Sorry, But Butina-gate Isn’t What You Think.

Gun-control Nation couldn’t be more ga-ga over the news that a young Russian woman who has been hanging around the NRA for the past several years has been indicted not once, but twice by the Justice Department for ‘Conspiracy to Act as an Agent for a Foreign Government,’ according to the indictment itself. And the conspiracy consists of ‘developing and executing a plan to identify and exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics, who were in positions to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.’

butina             So now we finally have the connection between the Russian government and the Trump Administration, a linkage fostered and developed through our friends at the NRA.  What could be a better story for stoking up anti-NRA (and anti-gun) feelings than doing what Robert Mueller hasn’t been able to do in  fourteen-month investigation, namely, show that Trump is now controlled by Putin via connections made at various NRA events? Wow!  Just as the Parkland kids seem to be fading off center stage, we’ve got a new media personality named Maria Butina whose behavior can be used to energize Gun-control Nation to rally against the ‘rights’ of Americans to own guns.

Yesterday our friends at Everytown issued a press release demanding that the boys in Fairfax answer six questions about the organization’s relationship with Ms. Butina, starting off with this: “Have any NRA officers, directors, employees, or affiliates testified in front of the Grand Jury or otherwise been questioned by the FBI?” Since the head of Everytown, John Feinblatt, happens to be an attorney, perhaps he should tell his PR staff that the whole point of appearing before a Grand Jury is that such activity requires an absolute guarantee of secrecy on both sides.

But since when does legality or honesty have anything to do with how Gun-control Nation or Gun-nut Nation frame the issues which they want their followers to believe? The indictment of Maria Butina is a God-given gift to Gun-control Nation because no matter what anyone says, the bottom line is that: a) she evidently was working for a foreign government; b) she was hanging out with persons who had ‘influence’ in American politics; and, c) these influential persons could therefore ‘advance’ the interests of the Russian Federation.

Except there’s only one little problem. According to the indictment, Ms. Butina was working for Alexander Torshin, a buddy of Putin who had been in the Russian legislature and then moved over to a position in the Russian Central Bank.  But the Bank isn’t actually part of the government; it’s an independent entity which operates very similarly to the way we operate our Fed, namely, it’s responsible for currency and making sure that the country’s banking system runs in a stable way.

Now granted, Maria may have lied on her visa application when she stated that her employment as a representative for Torshin and the Central Bank ended in 2016. But the fact that she stayed in contact with Torshin and used his flopping around at NRA meetings to promote herself and her cocky little organization that supported Russian gun ‘rights’ (talk about a contradiction in terms) doesn’t necessarily mean that she was representing anyone at all other than herself.

I’m not trying to deny the possibility that Russia actively intervened in the 2016 election; Mueller didn’t indict 12 different Russian operatives for stealing and disseminating politically-sensitive emails without having some degree of real evidence that this bunch was up to no good. But Butina has been at NRA meetings at least since 2014, she led a delegation of NRA somebodies and gun nuts to Russia in 2013, and Torshin’s Central Bank happens to be a major investor in the Russian arms company which has now set up an AK-47 manufacturing plant in Boca Raton.

The indictment of Maria Butina doesn’t prove anything about a connection between Trump, Russia and the NRA. Frankly, if I want to promote myself in the gun business, I’d also go to the NRA show.

Want To End Gun Violence? It’s The Guns That Count.

I just came across an article in the website of a local CBS affiliate station in Wisconsin – WKBT – concerning a new effort to deal with gun violence in Madison, WI. It’s a brief statement, but evidently Madison has been dealing with a growing crime and gun-violence problem over the last several years, with the Police Chief saying that it’s the worst he’s ever seen in his entire career.

may22Crime in Madison?  Are you serious?  This town of roughly 250,000 people is the location both of the State Capitol and the flagship campus of the University. It’s got great schools, lovely parks, plenty of local theater and arts groups and thanks to the university and the legislature has an unemployment level of somewhere around 4 percent or less. In 2008 Madison was ranked as the least armed and dangerous city in the entire United States.  So what’s going on?

Nobody seems to know, but there will now be a ‘coordinated approach to gun violence with a new program that includes representatives of agencies from the city and Dane County, including nonprofit groups.’ They will meet on a weekly basis at a local church ‘to share updates on incidents and discuss ways to address violence that go beyond police work.’

When it comes to dealing with crime, the term ‘coordinated approach’ happens to be a euphemism usually employed to disguise the fact that the police don’t have enough men and women in uniform to put an officer 24/7 on every corner where crime might otherwise occur. Because, like it or not, individuals who are prone to commit crime, particularly crimes of violence, seem to avoid hanging around with the cops. Think this is just a theory? Take a look at New York City where violent crime has dropped to the lowest levels in more than 60 years, okay?

