An Old-Fashioned Approach To Gun Control.

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When I lived in South Carolina, round about mid-August I would get in my car, ride on over to pick up my deer-hunting buddy Sherrill Smith and drive up yonder to see Sheriff Hogg.

deerSheriff Hogg was the sheriff of Fairfield County, SC and his office was at the county seat in Winnsboro. But if you really needed to talk to the Sheriff about something important, you ran over to the Biscuit House where you could find him most mornings washing down biscuits and grits with a coke.

And what was important in mid-August was getting a good spot to hunt deer. Because the deer season in Carolina ran from mid-August until the end of the year, and the best dang place in whole Palmetto State was Fairfield County, particularly around the town of Rion because most of the cleared land in those parts went for planting beans. Deer love soybeans, they come out the woods late afternoon and can munch their ways through a bushel or two every night. So the farmers want guys like Sherrill and me to put up a stand on t’other side of the field, a clear shot at 200 yards and we keep things even – know what I mean?

Sheriff Hogg was the person you wanted to see because ol’ boy knew which farmers would give out permissions to hunt their land. After chatting with the Sheriff a bit he told us to go outside and tell his driver to direct us to a proper field. The driver was an older Black man named Page, who was serving a life sentence for having killed someone back some time ago. He slept on a cot in the back of the Sheriff’s office, drew a bit of pay as Sheriff Hogg’s trustee, but what he really did was open and go through the mail each day because Sheriff Hogg couldn’t read or write. Maybe he could sign his name but that was it. So it was up to Page to make sure that no important documents didn’t end up except where they supposing to go. Think I’m making this up? That’s because you didn’t live in rural South Carolina in 1976.

Sherrill and I ended up hunting that year on some bean fields worked by two Black sharecroppers named Rabbit and Love. They were joyous when we showed up because they knew that if Sherrill Clement Smith sat alongside one of their bean fields they would end up with a full harvest along with plenty of meat.  They got half of whatever we shot, and by mid-October they had meat for the families and whole lot more to sell from behind the church. In rural counties like Fairfield it was estimated that half the consumer meat came from the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain, the other half thanks to people like Sherrill and me.

Late October I brought down a handsome, 12-point buck, loaded it into Sherill’s truck, run on into Winnsboro and make Sheriff Hogg a gift. He come out to the truck, give a quick ‘yip,’ smacked his hands together and yelled, ‘Page, c’mon and pull this critter ‘round back!’ Then he invited us into his office, thanked me profusely for relinquishing such a prize, yanked open a drawer in his desk and said, ‘Here, take one of these.’

One of these happened to be a beautiful, K-38 Smith & Wesson revolver which the Sheriff had picked up God only knows. Had a whole mess of confiscated guns he usually sold, stuck the cash in the Rainy Day fund.

I can state without fear of contradiction that this was common practice in most smaller towns in the South. And maybe Sheriff Hogg couldn’t read or write, but he knew he wasn’t creating any kind of threat to public safety by giving me that K-38. With all our technology, data and everything else, have we yet developed a better way of figuring out who should be able to own a gun?

Don’t Worry – The NRA Isn’t Losing Any Sleep Over ‘Fix NICS.’

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Want to start your day off with a good laugh? Take a look at Wayne-o LaPierre blasting off into outer space in 2016 with a video message about the FBI-NICS background check system which came out two years before last week’s Fix-NICS bill was introduced by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), a long-time ‘enemy’ of the 2nd Amendment and John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the NRA’s best friends.

wayne              Everyone loves this bill.  The NRA and the NSSF jumped on board; ditto Gabby Giffords and Everytown – Moms.  Well, almost everyone. The group which claims it’s the only group standing between freedom and fascism, a.k.a. Gun Owners of America, told its members to demand that we stop trying to ‘fix an unconstitutional system’ because background checks of any kind are an ‘infringement on 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

But back to Wayne-o patting himself on the back for being a champion of FBI-NICS.  Ultimately the NRA had no choice but to support the Brady bill because the idea of an instant background check enjoyed wide public support back then, just as an extension of background checks to secondary transfers appears to enjoy the same degree of public support now.  But as a detailed report from the Brady Campaign points out, the moment that the Brady bill became law, the NRA began attacking its constitutional validity even before the system went online.

