How Was The West Won? Not With A Gun.

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Want to see where the West was really won?  You don’t have to go out West.  All you need to do is take I-70 out from DC, drive through the tiny West Virginia finger that runs north from Wheeling, and then follow State Route 7 alongside the Ohio River until you roll into the town of East Liverpool, which is actually on the Ohio side of the river itself.

survey            Now when you get into East Liverpool grab State Route 39 and follow it along the river until you reach a little stone monument (about a mile out of town) that marks something called the ‘Point of Beginning,’ which is where the West was actually won.  This is the spot (the exact spot is 1,000 feet south of the monument which is now underwater) from which almost the entire remainder of the country was surveyed beginning in 1785.  And why did the colonial government begin surveying and mapping the immense westward landscape three years before the Constitution was ratified and the United States came to exist?  Because farmers, traders and all sorts of other folks were moving beyond the borders of the original colonies and the issues of who owned what piece of land and who could own what piece of land had to be resolved.

When we talk about the western part of the continental United States we’re not talking about some country’s little back yard. I recall, for example, driving through Monaco which covers roughly 2 square kilometers of land mass and thinking that it really didn’t matter, from a territorial point of view, whether this tiny sliver of soil was attached to France or not. But when we talk about the territory from the western bank of the Ohio River to the Pacific coast, we are talking about 1.8 billion acres of land, and that’s not geographic chump-change in anyone’s book.

The problem in 1785 however, is that all of this land had at one point belonged to the British Crown who, in typical feudal fashion, had given out hunks of it to this colonial administrator or that.  But all of those arrangements became null and void by what happened at the Battle of Yorktown and its aftermath in 1781, and while it would be another seven years until the United States ratified its own independent status as a sovereign nation, deciding what to do with this enormous, largely vacant territory couldn’t wait.

Well, it wasn’t exactly vacant.  There did happen to be a lot of human beings living in many parts of this extraordinary landscape, Jefferson referred to them politely as ‘dependent nations,’ but a Supreme Court decision, Johnson v. M’Intosh, decided in 1823, basically legitimized what had been going on for the previous hundred years or more, namely, that indigenous populations in colonial zones had no property rights at all.  Oh well, oh well, oh well.

The push westward really began in earnest after we bought 827,000 square miles of territory from France in 1803.  We then picked up the southwest from Mexico in 1843 and grabbed the northwest from Canada in 1846. All of this territory was initially owned by the government, much of it would be sold, rented or leased to private interests over the intervening years. Even Cliven Bundy and his idiot sons would end up leasing (but not paying for) land from the Feds.  But the bottom line is that what made this immense transfer of land from public to private hands possible wasn’t the Colt Peacemaker or the Winchester Repeater – the guns that ‘won’ the West – it was the surveyor’s measuring rods and chains which were first used by employees of the Federal Land Office in 1785.

During the Age of Trump the gun industry will try its level best to argue that America owes its existence and freedom to gun ownership. After all, isn’t the whole point of gun ownership to help make America great again?  And when were we greatest?  When we won the West.  Except the West wasn’t won with guns.

 

 

 

Gays Against Guns Wants You To Join Their Boycott To Support GVP.

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Back after the horrendous event at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I wrote that the emergence of the LGBTQ community in the gun violence prevention (GVP) space was not only a positive development for LGBTQ activism, but would be an important alliance for GVP insofar as changing our cultural views on guns might benefit from lessons learned by LGBTQ when it came to changing cultural views about gays.  Now I’m beginning to wonder whether rather than forging an alliance between the two communities, the GVP folks might want to sit down and take some specific lessons from their new-found friends in LGBTQ.

gayslogo2           And what has moved me to consider that perhaps LGBTQ activists might become the vanguard for GVP is a new strategy that is being rolled out by the Gays Against Guns group that, as far as I am concerned, is the non plus ultra way to deal with gun violence and other issues which demonstrate that it’s simply too easy in the United States for anyone to get their hands on a gun. The strategy involves boycotting companies and products that offer discounts and deals to members of the NRA, the list of such discounts partners now runs to more than 2,000 vendors on the NRA website, which also has a section listing discounts from major chains..

I want to make clear that what follows is not (read: not) in any way shape or form a suggestion or proposal to engage in any kind of boycott or other financial attack on the individual business owners who comprise probably 95% of the NRA discount list.  For the most part these folks own gun shops or other, independent retail outlets whose inventory caters to the shooting crowd.  Many, if not most are NRA members themselves and it would be wrong to suggest or even imply that such individuals should suffer in any way because the NRA takes extreme stances on certain issues related to the violence caused by guns.

