Do Concealed Guns Protect Us From Crime?

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cartoon2

I started my previous blog with a promise to debunk some of the myths created by the NRA and its cronies to ward off the evils of gun control. So let’s continue by looking at one of the biggest myths of all, namely, the idea that we can all be better protected against crime if we all own and carry guns.  The idea of the “armed citizen” as being our first and most important defense against crime and criminals has been promoted endlessly and tirelessly by the NRA and is repeated verbatim by all of their allies and cronies.

One of the major cronies is a sometime academic named John R. Mott who floats around the right-wing talk circus promoting a book called More Guns Less Crime.  Although his data has been criticized for either not supporting what he says or not existing at all, I’m going to ignore the slings and arrows being thrown back and forth between him and his critics and just look at the underlying assumptions about the argument itself.

Lott begins by making the argument that there’s a trade-off between the safety of a locked gun versus the usefulness of a gun that is loaded and ready to fire.  He states: “gun locks require that guns be unloaded, and a locked, unloaded gun does not offer ready protection from intruders.” (Page 10.) Did he really say that?  Has he ever even held a gun?  If John Lott would like, he can walk into my gun shop, we will go downstairs to the range, I’ll put a Masterlock on a loaded gun and then I’ll take the lock off the gun and John can pull the trigger. There will be a very loud noise and he better have the gun pointed in a safe direction.

lock

But let’s continue and here’s the bottom line.  There has yet to be a single study by any pro-gun NRA crony like Lott who has been able to establish a definitive link between ownership of guns and crime rates.  Notice I didn’t say between more guns and less crime, or less guns and more crime.  I said a ‘definitive’ link as in cause-and-effect link.  Coincidence?  Plenty.  Causality?  None.

Let’s go back to the recent DOJ report that showed a “continued” decline in gun homicides over the last twenty years.  This is the report that was lauded by the NRA and its mouthpieces like Lott as “proving” that more guns meant less crime.  And what was their proof?  The fact that in 1990 there were only a handful of states that issued concealed-carry permits and now more than 30 states were granting concealed-carry on a “shall-issue” basis.

Except there are some small problems.  First, as I pointed out in a post published  on May 13 (“Can’t Anyone in the Gun Industry Read?”) the decline in gun homicides occurred between 1994 and 2000, well before most states liberalized their concealed-carry rules.   And more to the point, while some states like California and New York saw a significant decline in gun violence during this six-year period, other states, like Texas and Arizona, experienced increased gun homicides.  Why?  Nobody knows why.  And nobody has yet to ask why.

Then there’s another sticky little problem for people who John Lott who take a coincidence and turn it into an explanation.  The fact that someone walks around with a concealed-carry permit doesn’t mean they walk around with a concealed gun.  Know what?  I haven’t seen anyone who has said that statement anywhere.  In my state, Massachusetts, for example, you cannot buy or own a gun unless you have a permit issued by the state.  The permit is called the LTC which, if you haven’t guessed it yet, means License To Carry. That’s right.  The same license that is required to buy or own a gun is the same license that allows you to carry a concealed handgun on your person.  Does that mean that everyone in Massachusetts who has a gun license is packing?  Nobody knows.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I’m willing to bet you that the same guy who thinks you can’t put a lock on a loaded gun also believes that residents of Massachusetts are better protected from criminals because they have a License To Carry, whether they even own a gun or not. That’s what happens when you do research not to discover the truth, but to promote a pre-ordained idea. Oh well…

Guns and Violence: Believe What You Want to Believe

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It’s about time that someone (namely: me) began debunking some of the myths that have been propagated by various NRA cronies who spring into action every time the gun control issue rears its ugly head.  The NRA has done a remarkable job (I’m being serious here) of pro-actively pushing its anti-gun control agenda whether the gun control crowd shows up or not.  Their strategy is very consistent: publicize research that “proves” guns protect people from crime, and make it easier for everyone to carry a concealed weapon.  An armed citizenry is a safe citizenry.  And an armed citizenry is exactly what the gun industry wants because it’s a guaranteed path to higher sales.

