Is The NRA Ready To Make A Deal on Gun Control?

In the aftermath of the shocking yet exhilarating electoral victory crafted by Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 18th CD, I have seen numerous comments within the gun violence prevention (GVP) community raising concern about Lamb’s ‘pro-gun’ approach.  That’s understandable, given the fact that his very first television ad contained a snippet showing him blasting away with his beloved AR-15. Which presents something of a dilemma for the GVP crowd going into November, because they have tied themselves to a campaign to ban assault rifles, among other things.

lamb             Actually, Lamb isn’t the first post-Trump Democratic candidate to fashion a campaign around being pro-gun.  Last year a Republican, Greg Gianforte, overcame an assault of a reporter as well as the charge that he was a carpet-bagger to win a special election against Rob Quist, the latter beginning his campaign with a television ad showing him shooting what he claimed was his family’s trusty, ol’ Winchester to prove he was a Montana native through and through.

If I wanted to make a quick buck, I’d go downstairs to my private gun range (that’s right, I can get up from this computer, walk down a flight of stairs and bang away to my heart’s content) and do a couple of shooting videos that could then be sold to the DNC.  And every Democratic candidate running in one of those ‘soft’ red Congressional districts could splice a piece of video into their television ads to prove they are ‘pro-gun.’

Could control of Congress in 2018 depend on which party is better at selling a message about how much they love guns?  Whether or not this turns out to be the case, what I find interesting is how the NRA has suddenly begun to change its messaging in what is obviously an appeal to sell itself beyond its most extreme base. According to Chris Cox, the NRA is ready to engage in a ‘broad discussion’ about the ‘culture of violence’ which exists today. The purpose of this discussion is to “take action to prevent violence and protect 2nd Amendment rights,” including gun-violence restraining orders (GVRO) which the NRA used to oppose.

Even the NRA’s hard-and-fast opposition to expanding background checks all of a sudden appears to have changed.  Before last week, America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ opposed any extension of background checks, anywhere, anytime at all. But last week the narrative changed. Here’s Wayne-o’s latest message to the faithful: “We will oppose any attempt to make people engage in a background check to transfer a gun to a relative, neighbor or friend.” How’s about selling a gun to someone you just met? I didn’t notice that Wayne-o is saying that any and all gun transfers should take place without a NICS check.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that when the 116th Congress begins its 2019 session that the majority switches from red to blue. And let’s further say that a new gun-control is proposed expanding background checks to secondary sales. Right now the bill that has been filed by Senator Murphy (D-CT) basically prohibits the transfer of any gun to anyone without first doing a background check unless the person receiving the gun is a spouse, domestic partner, child, sibling or other relative of the person getting rid of the gun.

Guess what? Figure out how to define ‘friends’ and ’neighbors,’ add them to that list and you’ve got yourself a comprehensive, national background-check bill. But it takes both sides to come up with language which each side can sell to their constituencies as being nothing other than what they have always said.

Until last week the NRA opposed any extension of background checks – no ifs, ands or buts. All of a sudden, the tune has changed. I’m not saying the NRA is morphing into a gun-control organization. But it’s one thing to take a shot at the enemy, it’s quite another to sit down and make a deal. Is either side in the gun debate willing to see something like this actually occur?

Do Guns Make It Easier Or Harder To Commit Crimes? Donohue Versus Lott.

In the wake of a massive, unprecedented social media campaign by a bunch of high school kids, all of a sudden the gun industry finds itself facing a storm of protests over whether or not its products should be made or sold. Well, maybe not all of its products, but certainly the products whose use continues to produce enough multiple killings and injuries to ignite a debate about whether such guns should be around at all.

lott2Behind the argument about owning high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons is another debate which has been going on for nearly 20 years about what I call the social utility of guns, namely, do guns make us more or less safe, or to put it another way, do guns protect us from crime or increase crime?

This debate got started in 1998 with the publication of John Lott’s book, More Guns Less Crime, the title of which says what the book is all about. One of the early reviews of this book was by an academic, John Donohue, who also collaborated with Steven Levitt on a controversial study linking legal abortions to the post-1990’s decline in crime.

