A New Attempt To Understand Gun Violence. Will It Work?

              Here we go again. Yet another group concerned with gun violence has discovered that they are dealing with a ‘public health’ problem and are putting together a research agenda that will seek to reduce this threat to community safety and health. In this case the researchers,in King County, WA (that’s Seattle and environs) want to analyze “the relationships between victims, witnesses and perpetrators of gun violence the same way an epidemiologist studies the spread of contagious disease,” the goal is “to find ways to intervene in the lives of the most vulnerable individuals….”  

              The research to be conducted follows from earlier research done by the gun-violence scholar group at the University of Washington led by our friends Ali Rowhani-Rahbar and Frederick Rivara, which found that victims of gun violence came back to the hospital with another gun injury much more frequently than people who were admitted for non injury reasons or the overall population at large.  This study covered the entire state in 2006-2007 and clearly established that the victims of gun violence were involved in a culture of violence which kept repeating itself in terms of future violent events.

              The new study will only cover Kings County, but will engage all 40 law-enforcement agencies operating within the county, hopefully leading to results that could be used to develop a comprehensive intervention strategy.

              Before I raise my usual concerns about this approach, let me make it clear that I have always supported the efforts by researchers to develop coherent explanations for the causes of gun violence leading to remedies for same. My problem with so much of the research, in particular research which is based on a public- health perspective, is that the way in which the research plan is developed often seems to be a case of using accessible data to develop a question which needs to be answered, rather than the other way around. 

              Why do 75,000 individuals, overwhelmingly males between the ages of 16 and 35, choose to inflict a serious injury on someone else by using a gun, when probably 1.5 million or more individuals in the same age cohort decide not to use a gun to engage in the same behavior?  After all, if you smash someone’s head in with a baseball bat, you’ll face the same homicide charge that you’ll face if you put a bullet between their ears. And folks, don’t kid yourself into believing that only 75,000 kids and young men who want to beat the s*it out of someone else can get their hands on a gun.  The friggin’ guns are all over the place, particularly in neighborhoods where violent assaults are frequent events.

              If the King County researchers have granular access to the actual criminal and health data on gun violence, I only hope they can gain access to the same kind of data covering the many more violent attacks where guns aren’t used. Because if we are ever going to figure out how to really make a dent in gun violence, it’s not going to happen by telling someone who bought a gun legally to engage in a 4473 transfer when he wants to sell the gun to someone else. It’s also not going to make much of a difference to lock all the guns away because I never heard of anyone getting shot with a gun that was locked in a safe.

              Know why we don’t know much about gun violence? Because the data on the gun violence which accounts for more than 70% of all gun violence happens to be non-fatal assaults, for which the CDC admits its numbers may be off by as much as 30 percent. Hopefully the data being examined in King County will help us figure out why some people commit violence with guns, but many others don’t. I’m still waiting for the answer to that one.

Gun Buybacks Work.

Next Saturday, December 15, my friends at Worcester Memorial Hospital and U/Mass Medical School are going to sponsor their 17th annual gun buyback that will run all day in the city of Worcester and many of the surrounding towns. This effort is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Hirsh, the pediatric surgeon at Memorial who first started thinking about gun violence when his classmate in the residency program at Columbia Medical School, John Wood, was gunned down across the street from the hospital in 1981.  You can learn more about the Worcester buyback program here.

The Worcester buyback is a partnership between the hospital and the city’s Police Department, or what Dr. Hirsh calls ‘white coats – blue coats,’ and the pic above shows Worcester DA Joe Early handing Hirsh a nice check.  The same buyback with the same white coat – blue coat effort will take place on the same day at New Haven and Hartford with Yale and U/Conn medical schools/hospitals involved, as well as in Springfield, MA with the involvement of the city’s cops and teaching hospital, and maybe several more sites still to be announced.  The choice of dates is not accidental; the buybacks are always conducted on the weekend closest to the anniversary of Sandy Hook.

When Mike Hirsh did his first buyback in 2002, the concept of giving in unwanted guns for a cash card here and there had been going on for at least forty years, but generally speaking, such activities received a bad press. Some of this negative image came from the work of criminologists, other findings about the limited value of buybacks came out of public health. There has also been a lot of mixed news about the 1996 buyback in Australia, although comparing a government-mandated gun turn-in where owners are fairly compensated for giving up legally-owned property to a community-run, voluntary turn-in effort is like comparing riding to work in a car as opposed to riding to work on a horse.

One of the leading scholars who used to find little value in buybacks is Garen Wintemute, who is quoted in an interview with NPR as saying that the ‘symbolic impact’ of buybacks is ‘important,’ whatever that means. Wintemute published some research on the effect of buybacks held in Milwaukee in 1994-1996, he compared the collected guns to the types of guns connected to gun fatalities and concluded that most of the donated guns were not the types that were used in gun violence; hence, buybacks don’t work. In 2013, Wintemure revisited the issue again and this time decided that buybacks, if coordinated with other initiatives, such as increasing community awareness about gun violence, were an effective tool. 

With all due respect to Wintemute and his research colleagues, the December 15 buyback led by Dr. Hirsh and other clinicians not only meets all the criteria mentioned by public health scholars as making buybacks a credible pathway towards reducing gun violence, but by basing these buybacks on a collaboration with medical centers, they do something much more important as well.

In fact, it was Wintemute himself (and Marian Betz) who published an important essay calling for physicians to become versent in the language and culture that would help them counsel patients on gun violence, in particular patients who appear to be at immediate risk. This article is regularly cited in every professional medical journal which carries articles on physicians and guns.

The reason that Dr. Hirsh and his buyback team focus their attention on participation by medical centers is that their buybacks serve as a practical, hands-on teaching opportunity for medical residents, medical school students and hospital staff. When community residents show up to donate a gun, they are asked to fill out an anonymous form which gives them an opportunity to explain why they decided to get rid of the gun.  The form is IRB-approved, more than 500 have been collected to date, and at some point the entire collection will be analyzed and sent to a peer-reviewed journal to be read by the public at large.  You can download the form here.  

Without going into specific details because the pre-publication analysis is not yet done, I can say that roughly half of the people who have completed the questionnaire to date state that they wanted to get rid of the gun because it represents a risk to themselves and others in the home.  In other words, what the buyback does is give people not just an opportunity to think about gun violence, but to make a decision, without government intervention of any kind, that having a gun around the home is too much of a risk. Now it happens to be the case that a majority of Americans believe the reverse; namely, that a gun is more of a benefit than a risk. Beyond what Mike Hirsh has been doing for the last 17 years, I don’t know a single activity being conducted by anyone in the medical community  which gives gun owners an opportunity to vote the other way.