But in order to use “research” to bolster this campaign, the NRA also has to discredit the large body of evidence about the relationship of guns to violence that tells a very different story, namely, that guns not only don’t protect us from crime, but may actually result in less safety both for armed and unarmed citizens. This has been the consensus of public health professionals whose views were cited by the Clinton Administration to justify passage of the Brady Act which created the background check system in 1993.  Ever since then, public health professionals and researchers have been a particularly favorite target of the NRA, witness the recent attacks on Dr. Judith Palfrey and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The basic public health position on gun control was stated most comprehensively in an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association published in 1994 (April, Vol. 271, No. 16.) This editorial, endorsed by the President of every major New York City hospital and the New York Academy of Medicine called for:  expanding background checks, limiting assault rifles, taxing ammunition, restricting multi-purchases and stricter controls over dealers.  And here’s the sentence that sums it all up: “Ideally, handguns…should be banned completely, but we recognize that this strategy is not currently politically feasible.”

The NRA crowd jumped on this statement in 1994 and have been riding it ever since.  They used it to justify the de-funding of gun research by the CDC in 1997 and they continue to raise the battle cry about ‘anti-gun’ physicians, including a recent Florida law which makes it a felony for a physician to ask a patient whether there are guns in the home.  The most blatant attempt to justify the ‘armed citizen’ approach to gun ownership is a recent article by pro-gun activist and attorney Don Kates, who stated unequivocally that the National Academy of Sciences could find no evidence in a 2004 report that gun controls of any sort reduced gun violence.

Except that’s not what the NAS report actually says.  What it says is that research had not yet found any direct links between crime rates and right-to-carry gun laws.  But the report also said that there was a link between keeping guns in the home and an increased incidence of suicide,  even though pro-gun activists like Kates continue to push the idea that physicians should be prohibited from inquiring about the ownership of guns.

The conflict between pro-gun activists and public health specialists boils down to the following: both groups are advocates with very different goals.  The pro-gun activists want Americans to own more guns; the public health specialists want less violence.  And since the data on the relationship between guns and violence is somewhat ambiguous, both sides can pull what they want from the research and come up with arguments that support their point of view.

NRA (or should I say DRGO) versus AAP: Round 2

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On May 14  I published a blog criticizing the NRA ally Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership for attacking Dr. Judith Palfrey and the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The head of DRGO, Tim Wheeler, responded with several letters  which you can read (along with my responses) in the sidebar to that blog.   In one letter, he told me that all of his articles were “painstakingly researched,” but if I found any errors he would be glad to correct them.  So here goes~~

