An Important Book On Gun Violence Is Worth Waiting For.

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A new voice is about to be added to the debate about gun violence, and for those who take this debate seriously (because there are some debate participants who don’t) this is a voice with something important to say.  I am referring to Caroline Light, who directs undergraduate studies of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard and is about to publish a book, Stand Your Ground, America’s Love Affair With Lethal Self-Defense.

blacks-gunsNow you would think that a Harvard faculty member would, of course, be anti-gun.  But Professor Light happens to be a Southern girl who, not surprisingly, grew up in a family where there were guns. And while she clearly understands that gun violence can’t be separated from the existence of guns, particularly so many guns, she’s not barking up the usual, gun-control tree.  What she is after in her narrative, and certainly succeeds in this respect, is to explain how and why ‘stand your ground’ (SYG) laws have become so evident and pervasive throughout many parts of the United States.  Because the point is that 33 states now have such laws. And most of these states also grant residents the unquestioned right to walk around with a gun. Put two and two together and what do you get?  The legal sanctioning of gun violence, which is what the book Stand Your Ground is really all about.

Like most of our legal system, these laws came from the British common law tradition, which, on the one hand, recognized that a person had the right to protect himself from attacks except that the attack had to occur within the home; i.e., the ‘castle doctrine’ as it was known.  British law did not sanction lethal self-defense outside of one’s domicile, in fact, it was presumed that in a civilized, ordered society, retreat in the face of possible injury was always preferred.

The sanctity of human life transcending the necessity to protect oneself from possible injury disappeared, however, in the evolution of American penal law.  For that matter, the law’s recognition of armed self-protection in the case of home invasions (the ‘castle doctrine’) was extended to justify lethal self-defense in any location where the defender had the legal right to appear.  Cases which upheld this kind of reasoning appeared as early as 1806 and became common in the decades following the Civil War, particularly in the South.

Here is where Professor Light’s narrative gets interesting.  Because what she argues is that armed, self-defense, as codified in SYG laws coupled with concealed-carry laws (CCW) reflect a culture which celebrates the dominance of white men, particularly in the South, where ‘rugged individuality’ is a code for keeping women and African-Americans in their (subservient) ‘place.’ And rather than guns being used to equalize the power relations between white males and everyone else, what the author refers to as do-it-yourself (DIY) security just hardens the degree to which white male dominance continues to control the perceptions of crime, gender and race.

This is a complicated subject and I cannot really do justice to this book or fully discuss its subtle twists and turns. But it should come as no surprise that when we talk about anything related to gun culture (which certainly would embrace SYG) that we are basically talking about the South, because that’s where a majority of the civilian-owned guns and a majority of NRA members happen to be.  And while SYG and CCW laws have spread far beyond Dixie, this region gave birth to those laws and this is where such laws have resulted in significant increases in ‘lawful’ violence against women and Blacks.

The South may have lost the Civil War, but the mind-set which justified slavery back then is the same mind-set that embraces inequality today.  And anyone who believes that owning a gun endows them with more freedom than someone who is unarmed is drinking the same Kool-Aid that Jefferson Davis drank before Fort Sumter when he believed that Lincoln would back down. But plenty of that Kool-Aid is still going around.

We Finally Have A Way To Defeat Radical Islam. Just Buy A Biblical Gun.

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If you are a devout Christian, or maybe a not-so-devout Christian, or maybe not even a Christian, you probably have a Holy Land tour near the top of your bucket list.  And if you decide to visit the land where Jesus lived, walked and preached, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll spend some time at the ancient fortress known as Megiddo, which is not only a beautiful spot in northern Israel, but is where the Book of Revelations located Armageddon, a world-ending prophecy that is central to much Christian belief.

crusader           I lived and worked in Israel on and off between 1987 and 1993, and visited the region in and around Megiddo many times.  There are archeological ruins which date back to at least 3,500 BC which stand on a hilltop overlooking what was a main Greek and later Roman commercial route running the interior to a seaport on the Mediterranean Sea. So it’s not just a question of faith that makes Megiddo such a wonderful spot; it also happens to be an important historical site in the entire span of Western civilization whose origins began in what we now call the Middle East.