Over the years, Lott’s book has become something of a Holy Grail to the gun-rights movement, Donohue’s multliple critiques of this book serving in the same fashion for the gun violence prevention crowd, a.k.a, the GVP.

What I have always found interesting in this debate is the degree to which the criticisms of both Lott and Donohue flow directly from where the critics stand on the issue of guns. I have yet to read a single critique of Lott’s book by anyone who considers themselves to be a proponent of guns. Ditto, I have never found a single critique of Donohue’s work emanating from anyone who supports more controls over guns.  In other words, what we have here is an academic argument in which neither side can find a single, critical word to utter about the work with whose conclusions they agree.

This isn’t an academic debate. Frankly, it’s  nothing more than the same, old, tired and hackneyed argument about guns that has been going on for more than twenty years. It’s not driven by evidence-based work, it’s driven by emotions and advocacy that both sides always make.

What you can download here is a detailed paper I have posted on SSRN.  It is not an attempt to prove that Lott is correct and Donohue isn’t, nor the other way around. It is also not an attempt to come up with yet another statistical model which can be used to provide yet another regression analysis linking crime rates to guns.

Frankly, I have absolutely no interest in proving either Donohue or Lott to be correct. My interest is simply to take this long-standing, academic argument and look at it from the only perspective that really counts, and that perspective happens to be what I know about guns.  Which is something that neither Donohue nor Lott know very much at all.

Want To Win In November? Run Against The NRA.

If you had told me back last year that a Democrat could win a special Congressional election in a Pennsylvania district that Trump carried by 20 points, I would have grabbed the kool aid glass out of your hands before you drank enough to do yourself in. But it happened, and even though the outcome may have been somewhat based on the fact that the GOP ran a candidate who was even dumber than Betsy DeVos, things begin to look very interesting for November 6, 2018.



Demonstration outside of Smith & Wesson March 14, 2018.


Is Trump’s inability to get his personal poll numbers above 40% going to be a drag on red candidates in races for the Senate and the House? November is still a long way off, but the momentum is clearly with the blue team, which means that the various constituencies that make up the Democratic Party coalition better start getting their messaging together because what they say in red districts may really count.

One of those constituencies is the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, whose voice has taken on new strength and resonance since the shooting rampages at Las Vegas and Stoneman Douglas High. And if you think that GOP candidates have decided to tone down their rhetoric following these shootings, think again. In Maine, the GOP candidate for the state legislature called Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland student survivors, a ‘skinhead lesbian,’ and even though he later apologized for the remark, what kind of schmuck would say something like that to begin his political campaign?

The Maine GOP idiot happens to be a Life Member of the NRA. What his comment tells us is that the GOP will pull out every stop to demonize the other side going into November, and one of their biggest stops has always been the idea that if we elect Democrats to office, the first thing they’ll do, even before raising taxes, is take away all the guns. I happen to be a Life Endowment Patriot member of the NRA, so I get fundraising appeals from Fairfax every day. Here’s what Wayne-o had to say this morning about the Pennsylvania vote: “It’s all part of a hate-filled campaign aimed at grabbing veto-proof majorities in the U.S. House and Senate this year. If that happens, gun control will be at the top of the agenda – registration, licensing, semi-auto bans and ultimately, the final destruction of our Right to Keep and Bear Arms.”

To make Wayne-o’s nightmare come true, the blue team not only has to keep all their current seats in the W column, they also have to grab vulnerable seats currently held by the other side. And I guarantee you that the GOP narrative in the toss-up districts will lean heavily on the issue of guns. What else do they have to run on? The tax cut? Trump’s hair-do? The GVP may not be comfortable with campaign ads like the first one run by Conor Lamb which showed him blasting away with an AR-15, but when the GOP pushes the lie about ‘protecting’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ you do what you gotta do.

Maybe what the GVP should consider bringing to the November election is not a referendum on guns, but a referendum on the NRA. Frankly, when a 16-year old schoolgirl gets a larger Twitter following than either Wayne-o or Dana Loesch, something is happening out there regarding the value of the NRA brand. And having backed themselves into an extremely crazy, ultra-nationalist rhetorical corner, running ads with a Democratic candidate chastising his opponent for subscribing to such loony views might make sense.