  1. On May 14 Wheeler published a link to an interview he gave on the NRA Video channel in which he referred to the gun safety advice given by Dr. Judith Palfrey on CNN.COM as “dangerously wrong.”   In fact, her specific advice for keeping guns and kids safe in the same home (lock the guns up, loan and unload carefully, etc.) reads like it was lifted right out of the NRA’s Gun Safety in the Home manual, a course that many NRA instructors, myself included, have been teaching for years.
  2. On May 7, Wheeler’s blog contained several references to America’s “100 million gun owners” whose political clout would be felt at the polls.  The latest surveys indicate that 40% of all U.S. households may contain guns.  Is Wheeler saying that each of these households has 2 1/2 gun owners living under the roof?  I guess he’s assuming that for every guy in a house with a gun there must also be a gal and of course she’s just as much into guns as he is.  Fine.  That still leaves us how to figure out the identity of the half owner.
  3. The May 1 blog was about the lobbying of AAP on Capitol Hill.  His blog referenced a story from The Hill, and asserted that the AAP wanted to ban all semi-automatic weapons and refused to recognize criminology research “showing responsible gun ownership to be a net social good.”  None of these assertions can be found in the referenced story, so I guess they’re from Wheeler’s memory bank. There’s only a small problem. The AAP has only wanted to ban semi-automatic weapons that hold hi-capacity mags (which puts them well within the mainstream) and there has yet to be a single piece of academic scholarship that has definitively linked  gun ownership to crime rates, either negatively or positively.
  4. The April 29th blog was a snide description of the CDC meeting held the previous week to begin discussing research priorities if and when Congress appropriates funding to once again allow the CDC to support research into gun violence.  Perhaps Dr. Wheeler took painstaking notes about the meeting but there’s no evidence that he did any research for this blog.  He was at pains, however, to note the absence of another right-wing, pro-gun researcher named John Lott who, according to Wheeler, is the nation’s “foremost researcher of the effects of gun ownership on crime.”  So here we have one painstaking gun researcher vouching for the credentials of another one.  Except there’s one little problem, namely, that Wheeler is talking about the same John Lott whose painstaking research was discredited when it turned out that he not only faked data used for his thesis but later faked his own identity to strike back at his critics.
  5. The April 19th blog is simply an unvarnished editorial about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment in the Senate along with the usual anti-Obama claptrap that sometimes makes me believe that people like Wheeler still think that the 2012 election didn’t take place.  Painstaking research?  There’s no research.
  6. The April 16th blog is a rehash of the May 14 blog which attacked Dr. Judith Palfrey and the American Academy of Pediatrics over their position on guns, and since Wheeler found it necessary to repeat his criticisms about the AAP, I’ll repeat my comments about him.  Either he didn’t bother to read the AAP Policy Statement on Preventing Firearm-Related Injuries, in which case he’s simply wrong.  Or he did bother to read it in which case he’s not only wrong but a liar.  And just to make it clear, when I use the word ‘liar’ I am simply asserting that someone knows something to be true and states otherwise.  If Dr. Wheeler read the AAP Policy Statement he could not have described it the way he did unless he consciously chose to misrepresent what was said.  In which case, he’s a liar. Either way, this blog does not contain any painstaking research, or any research of any kind, for that matter.
  7. The April 2nd blog is an attack on Marian Wright Edelman who, as President of the Children’s Defense Fund spoke out about gun violence after the massacre at Sandy Hook.  There’s no research here, there’s just another editorial swipe at a long-time advocate for children who doesn’t think that guns and kids are a good mix.  But I did notice one tiny bit of data that struck me as rather odd, given that it was presented by a man who describes his own research as “painstaking.”  In his attack on Dr. Edelman, our painstaking scholar Wheeler mentions that 80 million Americans own guns.  Yet his May 7th blog contains several references to the 100 million Americans who own guns.  Is he saying that 20 million more Americans became gun owners between April 2nd and May 7th?  I raise this point because Dr. Wheeler assured me in his response to my previous blog that his work was based on “painstaking” research.  So I took him at his word and began looking for examples of his painstaking efforts.  I read every word of his last seven blogs and the only, single fact that I could find that came from him rather than from someone else was the number of Americans who own guns.  Except that the number changed – in just 5 weeks it jumped by 20 million.

So much for the painstaking research of Dr. Wheeler, the NRA medicine-man who can’t tell the difference between research and editorials and probably doesn’t care.  Yes, we will be publishing some more blogs on Wheeler and the other so-called scholars who toady up for the NRA.

The NRA’s Answer to Gun Violence: Armed and Dangerous

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When I first joined the NRA in 1955, its primary mission, in partnership with the U.S. Government, was to train civilians in marksmanship and gun safety.  In fact the first gun I learned to shoot was a 1903 Springfield army rifle that had been re-chambered in 22lr as a training weapon for World War II.  These venerable guns would have ended up rusting away in some government arsenal except the NRA was allowed to sell them off for a few bucks to shooting clubs around the United States.

When the NRA changed its stance in the 1970s and began running defense of the 2nd Amendment up the flagpole, it also shifted its concerns away from safety and marksmanship to promoting the right of gun owners to use guns for self-defense.  This was partly in response to the crime wave that occurred in many places when drug-addicted soldiers came back from Viet Nam.  It was also tied to the  fear of lawlessness that was a reaction to the riots sweeping through some inner-city neighborhoods at about the same time.

The NRA’s push for using guns in self-defense was also motivated by a change in the demographics of gun ownership and an effort to help gun manufacturers respond to new demographic trends.  In brief, hunting was beginning to decline and the sale of long guns (shotguns and rifles) was experiencing a slow but steady death (no pun intended.)  In the 1970s,  two-thirds of all guns sold commercially in the United States were hunting guns and manufacturers that relied on handgun sales, like Smith & Wesson, needed law enforcement contracts to stay afloat.