Now one could argue that the most effective way to reduce violence, particularly gun violence, is to get rid of all the guns. But since owning a gun happens to be a Constitutional ‘right,’ the next best thing, according to my Gun-control Nation friends, is to pass laws which make it more difficult for these Constitutionally-protected items to fall into the ‘wrong hands.’ And according to the Giffords Law Center, Wisconsin sits somewhere in the middle of all 50 states when it comes to laws that regulate guns; the state gets a C- for the effectiveness of its gun-control policies and has a gun-death rate which puts it in the lower third of all states. That being the case, how come things are so much worse in Madison than in the rest of the state?

I’ll tell you why. Because the one piece of data which my dear friends in Gun-control Nation never seem to take into account is strength and activity level of the gun business in any particular state. And that’s because while the NICS checks can be analyzed on a monthly basis for each state, I have yet to see a single piece of research on the reasons or gun violence which takes this data into account.

In 2018, the FBI performed 26,058 background checks for gun transfers in Wisconsin, which works out to a per-100,000 monthly rate of 449.66. Now in California, the FBI conducted 67,661 2018 background checks, for a per-100K monthly rate of 171.  In other words, on a per capita basis, three times as many guns changes hands in Wisconsin as changed hands in the Golden State. And you don’t think this disparity wouldn’t in some way or another impact gun violence in Madison?  In 2014, of the 2,802 ‘crime’ guns whose origins could be traced by the ATF, nearly 85% were guns initially sold within Wisconsin – so much for the impact of gun ‘trafficking’ in this state.

There happens to be a very clear connection between gun violence rates and how many guns float around in a particular state. This isn’t because of weak laws – it’s because guns are legal commerce and the more guns bought and sold, the more guns end up being used the wrong way.

What’s The NRA – Russian Connection? It’s Called The AK.

Since everyone in Gun-control Nation is piling on the Marina Butina case, I’ll offer my two cents as well.  The Brady Campaign, for example, issued a press release saying, among other things, that “we have serious concerns about a Russian national with deep ties to the NRA, an organization that helped fund and elect President Trump, being arrested on charges of espionage.”  Shannon Watts posted photos on her Twitter of Butina with Wayne-o, Scott Walker and former NRA President David Keene.

AK47             The arrest of Butina for allegedly trying to connect various Russians with various Americans tied to the Trump campaign, is the latest in a swirling mass of interesting NRA– Russian tidbits which, according to our friend Ladd Everitt, who has compiled an online dossier of these contacts, goes back at least to 2010. The big question, of course, is whether the Russia-NRA connection resulted in back-door money going from Russia to the MAGA, insofar as at least $30 million went from the boys in Fairfax to the 2016 Trump campaign.

In fairness to the Fairfax bunch, it should be pointed out that there is little, if any evidence which ties payments to the NRA from Russian citizens, which would be a violation of American law were such payments made in the form of political donations which then found their way into any American political campaign.  A major story in Rolling Stone (and cited by Everitt) paints the picture of a conscious Russian effort to ‘infiltrate’ the NRA and use the organization to promote various right-wing politicians with the intention of becoming and ultimately directing the shape of American politics from within the political system itself.

Is this behavior any different from what the Soviet Union attempted to do when it infiltrated the American Communist Party and used this connection to set up various front-organizations before and during the Cold War?  After all, didn’t an American President named Richard Nixon owe most of his political success to unmasking an alleged Communist spy within the U.S. government named Alger Hiss? So Russian meddling in the American political system is hardly new, but I have yet to see any actual evidence of how, when and where all this secret Russian money actually changed hands.

What is clear, however, is that the Russians have designs on another important American activity for which an NRA connection can’t hurt at all, in this case the activity happens to be what the NRA is all about, namely, convincing every American to own a gun. And the gun which the Russians would love to see in the hands of every American is the AK-47, without doubt the single, most popular small arm ever made.

Down in Boca Raton there’s a little factory called Kalishnikov – USA, which almost got a nice tax break from the Florida state government until it turned out that the company’s owners back in Russia were the same bunch whose gun company was hit by U.S. sanctions after Russia invaded the Ukraine. And along with those investors, another Russian has been deeply involved in the finances of this company, a banker and political buddy of Putin named Alex Torshin, whose payroll also includes a young lady named Maria Butina – gee, what a happy coincidence for all concerned.

The Kalishnikov company had a booth at the 2018 SHOT show but has yet to actually produce or ship the gun. On the other hand, their advertising sets the retail price for the AK-47 at $1,300, give or take a few nickels and dimes, which would probably net the company about $300 on the sale of every gun.