The good news for the blue team and the GVP is that America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ can’t turn around and suddenly present themselves as some kind of moderate group just trying to find a balance between the risks versus the benefits of guns. Wayne-o may have thought that backing Trump was a smart move for the NRA, but it’s not looking so smart any more.


Khalil Spencer: Gun Owners Need A Credible NRA.

Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ memorable novella A Christmas Carol, uttered the equally memorable phrase “I’ll retire to Bedlam” when he thought everyone he was talking to had gone nuts. In the heated and often unfocussed rhetorical aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting I wonder if its time to do the same.

bears1The National Rifle Association has gone off the rails. It promotes a toxic view of citizenship as well as gun ownership. With hunting on a downward spiral, perhaps its goal is to gin up a gun market designed around self-defense, even if we aren’t sure from whom we are defending. Furthermore, prominent NRA organizational spokespeople Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch compete with people like Alex Jones for who can be the most outrageous.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Ohio wrote a bill equating innocuous, 22 rimfire hunting and target rifles from the ninteen-sixties to so-called “assault rifles” used to mow down people at the Parkland Fl school. “Kill the NRA” is a popular hashtag. On the local front, a thoughtful leader of a local gun violence prevention organization demands that school, law enforcement, and government organizations purge themselves of anyone with NRA affiliations, which amounts to McCarthyism. This in spite of people like NRA Life Member Mike Weisser being an outspoken critic of NRA leadership and an outspoken supporter of gun violence prevention on his blog and in the pages of the Huffington Post. My stepdad, also an NRA Life Member, dutifully follows the most recent NYS Safe act, putting ten round plugs in his magazines. Breaking with his single-issue tradition, he refused to vote for the Orange Loose Cannon.

As far as the NRA, gun owners need a voice in government. It’s a fact of life that any party subject to government rulemaking needs a competent, full time representative in the halls of the various legislatures to make sure its voice is heard and story understood; gun owners will be heavily impacted by any state or Federal gun control legislation. Indeed, the gun violence prevention community has multiple full time advocates, such as those funded by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. Mr. Bloomberg’s people don’t always get it right on the details. Neither does the NRA. Most thoughtful gun owners work full time and cannot descend on their elected representatives. We depend on competent spokespeople lurking in the halls of government. I wish we had more

An example of a glaring misunderstanding that could affect legislation was recently provided by Lois Beckett, a thoughtful analyst who extensively covers US gun issues for the UK based Guardian. She noted that in a recent CNN poll indicating 57% of Americans would ban “rifles capable of semi-automatic fire such as the AR-15” the pollsters never defined semi-automatic firearms nor the difference between traditional autoloading hunting rifles and assault-style semiautomatic rifles based on military models.

The problem with the NRA isn’t that its claims that someone needs to represent the interests of gun owners is invalid. The problem is that the NRA leadership no longer represents gun owners; it has become a voice of the far right in the culture wars rather than a voice representing the bulk of the estimated 30-40% of Americans who own firearms. Likewise, many on the left see “guns and bibles” through the eyes of left of center culture warriors.  Thus, we don’t discuss the actual problem of gun violence so much as the overprint of our cultural values. That’s what we need to fix.

If I were still an NRA member, I would demand that the entire NRA Board of Directors be recalled and that the organization find spokespeople who understand the role of guns in society rather than competing for the Atilla the Hun Award. How about we start there?

How Do We Define An Assault Weapon? However You Want To Define It.

Now that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community appears to have come together to push for a ban on assault rifles, and Herr Donald Schumck-o has decided that anyone over the age of 18 should be able to walk into a gun shop and purchase said product, maybe it’s time to figure out how and when the term ‘assault rifle’ should be used.

AR              According to Gun-nut Nation, there’s no such thing as an ‘assault rifle,’ at least not anything that can get into the hands of any law-abiding gun owner, unless he’s willing to plunk down $200 for a Treasury-NFA tax stamp and wait a few months for the purchase to be approved. This is because gun purists have decided that the term ‘assault rifle’ can only be applied to fully-automatic weapons, since the term first applied to a German sub-machine gun, the ‘Sturmgewehr,’ that was issued to German troops near the end of World War II.