So when Wayne-o states that the NRA has ‘fought for 20 years’ to put the records of persons adjudicated to be mentally incompetent into the NICS system, what he should have said is that America’s oldest civil-rights organization has fought to keep the FBI-NICS system as far away from being an effective tool for reducing gun violence as it can. But when you watch this video and the phrase ‘the truth about background checks’ flashes across the screen, you can be sure that ol’ Wayne is getting ready to blast off into outer space.

But now that Congress appears ready to do exactly what the NRA claims should have always been done, namely, to make sure that the data sent to NICS really includes the names of every individual whose background, under current law, does not allow them to own a gun, what should the boys from Fairfax be doing to prove their commitment to 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’ Because if this bill gets a positive vote and the Trumpster signs it into law, the NRA’s rationale for not expanding background checks to secondary sales disappears.

I’m not saying that the process of widening background check procedures to go beyond over-the-counter sales would be a walk in the park or a day at the beach. But the good news is that the NRA has been forced to support the idea that only ‘law-abiding citizens’ should be able to own guns. And if NICS is fixed to everyone’s satisfaction in a way that really prevents the criminals, the drug abusers and the mentally ill from walking into a gun shop and buying a gun, the idea that private gun transfers requiring background checks is a violation of the 2nd Amendment wouldn’t pass muster in any court.

When all is said and done, the NRA’s opposition to background checks boils down to one, simple thing; namely, that government regulation of the gun industry is a bad and unnecessary thing. In that respect, the gun industry’s opposition to regulation is no different from every other industry – banks, financial services, energy, you-name-it – who want to lessen the regulatory burden because one way or another, regulations drive up costs.

The NRA, the 2nd-Amendment Foundation, Sean Hannity and every other pro-gun noisemaker can talk about gun ownership as a Constitutional ‘right’ all they want. But it’s simply a convenient catch-phrase for obscuring a basic truth. And that truth happens to be the unalterable fact that if someone aims a loaded gun at themselves or someone else and then pulls the trigger, the damage can be immense.  And only government has the resources and the authority to prevent such acts from taking place.

Khalil Spencer – A Few Things I Would Say To An Open-minded Gun Owner.

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Like Mike, I find myself straddling the gun violence prevention/gun enthusiast line. Actually, I don’t see this as a line in the sand at all. The battleground, sadly, seems to be between many gun violence prevention folks who want additional controls on guns and gun rights absolutists who see every attempt at the control of gun violence as a slippery slope to loss of gun rights. So here are a few comments I would make to anyone who would ask me how I think about this.

trafficFirst, the matter of firearms themselves. These are intrinsically hazardous objects whose purpose is to shoot holes in things. Firearms evolved as warfighting tools and as sporting arms second. Their main purpose, my Zen-like moments at the range notwithstanding, is to kill, whether it is human beings on opposing sides of a battlefield, an intruder threatening a family, or this winter’s meat. In a civil society that has evolved from a few million people in a rural environment to a largely urban landscape of over three hundred million people, the roles and influence of guns on society has obviously changed. Indeed, although the Second Amendment and historical cultural values have provided Americans a much broader range of gun rights and widespread ownership than in most developed countries, an interest balance between rights and responsibilities, including government oversight of the keeping and bearing of privately owned firearms, is reasonable. There is a wide divergence of opinion on where to draw the line on government oversight, i.e., the notion of what constitutes “infringement” but I’ll leave that elaboration to anyone who wants to read Heller v District of Columbia or Adam Winkler’s compelling read “Gunfight”. Briefly, gun control has always existed in America. Heller provides broad latitude, based on historical analysis as well as the Second Amendment, for it to continue.