If the AK-47 finally gets into retail stores, and if the gun tests out as well as it should, the Kalishnikov company could easily sell 50,000 units every year, which means a net profit of 15 million bucks – believe me, the Kalishnikov brand is that strong. And that’s enough of a reason for the Russians to try and get into bed with the NRA.

Sorry – But Plastic Guns Aren’t Guns.

plastic gun1             Now that Cody Wilson and his merry band of libertarian gunsmiths have been given the green light to post their 3-D gun drawings online, the gun-control movement might take a minute before going into overdrive about the terrible threat which this poses to our lives and our limbs, and at least figure out what it really means.  It doesn’t mean, contrary to some of the messaging floating around Gun-control Nation, that we will end up surrounded by all kinds of illegal, untraceable guns. It also doesn’t mean that after downloading a 3-D drawing, cutting and assembling the various parts, then fitting all these parts together means that – voila! – you now have in your hands a real, workable gun.

First of all, 3-D gun drawings have been floating around on the internet for years. The pic below is a drawing for the AR-15.

AR15 drawing

You’ll notice that I have drawn a circle around one part of the gun, the part known as the ‘receiver.’  This is the only part of the entire pile of parts which makes a gun, because it is the receiver on which is stamped the unique serial number, a number which is then registered by the gun’s manufacturer and follows the gun to a wholesaler, a retailer and a retail buyer, a.k.a., the gun’s owner.  There are hundreds of companies making and selling all the other parts that go into the AR-15, none of those parts carry a serial number, none of them require any kind of licensing process prior to purchase, none of those parts can be traced at all.

There are also lots of people out there – machinists, lathe operators, tool & die makers, do-it-yourselfers – who can take a block of carbon steel, set their cutting machine to the proper specs and produce a homemade receiver as well.  But here’s the point: you can build an AR-15 or an Abrams Tank, as long as you live in a state which has no legal barrier to buying or owning heavy ordnance like the 120mm shell fired from a tank.  What you can’t do is sell or give your homemade weapons system, rifle or tank, to someone else.

Which happens to be the same law that applies to any and every gun that Cody Wilson would like to design. And frankly, the idea that a ‘mentally disturbed’ individual would go to the trouble of buying one of Wilson’s $1,700 cutting machines, then learn how to use it, then actually cut and then assemble all those parts before ever firing the gun – that’s absurd. As for all those criminals out there who can’t wait to manufacture their own guns, give me a break. Know how difficult it is to simply go out to the street and buy a gun?

And now we get to the most important a point that seems to be ignored by everyone in Gun-control Nation busily spreading the alarm about the threat posed by 3-D guns.  The simple fact is: they don’t work. Cody Wilson stopped making his 3-D gun because the gun he designed, a 22-caliber thingie called the ‘Liberator,’ was, according to Wilson, successfully tested except that as far as anyone can tell, not only does the gun fail to shoot at all after 8 or 9 shots, but a weapons lab in England warned that the chances of the gun blowing up and injuring the shooter was more apt to happen even if the 3-D gun was only fired once.

Want to own a gun that can’t be traced?  You don’t need to go through all the rigamarole, spend two grand and wind up with a piece of plastic junk. All you have to do is get your hands on any old gun and run the receiver’s serial number against a metal lathe. No serial number, no trace.

My friends in the GVP should stop worrying about plastic guns and get back to dealing with the real reasons why we suffer from 125,000 gun deaths and injuries every year.

 

 

 

Have Gun Sales Slowed Under Trump? Not As Much As You Might Think.

Back in February 2017, the first full month after Trump took the oath, the gun industry looked at sales numbers and began to complain.  On the one, Trump’s electoral surprise meant that gun makers didn’t have to worry about Hillary’s nefarious gun-control plans; on the other hand, with a pro-gun guy now running the show, fears about not being able to buy guys would subside and gun sales would also go down.

shows            And make no mistake about it, the heady days of the all-time gun-grabber Obama were now in the past. FBI-NICS background checks for February 2016 were 1,380,520 for all guns; background check numbers for February 2017 registered 1,199,692, a drop of 13%.  And between tax refunds, some cash for ploughing and a left-over bundle from X-mas gifts, February has always been a good month for buying guns.

But what about the rest of the year and the years to come?  There’s a reason why Smith & Wesson’s stock price was over $20 a share when Trump was inaugurated and is selling for around half that price right now.  The reason is the same reason that has always dominated the ups and downs of the gun market, namely, that most people who buy guns already own guns, and without new customers the sale of any consumer product will be largely influenced by whether current owners of that product believe they can continue to buy and own more of what they already have.