On the other hand, the NRA website offers member discounts from major corporations all the way from A to Z.  Want medical, life, property or insurance against cancer and other health risks?  It’s all there.  Hearing aids, automobiles, moving services, wine or cigars – it’s all there.  Now maybe the NRA hasn’t yet reached the level of the AARP, which rewards its members with a free cup of coffee with any item bought at Burger King, but don’t for a moment think that such discounts aren’t being considered or planned.

The NRA obviously doesn’t have a membership list which compares to the AARP, but the Wyndham Hotel company, which operates nearly 8,000 hotels in 73 countries and includes such brands as Ramada, Travelodge and Days Inn, lists itself as an NRA discount partner in order to help fill its more than 680,000 nightly rooms. And like it or not, corporations, particularly large corporations are public entities, and they deserve to know if a marketing partner takes a public stance with which potential customers happen to disagree.

The reason I mention Wyndham is that Gays Against Guns has launched a boycott against the company’s brands and has also announced a boycott of Hertz and FedEx because all three companies offer discounts to members of the NRA.  Money that major corporations share with the NRA through member discounts isn’t necessarily chump change.  First Bancard, which underwrites an NRA Visa card, has sent the gun organization more than $24 million, which represents a cut of the underwriting revenue earned by people using the card.

Cash has a funny way of making more noise than words, which is why boycotts are often the most effective way for people to make their feelings heard.  I never imagined that in my lifetime I would see an end to apartheid in South Africa, the freeing of Nelson Mandela and a dismantling of the deKlerk regime. But it happened in 1994 and boycotts in the U.S. and other countries helped pave the change. Would the boys in Fairfax sit up and notice if revenue from boycotted partners started to drift away?

 

A New Book That Can Get You Up To Speed On The Gun Violence Debate.

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Thomas Gabor is an American-trained criminologist who taught and researched criminal justice for 30 years in Canada and has now settled in Florida where he and his wife run a consulting business specializing in ‘crime, justice and social research services and advice to government agencies, businesses, law enforcement and correctional agencies.’ To burnish his already-impressive credentials as an expert in these fields he has just published a book, Confronting Gun Violence in America which, according to the promotional announcement, ‘suggests a bold national strategy to confront gun violence.’  And since the gun violence prevention community (GVP) is now faced with figuring out a strategy to reduce gun violence in the Age of Trump, this book couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time.

gabor           Unfortunately, the author admits that he has no idea whether his bold national strategy can ever be implemented either in whole or in parts (p. 279), which renders the effectiveness of his argument somewhat more apparent than real. Because if Dr. Gabor has written this book to frame his analysis of the GVP debate within a context of workable solutions to the problem, then it really doesn’t move the argument forward to suggest a ‘bold national strategy’ without attempting to figure out whether any aspect of that strategy could possibly be implemented or not.  And the truth is there’s not a single piece of Dr. Gabor’s bold strategy which hasn’t been suggested by other experts and researchers in the GVP field.  So what does this book bring to the GVP discussion which hasn’t been brought to this discussion before?

What this book does bring is a well-balanced survey of research on just about every aspect of the gun violence debate, including such issues as the value of gun ownership for personal defense, whether access to guns increases the likelihood of suicide and other intentional deaths, the relationship between the existence or absence of gun laws and rates of gun violence in different states, how and why public opinion about gun violence changes over time, and just about every other relevant topic which is germane to the current gun violence debate.  The book references somewhere around 100 peer-reviewed, published research papers, there’s a mention of most of the important advocacy and research efforts that have appeared online, and best of all, the arguments on both sides for each topic are presented in concise and readable ways.  In other words, the book is a solid resource that can be used to understand the state of GVP knowledge and advocacy at the present time.

There’s only one little problem with Professor Gabor’s approach to the issue of gun violence, and this is not a criticism of what he has done, but rather a comment on the state of GVP awareness as a whole.  There wouldn’t be any reason to publish a book like this or to even need a gun violence prevention advocacy movement if it weren’t for the fact that a majority of Americans do not seem to feel that gun violence is a serious problem at all.  Or if they do believe it is a serious issue they certainly also believe that nothing should be done to mitigate the problem if whatever is proposed might make it more difficult for any law-abiding American to get his or her hands on a gun.  The power of Gun-nut Nation isn’t simply a result of the determination of its members to maintain and enlarge their 2-Amendment ‘rights.’  It’s much more a reflection of the lack of concern manifested by most Americans about the 120,000 deaths and injuries attributed to gun violence each and every year.