Secondly, as arms are by their nature dangerous, if not unusual, government has a compelling interest in their oversight. Historically, we have regulated handguns, especially concealed public carry (see Gunfight), and dangerous and unusual weapons such as sawed off shotguns or fully automatic rifles. Because auto rifles were heavily regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act before everyone and their dog owned one, you rarely hear of full auto rifles being used in crimes. They are relatively rare and owned legally by a few people willing to deal with the BATF’s requirements as enthusiasts. Meanwhile, increasingly lethal arms such as so-called “assault rifles” were sold on an equal basis to more traditional semiauto and manually-operated rifles since the middle of the last century. The argument that these are no different than traditional sporting rifles as far as their risk to society rings hollow as high capacity, rapid firing rifles were introduced to the military because of their superior firepower.  The WW II soldiers carrying full auto weapons such as the BAR were far more likely to use them to control the battlefield than the soldier with even an M-1, or as James Fallows said in a June, 1981 Atlantic, “…The BAR man, by contrast, had the sense that he could dominate a certain area—“hose it down,” in the military slang—and destroy anyone who happens to be there.”

Why the civilian market should have unfettered access to weapons barely different from those designed to “hose down” a battlefield, without rigorous strings attached, is a good question worth public debate. As I have said on my own North Mesa Mutts blog, I think semiauto vs. selective-fire is a distinction without a difference in this discussion. Millions of these weapons are in private hands and most owned safely (including, presumably, my own Mini-14) but if these weapons continue to be used to mow down people in theatres, schools, and public events, some sort of regulation is inevitable on public safety grounds. Perhaps, since so many are out there, some sort of retrospective controls on ownership, midway between full auto rifles and low-capacity rifles, rather than a retroactive ban, could be seen as a compromise. In my world, we think carefully about low frequency, high consequence events. Frankly, mass shootings are becoming high frequency/high consequence events. How many more Sutherland and Las Vegas shootings do we need to endure before we re-think ARs and their handgun bretheren? Just as we wouldn’t really want Homer Simpson as the operator of a nuclear power plant, there are a few people I would prefer not having the power of mass carnage over the public.

For those GVP advocates who think the usual gun control proposals will drastically reduce gun deaths, I say keep dreaming. We heavily control auto use via competency licensing of drivers, registration of vehicles, laws regulating motor vehicle safety (such as air bags and structural crumple zones), and laws regulating traffic operation. We still kill about thirty to forty thousand Americans per year. That’s because with hundreds of millions of Americans driving about three hundred million cars, some small fraction will be mishandled or deliberately misused. I think the same would hold true for guns as long as there are so many out there. As Mike likes to say, if you own a gun, sooner or later it will go bang. If we want to seriously reduce gun deaths and injury, we need to seriously reduce guns. My own quick analysis of the Center for American Progress’s news release a couple years ago was that the most basic correlation was between suicides and gun ownership. Since that is the case, it doesn’t matter what guns we regulate since all it has to do is go bang once. Nonetheless, we need to have gun laws for the same reason we need traffic laws: to provide consensus guidance for safe operation and penalties for misuse.

My two most compelling gun violence prevention laws would be universal background checks (except to people who know each other well and can vouch for each other) and safe storage laws. Selling to a stranger without a background check is rolling the dice. Straw purchases, as recounted in a 15 Nov. Washington Post Story by Peter Hermann, Ann Marimow, and Clarence Williams (“One Illegal Gun: 12 Weeks. A Dozen Criminal Acts. The Rapid Cycle of Gun Violence”), can rapidly result in multiple cases of armed carnage.  Indeed, I think the most compelling hypothesis for the posited link between permissive right to carry and higher gun crime rate recently asserted by Prof. John Donohue et al is not necessarily that more hotheads are obtaining carry permits but that simply more guns are being bought and carried about or stored carelessly and therefore available to be stolen. Ensuring that someone else, whether it be a family member, house guest, or a stranger doesn’t get their hands on your banger is critical. As Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden recently recounted to me, theft is his best estimate of the principle source of guns used in crime in that city.