I have been in the gun business, one way or another, for more than 50 years. And I have never met a single gun owner who only owned one gun.  Maybe ‘never’ is too strong a word because there are certainly lots of households which contain a gun only because it belonged to grandpa and when he passed on, the gun represented some kind of family icon so nobody wanted to throw it out. But according to recent surveys, the average gun owner has 3 or 4 bangers lying round the house, and somewhere around 7 million gun nuts own, on average, 17 guns each. Right now I personally have somewhere around 60 guns within easy reach, which I don’t think is ant big deal.  I knew a guy whose house contained at least 300 guns and I suspect that by now he’s added maybe 50 more.

Why in God’s name would I need to own 60 guns?  You think my wife doesn’t own at least 50 pairs of shoes?  But a gun isn’t like a pair of shoes, right?  You can’t kill someone with a shoe.  So what.  What’s one thing got to do with the other?  Nothing, that’s what. Anyway, to get back to the gun business.

Using FBI-NICS checks as a proxy, gun sales in 2018 are running about 13% below 2017. There was a spike shortly after Las Vegas, which pushed up 2017 numbers, and another spike after Parkland, which did the same thing for 2018.  But this graph showing monthly background checks for handguns clearly indicates that the Trump bloom is off the Obama rose.

NICS handguns

              On the other hand, more than 3,750,000 handguns have moved between dealers and customers from January 1, 2017 through June 30 of this year, and if the estimates on the number of Americans who own guns is correct, then it may be the case that one out of every ten gun owners added an additional handgun to their collections over the past 18 months.

The point is that even though the gun industry depends for its existence on the same group of buyers buying more guns, the good news is that, by and large, gun owners still want to keep, own and buy guns. Which is why Gun-control Nation still has to figure out how to convince gun owners that they would be better off without their guns. Because as long as gun owners want their personal gun collections to get bigger, the gun industry will continue to sell guns.

Tom Gabor: Does Gun Availability Matter In Suicide?

Data from the CDC show that suicide rates in the US have increased by almost 30% since 1999.[1]  Nearly half of the suicides in the country are committed with guns and two-thirds of all gun deaths are suicides.  This last figure is often used by opponents of gun regulation to argue that America’s gun violence problem issue in the US has been overblown.  However, the World Health Organization defines suicide as a form of self-directed violence.[2]  In addition, isn’t it desirable to reduce firearm deaths and injuries, whether the harm prevented is directed toward another or self-directed and whether it is intentional or unintentional?   This said, preventive measures will obviously vary, depending on whether the harm being considered is a firearm-related homicide, suicide or accident.

suicide1Many people believe that suicide is the result of a long-standing mental illness and that the individual who takes his or her life has contemplated doing so for a long time.   When asked to estimate how many of the more than 1000 people who had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge would have committed suicide some other way if an effective barrier had been installed on the bridge, over seven out of ten survey respondents answered that the suicide of all or most of the jumpers was inevitable and that limiting access to one suicide method was completely or most likely futile.[3]

According to this view, an individual, at some point, makes an irrevocable decision to end it all, selects a method, and takes the steps necessary to complete the act. If most suicides fit this profile of a rational act by a highly determined individual, it might be logical to argue that if guns were the chosen method, the lack of availability of a firearm would be irrelevant, as an alternative method would be selected with the same result.

In fact, an analysis of suicides over a 17-year period by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicides often occur without warning and that, in over half the cases, there was no known mental health issue. More often, these individuals were experiencing relationship problems, substance abuse, physical health problems, financial problems, or crises of some other form.[4]

Keith Hawton, a psychiatrist who heads Oxford University’s Center for Suicide Research, has written the following in relation to the issue of planning versus impulsivity of this ultimate act of self-harm:

For most people who become suicidal, the period of real risk is relatively brief, lasting in some individuals for even just a few minutes or a few hours. In others it may last days, but rarely longer.  The concept of periods of risk is very important in…that if access to a dangerous means of suicide is restricted at such times, then survival until the end of these periods is more likely.[5]

In 1978, Richard Seiden, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, published a study in which he tracked over 500 people who were prevented from attempting suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971.[6] An average of 26 years after the aborted attempt, 94 % of these individuals were either still alive or had died of natural causes. To Seiden, this finding supported the view that suicidal behavior is crisis oriented and acute in nature. He concluded that if suicidal people can get through this crisis, they would be unlikely to commit suicide later.