Those who take the trouble to read and study this valuable book will be drawn from a segment of the population whose minds about the abhorrence of gun violence have already been made up. But what about everyone else?  How to reach all those people with an effective and persuasive argument for reducing gun violence is a challenge yet to be met.

The Myth Of The ‘Sensible Gun Owner.

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In 1890 the U.S. Census declared that wilderness no longer existed in the continental United States. And this announcement provoked the first, public debate in this country between the fledgling conservationist-naturalist movement on the one hand, and the proponents of unrestrained, economic growth on the other.  This debate continues in the present day except now it has taken on a global perspective known as Global Warming, but the two sides – conservation versus development – haven’t really changed their respective positions at all.  And the reason the debate is so rancorous and unending is that neither side seems willing to engage in an effort to find some kind of compromise middle ground which will allow us to preserve part of what is still natural while, at the same time, giving economic development incentives to spread.

heston            This same profile – two sides unwilling to meet somewhere in the middle and compromise over basic goals – exists in the argument over guns and, more specifically, the argument over violence caused by guns.  On the one hand we have seen a recent growth in the size and activity of groups and organizations dedicated to reducing gun violence; on the other we have an entrenched and well-organized pro-gun community which denies that guns are responsible for any violence at all.  Or if there is a bit of violence that results from someone using a gun in an inappropriate way (Sandy Hook, Pulse, et. al.,) it’s a price we need to pay because of the value of gun ownership in terms of history, tradition, freedom, sport and most of all, self-defense.

But what about all those surveys which show that a whopping super-majority of Americans and even a substantial majority of gun owners support the idea of ‘sensible’ restrictions on guns?  The latest polls disclose a near-90% positive response to the question of whether background checks should be conducted on all transfers of guns and even four out of fine gun owners, according to the recent surveys, also endorse this particular form of ‘sensible’ restrictions on ownership of guns. So if just about everyone agrees that a ‘sensible’ strategy like universal background checks is a good thing, how come all these sensible folks, particularly gun-owning sensible folks, don’t show up to vote for expanded background checks whenever the issue appears on a state-level ballot or is the subject of a debate on Capitol Hill?  Yes, California passed a law mandating background checks for ammo purchases, but a ballot initiative in Maine to extend background checks on gun transfers failed.

So where are all these ‘sensible’ gun owners that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community will tell you really exist?  The truth is that their existence is more apparent than real.  And the reason it’s more apparent is because not one of those surveys which keeps discovering the existence of all those sensible gun owners ever asks the crucial follow-up question which is: Do you support the NRA?  Because if the polls did ask that question I guarantee you that the same four out of five gun owners who say they are in favor of expanded background checks would also state that they support America’s ‘oldest’ civil-rights organization, whether they are NRA members or not.

And guess what?  Back in August the NRA announced unequivocally and without reservation of any kind the organization’s total and unalterable opposition to expanding background checks, “because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms, because some proposals to do so would deprive individuals of due process of law, and because NRA opposes firearm registration.” And that’s that.

If one were to go back and ask all those ‘sensible’ gun owners whether they agreed with the NRA’s stance on background checks they would probably say ‘no.’  But if you were to then ask them whether this disagreement would make them withdraw their support for the NRA they would stare at you in shock and reply, “Who’s going to support my right to own a gun? And that last statement is the reason why the notion of the ‘sensible’ gun owner is a myth.

If Minorities Are Buying Guns, It’s Not To Exercise Their 2nd-Amendment ‘Rights.’

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During the Presidential campaign there were all sorts of stories floating around about how some of Trump’s supporters were planning armed insurrection if it turned out that their candidate was somehow cheated out of his rightful prize.  And even The New York Times ran a story based on some interviews with Trump loyalists, none of whom actually said that they would lead an armed revolt (which even to verbally promote such nonsense happens to be a federal crime) but they knew other people who were ready to take their guns into the streets.

hate           Luckily we were saved from a revolutionary situation because Shlump actually won.  But in the aftermath of his victory, while the guy who really understands the ‘common man’ lines up an Executive management team which represents the billionaire class, we are now being treated to the opposite of the ‘Trump loss equals armed revolt’ crap with stories about how people who consider themselves targets of Shlump-o’s fascist-populist message are arming themselves in response to the impending warfare that will sooner or later break out.