The bigger picture of violence in America obviously goes far beyond gun ownership and involves drug laws, poverty, income inequality, a disastrous loss of blue collar jobs, and social divisions. But as Philip Cook et al recently stated, most economically developed nations have crime problems. Ours are more lethal since there are far more guns involved. We gun owners certainly are not to blame for the larger social context of violence, except insofar as we may, as individuals, tolerate social injustice. But as firearms owners and enthusiasts we have a moral obligation to do our part to reduce gun violence. Simply saying it is someone else’s problem means that sooner or later, the bigger problems will land on our doorstep, whether in blood spilled or regulation.

FIX NICS? Not A Bad Idea.

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              The Mountain Shakes and Out Comes A Mouse ~ AESOP’S FABLES.

Is this how we should view the ‘FIX NICS’ bill introduced in the Senate today sponsored by Senators Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), the latter who’s also shepherding the national CCW-reciprocity bill through Congress and onto Trump’s Oval Office desk?

NICS

Or perhaps we should refer to this bill as ‘Better Late Than Never’ because it plugs some holes in a process which is only twenty-five years old.

Figures that the Wise Men and Women of the U.S. Senate would come up with something after the recent spate of mass shootings which seem to be breaking out with almost weekly regularity after almost a year’s peace and quiet following the inauguration of You-Know-Who. And by the way, don’t think for one second that John Cornyn didn’t get his marching orders from the folks he represents who work in Fairfax, VA even though he’s supposedly the senior senator from the Lone Star State. Because what the NRA doesn’t want their Faithful to know is that they have quietly supported laws which strip domestic abusers of their guns in Oregon, South Carolina, Wisconsin and several other states.

In short, what the Cornyn-Murphy bill creates is a process that will providing funding to states which develop and implement a better fail-safe system for sending relevant information to FBI-NICS, and also require the Justice Department to evaluate the extent to which every federal agency (read: Department of Defense), and state meets the compliance goals.  It also creates a new program which (I quote from the Press Release which accompanied the bill makes sure that, “states have adequate resources and incentives to share all relevant information with NICS showing that a felon or domestic abuser is excluded from purchasing firearms under current law.”

The phrase, ‘under current law’ obviously refers to the questions which must be answered prior to a background check by everyone who walks into a gun store and buys a gun. If you reply in the affirmative to any of these questions about your legal background, you fall into what is called a ‘prohibited category’ and in theory, the FBI will find you in their database and the purchase or transfer will be denied.  The whole point of the FIX-NICS law is to make sure that every jurisdiction sends forward all the information in their possession to keep the names of all ‘prohibited person’ accurate and up to date.

Generally speaking, you cannot get a gun if you are “under indictment or have ever been convicted in any court for a felony, or any other crime for which a judge could imprison you for more than one year.  You also are a ‘prohibited person’ if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.  But here’s where things get tricky. The NICS approval goes through if you were convicted of a misdemeanor other than domestic violence punishable by ‘’two years or less.”  And how many state felonies are plea bargained down to misdemeanors?  Plenty.

The good news about this bill is that any time the word gets around Gun Land that the government is ‘cracking down,’ don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why, but people become more serious about complying with the law.  I’m not saying that gun owners aren’t law-abiding. Of course they are. But if you live in state which doesn’t require a background check for a private gun sale, all of a sudden the number of such checks starts going up. If you have lots of guns lying around the house, maybe you buy a safe and start locking the bangers away.

The FIX-NICS won’t put the fear of God into anyone who wants to use a gun in an illegal or improper way. But it does bring government back into the issue of gun safety, and that is exactly where the government belongs.

 

Do You Know How To Use A Gun To Protect Yourself From Crime?

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Even though I write for Huffington Post, I have to admit that The Guardian frequently carries writing about guns and gun violence which should be read.  In fact, for several years they ran a superb open-source compilation about police use of lethal force, which my friend Frank Zimring used for a very important book on cops and shootings which also should be read.

ccw             Now The Guardian has announced a new effort, Break the Cycle, a series designed “to change the way the media covers American gun violence – and to challenge the orthodoxy that gun reform is a hopeless pursuit.” To that end, the very first story covers what The Guardian calls “ten recent victories in gun violence prevention,” most of which are of too recent vintage to determine whether these new initiatives will make a difference or not. But even if the jury is still out on whether or not such programs and laws will reduce the violence suffered from guns, at least the fear that all gun-control activity will wither and die during the Age of Trump appears to be misplaced.