More important than just the message about gun risk is the fact that at every buyback location you will find physicians and medical students from the cooperating medical centers engaging community residents in discussions about why they showed up to get rid of a gun. It’s all fine and well for public health researchers to state that doctors need to be mindful of ‘cultural values’ when talking to patients about guns, but how many times have these public health researchers stood next to a gun owner and ask why he is turning in a gun?  And by the way, for all the talk about gun buybacks being more successful if the value of the gift cards were increased, in fact, probably half the donors who show up at the Worcester buyback don’t ask for a gift card at all. “I don’t like that store,” one guy said to me last year as he rejected my offer to give him a gift card.

For the first time since the last Ice Age (actually since 1993) Worcester didn’t suffer a single gun homicide in 2017, non-fatal shootings totalled 24. Three years earlier, there were 7 gun homicides, the number of aggravated gun assaults was 38.  This dramatic reduction isn’t a function of the buyback program by any means; the cops now have ShotSpotter technology, they deploy patrol resources in a more effective way, community programs keep the kids busy after school and repeat offenders are taken off the streets.

But the point is that Mike Hirsh’s buyback program has become part of the social fabric of the community, it is also an important activity for educating medical staff, and its value should not be judged in quantitative terms. Seventeen years ago one person decided to do something to help make his community a nicer place in which to live. And year after year, his idea and commitment continues to spread.

Confessions of a Gun Nut.

Over the next several weeks, I am going to serialize and publish a new book – Confessions of a Gun Nut.  I’ll post each chapter on my Medium blog, and when it’s finished, I’ll publish it as an e-book. 

The purpose of this book is to use the more than 50 years that I have been in the gun business (and more than 60 years since I bought my first, real gun) to try and figure out what I know and don’t know about guns. 

Believe it or not, there’s a lot that I don’t know about guns. But I’m not about to kid myself into believing that because I can get my hands on some data, run the data through some statistical model or another and come up with some kind of ‘evidence-based’ conclusion, that I know anything about guns at all. And if I don’t know all that much about guns, the so-called experts on both sides of the argument know a lot less. 

In fact, what I find most interesting about the gun debate is the lack of modesty which seems to infect the pronouncements and publications of the individuals who turn up again and again as the self-identified authorities whose views form the accepted narrative in the gun debate.

If anything, the pompous and self-fulfilling judgements about guns and gun violence emanating from the academic research community tend, if anything, to be further removed from reality than the screeching which erupts from the other side. This is because most of the pro-gun noisemaking comes from the groups and organizations which exist for the purpose of marketing guns. Which means, at the very least, that they have to know something about the people who might actually buy their products.

On the other hand, the anti-gun movement (which is what gun-control people really want – they are against guns) has to operate under greater restraints than the pro-gun folks, most of all because they are committed to making arguments which can or should be supported by facts.  Now the fact that many of these so-called facts are nothing more than what this or that academic researcher claims to be facts – so what? In the greater scope of things what counts is whether your audience believes you or not.

Don’t worry – this isn’t going to be a kvetch by a pissed-off, former academic who didn’t get tenure and wants to get even with some of his tenured friends. First of all, I had academic tenure, so it’s not as if I’m sitting here all hot, bothered and jealous because gun-control researchers like Hemenway and Webster are inside the academy and I’m out. Second, I’m going to spend just as much time throwing slings and arrows at the pro-gun mob, if only because some of what they say is so dumb that it’s an insult even to their most ardent fans, and if anything, they often get away with it because their critics, being academics, often tend to be too polite.  On the other hand, if the academic gun researchers are too courteous to their opponents, they tie themselves into knots with the degree to which they are deferential to the work conducted by their academic peers on the same side.

Again and again I hear my friends in the anti-gun movement talking about how they want to craft gun-control policies that will be ‘reasonable,’ thus appealing to all those ‘responsible’ gun owners out there who just can’t wait to join them in the ‘middle’ of the gun debate. And along with this mantra comes the continued lament about how the ‘gap’ between the two sides is unbridgeable, and hence, simply resists any fair attempt to narrow the divide.

To the credit of gun owners, most of them will tell you that there’s a simple way to end the gun debate, namely, just stop complaining about guns and accept the fact that anyone and everyone should be able to own a gun, notwithstanding the 125,000 or so deaths and injuries that occur every year. And they should be able to own these guns without going through all this nonsense about background checks, and concealed-carry permits, and safe storage, and all that other Big Government crap.

On the other hand, how come the rest of the industrial world makes do without guns and we can’t?  Because if we agree that 125,000 deaths and injuries from the use of any specific product constitutes a crisis of public health, why should we put up with the continued availability of this product just because the Constitution says you can keep one in your home? The Commerce Clause also gives me the right to buy cigarettes. So what?

So stay tuned.  The chapters to Confessions of a Gun Nut book will shortly start rolling out. And I promise to respond to any and all feedback, at least up to a point.

The Big Scam Known as Gun-Safety Training.

              Yesterday I began to write a series of columns in which I stated some strong opinions about the strategies being promoted by Gun-controlNation to reduce the violence caused by guns. Let me repeat again what I said yesterday, namely, that I have never (read:never) been opposed to any public policy that will reduce gun violence; my role,as I see it, is to raise questions about the research and information used tocraft and justify these policies when/if I see gaps in the research or theinformation which need to be filled.

              That being said, today’s topic covers one of the truly great scams both within and without the gun world, namely, the idea that an activity referred to as ‘safety training’ does anything to reduce gun violence at all. Which groups and organizations support training in the use of guns?  Every group on both sides of the debate. The NRA of course is in favor of training, that’s why America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ was formed. As for the other side, the latest bromide can be found in a recent policy statement from the American College of Physicians: Sales of firearms should be subject to satisfactory completion of a criminal background check and proof of satisfactory completion of an appropriate educational program on firearms safety.”

              The difference between Gun-nut Nation and Gun-control Nation as regards safety training is that the latter groups want such training to be mandated (i.e., required) as a requirement for gun ownership; as far as the former coalition is concerned, nothing involving 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ should be mandated at all. Okay, so the NRA gave in on background checks back inn 1994, but in fact the requirement that gun owners be law-abiding has been in statute since 1968.  If anything, the ability of the NRA to portray its members as the most law-abiding citizens has been a master-stroke in terms of promoting the value and benefit of guns. Back to the issue of training.