This changed in the late 1980s with the “invasion” of high-capacity European pistols like Beretta, Sig and Glock, and the push to normalize the idea that civilians should go around armed. In 1986, only 10 states either had no restrictions on carrying concealed handguns or allowed for unlimited concealed carry following some kind of background check.  As of this year that number had increased to 41.  Most of this growth was due to organized, effective legislative work carried out by the NRA and their state affiliates.  Not surprisingly, it was during the 1990s that handguns began to outpace long guns as the weapons of choice in gun shops, a reversal in long gun to handgun sales that has accelerated to the present day. Currently long gun sales account for less than 40% of all guns and perhaps half of them are the assault rifle look-a-likes that are in such demand.

The NRA has responded to the upsurge in concealed carry licensing and handgun sales by vigorously pushing the idea that crimes are inversely linked to an armed citizenry; i.e., the more people who carry guns, the less crime we will suffer.  They propagate this endlessly and tirelessly; it was a cornerstone of all the convention speeches, it’s peddled by various right-wing researchers and NRA members are exhorted to send in examples of good guys chasing away bad guys for the monthly ‘Armed Citizen’ report.

Of course if people are going to walk around with guns sticking out of their belts, they need proper training.  And the NRA has a special course, Personal Protection Outside the Home, which I am certified to teach, that covers the basics of concealed carry techniques, including types of equipment and using a gun for self-defense.  The multi-day course requires live-fire exercises at distances that might typically occur during an armed confrontation.  In order to be certified as a NRA trainer in this discipline, one must be certified in a series of NRA instructor pistol courses leading up to PPOH, which is considered the pinnacle of handgun instruction.

One thing about NRA training that I always admired was the degree to which every trainer has to show both experience and skills judged by the NRA to gain certification in each training discipline.  And the NRA training manual insists that trainers not only behave in a completely professional manner, but are required to withhold certification from any student who does not demonstrate proper skills or demeanor in shooting.  Every time I took a course as a student or as an instructor that I was part of a long tradition of education and training that adequately prepared me to participate in the shooting sports.

That has now changed.  The NRA recently announced that trainers who teach basic pistol shooting courses can add an extra “module” to the course (and charge additional tuition) covering concealed carry techniques and shooting.  This is an obvious and blatant effort to cash in on the concealed-carry mentality that has boosted handgun sales over the last decade.  But in addition to diluting the curriculum, the standards for instructing have also been relaxed because NRA instructors do not have to be certified in the NRA Personal Protection course; they only need to show some kind of ‘proof’ that they have attended a commercial shooting school, like Thunder Ranch or Gunsite, in order to be certified to offer concealed-carry instruction at an NRA course.

The net effect of this new policy is that people are going to be walking around carrying loaded handguns who have taken a minimal course taught by instructors who may or may not even possess the training credentials that the NRA used to require for teaching concealed carry of handguns.  So while the NRA talks about how armed citizens make our streets and neighborhoods safer, it’s pretty hard to believe that this new policy will do anything other than make people line up to buy more guns whose safe use is far from assured.  For an organization that started out to teach civilians safe gun use, the NRA has come a long way – backwards.

 

 

 

 

 

NRA Takes on the AAP: Have They Lost Their Minds?

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aap

 

