What Kind Of Training Do Gun Owners Receive? None At All.

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I have decided that it’s time for Mike the Gun Guy to become a little less polite (imagine – Mike the Gun Guy ‘less’ polite) and start responding to some of the things that are said on the gun violence prevention (GVP) side which I feel hold us back, rather than help us to move ahead. This decision should not be taken in any way, shape or form as a criticism or even a concern about the importance and necessity of GVP. To the contrary, as a fundamental issue with which all Americans to be engaged, in the Age of Trump GVP tops the list.

training             Last week a group of public health gun researchers published the results of a national survey which found that 4 out of 10 Americans who are legally allowed to walk around with a gun (CCW) have not received any gun training at all. And the results of this survey are not much different from similar surveys published in 1994, except that the number of CCW-holders has probably doubled, if not tripled from that earlier date.

That a majority of people who can legally walk around with a concealed weapon have received some kind of formal gun training is now validated again by the results of this survey, and the narrative will slowly but surely circulate throughout the public domain and in and around the GVP. On the other hand, the fact that four out of ten CCW-holders have not engaged in any formal gun training demonstrates the degree to which “no national standards or requirements for firearm training in the USA exist.” And this lack of consistent standard (or any standard for that matter) regarding how to use a gun is particularly concerning given the expected push by the Republicans who might not get a new healthcare law but just might vote through a national, reciprocal CCW law that their President will surely sign.

There’s only one little problem with this survey and by pro-GVP media efforts to publicize the findings hither and yon, namely, that despite what the researchers believe they were asking respondents to tell them, what in fact they were asking respondents in this survey had nothing to do with training at all. Know where the word ’training’ comes from as it applies to guns? It’s a word first used by the NRA which was actually founded as a ‘training’ organization in 1873. Not only does the NRA continue to promote themselves as America’s premier gun-training organization, but they have launched a new training effort focusing on CCW techniques called Carry Guard, which they refer to as a “first-rate, elite program” aimed (pardon the pun) at people who lead the ‘concealed-carry lifestyle’ and want to be ready for ‘real-life situations you must be prepared to face.’

This isn’t training – it’s a sham. It’s used to entice people to purchase an insurance policy which will allegedly pay all their legal fees after they shoot someone, assuming they don’t get convicted for some kind of felony committed while they were using their gun. Along with this training program, the NRA now offers its standard training programs on video, and these programs are used by most CCW-issuing authorities in states where pre-CCW training is still required. What’s the difference between NRA video training and video games like Call of Duty that you can play on your X-Box?  There is no difference.

I’m an old-fashioned guy so words have meanings, whether we like the meanings or not. I think GVP is making a profound mistake using words whose meaning has been distorted beyond all recognition by the NRA. If GVP is going to convince people that what they say about gun violence is true and what the other side says is false, then the words we use should be our words and not words that are bandied about by the NRA in order to help sell more guns.

And what I just said about GVP applies to public health researchers as well.

An Approach To Gun Violence Which We All Need To See.

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When I was 14 or 15 years old, my brother took me to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to see an exhibition of photographs by an immigrant named Arthur Felig who went by the street name of Weegee, and whose photos showed the gritty side of New York. Using one of those heavy Speed Graphic cameras with the big flash bulbs, Weegee would hang around a police precinct and when a call came in about a murder or some other criminal event, he would often get to the scene before the cops, shoot a picture and sell it to one of the city’s tabloids where it would usually appear the next day.

Weegee’s subjects were everyone and anyone, from the Park Avenue society dowager arriving for a banquet at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to homeless men and women sleeping in Central Park. But if there was one subject which showed up again and again in his work, it was pictures of shooting victims who lying there in the street, often surrounded by the cops who usually followed Weegee to the scene. Here are some of ‘New York’s Finest’ standing around a shooting victim and notice that none of the cops appears to be particularly concerned or upset.

weegee2

              I was reminded of Weegee last week when I took a look at a website, It Takes Us, which is the handiwork of a professional photographer named Joe Quint. The website is contains a collection of videos, testimonies and what Quint calls the ‘faces of gun violence,’ which are portraits of people who have either been victims or connected to victims shot by guns. If you haven’t yet seen this remarkable portfolio, put me on hold for a minute, click the link above and take a look.