              I may have a rather weird view of things, but I always thought that ‘training’ is a process whereby someone learns how to do some kind of activity correctly every single time. And it doesn’t matter whether what you are doing involves driving a car, or working on a computer, or cutting into someone’s chest, either you can always do it the same way, or you can’t. And the way we go about validating someone’s training experience is to test their performance to make sure that when actually engaged in the process for which they have been trained, they won’t make a mistake.

              Now if someone makes a small mistake, like not putting on a turn signal at the intersection or not shutting down the computer while an app is still running, it’s usually no big deal. But if someone makes a mistake with a gun, the result not only can be horrendous, but the odds that one can mitigate the effects of the mistake will often be zero to none.

              There is not one, single jurisdiction anywhere in the United States, even jurisdictions which mandate gun-safety training, where the proficiency validation even remotely begins to show that the person who has received training can be expected to safely use a gun. Sorry, but standing in front of a stationery target and shooting a few rounds downrange doesn’t prove anything at all. A study of live-fire requirements in all 50 states found that some states required a smattering of live-fire for a concealed-carry license, but rarely do any jurisdictions require live fire for simply owning a gun.

              If medical organizations like the American College of Physicians want to announce their support for gun safety education, the least they could do is take the trouble to learn what they are talking about. Ditto Gun-control Nation, which seems to assume that anything which smacks of mandated (government) gun regulations is a good thing. Sorry, government mandates are basically useless if they require activities that have no value at all. Which happens to be the case with gun training today.

Can Nancy And The Democrats Pass a Gun Law That Will Make A Difference?

Since I long ago gave up the idea that what I have to say about gun violence supports what my friends in Gun-control Nation want to hear, I’m going to spend today’s column taking some pot-shots at the single, most cherished goal of the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, a.k.a., universal background checks.  Let me make it clear again that I have never (read: never) raised the slightest objection to reducing this awful social stain known as gun violence through, among other strategies, adopting public policies which work. But let me also make it clear that just because some piece of research finds a theoretical link between a certain public policy and an alleged outcome, doesn’t mean that the research isn’t flawed.

              That being said, it now turns out that Pelosi is telling the GVP that she intends to pass a ‘bold’ package of gun reforms right after the 116th Congress convenes.  She said this at a moving memorial service held in St. Mark’s Church, marking the anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, this event part of the month-long, national vigils against gun violence which you can support here.

The Numero Uno issue that Pelosi will doubtless try to pass is a law that would expand background checks beyond the initial point of sale.  Before I get into the research used to justify this policy, we need to spend a bit of time understanding what such a law would require in terms of how the infrastructure which supports the background check process would have to change. You can promote any public policy you want, but unless you figure out and implement the logistics required to make the policy actually achieve its goals, I mean, what’s the point?

The theory behind universal background checks (UBC) is that if every gun transfer required the recipient to fill out a 4473 form, then register the transfer registered with FBI-NICS, this process would keep guns from falling into the hands of individuals who, under law, cannot own or have access to a gun. Fine.

In addition to qualifying the behavior of everyone who would be receiving a gun, the process would also make it easier for law enforcement to figure out how a gun that was used illegally or inappropriately ended up in the ‘wrong’ hands. Also fine.

Now here’s where the details meet the devil, okay? First, we have absolutely no idea, and my friends in the gun-research community have never attempted to figure this out with any degree of accuracy, how many guns are floating around in the ‘wrong hands’ right now. Nor do we have any verifiable data on how many guns are stolen each year, thus adding to the arsenal of guns in the ‘wrong hands.’  If my friends in public health would spend a little more time trying to figure that one out and a little less time pretending that regression analyses using synthetic controls really tells us how a new gun-control law impacts gun violence rates, maybe, just maybe we could craft some kind of policy that would diminish the illegal flow of guns.

Since Sandy Hook, three states – Oregon, Washington, Colorado – have instituted UBC.  In 2014, these three states experienced a gun-violence rate of 11.37 (ICD-10 Codes: W32-W34, X72-X74, X93-X95, Y22-Y24.)  In 2016, the rate was 11.88.  Would anyone like to tell me the connection between UBC and a 4% gun-violence increase in these three states? We don’t have official 2017 data yet, but in Oregon they are referring to 2017 gun-violence rates representing a ‘modest spike.’  Great, just great.

If Speaker Pelosi and her GVP allies want to take a bold step forward in the fight against gun violence, I have a simple idea.  Why don’t they just craft a bill that would strictly regulate the manufacture, purchase and ownership of highly-lethal handguns?

Oh! We can’t do that!  It’s a violation of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights!’ In fact, it’s not a violation of any Constitutional ‘right’ at all. And yes, I will shortly be explaining this on my new Facebook page. Please stop by.

 

Does Concealed-Carry Increase Gun Violence?

What would happen if every red-blooded American above the age of 21 went walking around with a gun?  Right now there are somewhere above 14 million men and women who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon, and since there are roughly 70 million between the ages of 21 and 65 living in a home with at least one gun, let’s say that the number of gun -carrying adults jumped from the current 14 million to 40 million; in other words, one out of every two.

              If this were happen, first and foremost the gun industry would recover from the doldrums it has been experiencing since the election of Sleazy Don Trump. Funny, isn’t it? We finally elect a President who endorses concealed-carry and the gun industry collapses like a wet suit on the golf course; it’s in the dumps.  If the Democrats make the mistake of running fat-ass Hillary in 2020 again, Sleazy Don will stay in the Oval Office until 2024 and the gun business will wither and die.

Let’s pretend for the moment that the Clintons finally shut up and go away, the blue team nominates a serious candidate (sorry, but my friend Deval Patrick ain’t no Obama on The Bomber’s worst day) and both the Senate and the House seat a majority who aren’t red. The new President is inaugurated in 2025, the gun-control gang demands its much-deserved payoff, and another semi-useless gun law actually gets into the Federal code

Could it happen?  I’m not quite ready to take the short odds, but this scenario doesn’t immediately fail the plausibility or possibility test. And if it does happen, we might easily end up with 40 million or more Americans who can wander around with a handgun stuck in their pocketbook or their pants.

Bear in mind, of course, that we do not have any real idea of how many people legally able to carry a concealed Glock or Sig are actually walking around with a gun. I asked a number of people who had gotten their concealed-carry permit(CCW)  after they had taken the safety course I teach whether or not they were carrying a gun on a regular basis, and the ratio of CCW license-holders to gun-carriers was on the order of ten to one. After the immediate thrill of playing Bruce Willis or John Wick wears off, walking around with a gun, unless you’re paid to walk around with a gun, is a real pain in the ass. Sooner or later you’ll forget it, or you’ll drop it, or in some other way you’ll do something stupid or careless and God forbid what you do causes the gun to go off.