If you stand on the ramparts of Megiddo and look east, off in the distance you can see the ruins of one of the more than 20 fortresses constructed by the Crusaders who attempted to wrest the Holy Land back from the descendants of Muhammed in the years between 1096, the First Crusade, and 1187 when Saladin retook Jerusalem and basically brought the East-West struggle for control of the Holy Land to an end.  Various military engagements between Christian and Muslim forces continued through the sixteenth century, but these battles took place far away from the Holy Land and the Near East, most of which remained in Muslim hands from then until now.

Despite the fact that the Crusades never succeeded in their goal of keeping the Holy Land in Christian hands, the rhetoric of ‘crusading’ against Muslim threats continues to crop up in the current day.  If anything, we hear more and more of this rhetoric now that an entire national political campaign seems to be based on how we are going to respond to something called ‘radical Islam’ which, according to Fox News and its reality show known as ‘Make America Great Again,’ constitutes the greatest threat to American interests since gay marriage was declared law of the land.

The latest entry into Crusader marketing is a gun company down in Florida, Spike’s Tactical, which makes an AR-15 with a Biblical verse etched into the lower receiver which says: “Blessed be the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.”  The Psalm was written by David who, by the way, apparently built part of the Megiddo fort, and according to the gun maker, the placement of the verse on the gun means that Muslims can’t touch it or pick it up. And because Muslims can’t touch this gun, they won’t be able to use it in a terror attack.  So not only do we now have an AR-15 that we can use to defend ourselves against radical Islam, it’s also an AR whose very existence protects us from attacks by the other side.

Gun companies have been etching names of famous gun owners on the butts and stocks of guns since Sam Colt first put his ‘rampant Colt’ logo on the side of his revolver in 1832. In fact, I own a ‘Thunder Ranch’ shotgun which is simply a standard, pump-action gun with the words Thunder Ranch embossed on the stock. But I don’t think that anyone owns the rights to biblical verse, so the folks at Spike’s Tactical at least don’t have to pay a royalty on the sales of their gun.

Have you ever heard of anything quite this stupid since Donald Trump first said that he learned about world politics by ‘watching the shows?’  If you have, please let me know.

 

If Trump Thinks He Can Get Elected With The Hunting Vote, He Better Think Again.

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Donald Trump is out with a new ad which features the Great White Hunter Ted Nugent and a bunch of other right-wing television personalities posing in front of various camera-ready montages of wilderness and other natural spaces, the whole point of the ad promoting hunting as one of America’s true values which the Shlump will defend and protect from the villainous Hillary gang.

trump2The video is narrated by the NRA’s favorite Hillary attack-dog, an ex-Navy Seal named Mark Geist whose version of who was at fault for the Benghazi mess-up has changed as many times as the veritable cat has lives. In this video he begins by intoning what has become the standard anti-Hillary mantra, i.e., she’s against everything we hold dear, and what Geist and the other performers claim to cherish above all is their right to hunt.

You may recall that during the 2008 election Obama appeared to have met his Waterloo when he talked about how all those dispossessed workers in the backwoods of Pennsylvania clung “to their religion and their guns.”  Actually, he made the comment during the primary season, and it didn’t hurt him at all against Hillary, nor did it hurt him against McCain.  In fact, he beat McCain by nearly 600,000 votes out of less than 6 million votes cast in Pennsylvania, a margin that was close to ten overall points.

Going into the last seven weeks of this campaign, the Shlumper gang appears to believe that the hunting vote could make a difference in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and the Gunshine State.  And there’s no question that the gap has narrowed in all four states to the point that if Shlump-o were to win three of those states, he might actually be able to move from his new hotel in the Old Post Office Building to an older address right down the block.

I have always wondered about the actual voting strength of the gun-owning population and, in this case, those gun owners who like to hunt.  So I took a look at the number of hunting licenses that were purchased in 2014 by the residents of those four swing states and the numbers look like this:  PA – 900,000; OH – 400,000; NC – 500,000; FL – 175,000.  I’m rounding off a bit but the bottom line is that roughly 2 million people bought hunting licenses in those four states.  Now this happens to work out to roughly 3.5% of the total population of those four states. That’s not fifteen percent, that’s not ten percent, that’s not even five percent.  That’s three percent.

In 2012 the Bomber racked up 12.2 million votes and won three out of those four states.  Romney polled 11.7 million and managed to win North Carolina, but the overall difference between blue and red in those battleground states was roughly half a million votes. Hey – wait a minute!  I just said that 2 million residents of those states bought hunting licenses in 2014.  So add 2 million to the votes that Romney received in those states and the Shlump-o is on his way to ga-ga land, right?