Now the fact that this particular design first appeared in a gun issued to Russian troops during the Battle of Stalingrad makes little difference to those gun-history experts who pliantly craft their narratives to fit the marketing needs of the NSSF and the NRA. But why let facts get in the way of whatever nonsense you want to peddle, particularly when you can tie your spiel to something that will protect their 2nd-Amdnement ‘rights?’

The first time the term ‘assault weapon’ appeared in legislation was the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act, the assault-weapon ban that became law in California, passed following the gunning down of five immigrant school-children in 1989. And here’s the critical wording of the actual law which needs to be understood today: “a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings.”

Now the good news about this bill was that it made an explicit distinction between weapons designed to be used against human beings, as opposed to weapons designed for hunting and sport. The bad news is that the law didn’t explicitly define such terms as ‘high rate of fire,’ and ‘capacity for firepower,’ which opened the Pandora’s box of how to define an ‘assault weapon’ that remains open to the present day. Instead of defining these terms and then banning any weapon which met these definitions, the law listed over 50 specific banned guns, and added some silly language about various cosmetic doo-dads (collapsible stock, flash hider, etc.) which don’t really change a gun’s lethality in any particular way.

When the Feds put together their AWB in 1994, they borrowed the list of California-banned guns, included the various design features but dropped any reference to lethality; i.e., no mention of ‘high rate of fire’ or ‘capacity’ at all. This opened the door for Gun-nut Nation to claim that since no semi-automatic rifle can shoot faster than the speed at which the shooter pulls the trigger, there is no real difference between an AR-15 and any other kind of semi-automatic gun. In fact, the 1994 AWB, a creation of Chuck Schumer by the way, said absolutely nothing about why the law was needed beyond this statement in the Introduction to the bill: “To make unlawful the transfer or possession of assault weapons.”  Period. That’s all she (or he) wrote.

I don’t want to predict whether an AWB has any chance of becoming law. But the GVP still needs to come up with a comprehensive and accepted definition of an ‘assault weapon,’ a definition not based on what the gun looks like, but what it’s designed to do; namely, to kill and injure as many human beings as quickly as you can. And anyone who denies that this is how and why assault weapons are used will also believe that Mexico is going to pay for the wall.


And After We Get Guns Into The Schools, Let’s Train The Teachers Too.

I was going to wait until tomorrow to run this column, but it’s just too juicy to wait.  So here we have Herr Donald Trump going on and on about arming teachers and other school personnel. There isn’t a single educational organization which has expressed anything except doubts about such a crazy idea, but remember that Trump’s mission is to ‘make’ and ‘keep’ America great again, which if nothing else means jettisoning out all those stupid, wasteful and useless liberal ideas for how to run government and replace them with programs that really work!

teachers             And it just so happens that Trump has a buddy named Eric Prince who happens to be in the gun-training business – a perfect fit! Here’s Schmuck-o Trump’s tweet: “Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law.” Catch the highly-trained bit, I’ll get back to that one in a minute. And how is Schmuck-o going to pay for this training? The same way he’s going to pay for the Wall.

Not only is Trump-o’s good buddy the head of a training company, but the good buddy happens to have a sister named Betsy DeVos. And she just happens to be the Secretary of Education and therefore in a position to help turn this crazy training idea into a law. Am I saying that the idea of arming teachers is nothing more than a blatant attempt to create a government program that will put a pile of dough into the hands of a well-placed, Presidential friend?

The last time I checked, there were some 115,000 public elementary and high schools in the United States holding somewhere around 57 million kids.  If we stuck two guards in each school and each guard paid three hundred bucks for a training course, that’s around 75 million revenue to the outfit selected to deliver the training course. That’s not exactly chump change or even Trump change for the training company which used to be known as Blackwater when Prince founded it in 1997, but then changed its name to Xe Services after four employees were convicted of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The company was acquired by an investment group in 2011, its new name is Academi, and it claims to operate the largest training facility for private, armed guards anywhere in the United States.