Quint was reared on Long Island, went to Temple University and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife and kids. He’s had a camera in his hand since he was four years old, his work clearly demonstrating that he’s a master of his craft. He joined Everytown but then decided to construct this website because as he says, he had reached a ‘tipping point’ in which he could no longer justify his own inaction in the face of the ongoing carnage which claims more than 30,000 lives every year. Along with this venue, Quint has also contributed articles and narratives to NBC, PBS, Huffington Post among others, as well as our friends at The Trace.

The reason I made the connection between Weegee and Joe Quint is, first of all, they are both artists who use a camera rather than a paint and brush. But the ability to convey more than just some pictorial details about their subjects is what sets them apart. In this respect, if you compare the work of both men about the same subject – gun violence – what you come away with his how gun violence has changed.

When Weegee was running around Manhattan taking pics of this gun-violence and that, virtually every one of the individuals lying in their own blood had been shot because they were gangsters and mob guys for whom ending up with a bullet in the head was an occupational hazard, or better said, occupational requirement for the kind of lives these wise guys led. The shootings caught by Weegee weren’t random, they didn’t happen because there were so many guns around, and most of all, they didn’t involve kids.

quint

              Joe Quint’s gallery, on the other hand, should be understood as reflecting how gun violence has changed. Because even though every once in a great while some connected guy is found in the trunk of his car, every day more than 200 people are killed or injured because someone else points a gun at them and goes – bam! – and too many of these victims are simply people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If today’s gun violence was like the gun violence in Weegee’s time, we’d be way ahead.

Despite What Some People Believe, We Need More Gun Buybacks, Not Less.

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Last week my eye caught an interesting gun article in The New York Times, and it’s not like I often read articles in the NYT that are interesting (or correct, for that matter.) But this was an article about two young men who put together a very successful gun buyback in Los Angeles that collected more than 770 weapons in a one-day program last May, and have taken more than 1,100 guns out of circulation since 2013.

confiscated             The two guys behind this initiative have put together an organization, Gun By Gun, which has been operating on the West Coast but with proper care and feeding could obviously become a national thing. The whole deal is funded through crowd-sourced donations which, according to the NYT article, have collected more than $100,000. But what I really found interesting about this effort was not the amount of money donated or the number of guns taken off the streets, but rather the fact that folks who give in their guns get a Target gift card as their reward.  I’ll come back to the significance of that fact in a bit.

But meanwhile I first have to spend a bit of time discussing the manner in which our dear public health friends have viewed the question of gun buybacks, because the truth is that the narrative they have developed about buybacks misses the basic point of such programs, which means that public health gun violence researchers simply get it wrong.

Over the years there have been a number of gun buyback programs whose results have been analyzed by some of our leading public health gun researchers, including Frederick Rivara and Garen Wintemute, along with a summary published by the National Academies in 2004. These articles basically say the same thing, namely, that gun buybacks are ineffective because people turn in old or broken guns whereas the guns which are used in felonies remain in the street. And of course it’s impossible to prove any direct connection between the number of guns which are turned in and whether or not this has any effect on crime, and if you can’t make some kind of connection or what public health loves to call ‘association’ between two sets of facts, then you can’t assume that anything has happened at all.

I would never challenge my friends in the public health community when it comes to understanding or using data about guns or gun violence and I would certainly never even hint at the idea that public health research on gun violence shouldn’t be continued and, if anything, increased in scope and size. But by casting the academic discussion about the value of gun buyback programs in terms of being able to measure results, and public health researchers simply can’t detach themselves from their never-ending commitment to measuring whatever they look at, the discussion about the importance and value of buybacks is pushed in the wrong direction and is simply never discussed or understood.

The real value of gun buybacks, the reason that such programs need to be expanded into every community which suffers from any degree of gun violence, is that when a buyback program occurs, it gets everyone in the community thinking about guns. And the thoughts have nothing to do with whether guns are a good thing to have around, the thoughts are about the importance and necessity of getting rid of guns.

Gun-nut Nation has done a very effective job of convincing lots of Americans that they would be safer if their home contained a gun. They have done such a good job that they are maybe less than 2 Senate votes away from a new law that would allow everyone to wander throughout the entire United States carrying a gun.