Despite what my Gun-control Nation friends believe, the idea that people with legal concealed-carry privileges are a threat to others or themselves is simply not true.  In the last 12 years, CCW-holders shot and killed 1,200 people, of which 550 happened to be the  CCW -holders themselves. Which means that, on average, people who walk around with a legal handgun fatally injure 55 other people every year.  That’s 4/10ths of 1 percent of yearly gun homicides.  This makes CCW-holders a threat to community safety and peace?

The biggest joke of all is the opposition to  national concealed-carry law by various office-holders from blue states (ex: Schumer – NY) who say they don’t want gun-toters coming into their state from another state where CCW licenses are simply given away, as opposed to more restrictive states (like New York) which require more detailed vetting and a safety course before CCW is approved.

Is Schumer serious?  Does he think that the Sheriff in New York State’s Chenango County gives one rat’s damn about a more detailed background check or what’s being taught in the so-called ‘safety’ course? Chenango County has about as many people living in it as live in the same square city block in Manhattan where Schumer lives.

Want to get serious about reducing gun violence?  Stop going after straw men like CCW and do something about the guns.

And while you’re at it: https://www.facebook.com/nostinkingun/.

 

 

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Where Research On Gun Violence Needs To Start.

Last month our friends at the RAND Corp. unveiled a new initiative on gun violence, the National Collaboration on Gun Violence Research (NCGVR) which will soon begin allocating $20 million in research funds to promote gun-violence research.  The purpose of this effort, according to the NCGVR, is to support “rigorous research designed to broaden agreement on the facts associated with gun policy, and support development of fair and effective policies.”  RAND’s plan is to eventually grow their funding to $50 million. This ain’t chopped liver, even in my book.

              This new project grows out of a 400-page study, The Science of Gun Policy, which RAND published last year and can be downloaded here. The study identified eight major gun-violence categories (referred to in the report as ‘outcomes’), linked these outcomes to thirteen public policies that were believed to reduce violence levels in each category, and then analyzed the degree to which research conducted since 2004 supported the mitigating effects of each policy or not. The outcomes were what you would expect: homicide, suicide, unintentional injury and so forth.  The policies were the usual grab-bag of what has long served as the ‘wish list’ of gun-control advocates – comprehensive background checks, red flag laws, more intensive licensing, etc.

The researchers evaluated the ‘science’ of gun-violence research by scoring the research based on the degree to which it showed that each policy actually made a difference in the level of gun violence which the particular policy was designed to affect. The ratings ranged from inconclusive to limited to moderate to supportive, and not a single category of research received a supportive rating, not one. Two outcomes, gun suicide and gun homicide, were found to be moderately impacted by background checks and CAP laws; a spread sheet detailing the value of gun research for determining the value of every other public policy for all the other outcomes was basically blank. To put it bluntly, the RAND report found scant evidence that research conducted since 2004 has been of any real value at all. Wow.

This report no doubt reflects a decision of RAND to try and fill the gap. And while the lack of government funding for such research efforts has definitely played a significant role in restricting the degree to which the science of gun policy has remained far behind where it might otherwise be, I would like to suggest that perhaps there is another reason why the team that produced the RAND report found little, if any research that could be used to support gun-control policies from an objective, evidence-based point of view.

Every year somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million Americans attempt or succeed in inflicting serious injury on someone else. It’s called ‘aggravated assault,’ but for all kinds of reasons, we don’t have any hard data on how often it occurs. For that reason, gun-violence researchers rarely focus on gun assaults unless the victim winds up dead. Most of these deaths started as arguments, escalated to assaults, then out comes the gun.  But in most cases, actually in at least 80% or more of these events, the shooter doesn’t know how to aim the gun and the person with the bullet inside them lives.

Let’s put this into context. The context is that less than 10% of the arguments that wind up as aggravated assaults involve the use of a gun. So how come 10% use a gun and 90% don’t?  It can’t be explained by saying that there aren’t enough guns to go around. The guns are all over the place!

As long as gun-violence researchers rely on medically-based data about victims to understand gun violence, we won’t get very far. And if we don’t understand what’s going on in the head of the shooter, as opposed to the body of the victim, how can we develop public policies to reduce gun violence that will really work?

I just hope my friends at RAND will take this issues into account when deciding how to distribute their generous and much-needed research funds.

 

Weapons Of War On Our Streets: A Guide to the Militarization of Police.

A new column from our friends at Ammo.com.

The claim often heard from gun grabbers in their efforts to pass more gun control legislation is that all they’re trying to do is get the “weapons of war off our streets,” but it’s simply untrue that “weapons of war” are available to the general public. You’d last about three minutes in a real war with an AR-15, even with one of the most aggressive builds you can get your hands on. The truth is that the only people with “weapons of war” on America’s streets are, increasingly, the police.

Thanks primarily to the 1033 Program which allows law enforcement agencies to get their hands on Department of Defense technology and the Bush-era War on Terror, American police have received a startling amount of heavy-duty, military-grade hardware. Between 1998 and 2014, the dollar value of military hardware sent to police departments skyrocketed from $9.4 million to $796.8 million.

And just as when “all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail”, militarized police have become more willing to use their new weapons when carrying out law enforcement tasks. For example, the number of SWAT raids in the United States grew dramatically from about 3,000 in 1980, to a whopping 50,000 SWAT raids in 2014, according to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

To say that the militarization of the police is nothing new is to ignore America’s recent history as well as the long-standing model of a peace officer. As the police have militarized and the Pentagon backs major players in Hollywood, the focus has shifted from one who keeps the peace to one who enforces the law – and that’s an important difference.

What Is the Difference Between a Law Enforcement Officer and a Peace Officer?

The model for police, and the constables and sheriffs before them prior to the late 20th Century, was that of a peace officer. In many states, it’s not even true that police are law enforcement officers – even though it’s a term frequently used by the police and their fans in the “Blue Lives Matter,” “Thin Blue Line,” and “Back the Blue” movements.

It’s a subtle, but important, distinction: Is the role of the police to enforce the law or to keep the peace? Consider the difference between the police force of a typical American city and the fictional Andy Taylor of The Andy Griffith Show. The former is concerned primarily with enforcing the law for its own sake and catching as many “lawbreakers” as possible. The latter, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with keeping the peace. Sometimes that means looking the other way when laws get broken.