A Texas study in the 1980s showed that suicidal thinking can be transient. The study examined the cases of 30 people who were treated for gunshot wounds to the head, chest, or abdomen.[7]  Most, if not all, would have perished had a helicopter service and urban trauma center not been available. These were therefore very serious attempts. Interviews revealed that half of these patients had been drinking within 24 hours of the suicide attempt and 18 of the 30 had experienced a significant interpersonal conflict during that period. Most had no long-standing psychiatric disorders, only two had a history of suicides, and none of the 30 left a suicide note. Half the patients reported having suicidal thoughts for less than 24 hours. Many expected to die from their attempt, but indicated that they were glad to have survived. A follow-up two years later indicated that none had attempted suicide up to that point. This study showed that suicidal motivation can be fleeting but very serious at the same time.

Kay R. Jamison, a specialist in mood disorders at Johns Hopkins University, believes that, at most, 10–15 % of suicide cases are characterized by an unwavering determination to die on the part of the victim.[8] For other suicidal people, the risk is transient.

Research shows that availability is an important factor in the selection of a method by suicidal individuals.  In the above-mentioned Texas study of survivors of serious self-inflicted gunshot wounds, the answer most often given by the subjects for selecting a firearm was its availability in their homes.  Another indication of the importance of method availability is the fact that men are more likely to be gun owners and to select guns in suicide attempts than are women.  Yet another indication of the role played by availability of method, is that states with high levels of gun ownership have considerably higher rates of gun suicide than states with lower ownership levels.

Studies consistently show that firearms are the most lethal means of suicide.  Across four major studies I reviewed for my book Confronting Gun Violence in America, the percentage of suicide attempts with a firearm that proved fatal ranged between 83 and 92 %.  Next in line in terms of lethality were suffocation or hanging, with a lethality level ranging between 61 and 83 %, and drowning, ranging between 66 % and 80 %.   The least fatal methods were poisonings/overdoses and cutting/piercing at around 1–2 %. Thus, a suicide attempt involving firearms appears to be about 40 times as likely to end in a fatality as one involving a cutting instrument.

Research shows that we cannot assume that when a lethal suicide method becomes less available, people will simply switch to another method with the same result. If we believed that method substitution is inevitable, reducing access to lethal methods such as guns in order to prevent suicide would appear to be futile. However, a growing number of studies show that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline and, often, suicide rates as a whole decline. In certain regions of Asia and the Pacific Islands, pesticides are among the most common suicide methods.   For example, in Sri Lanka, controlling the availability of highly lethal pesticides, such as paraquat, has brought about dramatic reductions in the overall suicide rate, indicating that large-scale substitution of other lethal methods did not occur.  The fatality rate of attempts using paraquat has been reported to be over 60 %, whereas it may be below 10 % for other pesticides that have replaced paraquat.

Another example of what can be achieved when an accessible and highly lethal means of suicide is eliminated occurred when the domestic gas supply was changed in the UK. Before 1958, domestic gas was toxic, containing over 12 % carbon monoxide. People would commit suicide simply by putting their heads in the oven. In 1958, nontoxic natural gas was introduced region by region, and, by 1974, virtually all the gas supply in the UK was nontoxic.  Prior to the changeover, suicide by gas inhalation was the leading means of suicide in the UK.  Hawton of Oxford notes that as the carbon monoxide content of gas supplies decreased, there was a steady reduction in carbon monoxide suicides in England and Wales. While there was a modest increase in the use of other suicide methods, the overall suicide rate decreased by a third.  Thousands of lives were saved simply by detoxifying the domestic gas supply.

No society has a “built in” level of suicide.  Most people who commit suicide were not “destined” to do so but responded to personal crises and engaged in limited planning.  Suicidal people usually display impulsivity and ambivalence.  For these reasons, the availability of the most lethal methods when people are most at risk can be a critical factor in the outcome of attempts.  There are enormous differences in lethality of methods, with firearms consistently found to be the most lethal.

Gun policies that can prevent suicides include:

  1. Limiting the overall availability of firearms. One way to achieve this is through voluntary gun buybacks.  Research shows that lowering the number of homes with guns will reduce gun suicide by a substantial margin and will also reduce overall suicide as many without access to guns will not substitute some other method to commit suicide.[9]
  2. Imposing waiting periods for obtaining a firearm may prevent an individual from buying a firearm when he or she is most at risk of committing suicide.
  3. Red flag laws that allow families and law enforcement to petition a court to force the surrender of a firearm by someone at risk of self-harm can make a difference. Guns can be returned to these owners when they are no longer viewed as at elevated risk to harm themselves.
  4. Laws requiring safe storage can keep teenagers experiencing a crisis from gaining access to a gun and committing an impulsive suicide.

Thomas Gabor is a Florida-based criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.

[1] Deborah Stone et al., Vital signs: Trends in states suicide rates—United States, 1999-2016 and circumstances contributing to suicide—27 states, 2015.  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report CDC (June 8, 2018).  Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6722a1.htm?s_cid=mm6722a1_w

[2] Linda Dahlberg, World Report on Violence and Health.  Geneva:  World Health Organization, 2002, Chapter 7.