This latest effort to sensationalize every aspect of political news and commentary was the handiwork of NBC, which ran a story about how ‘fearful minorities’ (read: African-Americans) were ‘buying up guns,’ the reportage based entirely on interviews with a black lady who lives in Alpharetta, GA, a black gun-shop owner in Virginia and the guy who heads something called the National African American Gun Association, which just happens to be occasionally featured on the Breitbart website (where else?) because of the group’s strong support for 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

This idea that African-Americans should become gun owners predates the 2016 campaign, reflecting an attempt by the gun industry to reach out to new markets, in particular women, Hispanics and blacks.  The problem is that none of these demographics have ever shown any serious inclination to join Gun-nut Nation, and while noisemakers like Dana Loesch (for the women segment) and Colion Noir (for the African-American segment) push their stupidly-contrived videos on the NRA website and YouTube, they are basically speaking for themselves. The FBI, under statute, does not maintain or release data on the racial breakdown of NICS-background checks (my request for such information was politely refused last year) and anecdotal evidence is anecdotal but it’s not evidence.  What we do know from the latest Pew survey is that roughly one out of five African-American and Hispanic households contain guns, so there’s plenty of room for growth.

But let’s assume for the moment that even with the shallowness of the reportage, the NBC story about how minorities are streaming into gun shops is true.  You would think this would be a salutary news event for Gun-nut Nation, given how the gun industry has tried to promote the ownership of its products to non-white groups. But judging from a Breitbart story based on the NBC report, the enthusiasm is less than real.  Because the problem that Gun-nut Nation now faces is to find a way to promote the idea of minority gun ownership while, at the same time minimizing (or simply lying about) the reason why African-Americans are buying guns.  And the reason is very simple:  the incoming President of the United States has made it clear that minority communities can expect little, if any protection from a federal government whose Chief Executive pollutes the digital airwaves daily with a mixture of racism, appeals to violence and outright scorn.

If, as the NBC story suggests, minorities are considering gun ownership out of fear of what an unbridled racism promoted by Donald Shlump might bring, this also creates an important turning-point for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community as well. Because the one thing we know is that defending yourself or your community by going around armed basically does nothing except create circumstances and situations in which more gun violence occurs. I’m not denying the reality of a palpable sense of fear created by the shenanigans of Jerk Trump. But sticking a gun in your pocket will only make it worse.

The Government Issues A New Report On Safe-Gun Technology Which Moves The Discussion Backwards.

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It’s official.  The newspaper of record, a.k.a. The New York Times, has just announced its support of a new government statement on safe-gun technology which probably represents the last thing the Obama Administration has to say about guns.  And if The New York Times believes that this report is the non-plus-ultra statement about safe guns, then this must be a very solid and very impressive report.  In fact, it’s not.

safegunThe report is an amateurish cut-and-paste job which was obviously put together so that someone deep inside the bowels of the Department of Justice could complete some end-of-year checklist and get on with looking for a new job. But of course once The New York Times gives this report its official imprimatur you can bet this shabby effort to make something out of nothing will become the new argument for adoption of safe-gun technologies, an argument that has been floating around for more than 20 years under the guise of how digital innovation can help us be safe with guns.

Entitled “Baseline Specifications for Law Enforcement Service Pistols with Security Technology,” the report is an effort to nudge the safe-gun discussion a little further by setting out design and performance standards that would have to be met by any manufacturer hoping to sell such a product to any federal agency whose personnel carries guns.  Actually, since the document is not any kind of official RFP, it represents no legal or practical advance at all.  For the most part the text consists of nothing more than a combination of the government’s handgun performance criteria which will be used to possibly adopt a new military handgun sometime in the future, along with design specifications which were taken from an RFP issued by the FBI for a new pistol awarded to Glock.

Buried near the end of the report is a brief section which describes the safe-gun technology itself except that all it basically says is that some kind of ‘security device’ will be a permanent part of the gun, will be programmable and may include something worn by the operator, like a wristband or a ring.  By the way, if the security device ‘malfunctions’ the gun will still work.