This isn’t simply a matter of how pleasant or unpleasant it is to deal with the police. Law enforcement officers might be writing parking tickets in the middle of a burglary epidemic due to their need to enforce all the laws all the time. Conversely, a peace officer is going to ignore a lot of low-level, habitual crime – even when there are clear victims (for example, vandalism or loitering) – because he emphasizes going out and catching violent and dangerous criminals. There’s no impulse to arrest a guy who habitually smokes weed on a street corner if he’s providing the police with valuable information leading to the arrest of violent criminals.

Peace officers might have the need for a sidearm and a shotgun, but they have little or no need for, say, a tank, to say nothing of the variety of nasty DARPA weapons police departments are increasingly wanting and getting.

The Origins of Militarized Police

Weapons of War On Our Streets: A Guide to the Militarization of PoliceBefore we begin talking about the militarized American police, it’s worth mentioning that United States law specifically prohibits the military from enforcing the laws in the U.S. That’s why we don’t have the Army enforcing the law, and also why we don’t have a military-style gendarmerie as is common in Europe. This law, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, was passed after the removal of federal troops from the Southern states following the end of Reconstruction. With rare exception, the federal government is not allowed to use the Army or the Air Force to enforce the law and the Navy has strict regulations for both the Navy and Marine Corps regarding the use of either for domestic law enforcement.

However, this law has been somewhat undermined due to police forces becoming so much like the military, which began during Prohibition in the 1920s. Organized crime got its first foothold in American life thanks to the lucrative black market in liquor. This was also the golden age of bank robbery with figures like Bonnie and ClydePretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger becoming folk heroes. The Thompson submachine gun and the Browning Automatic Rifle were increasingly used by organized crime and the “stars” of bank robbery.

The Prohibition Era saw domestic police departments wielding automatic weapons for the first time. There was nothing nefarious about this from the perspective of local police departments. In fact, it was the police departments most regularly in contact with vicious organized crime, such as Chicago and Kansas City, who led the way in arming their officers with automatic weapons and armored vehicles. At least two rounds of ammunition, the .38 Super and the .357 Magnum, were developed with the express purpose of being able to penetrate the early bulletproof vests worn by gangsters in the Prohibition Era.

Overall crime increased by 24 percent during the first two years of Prohibition. This included a nine-percent increase in theft and burglary, a 13-percent increase in homicides, and a 13-percent increase in assault and battery. Overall, police department costs increased by 11.4 percent. However, because the police were busy fighting the scourge of demon alcohol, it was difficult for them to target crimes unrelated to this. In fact, a study of South Carolina counties that enforced Prohibition versus those who didn’t found a whopping 30- to 60-percent increase in homicides in the counties who enforced the law. All of this is according to Charles Hanson Towne in The Rise and Fall of Prohibition: The Human Side of What the Eighteenth Amendment Has Done to the United States.

This era of militarization drew to a close with the end of Prohibition itself. However, the militarization of police would resume again a few decades down the line.

The Second Wave of Militarized Police

Weapons of War On Our Streets: A Guide to the Militarization of PoliceThe second wave of police militarization begins with the race riots in the 1950s and 1960s, with the Watts Riots in 1965 gaining a sort of gravitas. The LAPD used military-style weapons and tactics to end the riots. What’s more, an increasingly militant civil rights movement was seen by the CIA as an arm of international Communism. While there is some merit to this view, it’s certainly true that it led to a philosophy of increasingly militarized police.

The militarization of police is not by any means based on manufactured and artificial paranoia. Even in the case of Prohibition, it’s a simple fact that organized crime used weapons with firepower far in excess of what the police had access to. Similarly, the second wave of militarized police was partly in response to an increasingly militarized organized crime thanks in part to the beginnings of the War on Drugs.

On one hand, the police were encountering more and more dangerous organized crime syndicates, such as the Medellin Cartel and street gangs like the Gangster Disciples. Urban unrest included not just race riots like the aforementioned Watts Riots and the 1967 riots in Detroit, but also the riot outside of the 1968 Democratic Party Convention. Domestic terrorist organizations like the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Earth Liberation Front likewise offered increased challenges to law enforcement.

Unrelated to the War on Drugs, the 1986 FBI Miami shootout was a game-changer for law enforcement budgets. Police outnumbered suspects by a factor of four. Despite this, they were pinned down by suppressive gunfire. The incident lasted five minutes and 145 rounds were fired. The suspects were hit multiple times, but continued to fight in part because the officers’ and agents’ service revolvers did not have sufficient stopping power. In response, there was a movement to increase the firepower of service revolvers. This is when semi-automatic pistols began to replace the revolver and larger magazines became the rule. Rifles, shotguns, and heavier body armor also saw increased adoption after this shootout.

Another incident accelerating the militarization of police is the North Hollywood shootout of 1997. This bank robbery left two dead (the perps) and 20 wounded – 12 police officers and eight civilians. It lasted 44 minutes, an eternity in terms of police shootouts, with approximately 2,000 rounds fired. The perps got off approximately twice as many rounds as the police officers on the scene, but the game-changer was the arrival of the SWAT team, who had much more appropriate weaponry. This led to everyday police officers getting equipment that was customary for SWAT teams in the 1990s.

The 1033 Program

Weapons of War On Our Streets: A Guide to the Militarization of PoliceThe 1033 Program was enacted in the wake of the 1997 North Hollywood shootout. Created by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, it allowed law enforcement agencies to get their hands on military hardware. Unsurprisingly, the preference was given to law enforcement engaged in anti-drug and counter-terror activity, underscoring the vital role of wars on abstract concepts in increasing the militarization of the police force. Bill Clinton – he of the massacres at Waco and Ruby Ridge – signed the bill into law.

$5.1 billion in material was transferred from the Department of Defense to local law enforcement between 1997 and 2014, with ammunition being the most common requisition. 8,000 law enforcement offices participate as of 2014.

Also included in this total are 20 different school law enforcement agencies. The Los Angeles School Police Department has requisitioned 61 assault rifles and three grenade launchers. Ten school police departments in the State of Texas and have requisitioned 25 automatic pistols, 64 M16s, 18 M14s, and tactical vests.

The program has come under bipartisan criticism lead by Rand Paul. Senator Paul stated that the program has “incentivized the militarization of local police precincts and helped municipal governments build what are essentially small armies.” Senator Claire McCaskill led the first investigation of the program starting in September 2014. At least one study found a correlation between the 1033 program and increased fatalities at the hands of law enforcement.

21st-Century Police Militarization

One of the big game-changers for militarization of police was the 9/11 attacks. This greatly eroded the Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure. Now police – local, state and federal – need to suspect “terrorism.” This provides the same convenient cover for police overreach that was previously offered by the War on Drugs.

President Obama gave new directives for the 1033 program that forbade police from acquiring certain weapons from the military. These include weaponized vehicles, grenade launchers and bayonets. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended these restrictions upon assuming office in 2017.