[3] M. Miller, D. Azrael, and D. Hemenway, Belief in the inevitability of suicide: Results from a national survey.  Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 2006, 36: 1-11.

[4] CDC:  US suicide rates have climbed dramatically.  NPR (June 7, 2018).  Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/06/07/617897261/cdc-u-s-suicide-rates-have-climbed-dramatically

[5] Hawton K. Restriction of access to methods of suicide as a means of suicide prevention. In: Hawton K, editor. Prevention and treatment of suicidal behavior: from science to practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005, P. 284.

[6] Seiden R. Where are they now: a follow up study of suicide attempters from the Golden Gate Bridge. Suicide Life Threat Behavior, 1978; 8(4): 203–216.

[7] Peterson L, Peterson M, O’Shanick G, Swann A. Self-inflicted gunshot wounds: lethality of method versus intent. American Journal of  Psychiatry, 1985; 142(2): 228–231.

[8] Jamison K. Night falls fast: Understanding suicide. New York: Knopf, 1999. P. 47.

[9] D. Wiebe, Homicide and suicide risks associated with firearms in the home: A national case control study.  Annals of Emergency Medicine, 2003, 41: 771-82.

Does Brett Kavanaugh Think Gun Laws Are Unconstitutional? Yes And No.

It’s now about 10:30 A.M. and I have already received at least a dozen emails from various gun-control groups warning me about the ‘threat’ posed by the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the SCOTUS and asking me to cough up some dough and help my friends in Gun-control Nation to keep this avowed 2nd-Amendment supporter off the high bench.

kavanaugh             You can argue of course that any judge nominated by #45 is going to be a supporter of gun ‘rights.’ Or at least he won’t be some flaming liberal who will decide every gun case the way Hillary Clinton would like to see it done. But leaving aside for the moment the histrionics which always accompany the process for filling a vacancy on the High Court, I’m going to take the argument about Kavanaugh’s approach to gun laws seriously and do the one thing which probably no advocate on either side has actually done; namely, to look at the single gun case in which Kavanaugh participated since he went to the Federal bench.

I’m talking about Heller II, a case which was brought against the refusal of DC’s municipal authorities to grant Heller and other residents the legal right to keep an AR-15 rifle in their homes.  Because even though it’s often forgotten or simply ignored, the 2008 Heller decision which reversed long-standing legal precedent and granted Constitutional protection for privately-owned guns applied only to handguns, and never conferred ownership ‘rights’ to long guns at all.

In 2010, to years after Heller I was decided, Gun-nut Nation went back into court and not only challenged the District’s actual process for granting legal access to guns, but asked that the requirement that now allowed District residents to own handguns apply to long guns as well. By a split, 2 – 1 decision, the Court told the District to rewrite its argument in support of the licensing process for all guns, but also upheld the District’s continued ban on the ownership of certain types of long guns, in particular the AR-15.

Now it happens to be literally true that Kavanaugh says the D.C. registration process and its ban on AR rifles are both ‘unconstitutional.’ But if you take the trouble to read his 46-page dissent, you will discover that this judgement isn’t based on his views about the 2nd Amendment per se, but rather, how he understands the 2008 Heller case. And frankly, I wish that more of my friends in both Gun-nut Nation and Gun-control Nation would stop indulging themselves in endless rhetorical nonsense about what the 2nd Amendment means.  Let me break it to you gently – it means whatever the last SCOTUS decision says it means, okay?

So Kavanaugh starts off by making this clear: He says, “Our sole job is to faithfully apply Heller and the approach it set forth for analyzing gun bans and regulations.” But then he gets into trouble by saying that the District’s ban on AR rifles is ‘unconstitutional’ because “There is no meaningful or persuasive constitutional distinction between semi-automatic handguns and semiautomatic rifles.”

Oops. It sure didn’t take Kavanaugh long to invent some Constitutional rhetoric himself. The Heller decision focused only on handguns because the plaintiff, Dick Heller, appealed a law that only covered handgun ownership, a point explicitly made by Scalia In Heller I and echoed by the majority opinion in Heller II. If Kavanaugh decided to take it upon himself to discuss the issue of what kind of guns were covered by the phrase ‘keep and bear arms,’ that’s fine. But such a decision in no way automatically means that any and all types of guns had Constitutional protection just because the SCOTUS majority gave such protection to handguns in 2008.

I’m not trying to nitpick away the reasons why Kavanaugh may be or may not be pro-gun. What I am saying is that in considering his record to fill a seat on the Supreme Court he deserves to be taken at his word, and so far when it comes to guns, his word is mixed

 

If Public Health Researchers Want To Reduce Gun Violence, They Need To Figure Out Why It Occurs.