Duhhh, there’s only one little problem.  Romney got most of those hunting votes in 2012.  And McCain got most of them four years before.  And Bush got them in 2004, and on and on and on.   This totally contrived video ad may appear to be scouring the landscape for new votes but the fact is that, generally speaking, the hunting vote has already been counted by both sides.  Which is why Obama’s ‘clinging’ comment didn’t hurt him in 2008, and which is why this ad won’t make a dime’s worth of difference this time around.

Know how many hunting licenses were sold in 2014?  Fourteen million.  Know how many hunting licenses were sold in 1959?  Fourteen million.  Know what happened to the U.S. population between 1959 and 2014?  It just about doubled.  Shlump can portray himself from here to tomorrow as America’s defender of traditional ‘values,’ but one of those so-called values known as hunting is slowly but surely withering away.

Ann Arbor Is The Location Of An Important Event On September 25th. Get There if You Can.

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There’s a group of physicians in Michigan who have formed an organization called Physicians for Prevention of Gun Violence (PPGV) which is sponsoring one of the September 25th Concert Across America To End Gun Violence events. Their concert, which will take place in Ann Arbor at the Genesis Center, and will feature performances by the chamber orchestra conducted by Kevin Fitzgerald, as well as solo piano works performed by a member (Emeritus) of the Ann Arbor music faculty, Louis Nagel.

ppgv           Events like the Ann Arbor concert are going to take place all over the country, and while the New York and California concerts are going to get the spotlight (how could they not get the spotlight with the artists who are appearing at both venues?) we shouldn’t overlook the value and importance of the more local efforts like the Ann Arbor gig.  And the reason we shouldn’t ignore such events is because to really build a national movement for anything, you need to get folks involved in the communities where they work and where they live. After all, it’s one thing to walk into a large, public event where you might or might not know anyone at all. It’s quite another to walk into a room and see other people whom you really know, then all of a sudden the event in that room takes on a special and personal meaning for you.

In the interests of full disclosure (I love that phrase) I happen to know several of the physicians who are active in the PPGV group.  The organization got started after the Tucson shooting (of Gabby Giffords) in 2011 and now counts more than 200 members, including clinicians, residents and medical students in all the relevant medical disciplines.  In 2014 the group was featured in a journal  article published by the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians after the statewide group adopted resolutions on gun violence prevention.

Back in 2014, Detroit’s Police Chief James Craig became a poster-boy for the NRA when he called for law-abiding Detroit residents to arm themselves against crime.  Of course this stance also made Craig an immediate resource for the Trump campaign, and he was, along with Dr. Ben Carson (remember him?) conspicuously present during Trump’s recent drop-in tour of the Motor City.  The only problem, of course, is that armed citizens or not, Detroit still has one of the highest murder rates in the United States, and the last time I checked, Detroit is still located in Michigan, which means that the members of the PPGV group have plenty of work to do.

But along with work comes opportunity and when I think about what PPGV has accomplished in such a short time, it reminds me of another group of physicians which started advocating over a public health issue back in 1961.  The group came together in someone’s apartment and formed Physicians for Social Responsibility to advocate about the health risks posed by nuclear testing and, in particular, the spread of Strontium-90 in the water, soil and air.  PSR limped along for a number of years and then, in 1979, decided to give it one last try.  The same week that they sent out what they thought might be their last fundraising appeal, the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island blew.  Guess what?  In 1985 this group, known now as the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

Am I saying that gun violence is as serious a risk to health as nuclear war?  Well, if you consider that over the last five years alone more than half a million Americans have been killed or seriously injured because of guns is a number that probably surpasses what would be the human toll from the detonation of a good-sized nuclear bomb.  So I applaud the work of Physicians for Prevention of Gun Violence, I know their September 25th concert will be a great success, and I only hope they and groups like them will continue to forge ahead.

 

No Matter What You Are Doing On September 25th – Don’t Miss The Big One.