The propaganda war for militarization often comes under the rubric of a “war on police.” However, there is no factual basis for the idea that police officers are under some kind of unprecedented siege. The year 2015 had one of the lowest levels of police murders on record. Not only were fewer police officers being killed on the job, far fewer people were attempting to hurt police officers.

The weapons that come to local police departments through the 1033 pipeline are direct from the military and, by extension, the War on Terror.

Training with military units is also increasingly common according to a report from the Cato Institute. The training generally takes place not with regular infantry units, but with specialized and elite groupings within the United States military – such as the Navy SEALs and the Army Rangers.

The Role of Civil Asset Forfeiture

Weapons of War On Our Streets: A Guide to the Militarization of PoliceCivil asset forfeiture (CAF) is a major driver in the militarization of the police force. Put simply, CAF is a legal principle that allows police to seize money and property from “suspected” criminals, which they can do without a warrant because the suspect’s property doesn’t have the presumption of innocence. Note that police do not have to convict or even indict. Indeed, indictments are not even filed in over 80 percent of all cases. Police can simply seize property, more or less at will, with some property harder to seize than others. Seizure of anything under $20,000 will almost certainly stand because that’s about what it’s going to cost you to fight CAF in court.

Most of the money raised through civil asset forfeiture is filed under “other.” This can be anything from a $600 coffee maker to a tank. Because the burden of proof is so low and the benefits are so high, CAF is effectively a legally allowed form of theft by police officers, allowing them to purchase military-grade hardware with stolen property. Here is a short list of military hardware purchased with civil asset forfeiture funds:

  • $5 million helicopter for the Los Angeles Police Department
  • $1 million mobile command bus for Prince George County, Maryland
  • $227,000 for a tank in Douglasville, GA, a town with a population of 32,000
  • $54,000 for 27 M-4 assault rifles in Braselton, GA, a town with a population of 9,476

While not the sole, nor even the primary, means by which the police are becoming militarized, this is a significant method for police departments to bankroll their own militarization.

Highlights of Police Militarization

It’s one thing to discuss police militarization simply in terms of weapons acquisition. It’s another to discuss police militarization in terms of actual incidents. Some high-profile incidents involving heavily militarized police are worth examining.

  • MOVE: In 1985, the Philadelphia police came into conflict with a militant black nationalist organization called MOVE over the clearing of a building. An armed standoff resulted in shots exchanged between the compound’s inhabitants and the police. Eventually, this erupted into a firefight involving both semi-automatic and automatic weapons. On the orders of the police commissioner, the building was bombed twice. The resulting fire spread to a total of 65 different houses in the neighborhood and caused 11 deaths, including five children under 13. Over 250 were left homeless due to the fires.
  • Ruby Ridge: This is notorious within in the Second Amendment and liberty movements, so it hardly needs to be repeated. In 1992, the United States Marshal Service attempted to serve a bench warrant at Ruby Ridge, the home of Randy Weaver and his family. His wife Vicki and his 14-year-old son Sammy were shot by USMS and FBI agents armed with M16s, sniper rifles and weaponized vehicles. Randy Weaver’s attorney made accusations of criminal wrongdoing and a resulting 14-day Senate investigation called for sweeping law enforcement reforms to avoid another similar incident. Federal officers also killed the Weaver family dog.
  • Branch Davidians: This is perhaps one of, if not the, archetypal example of a militarized police force greatly overreaching. Armed with .50 caliber rifles, M728 Combat Engineer Vehicles (which are effectively tanks) and M79 grenade launchers, the FBI and ATF engaged in a firefight with Branch Davidians inside. Controversy remains to this day with regard to who fired first and who started the fire that consumed the building, leaving 82 members of the church dead.

These are the big three, but there are many smaller events also worth mentioning. During the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina, private Blackwater contractors patrolled the streets with automatic weapons. They were accused of summary execution of looters. In a low point for militarized police in 2014, a SWAT team in Cornelia, Georgia severely mutilated the face of an 18-month-old baby boy with a flash bang grenade in a fruitless search for drugs.

The Role of SWAT Teams

Weapons of War On Our Streets: A Guide to the Militarization of PoliceSWAT teams are effectively the military of the police force. Begun in 1965 in Philadelphia, SWAT teams were conceived as a way to restrain urban unrest, deal with hostage situations or handle barricaded marksmen like Charles Whitman.

Indeed, early uses of SWAT seemed to be well within the range of appropriateness. In December 1969, the LAPD’s SWAT team squared off with the Black Panthers, with Daryl Gates requesting and receiving permission to use a grenade launcher. In May 1974, the same SWAT team had a several-hours-long gun battle with the Symbionese Liberation Army.

However, SWAT teams gradually began to tackle missions that were not, strictly speaking, appropriate for the tools in their toolbox. What’s more, once LAPD’s SWAT team became famous, every city seemed to want one. The number of SWAT teams in cities of 50,000 or more doubled between the mid-80s and late-90s, at which point 89 percent of all cities of this size had a SWAT team.

Some startling facts when it comes to SWAT teams:

  • 62% of all SWAT deployments were for drug raids
  • 79% of these were done on private residences
  • Only 7% of all raids were done for situations SWAT was invented for – namely barricades or hostage situations

Even smaller cities have SWAT teams now, which raises the question of why. Mission creep is the short answer, with SWAT teams now being used for operations far beyond the original scope of their work. Put simply, the SWAT team was not created to serve every search warrant that comes across the desk of a small-town police force.

SWAT teams ostensibly exist to respond to “high risk” scenarios. But there are seemingly no guidelines for what makes a situation high risk. Sometimes local SWAT teams use a threat matrix. However, these matrices are highly subjective and vulnerable to abuse. Partial responses are discouraged. Either the SWAT team is not deployed at all or there is a full-throttle response.

To use one example of why these matrices don’t work, let us consider the presence or absence of weapons. There is no way of knowing whether or not weapons will be present. So officers must subjectively guess whether or not they believe weapons will be present. Unfortunately, officers are pretty bad at this guessing game. According to an ACLU report, SWAT officers believed weapons were present in 35 percent of cases, but only actually found them in a scant 13 percent. In 36 percent of cases where SWAT was deployed to find drugs, no drugs were found.

Fusion Centers: Surveillance and Snooping

Weapons of War On Our Streets: A Guide to the Militarization of PoliceAs the military’s tools for surveillance become more powerful, this too will trickle down to the local police.