How and why did doctors get into the argument about gun violence?  They got into it because the World Health Organization (WHO) says that violence, defined as hurting oneself or someone else, is a threat to health. And since a health threat can be measured by the number of times that someone is treated at a medical facility for something which, left untreated, could make that person feel unwell, I guess that 125,000+ such treatments each year constitutes a threat to health.

paul             But a threat to someone’s health is not the same thing as a threat to public health. The latter is usually defined as a proactive, medical response that seeks to combine scientific evidence with public policies to protect the entire community from a health threat, be that community a small village, a neighborhood within that village, a group of families within that neighborhood, or maybe the total population of an entire nation-state. In other words, first we figure out why someone gets sick, then we figure out how the illness moves from one person to another, then we figure out what we need to do to confine the illness to as small a number as possible. If people get sick because they all drink water from the same contaminated well – clean up the well. If a deadly virus is transmitted through unprotected sex, educate everyone to engage in protected sex.

Unfortunately, it turns out that many illnesses cannot be eradicated or even controlled just by figuring out how the pathogen moves through the air from Victim A to Victim B. This is because many illnesses are caused not by a virus, but by the way we behave. Drive your car at an unsafe speed and sooner or later you’ll smack into someone else. Plug a home appliance into the wall while you’re taking a bath and – zap! – you’re on the way to the morgue. In 2016, more than 230,000 Americans died because they accidentally injured themselves or someone else; another 32 million needed some degree of medical attention because they were injured but weren’t killed.

Next to those numbers, 35,000 deaths and 90,000+ non-fatal gun injuries doesn’t seem like such a big deal, except for one little difference between how and why gun injuries occur. Because if public health researchers discover that excessive speed causes automotive accidents, we lower the speed limits; if research shows that tobacco causes cancer, we can pass laws which prevent kids from starting to smoke. But how do you make someone use a gun safely when the only reason to use a gun is to inflict injury on yourself or someone else?

Now one can argue that if you injure someone else with a gun in the process of protecting yourself from that person’s attempt to injure you, then the gun has served a positive purpose and that such behavior should not only be respected but encouraged as well. But at least 100,000 gun injuries occur each year because someone consciously used a gun to hurt themselves or someone else without the slightest self-defense rationale at all.

If public health researchers want to bring the number of intentional gun injuries down, they need to figure out why only a small percentage of people who own guns use them in a violent way, and more important, why even most people who engage in violent behavior choose not to use a gun.  Last year physicians treated more than 2 million victims who were injured because someone else wanted to hurt them real bad. But less than 5% of the attackers were armed with guns, and it’s not like the other 95% couldn’t get their hands on one.

Rand Paul is totally wrong when he says that gun injuries aren’t a concern for public health. But his argument will stand until and unless researchers figure out why some people make a deliberate choice to commit an assault with a gun. If a gun is the pathogen which leads to gun violence, why don’t we have 300 million gun injuries every year?

Do More Gun Laws Equal Less Gun Violence?

The United States got into gun control big time when we passed the National Firearms Act (NFA) in 1934.  This law, still on the books, created a category of small arms that were considered too dangerous for everyday purchase or use – machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, etc. – and required people who wanted to own such guns to undergo a very lengthy and expensive background check process known today as Class III.

Kansas City             Many industrialized countries passed gun-control laws just before or after World War II, many copied our NFA with one, major exception; namely, countries like Germany, France, Italy, Austria and others put handguns on the restricted list. This is the reason we have gun violence and those countries don’t – it’s because Americans have easy access to handguns. And even though we still don’t know exactly how guns move from the legal to the illegal market and then get used in violent crime, what we do know is that, one way or another, it happens again and again where handguns are concerned.

Most states allow residents to buy a handgun following the standard, FBI-NICS background check. But some jurisdictions respond to handgun criminality by instituting a system known as permit-to-purchase (PTP.)   There are currently 9 states which, in addition to the NICS process, also do a pre-purchase background check at the state level, thus making the vetting for handgun purchases more detailed. Our friends at the Hopkins gun-research group recently published a study comparing gun-homicide rates between states with and without PTP, and it turns out that states which impose PTP on handgun purchases suffer a much lower rate of gun homicides than states which don’t require PTP.

Notwithstanding the difference in gun-violence rates between states with a PTP process as opposed to states without, how can we be sure that a change in a specific legal process and a change in a specific type of behavior governed by that legal process is based on some degree of causality rather than just coincidence between two trends?  To eliminate or at least discount other explanatory factors, the Hopkins researchers create regression models using poverty, unemployment, incarceration and other data usually associated with criminal events, as well as controlling for non-firearm homicide rates. Finally, and here is a major step forward in this type of research, the Hopkins group looked specifically at large, urban jurisdictions rather than state-level trends because most gun violence occurs within heavily-populated, urban zones.