A buyback program is the most effective way of telling a community that guns won’t make them safer and that guns should be turned in. If my friends in the public health community have come up with a better messaging about gun violence, please share it with me.

 

Thank you Margaret Ayres.

Women Do Need To Protect Themselves But Not With A Gun.

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It figures that while the women were marching around the NRA headquarters, the boys in Fairfax would crank up the usual pro-gun noise to promote the idea that what women really need to do to make themselves safe is to own and carry a gun.  The march, incidentally, was in response to the NRA video narrated by home-schooling queen Dana Loesch which features the usual, racist crap America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ has been throwing out for years. Notice that I’m not providing a link to the video because I believe that it should be, and should have been ignored.

ccw             When it comes to women and guns, the real issue as far as I’m concerned is not whether an alt-right media personality can promote herself by pimping for the NRA, nor is it whether the NRA did or didn’t say anything after the police murder of Philando Castile (which, in fact, they did.) The real issue is the issue of women and guns. Because the latest data shows that men outnumber women as gun owners by a margin of two to one, which means that women still represent an untapped market for gun sales, a particularly important issue because gun sales continue to lag and sag during the Age of Trump.

Meanwhile, although the gun violence prevention (GVP) folks often find themselves on the defensive when it comes to new laws on guns, they have scored some notable successes in one area, namely, the push to keep guns out of the hands of (usually) men charged with domestic abuse, with new restrictions being passed in 23 states since 2014.  In this regard, it’s the NRA which has been on the defensive, even though they recently scored victories in Indiana and Tennessee, but what these laws do is allow domestic abuse victims quicker access to guns, they don’t make it easier for the abuser to keep or get his hands on a gun.

Gun-nut Nation’s legal strategy to sidestep the issue of guns which cause injuries to domestic abuse victims and concentrate instead on why guns are everyone’s essential tool for self-defense flows directly from the way the NRA has been talking about domestic abuse for years, namely, to not talk about it at all.  One of the most popular courses in the NRA training curriculum is something called ‘Refuse To Be A Victim,’ which the Fairfax boys claim has been taught to more than 100,000 people and is allegedly an ‘award-winning’ crime prevention program although it’s not clear which organization actually gave the NRA this award.

I am, in fact, a certified NRA trainer in this particular course, and I took the certification because I wanted to see what the course was all about. What’s it about is a mélange of half-baked, vague bits of paranoia which cobbles together all the usual crap about online security and identify theft, buying and installing a burglar alarm, making sure that nobody’s following you down that dark street or about to jack your car. The student manual says the course was designed by the ‘women of the NRA’ and presumes that everyone taking the course lives in a nice, split-level suburban home. The curriculum says absolutely nothing about guns.

It also says next to nothing about domestic abuse. The student manual contains one statement to the effect that people who want information about domestic abuse situations should contact a national, non-profit hotline, but that’s as far as it goes. In fact, you would think from the course content that online identity theft for women is a much bigger threat than the fact that women are assaulted domestically millions of times each year.

NRA’s effort to promote female gun ownership as a response to domestic abuse is an insult and a sham. And idiots like Dana Loesch who pretend to represent all those tough, gun-owning women just waiting to pull out their guns on some street ‘thug’ only dishonor themselves and the organization they claim to represent.

 

THANKS TO GAIL LEHMANN.

Fixing Commuter Lines Is Like Fixing Gun Violence: We Need Someone in Charge.

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My friend Mitchell Moss is Professor and Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy at New York University and he can best be described as a pain in the rear end. And the reason he’s a pain is because he’s one of those guys who really believes that trains should run on time – not because he’s a follower of Mussolini, but because he knows that with proper planning and execution, services like public transportation on which we all depend to get through our daily lives, can be made to work and run the way they are supposed to work and run.

nycentral              The problem is that we take public services for granted until the moment they break down. When was the last time you thought about the 12 billion tons of solid waste that’s collected each day in New York City except on the day that the garbage truck that’s supposed to come through your neighborhood doesn’t show up? How about what to do if you turned on the tap in the kitchen sink and the water that came out was brown? And worst of all, how do you feel when you squeeze into a commuter train or subway and the train just sits, and sits, and sits. Or maybe you can’t even get into the train. Or maybe the train that you’re riding suddenly goes off the tracks.