In at least one case, it already has. Fusion Centers are hubs for local, state and federal police to share information. They’re effectively intelligence-gathering done by various police agencies who pool their resources. While this isn’t an uncommon practice, the Fusion Centers have virtually no oversight and are filled with zeal for the War on Terror. While its primary existence was to surveil in the fight against terrorism, Fusion Centers have quickly ballooned to gather intelligence on just about anything – and it’s not just the police. The military participates in Fusion Centers, as does the private sector, which means they’re a privacy nightmare.

The federal government has pushed Fusion Centers and largely bankrolled them. Hundreds of FBI agents work with Fusion Centers, with the federal government providing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid. In the case of the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, the federal government created a Fusion Center at the state level, only eventually turning control of an ostensibly state agency to the state. 30 percent of these “state” agencies are physically located in federal office space.

Private sector companies collect, store and analyze data for Fusion Centers. This would be dangerous on its own, but the lack of any oversight makes it particularly troublesome. Even if a private sector has the best of intentions, malicious third-party actors could access some of your most sensitive data if it’s been datamined by a Fusion Center. A company without the best intentions can do all kinds of “government-approved” snooping into your personal affairs.

Another nasty surveillance tool currently being deployed by the police is the Stingray phone tracker. This is effectively a phony cell phone tower that snoops on cell phone calls, which can extract significant information about you from your cell phone. Originally to be used only in terrorism investigations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that the LAPD “has been using it for just about any investigation imaginable.” They can also be used to jam or otherwise interfere with your phone signal. Stingrays are highly mobile and can be mounted to just about any vehicle.

All of this is part of an overall drive for increased police surveillance starting at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security and trickling down. “Total Information Awareness” was one of the more Orwellian euphemisms of the early Bush and Department of Homeland Security years. It was quickly renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, then codenamed “Basketball.” Its goal is to know everything, or at least as much as it can. In 2012, the New York Times reported that this program was “quietly thriving” at the National Security Agency.

The Information Awareness Office, established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA – who we will discuss more later), oversaw Total Information Awareness. They collect emails, social network identities, records for phone calls and credit card purchases, medical records and a host of other information with no need for a warrant. Congress defunded this program, but it exists under the auspices of a number of different agencies according to Edward Snowden.

Technologies developed by the Information Awareness Office (and in the wake of Snowden’s revelations, it’s worth noting that these are just the technologies that have been made public) includes:

How much of this has trickled down to your local police department is largely unknown.

The Detriments of a Militarized Police Force

There are a number of negative consequences arising from the existence of a militarized police force.

  • Civil Liberties: Chief among the problems presented by a militarized police force are civil liberties. Militarized police seems to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids using the military to enforce domestic law in most cases and under ordinary circumstances.
  • Surveillance: The militarized police force also uses military-style forms of surveillance. A January 2017 report from the Cato Institute accused militarized police of “mission creep,” going beyond simple weapons and tactics and into surveillance.
  • Force: Veterans on the police force tend to have more complaints about excessive force and are more likely to discharge their weapons, according to a report from the Marshall Project.
  • Alienation: Militarized police are the antithesis of community policing, which leverages good community relations and the resources flowing from those relations to prevent and solve crimes. Military-style training for police, battle dress uniforms and even just the color black might provoke more aggression from officers. Named missions such as “War on Drugs” likewise make community policing more difficult.
  • Killing Dogs: There’s significant evidence suggesting that the more militarized a police force is, the more likely it is to shoot a dog. Yes, really. The Puppycide Database Project tracks these things.
  • Lack of Oversight: At the local, state and federal levels, there is little-to-no oversight when it comes to the militarization of the police. Most states do not keep tabs on the statistics of their SWAT teams. Where they do, reports are frequently incomplete and little-to-no action is taken on their basis. No federal agency collects information about local SWAT teams. There is little oversight of 1033 or SWAT teams either by the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security.

All of this is perhaps why, under the Obama Justice Department, there was a push toward demilitarization of the police force. In 2015, the Task Force for 21st Century Policing recommended restriction of military hardware such as grenade launchers and armored vehicles. President Donald Trump has since reversed this, reinstating the entire 1033 program and remilitarizing police.

DARPA: Police Militarization of the Future

Weapons of War On Our Streets: A Guide to the Militarization of PoliceSince there is a clearly established pipeline running from the Pentagon’s latest and greatest toys, it’s not much of a stretch to say that the weapons being developed by the Pentagon today are going to be used on the streets of America in the very near future.

In fact, there’s an entire department of the Pentagon dedicated to developing futuristic weapons to help the United States win the new arms. It’s called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, commonly known as DARPA. This agency has not only developed weapons, but also a number of contemporary technologies most people take for granted – such as GPS, graphic user interface, the mouse, and even the internet itself. Recent research includes more intuitive prosthetic limbs as well as brain implants that will help those with memory loss regain their memory.

But DARPA isn’t just working on projects like these with the promise to revolutionize medicine and increase the quality of human life. They also work on some rather nasty little projects that will almost certainly trickle down to your local police department through the 1033 program. Some of the futuristic weapons currently in development by DARPA include:

  • Active Denial System: The active denial system is an invisible ray gun heating the skin of people in a given area to 130 degrees. The targets instinctively flee, something that DARPA calls the “goodbye effect.” The end result can leave second- or third-degree burns on up to 20 percent of the body’s surface. The weapon has already been tested in Afghanistan.
  • Taser X12: Nearly everyone is familiar with the Taser. The Taser X12 is effectively that in 12-gauge shotgun form. This extends the reach of a Taser weapon from about 20 feet to about 100 feet.
  • Skull Piercing Microwaves: Yep, you read that right. One of the projects DARPA is working on right now leverages the audio effect of microwaves. This creates shockwaves inside the skull, which are read by the brain as sound. This can result in discomfort, incapacitation and brain damage.
  • Long-Range Acoustic Device: Sirens might not sound like a big deal, but the current ones being worked on by DARPA are so loud they can cause permanent hearing damage very quickly. Pittsburgh police already used this against protestors in 2009. More advanced sonic weapons can be deadly, including the Thunder Generator developed by the Israelis
  • Voice of God: This one sounds impossible, but it’s not. The Voice of God is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s a weapon beaming words directly into your head so that you think God is talking to you. This leverages the same technology in LRADs, but for different effect.

These are just a few of the weapons that we know about. There is almost certainly far more frightening classified weapons coming down the pike over the next decade.

The tendency is strongly in the direction of increasingly militarized police. This renders the notion of “weapons of war on our streets” as a gun grabber argument exceptionally weak. The most heavily armed gang on the street isn’t your local street gang – it’s law enforcement. They have weapons far in excess to that of the average citizen or even the average criminal. This means resisting them can easily be deadly, even when you’re within your legal rights.