I’m beginning to consider the possibility, in fact, that the defeat of Hillary, who based much of her campaign narrative on gun-control themes, may actually turn out to be a more positive event for the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement than if she had won.  Her victories in the several swing states she needed to grab the necessary 270 electoral votes would not have turned the Congress from red to blue, and facing the same hostile Congressional lineup that blocked Obama after his first two years would probably would have doomed any substantial gun legislation from moving ahead. On the other hand, one can argue that absent a Republican in the Oval Office that some of the crazy, pro-gun bills like national concealed-carry, would also never see the light of day.

But sometimes adversity becomes the incubator for new and compelling ideas, and the policy brief issued this morning by The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research represents just such an effort to focus our attention on work which needs to be done. The report, Concealed Carry of Firearms; Facts Versus Fiction, covers the arguments used to justify national concealed-carry (CCW) reciprocity, and then gives a balanced and evidence-based analysis of each. The text begins with a summary of CCW laws currently in force throughout the 50 states: no CCW licensing requirements in 12 states, and a CCW license must be automatically granted in 30 other states if one meets the legal requirements for simply owning a gun. In 1986 there were 9 states that did not impose any CCW requirements if one passed a background check – now that number has climbed to 42.

I wouldn’t be so adamantly opposed to national CCW were it not for the fact that what this means is the current issuance of CCW in many states without any kind of training at all will now become an accepted norm in every state. Not that jurisdictions which require a pre-licensing gun course impose anything except the most slipshod and useless qualification process, and once you demonstrate that you actually know the difference between the stock and the barrel you never have to certify your ability again.

I’m not surprised when folks tell me that a gun will make protect them from crime, even if evidence-based research indicates otherwise. After all, emotions usually trump facts, even when we think we are using valid evidence to figure something out. But the continued drumbeat by Gun-nut Nation and the NRA to make people believe that using a gun for personal defense without continuous, qualification-based and mandated (i.e., required) training is just another attempt to appeal to the lowest mental denominator when it comes to talking about guns. The organization which was founded as a training organization in 1871 should be at the forefront of an effort to tell everyone how useless this national CCW legislation will be.

              I thank the Bloomberg gun-grabbers for this fine report.

 

 

Who Owns All The Guns? We Don’t Really Know.

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One of the long-standing issues in the gun debate has been to calculate the number of guns actually floating around the United States.  This is an important number, if only because public health researchers have published very credible research which indicates that our elevated gun-violence numbers are directly related to a civilian gun arsenal which may now number more than 300 million guns.

traffic            We have a pretty good idea about the number of guns added to the civilian stash over the last 25 years thanks to the manufacturing reports published by the ATF.  And while this report is based on the number of guns made, not the number which the gun makers actually sell, it’s not necessarily an accurate number, but for purposes of this column it will do.  Since 1998 we also know more or less exactly how many new guns move into private hands thanks to the monthly background check numbers published by the FBI.

The real problem in coming up with a valid number for the total stock of guns is twofold: first, we have no idea how many guns that were manufactured between 1900 and 1990 were actually sold, and we also don’t know how many guns that were sold between 1900 and today are still floating around. Guns last a long time, that’s for sure. But they also break, they get lost, they get thrown away after Grandpa dies and Grandma moves into the nursing home; counting the civilian ‘gun stock’ is an inexact science at best.

Our friends at Harvard and Northeastern have recently come up with a pretty solid number based on the survey they conducted which at some point will be published by Russell Sage. Their current number is 265 million, which they derived by estimating overall totals from answers to their survey, then deducting a percentage for loss, wear and tear. Until some research group comes up with a new approach to figuring out the size of America’s gun arsenal, I’m content to stick with what the Harvard-Northeastern group would like to believe.