Trump and his DC minions are sold on the idea that if you privatize any government service, you get a better bang for your buck. The fact that the service in question is being delivered by someone who happens to be a friend isn’t considered to be a conflict by anyone in the White House at all. Unfortunately, a real conflict involving Prince may be due to the fact that a certain investigation by a guy named Mueller may have turned up evidence linking Prince to a back-channel connecting Putin to Trump.

But not to worry because even if it ends up that Prince can’t provide the ‘rigorous’ training which Trump claims the teachers will receive, there’s another private outfit ready and waiting to put together a training program that will help  America’s teachers protect the kids. And unlike Prince’s outfit which has been in the training business for only 40 years, this other company has been engaging in gun training since 1876.

Right now the boys in Fairfax are putting together a new NRA course called something like Safe Gun Use in Schools. Now the trick is to get some of their Congressional toadies to pass a law that will reimburse school districts the costs of training armed guards as long as the training curriculum is developed by the NRA.  And this will go a long way towards making up for the collapse of the vaunted Carry Guard training program which right now has exactly one single course listed in the entire USA.

Know where this whole idea to arm teachers is going to wind up?  Nowhere. And that’s because even with friends trying to help friends, the idea is simply dumb, dumber, dumbest and dumb.

Of Course We Need Guns In Schools. Of Course We Do.

Want to make it look like you’re doing something to solve a problem even if you are doing nothing?  Announce the formation of a task force.  Works every time. And now that Herr Donald is tying to pretend that he’s just another middle-of-the-road guy who wants to get input from all sides, he’s created a task force to deal with school safety, in particular making schools safe from people who might wander in to the building with a gun.

devos              Now despite claims by the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement that Trump has decided not to make any legal changes in how we regulate guns, what he has realty done is kick the veritable can down the veritable road and put Nancy DeVos in charge of the task force which will discuss ‘all options,’ including whether to raise the minimum age for buying a gun.

You may recall that DeVos is already on record as having recommended that guns be made available to school staff if and when lethal force needed to be used. During her confirmation hearing she cited as an example the fact that a grizzly bear had been wandering around outside a Wyoming school and that the decision to arm school personnel needed to reflect the concerns of the local community. By the end of this hearing, we knew that the person responsible for the Federal approach to educating our children was an idiot who didn’t know anything about either bears or schools, but since when did someone need to pass an I.Q. test to work for Donald Trump?

Getting back to the newly-minted (but not yet formed) task force whose work is supposed to be completed in a year, the problem is that if this group sits down and actually looks at the data on school violence, they will discover that there really is nothing for them to do. Why? Because public schools happen to be about the safest place for the 50.7 million students to spend their time – safer than any other public venue (shopping centers, theaters, etc.,) safer even than their homes.

Want the numbers?  You can find them in a report issued by DeVos’ own Department of Education, “’Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016.” Here’s the bottom line: Public schools are extremely safe and, believe it or not, getting safer all the time. Here are some relevant highlights from the report:

  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1,500 reported firearm possession incidents at schools in the United States, and the rate of firearm possession incidents was 3 per 100,000 students.
  • The percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported that they had access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, during the current school year decreased from 7 percent in 2007 to 4 percent in 2015.
  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1.3 million reported discipline incidents in the United States for reasons related to alcohol, illicit drugs, violence, or weapons possession that resulted in a student being removed from the education setting for at least an entire school day. About 78 percent of these discipline incidents were violent incidents with or without physical injury, 15 percent were illicit drug related, 5 percent were weapons possessions, and 2 percent were alcohol related.
  • In the school year 2013-2014, the number of school homicides of persons ages 5 to 18 was 12, the second-lowest yearly total since this data started to be collected in 1992-93. That same year, 1,200 homicide deaths throughout the United States were recorded for the ages 5 – 18 population.

These numbers validate the fact that there is really no connection between what happened at Parkland and whether a school-age child faces a greater risk from gun violence during the time the child is in school. Which doesn’t mean that what happened at Parkland should ever happen anywhere else. What it does mean is that the reaction of the Trump Administration to school violence is something akin to using the elephant to swat the fly.

But why should we be surprised just because Herr Donald tries to justify a ‘new’ approach by appealing to fear?