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Last month I wrote a column about the Concert Across America To End Gun Violence and I likened it to the great Woodstock festival in 1969 that helped define the popular culture of a generation.  But I’m beginning to think that the Concert Across America that takes place on September 25th will probably eclipse Woodstock both in terms of cultural symbolism and political significance because Woodstock was just a big, live concert event with lots of music and lots of bands (and lots of dope) but the Concert Across America is shaping up to be much more.

concert           First of all, let’s cover some specifics.  When I wrote my last column, the New York City concert at the Beacon Theater had Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash and Marc Cohn, but now the program has added the Gospel Choir of Harlem and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, and there may be more artists to come. I also didn’t yet know about the program for the concert at Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theater which is a real a doozie because it includes Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Zach Gill, Christopher Cross and OZOMATLI – I mean, what could be better than that!  Boston has a show that will headline Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom; Los Angeles has Dan Felder of the Eagles and Ryan Cabrera – it just goes on and on.

I didn’t have time to count every venue but a quick eyeball tells me that there will be concerts, events and performances at more than 350 locations in 44 states.  So don’t sit back and think that this is just another one of those highbrow, elitist moments that will only happen in places where most people don’t own guns.  Thinking of buying a pair of ECRU pants?  The company is a corporate sponsor of this event, as is a little-known transportation company called UBER.  Ever hear of them?

These concerts are also being supported by more than 100 organizations representing just about every group that wants to see an end to gun violence here and now.  And this is what makes the September 25th event so much more meaningful than Woodstock, because the concert at Max Yasgur’s farm had no political or social agenda; if you could get there it was just something hip and cool.  And being hip and cool in 1969 was a cultural statement of some sort, but nobody really knew what those words meant.

The September 25th Concert Across America To End Gun Violence is a much different breed of cat.  It has a very clear and very specific political agenda – it is a spectacular effort to increase public awareness and concern about the 100,000+ deaths and injuries suffered by Americans each year because if guns.  And it doesn’t matter whether the guns are in the ‘wrong’ hands or anyone’s hands; it doesn’t matter whether it’s an assault rifle or not; this gun violence has got to stop.  And that’s what this concert is all about.

Yesterday my concert t-shirt with the beautiful logo arrived and its arrival made me think.  The organizations that are partnering to support this event – Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense is now millions strong, Faiths United To End Gun Violence counts 55 separate religious organizations and States United to End Gun Violence is now a collection of grass-roots operations in 31 states. Could these three organizations and the other supporting groups together represent five million or more?  That’s probably an undercount.

What I am saying is that the concerts and events on September 25th are not just concerts and events.  They also represent what may be the burgeoning of a national movement that will continue to grow and will not only level the playing field but will finally tilt it back the other way.  And the other way means to admit that guns cause violence and gun violence has to end.

No Matter Who Wins In November, Gun Violence Still Needs To End.

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Like it or not, the race for the White House is right now in a dead heat.  It’s not so much that Shlump-o is rising in the polls, but that HRC is slowly losing ground.  Even my friends who run the Huffington pollster are showing that over the past five weeks she has lost more than he has gained. So just as the Gun Violence Prevention (GVP) movement needs to suggest an intelligent and reasonable (read: it could pass) gun bill based on the premise that Hillary will still win, they also need to begin thinking about developing a post-election stance and agenda in case he whose real name is unmentionable chalks up the big W on November 8th.

hillary3           I know, I know, she’s still in the lead and the debate season has yet to begin. But the emails and her health issues didn’t help and all of a sudden a lead in Ohio has disappeared; what looked like a good shot in North Carolina and Florida is moving the other way.  Without those three states, particularly the Buckeye State, things don’t look all that good.  I’m not saying that we will be listening to an inaugural speech on January 20, 2017 that will commence with a recitation of the 2nd Amendment; I am saying right now that I wouldn’t necessarily give Mrs. Clinton the short odds.

My GVP friends need to ask themselves what they might do if the unthinkable becomes the thinkable over the next four years.  Because the truth is that even if our President didn’t have enough chips to pass Manchin-Toomey, he still has been a consistent and continuous voice on the question of gun violence, and one should never underestimate the value of the ‘bully pulpit’ when it comes to shaping public opinion about guns or anything else. So GVP may have to craft new messaging about gun violence that will not have the blessing or support of the Chief Executive, and what follows are some (albeit very) preliminary suggestions for what that messaging might contain:

  • Let’s stop venerating the 2nd Amendment. Enough is really enough.  The 2nd Amendment does not ‘guarantee’ our liberties; it doesn’t ‘protect us’ from terrorism or other threats.  It is simply a law which, according to the Supreme Court, allows Americans to keep a handgun in their homes for self-defense.
  • Let’s stop pretending that there is a difference between accidental shootings and intentional use of guns in homicides, suicides or aggravated assaults. You don’t make your home ‘safer’ by locking up your guns.  You make your home safe by not owning a gun.
  • Let’s stop promising everyone that gun violence can be reduced by limiting handgun and assault rifle magazine capacity to 10 rounds. What makes guns lethal is how they were designed, not how many rounds can be fired before it’s time to reload.