Which is what has been happening during what Andy called the ‘summer of agony’ in a letter he sent to Donald Trump begging for federal funds. But the commuter mess in New York City isn’t just a question of replacing tracks and tunnels which are 100 years old. As Professor Moss describes it, the problem begins at the very top because, simply put, there’s nobody in charge.  When Amtrak took over the management of Northeast corridor railroads from the bankrupt Penn-Central back in the 1970s, nobody really gave much thought to the crumbling infrastructure – tracks and tunnels – which links the massive Pennsylvania Station commuter platforms to the lines which carry millions of commuters in and out of the city every day, along with the interface to the city’s subway system which has always been plagued by lack of repairs and lack of infrastructure funds. Last year I was in Chicago and as I was sitting on the subway that runs from the Loop out to O’Hare, a man came through the train with broom, sweeping up the floor. In the thirty-odd years I lived in New York City I never saw anyone cleaning a subway car while the train was in service – not once.

Now why would a guy like me who writes about guns and gun violence write a column about subways and commuter trains? Because sometimes I think that when it comes to figuring out what to do about gun violence we react in ways that somehow leave certain important things undone. And what I am going to say now should not be taken in any way as the slightest criticism of the good faith, hard work, commitment and energies of anyone who is involved with gun violence prevention; a.k.a. GVP. But it needs to be said nonetheless.

The GVP community has to develop some kind of messaging venue which competes with the NRA in terms of timeliness, reach and effectiveness. There’s a reason why a majority of Americans believe that keeping a gun in your house is less of a risk than not having a gun, and that’s because the NRA has been pushing the phony ‘armed citizen’ message for years. But you know what? Say it enough times and sooner or later it gets through.

I don’t think a week goes by without the boys in Fairfax mounting a video which repeats the ‘guns are great’ argument again and again. And I don’t see anything on the other side – our side – making the honest argument about the risk represented by guns.

Isn’t it high time GVP got together and began firing back?  Pardon the pun.

A New Report Spells Out The Real Costs Of Gun Violence.

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Our friends at The Violence Policy Center (VPC) have just issued a very important report on the ways in which gun violence goes beyond creating dead and injured victims, but also disrupts and diminishes the quality of life in neighborhoods where too many shootings occur. And in case you didn’t know it, when I say ‘too many’ I mean more than none. This subject has a lengthy pedigree, going all the way back to the 1970s when Phil Cook began looking at this issue for the Ford Foundation, a subject he has revisited over the years, including an informative book on the issue published by Oxford University Press.

dontlie              But what makes the VPC report both timely and important is the fact that it starts where most reports on the costs of gun violence leave off, namely, going beyond measuring the financial costs (medical intervention, lost wages, decreased property values) and looking instead at the individual and community-wide psychological costs which are more difficult to immediately discern but may have a greater impact on how people live their lives. The report blends data on gun violence with “advances in recent brain science research” to show how ‘early life adversity’ resulting from violence can precipitate a condition known as ‘toxic stress’ which leads to difficulties in brain development, which leads to all kinds of adverse social and mental behavior both on an individual basis and for the community as a whole.

Consequences of toxic stress in young people include:

  • Reduced school performance leading to workforce difficulties and stagnant careers;
  • Increased incidence of substance abuse, potential for suicide and heightened anxiety;
  • Greater tendency to engage in violent and anti-social behavior.

And what could be more violent and anti-social than pulling out a gun? So what this research appears to indicate is that gun violence not only creates a large population of individuals who have suffered the physical effects of gunfire (if they survive the attack,) but an even much larger population that will suffer long-term problems that will impede the development of a normal life. How do we put a dollar figure on such outcomes the way that we put a dollar figure on how much medical responses to gun violence cost? We can’t, but if we could, the $229 billion that Mother Jones says are the direct and indirect costs of gun violence to the victims and institutions (hospitals, jails, etc.) which directly respond to the problem would be a drop in the  bucket compared to the real costs.