Using what has become a standard list of characteristics associated with violence allows the Hopkins findings to be compared with other studies which utilizing similar demographic and criminal controls. But I wonder whether gun-violence researchers should perhaps widen the list of characteristics used to define these controls.  For example, in Kansas City, reported gun thefts jumped 50 percent from 2015 to 2017 – from 588 guns reported stolen to 886. During the same period, gun homicides nearly doubled as well.

How do we know that the increase in Missouri gun homicide after 2007 wasn’t more related to an increase in the availability of stolen guns than in the ability of purchasers to buy a handgun without undergoing a PTP check? We can hypothesize all we want that by removing the PTP process from private handgun sales (which is what the 2007 change in the Missouri law was all about) that more guns moved from legal to illegal hands. As a matter of fact, it probably does mean something along those lines, but unless we know the provenance of all or at least some of those stolen guns, why should we assume that a change in the PTP law is what led to an increase in homicides tied to guns?

Homicide remains the most aberrant and inexplicable form of human behavior, made even more aberrant and inexplicable with the presence of a gun. I would like to believe that we can control this behavior with some rational and practical legal strategies, but do the studies tying gun violence rates to the absence or presence of certain gun laws prove this to be true?

 

 

 

Don’t Forget Self-Defense When You Celebrate The 4th.

In case you want to be a real American tomorrow and celebrate July 4th the way real Americans are going to celebrate, here’s an eye-catching advertisement I received from one of the websites that sells all the most important stuff to Gun-nut Nation on this most patriotic day. Actually, the most important stuff for the 4th is the case or keg of beer. But after that item, what counts is how you go about making sure that your personal protection is up to date.

armor3              Let’s see.  Body Armor – Medical Kits – Targets.  Those are the must-have items in case of a terrorist attack, or better yet, making sure you can defend yourself and your loved ones from a flood of illegals from you know where. Trump says that those kids in Texas will be sent to military bases here and there – I can see the FEMA trailers rolling right now into Fort Bliss or Fort Hood.  Let’s not forget to string the barbed wire around the trailers so that the kids can’t escape because all you need is one twelve-year-old invading the town and then God knows all kinds of Hell might break loose.

Now if such an invasion does occur and you and your loved ones are facing a threat, having a complete set of body armor is a prerequisite for personal defense.  You can choose between soft armor, designed for ‘pistol threat protection’ or hard armor, which is ‘rugged, reliable and ‘stress fracture resistant,’ cost based on size and weight.

Do you know what an EPIK is?  Do you have an EPIK?  Well, if the answer to either of those questions is ‘no,’ you better get with the program and purchase an EPIK today.  That’s right – today! Because if you don’t buy your EPIK today, you won’t have it ready for July 4th, which means you won’t be able to protect yourself and your loved ones from come what may.

The EPIK is an Emergency Personal Injury Kit to be used against ‘life-threatening bleeding injuries,’ specifically designed to ‘stop bleeding fast from a gunshot, knife, or other traumatic bleeding wound.’ And this particular product is extremely versatile because you never know how or where the threat may appear.  You can buy an EPIK to fit in your ‘Pocket, Plate Carrier, Backpack, Glove Box, Range Bag, and Survival Kit, anywhere you need it.’ And your personal EPIK starts at only $39.99.

Now you may think that the purpose of this column is to give free advertising to the company that makes and markets all this crap. But that’s not it at all. What today’s column is all about is my continued amazement at the ability of American entrepreneurship to come up with new ways to sell Gun-nut Nation stuff they don’t need.

Of course, what nobody really needs is another self-defense gun, and if what I see and hear from the gun shops around here is any indication of how gun sales are going across the fruited plain, just about everyone in Gun-nut Nation has also bought every gun that they could ever need to own. One of the local gun stores has a big sign out front telling customers that they can take 50 bucks off the retail price of any gun. The dealer won’t make a dime on the sale, but at least he’ll move some iron off the shelf.

Remember Glenn Beck peddling freeze-dried foods that would be edible even after sitting in your backyard bomb shelter for thirty years?  That’s right – the same Glenn Beck who’s now bankrupt. How could anyone in their right mind believe they need to drive around with a personal injury kit, particularly when the average adult doesn’t know squat about how to deal with any kind of traumatic medical injury at all?

God bless America, God bless the free enterprise system, and most of all, God bless our sacred duty to protect ourselves and our loved ones by spending a few bucks on some worthless junk.  Have a great 4th!