On the other hand, believe or not, if we are trying to understand the cause and effect relationship between the number of guns that are privately owned and the 115,000+ deaths and injuries caused by guns every year, I am yet to be persuaded that figuring out the number of guns in civilian hands is the right way to go. Because although 115,000 gun deaths and injuries is a shockingly-high number, it happens to represent a tiny fraction of the number of people who either own guns or put guns to the wrong use. And moreover, at least 80% of those deaths and injuries occur because someone shoots a handgun at themselves or someone else.

In addition to trying to figure out handgun ownership as opposed to ownership of all guns, there’s another problem which makes any attempt to develop public policies based on restricting or diminishing the number of privately-owned guns a risky business at best. At least two-thirds of the gun deaths and injuries that occur every year are criminal events, and even with our elevated gun-suicide rates, if gun crimes didn’t occur, our overall gun-violence rate would be no higher than the rest of the OECD.

How many of these 75,000 or more homicides and aggravated assaults are committed with ‘illegal’ guns? How many people possess a gun even though they cannot, under law, put their hands on a gun?  We have absolutely no idea. The NRA doesn’t miss an opportunity to consign all gun violence to ‘street thugs,’ but the truth is that we have no evidence-based research which necessarily proves the Boys from Fairfax to be wrong.

We have a pretty good idea about how many guns are legally owned – the information is found in all those FBI-NICS forms that everyone who buys a gun from a dealer has to fill out. But if we want to reduce gun violence, shouldn’t we try and learn something about the gun owners who don’t fill out those forms?

 

Thomas Gabor – How Did the Las Vegas Gunman Get His Hands on a Weapon of War?

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On Sunday night in Las Vegas, a shooter opened fire on a concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort with what appeared to be an assault weapon. This is a devastating tragedy, and one that has unfortunately become a trend in the U.S.: There has been an average of one mass shooting a day in 2017 (defined as four or more people shot, excluding the shooter). This incident has eclipsed all previous mass shootings in U.S. history, as there are already 58 people dead and hundreds wounded.

LVWhat kind of weapon is capable of inflicting so many casualties, from such a distance, in a matter of 10 to 15 minutes? While we don’t know where the gunman got his weapons and precise information on them has not been disclosed, based on reports of the rate of fire, they were likely either semiautomatic or fully automatic assault weapons. Semiautomatic assault weapons (whose trigger must be pulled to fire each round) have a rate of fire of over 100 rounds a minute. These weapons were banned from 1994 to 2004 under what is commonly referred to as the “assault weapon ban,” and are now readily available for sale in all but six states. There are reports that the shooter might have fired an automatic weapon (one just presses the trigger and the weapon keeps firing until it is released), which can fire up to a thousand rounds a minute. These weapons are tightly regulated. Regardless of the rate of fire, many of these weapons can pierce a soldier’s helmet from a distance of 500 yards.

More than half of the deadliest mass shootings since 1949 have occurred in the last decade, I’ve found in my own research. This is despite improved emergency response and better surgical outcomes. The only credible explanation for the increased lethality of these incidents is deadlier weapons and ammunition. Assault-style firearms have been the weapons of choice in many of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history: Orlando, Fla., Newtown, Conn., and San Bernardino, Calif.

The incident in Las Vegas reveals the fallacy of the tired slogan, “Guns don’t kill, people do.” Yes, we need to address why so many Americans are attempting to kill a maximum of their fellows at random. At the same time, only a weapon designed for war could kill so many people from such a distance. High-capacity magazines capable of holding up to 100 rounds of ammunition only make that danger worse.

These weapons and magazines should never be in civilian hands and should be banned. Obviously, this is a tall order given the influence of the gun lobby on the Trump administration and majority party in Congress. But it’s not impossible. Existing weapons can be bought back from owners at a fair market price and destroyed. Australia melted down up to a third of its gun inventory following its deadliest-ever mass shooting in 1996, and has all but eliminated public mass shootings.

The gun lobby claims to champion freedom. Yet every successive large-scale mass shooting leads to an increasing demand for security and a continuing erosion of Americans’ freedom to use public spaces without fear. Citizens need to sustain their outrage over this incident and demand restrictions on ownership of assault-style weapons.

 

This article originally appeared in Fortune Magazine.

 

 

 

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