I’ve been in the gun business one way or another for more than fifty years and I don’t believe there’s some kind of ‘middle ground’ when it comes to the issue of guns.  Either you own them or you don’t; and if you do own them, at least you should have the honesty and the brains to admit that your guns represent a risk that could be completely eliminated if the guns weren’t there.  And that’s what GVP may be facing next year – a President who actually believes that guns don’t represent any risk at all.

But why wait until next year to take a firm and unyielding stance on the issue of guns? Because the truth is that what is really deplorable (to quote a certain Presidential candidate) is that more than 100,000 Americans are killed or badly injured with guns every year.  This extraordinary level of violence is what makes America truly exceptional, and there’s no reason to wait until the results are in on November 8th before figuring out what needs to be done.

Does The Gun Vote Still Swing Elections? Maybe It Swings Them Against Guns.

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I knew that Marco Rubio was unfit to be President (as if the current Republican candidate could pass a fitness test) when he visited the Ruger gun factory back in January and declared that he believed in the 2nd Amendment because a gun was the only thing that stood between our safety and an imminent ISIS attack. Ruger then presented Rubio with a Hawkeye bolt-action hunting rifle that would be about as effective for defending against a terror attack as me using my pen knife against Godzilla or King Kong.

voting           Rubio’s back on the gun beat again, announcing a bill that would allegedly keep terrorists from getting their hands on guns. Rubio’s bill allows the government, following a Court hearing, to deny the purchase of a gun to anyone who has been the ‘subject of a terrorism investigation’ during the previous ten years.  The NSA, for example, tracks millions of electronic communications each year, many of them made by American citizens. Does this activity constitute an ‘investigation’ and, if so, to whom would the NSA turn over all those names?

Be that as it may, the gun issue is now beginning to move downstream to Senate races, and while there has been a lot of talk about how Kelly Ayotte’s refusal to vote for Manchin-Toomey back in 2012 might cost her a reelection in New Hampshire, the truth is that she’s up against a pretty tough competitor in Maggie Hassan, who would give her a run for her money, gun issues or not.

In Missouri, on the other hand, which is truly a gun-rich state, a GOP veteran, Roy Blunt, finds himself in a surprisingly tight race against a relative newcomer, Jason Kander, who has just released what I think is the most original political ad with a gun theme in the entire 2016 campaign.  The ad shows Kander, who served in Afghanistan with a National Guard infantry unit, assembling an AR-15 while he’s blindfolded and challenging Blunt to do the same.  The ad also makes clear that Kander, as opposed to Blunt, favors an expansion of background checks to secondary sales. The ad is a response to a completely-discredited NRA attack ad against Kander which accused him of voting against a bill that would have made it easier to use a gun against an attacker inside someone’s home, when in fact the actual bill, which Kander supported, expanded the right to use a gun outside the home.

Let’s get something straight.  Nobody who is perceived as being anti-gun in Missouri gets elected to anything.  That’s just the way things are.  But the fact that the NRA has put up more than $650,000 in television ads dissing Kander during this campaign tells you two things: first, it says something about the potency of expanded background checks as a campaign issue not just in Missouri but other states as well; second, it validates Hillary’s decision to ignore warnings about the strength of the ‘gun vote’ in deciding to make gun violence a centerpiece of her campaign.

We won’t know until the votes are counted on November 8th and the exit polls appear whether the blue team has been helped or hurt by coming out so strongly against violence caused by guns. But the fact that in the Gunshine State an incumbent like Marco Rubio in a tight campaign for reelection files a totally meaningless bill to prevent ‘terrorists’ from buying guns is another straw in the wind regarding how the gun issue has come into its own.

Until this year it was assumed that in gun-rich states you had to be pro-gun in order to get to the finish line with any chance of beating the other side. And this is still true to a certain extent.  But it’s the word ‘certain’ that may now start to be redefined.  And I’m not sure that I would take the short odds on redefining that word in favor of guns.

 

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