Which brings me to the report’s suggestions for how to respond to this problem, in particular the idea (Page 15) which calls for “anti-trafficking measures that could help interrupt the flow of illegal firearms to impacted communities,” and “public education campaigns and outreach materials to educate communities at risk regarding the risks of firearms in the home.”

Which happens to be the ‘Don’t Lie for the Other Guy’ program funded by the NSSF. What? The gun industry’s lobbying arm which has been front and center in pushing programs which allegedly promote gun violence is actually paying for an educational program which talks directly to one of the pet issues of the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, namely, preventing guns from getting into the ‘wrong hands?’

You may not believe what I just said, but it happens to be true. And the reason it’s true is that I have personally seen full-size roadside billboards like the one pictured above in two cities, and I don’t mean on the Interstates that run around the towns. They were right in the middle of neighborhoods which experience high levels of gun crime.

The NSSF has put up signage in more than twenty urban centers and, frankly, I find it astonishing that the GVP community hasn’t conducted a similar campaign. To the degree that the GVP fights for stronger laws against straw sales, a national program educating the residents of gun-violent neighborhoods about straw sales would be a no-brainer, right?

So tell me, GVP, what are you waiting for?

 

Thanks to Fritz Walker.

Check Out The New Betsy Riot Website!

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I was just about to post one of my usual, boring columns when I found myself looking at a new website which just went up today: https://betsyriot.com/.  As someone who got into media long before there was an internet, I have ambivalent feelings about the fact that anyone can turn on their computer or their tablet and become an immediate sensation just by putting something online which strikes some kind of chord.

betsy             But the world changes, thank God, and maybe the open-source media universe is a very good thing. Because if we had to depend on market-based media for all our information and news, it would preclude us from engaging with the kind of folks who are running this Betsy Riot website and frankly, what they are doing should be seen by as many people as possible both within the U.S. and around the globe.

Let’s start right at the beginning and ask: Who is Betsy?  Actually, that’s not the right question. What we need to ask is what is a Betsy since Betsy isn’t someone’s name, it’s a descriptive for how certain people think and behave. And the answer is right on the front of the website: “an unapologetic feminist patriot who has fucking had enough of Trump culture and gun culture and the death and terror they inflict on America.”

I like this approach because I’m frustrated at the degree to which many people who don’t like Trump and reject his embrace of a pro-gun narrative tend to be quite polite. And politesse is a generic issue with liberals, because they tend to be educated and education teaches people to be polite. You can’t yell out obscenities in a classroom the way Trump does at his rallies; for that matter, you can’t do it in front of an MSNBC camera, but you can do it if you’re in a studio owned by Fox.

Let me make it clear that when I talk about obscene language, I’m not talking about using words like sh*t and fu*k. To me, saying something obscene means something hurtful, nasty, racist, homophobic or something you know not to be true. I can’t recall a single Trump tweet which isn’t obscene. I have never seen an NRA video which doesn’t contain language which isn’t obscene. When that dope Dana Loesch does a video I which she talks about how she uses a gun to protect herself from ‘street thugs,’ she’s both a liar and a racist and that’s obscene.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong by talking about gun violence with the same language which Gun-nut Nation uses to promote the idea that anyone opposed to gun ownership is un-American, unpatriotic and worse. I like the fact that the Betsy Riot website refers to the ‘gun lobby’ as the ‘death lobby.’ It’s appropriate and it’s true. I like the fact that Trump’s staff is referred to as ‘dutiful fascists’ because that’s what some of them are. And most of all, I like when they say that their mission is to “rescue our country from this fascist fucking sideshow” because frankly, I can’t think of a more apt and accurate description of what’s going on in the Oval Office right now.

The reason Trump made common cause with the NRA and the reason that the boys from Fairfax continue to promote Trump’s agenda is because both Trump and ‘America’s oldest civil rights organization’ have a vested interest in mainlining gun violence if it’s the kind of gun violence which suits their ends and needs. The NRA promotes gun violence if someone defends himself by shooting a ‘street thug,’ and Trump made a point of telling his campaign rallies that violence committed against anti-Trump protestors was a good thing.

It’s time to stop being so polite and let the other side know in no uncertain terms that what they are promoting is violent, dangerous and wrong. And the message needs to be delivered in a direct and no-nonsense way.

Go to it Betsy Riot – go, go, go.

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