Now I thought the whole point of safe-gun technology is to prevent a gun from being used at any time except by someone digitally authorized to use the gun. But the problem with these digital gizmos is they need some kind of power source which comes from a battery and batteries wear out.  Is the average cop going to check to make sure while he’s on the job that the gizmo is always ready to go? He won’t, which is exactly why the gun defaults to being used by anyone which is exactly why nobody’s going to adopt this gun.

The NYT Editorial Board says this report is a positive step forward in the development of safe-gun technology because it creates “industry standards for reliable battery power in a smart gun, for ensuring unhindered speed in drawing the weapon and for the distance allowed between the gun and its owner’s ID device.”  In fact, what the report does is give the gun lobby an excellent opportunity to once again claim that gun-grabbing bureaucrats will find any reason to take away our guns.  The NRA called the report another example of “empty gestures meant to placate a gun control constituency that was disappointed Congress had spurned efforts to restrict Second Amendment rights.,” and went on to list several parts of the report (beyond what I mentioned above) which demonstrated the lack of substance and understanding about the actual use of safe guns.

The gun industry opposes safe-gun technology because it fights any effort to reduce gun violence through government mandates, government regulations or anything else that interferes with the industry’s ability to control the kinds of products it decides to put out for sale.  But the gun violence prevention community shouldn’t make it any easier for the gun lobby to pursue its aims, and the decision of the NYT Editorial Board to promote this report moves the safe-gun argument in a direction it shouldn’t take.

 

How’s Trump Going To Pay Back All Those Gun Votes? He Won’t.

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Every four years the GOP trots out something from their ‘family values’ arsenal – abortion, school prayer, traditional marriage – to help define their electoral message and in 2016 they trotted out guns.  Not that these stalwart defenders of a pretended status quo ever really reward their supporters with anything beyond attempts to cut taxes for themselves and you would think that after thirty-five years of getting nothing that those legions of fervent followers would finally begin to realize that top-down, right-wing populism is nothing but a big, fat con.

trump5
           And in the aftermath of this election the biggest, single con job of all is the one which Trump sold at every, single campaign stop that he made, namely, the idea that he’s going to change the landscape when it comes to how America owns and uses guns.  I watched at least a dozen of his campaign rallies, and whenever the crowd got tired of yelling ‘lock her up,’ he would veer away from mumbling about some trade deal and remind the audience that: a) he would ‘defend’ their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights;’ and, b) he wanted a national, concealed-carry law, and, c) on his very first day in office he would eliminate all ‘gun-free’ zones.

So in the interests of giving my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community some guidance on what to look for in a Trump presidency and what can be dismissed as nothing but a variation on the traditional GOP social-messaging mirage, I thought I would subject each of Trump’s claims to some degree of scrutiny to see what comes out.  And what comes out, as I suspect you may already know, is that none of those statements bear any resemblance to facts or the truth.

At some point during the campaign Trump released a list of judges from whom he would choose a SCOTUS nominee, and he made the point of saying that every, single candidate would ‘defend’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ This was nothing more than political hyperbole nonsense since the NRA decided long ago that every registered Democrat represents a ‘threat’ to those rights, but the fact is that the only post-Heller 2nd-Amendment case decided by the SCOTUS while Scalia was alive was a case in which a majority said that the law which gave the government full and complete regulatory authority over gun sales was as fully constitutional as any law could be.  So much for a ‘conservative’ SCOTUS defending 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

As for a national CCW law, no doubt the NRA and its Congressional allies will once again run this one up the legislative flagpole, but like the veritable monkey who wrapped his tail around that same flagpole, such a law would require reconciling the state-level CCW regulations of all 50 individual states because unlike local driving laws, local gun laws from state to state are not the same.

Finally, when Trump says he’ll ‘immediately’ get rid of gun-free zones, maybe someone might remind him that Executive Orders apply only to the actions of Executive agencies, but cannot be used to change laws.  And there happens to be not one, but two federal laws that establish K-12 schools as gun-free zones, neither of which are going to be eliminated just because Trump wants to get up in front of a crowd or go on Twitter or YouTube and play his version of Macho Man.

I’m not saying that Gun-sense Nation has a friend in Trump.  We don’t.  Make no mistake: as long as he panders to the Right, and I’m not about to bother distinguishing between the Right and the Alt-Right, he’s an opponent of any, even the most benign attempts to reduce gun violence to any degree.  And going forward, Gun-sense Nation needs to respond forcefully to every effort by Trump and Gun-nut Nation to legitimize the violence caused by guns. Trump may have a loud voice, but it’s not the only voice in town.

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