reverted to a semi-natural state, a process still occurring in many areas that were settled in the pre-industrial period and are now lacking in human presence again.

I live less than 30 miles from an area in my state (Massachusetts) called the Monroe Plateau. The Plateau used to be a farming zone, then it saw the development of water-powered mills, now it basically supports beavers, bears, moose and deer. Walk a half-mile into the woods from one of the roads that runs through the Plateau and you better know how to get out or you won’t get out.

McPhee spends a chapter discussing life in a town called Martha, which had an industrial furnace that started operating in 1793. There were 50 houses in the town, a school, a central main house and a hospital. The town also had a militia which, according to the records studied by McPhee, enrolled all the able-bodied men in the settlement  who had to turn out for drills on something called Training Day.

The militia officers wore uniforms and ‘barked out’ orders which ‘nobody obeyed.’ In fact, according to the town register which listed all events between 1808 and 1815, the training days invariably ended up in drunken brawls. On April, 1, 1814 a militia captain named Townsend was court-martialled for being too drunk to give orders; the trial took place in Bodine’s Tavern, which was also the public space used whenever the town put any issue to a vote.

Note that the description of the militia’s activities were written while the United States was just coming out of the War of 1812. Note how what went on in the town of Martha was really no different than what happened when Cliven Bundy’s son and his buddies organized themselves into a citizen’s militia and took over the Malheur Forest Range. They sat there for a few days, ate some pizza brought up by their wives, then turned themselves in because they forgot that the building which they liberated didn’t have heat.

Whenever my friends in Gun-nut Nation extoll the virtues of a citizen’s militia it sounds rather quaint. Better they should spend a weekend tramping around and defending the 2nd Amendment in a picnic grove; at least that way they won’t get hurt.