This raises a point worthy of consideration: The usual suspects will cry and rage at your ability to legally own an AR-15, a right codified by the United States Constitution. Rare is the gun grabber who makes any kind of stink when police use directed energy weapons. Remember that gun grabbers aren’t against guns – they’re just against yours.

Want To End Gun Violence? Join The NRA.

From time immemorial I have been listening to my friends in Gun-control Nation complain about the power and influence of the NRA.  They have so much money, so many political connections and now they even have an unabashed booster in the Oval Office, even though his boosterism seems, of late, to have begun to fade.

              There’s no question that America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ has hit a rough patch. Revenues are have gone South, corporate partnerships are in disarray, their vaunted, new training program CarryGuard is a flop, and viewership of the NRA-TV media channel is down and staff has been laid off.

The biggest problem the NRA faces is that the gun industry has not shown any recovery from the doldrums into which it sank immediately after out first Kenyan-born President moved from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue into a private home.  Try as they might, gun makers have simply never found a marketing message which makes people want to buy guns unless these same people are afraid that they won’t be able to buy or own guns.

Putting all these factors together means that an organization that was able to count on the unquestioned support and loyalty of four or five million gun owners, all of a sudden finds itself on the wrong side of the curve. But there is an answer to their problem which Gun-control Nation should address. The NRA doesn’t  have any membership requirement that forces a member to own a gun. For that matter, the boys in Fairfax also cannot demand that any member necessarily agree with what the organization says or does. The last thing the NRA is about to do is impose some kind of membership qualification based on speech. After all, how can America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ be seen as being against free speech?

What does it cost to become a member of the NRA? A whole, big $45 bucks a year.  You can join right here, and very quickly you will start receiving a monthly magazine of your choice, along with at least one daily email from Wayne-o or Chris Cox. And don’t tell me you can’t afford the 45 bucks, okay?  I paid that much for a party pizza and a couple of six-packs last weekend which lasted until half-time of the Patriots and Jets (boy do my beloved Jets suck this year.)

I know a number of Gun-control Nation fanatics who tell me they would never join the NRA because such an act would be tantamount to giving care and comfort to the enemy. But that’s a very short-sighted and self-defeating view. What if MOMS, Brady, Everytown and Gabby told all their supporters and Facebook followers to sign up?  Could the NRA find itself with a million new email addresses?  Sure. Could these new members form their own social media groups and respond to every email from Wayne-o and Chris by publicly announcing their objections to what the NRA leaders have to say?  Of course.  What would happen if Ollie North received 500,000 emails from NRA members which told him to dry up and get lost? Think that wouldn’t make media headlines?  Think again.

I would understand Gun-control Nation’s anger over NRA messaging were those messages coming from a closed, private group.  But joining the NRA takes about 5 minutes, and all of a sudden, you are now part of an organization which never forgets to tell its members that they are special and unique.

What makes NRA members so special?  Allegedly it’s because they own at least one gun. If anything, I think that NRA members who didn’t own guns would constitute an even more unique and special group. So why not take advantage of the opportunity to pay the paltry sum of $45 a year and use your membership to promote Gun-control Nation’s views on guns from inside the tent, rather than always standing outside and trying to piss in? Remember, it’s only going to cost you what you’ll pay for another party pizza delivered before the 3rd quarter begins.

 

Are Americans Finally Getting Fed Up With Guns?

Sleazy Don can talk all he wants about how the mid-term election was a big win, but yesterday announcement that a bump-stock ban is coming out of the White House is just more proof that he and his Beer Hall gang took the November 6th results right on the chinny, chin-chin. Had the House remained under GOP control, particularly with a gun nut like Keven McCarthy in the Speaker’s seat, I can guarantee you that the last thing which would have come out of the White House was anything that smacked in any way of being anti-gun.

              For that matter, another story started floating around the ‘drive-by’ media yesterday that the GOP has also given up on trying to finish work on Gun-nut Nation’s most cherished dream, a.k.a., a national concealed-carry law that would let anyone and everyone wander all across and through the ‘fruited plane’ with a gun. I enjoy using various Rush Limbaugh catch-phrases like ‘drive-by’ and ‘fruited plane’ because as we move towards the convening of the 116th Congress on January 2, 2019, the alt-right noise machine led by hot-air balloons like Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, et. al., is going to have to find something more important to talk about than whether the Mexican caravan represents a global terrorist threat.

Meanwhile, in what might or might not be a more important development in Gun-nut Nation was the news, reported by our friend Alex Yablon at The Trace that the media folks who produce some of the shows for NRATV have been let go. Is this because the NRA has hit a rough revenue patch, or is it because viewing numbers are down, or a combination of both? There is also the possibility that the boys in Fairfax are perhaps re-thinking a video messaging strategy that has promoted some of the worst, dumbest and lowlife pandering that I have ever seen.

Between home-school queen Dana Loesch talking about the ‘violent Left,’ or that dopey, speech-mangled lawyer with the made-up name – Colion Noir – prancing around a shooting range extolling the virtues of self-defense with an AR-15, the NRA video channel has been nothing more than a platform for keeping the NRA image beyond even the Breitbart fringe. But maybe the fact that the House of Representatives went blue because a number of gun-loving GOP members lost seats in gun-rich states has caught the NRA by the seat of its political pants.

One of the more outstanding myth that floats around Gun-control Nation is the idea that the NRA sets the tone for the gun ‘rights’ debate and the organization’s members then line up and repeat whatever the NRA tells them to say.  I happen to believe this narrative is simply not true.  If anything, the NRA tends to reflect the views of its members rather than the other way around. For example, the group’s endorsement of  Sleazy Don in May, 2016, a departure from their usual endorsement near the end of a Presidential campaign, simply reflected the fact that the Republican National Committee had already declared Sleazy Don to be the presumptive GOP nominee.

What may really be happening is that the financial and media problems within the NRA are just another reflection of the overall slowing down of the gun business and perhaps a turning-point in America’s love affair with guns. The FBI reported that NICS-background checks for Black Friday was the lowest number for the great sale day since 2014. And even though the gun industry’s feel-good mouthpiece, the NSSF, tried to balance this bad news by claiming that gun sales on days prior to Black Friday were up, anyone who thinks that the gun business is in recovery mode should check today’s Smith & Wesson stock price.

Next week I’ll do my monthly report on the exact state of the gun industry when official FBI-NICS background check numbers are released. In the meantime, if you want to make a million in the gun business, maybe you have to start not with two million but with three.