When the NRA or one of its minions goes after pediatricians, the way they are now going after Doctor Judith Palfrey and the American Academy of Pediatrics, they have fallen off the cliff.  This isn’t just more proof that the leadership has come under some extremist, radical spell.  To me it means they have entered goofy-land.  And it scares me because I’m a member of the NRA.  I don’t like to think that this organization, which I joined in 1955, could now be led by people who have completely lost their minds. The NRA didn’t attack Dr. Palfrey and the AAP directly.  It was done for them by an interesting sub-group called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership.  The head of this group, which claims “1,400 doctors, health care professionals, scientists and others nationwide,” is a physician named Timothy Wheeler.  This organization doesn’t even make a pretense of being rooted in science or fact and coming from other physicians,  its attack on Judith Palfrey and the AAP,  is a professional disgrace. According to Dr. Wheeler, Dr. Palfrey “was recently the president of the notoriously anti-gun rights American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which urges doctors to pressure their patients to get rid of their guns.” That statement is simply a lie.  This past January, the AAP produced a Policy Statement: “Preventing Firearm-Related Injuries in the Pediatric Population.”  It is the official AAP statement on gun ownership as it relates to the health and welfare of children and it was published after the Sandy Hook massacre.  I am assuming that Dr. Wheeler read this statement which is why I am calling him a liar.  If he didn’t read it, he’s a fake.  Either way, here’s the AAP’s official position on guns:

Counsel parents who possess guns that safe storage (locked

and unloaded) and preventing access to guns reduces injury

(by as much as 70%), and that the presence of a gun

in the home increases the risk for suicide among adolescents.

Physician counseling, when linked with the distribution

of cable locks, increases safer home storage of firearms.

                See anything here about getting rid of guns?  See anything here about not owning guns?  See anything here about being notoriously anti-gun?  Well, I guess that if you believe that leaving guns unlocked around the house makes you anti-gun, then that makes most gun owners, including me, anti-gun.  In the interests of full disclosure, I happen to be married to a pediatrician.  She has no problem with the fact that I own a gun shop because she knows that I understand what gun safety really means.  She knows that I counsel my customers about gun safety the same way she counsels her patients.  I guess this makes us both anti-gun, right Dr. Wheeler? Judith Palfrey is among the most respected, eminent pediatricians in the United States.  She has passionately and pragmatically argued for child health priorities over a long and distinguished career.  She deserves a seat at any table when the issue of gun safety is discussed.  What she doesn’t deserve is to have her views distorted by a toady for the NRA.  The NRA leadership can reclaim their credibility by renouncing Timothy Wheeler’s reckless and false statements.  They don’t need to look for enemies under every bed.  They need to come out from the extremist rock under which they have crawled, join with groups like Evolve and contribute to finding sensible solutions to gun violence.

Can’t Anyone in the Gun Industry Read?

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Today’s press release from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) led off with the following headline: Crime With Firearms At Twenty-Year Low.  Duhhhhhh…there’s only one problem.  It’s not true. As I pointed out in my May 10 post, gun homicides and violent crime in general slid downward from the early 90s, but the number of gun homicides reached its lowest point in 2000, and the number of gun homicides and injuries fell to its lowest point in 2004.  Since then, both numbers have been inching back up.

The NSSF and the NRA aren’t alone in mis-reading the Department of Justice Crime Report.  Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger for the Washington Post, also reported that violent crime has hit a twenty-year low. But don’t assume that the only people who missed the boat on this one come from the gun industry.  NBC News, not a particular friend of gun owners, categorically stated that violent crime had fallen “dramatically” over the past twenty years.

Later this week I’m going to put up a Post that will take the criminal trends all the way back to the 1960s.  I guarantee you’ll be in for a surprise.

Dumb or Dumber – Either Way Kelly Ayotte is Clueless About Background Checks

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When the Manchin-Toomey bill went down to defeat, I wondered how certain Senators could say they supported background checks while, at the same time, voting against them.  At least the Senators who voted against the bill because they didn’t like background checks (ex. Rand Paul) were being consistent.  But saying yes on the one hand and no on the other?

English: Official portrait of US Senator Kelly...

English: Official portrait of US Senator Kelly AYotte. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

A friend just forwarded to me a copy of the letter that Kelly Ayotte is sending out to people who have taken the trouble to ask her the same question.  And her response is that the NICS system is not working and until it’s fixed, she can’t support extending it to cover additional transactions.  Here’s her first proof that the NICS system is “broken.” She sasy:

“Even if the current background check system was expanded, it’s important to note that a May 2013 Department of Justice report found that less than one percent of state prison inmates who possessed a gun when they committed their offense obtained the firearm at a gun show, and only about 10 percent of state prison inmates obtained their firearm from a licensed firearm dealer. In many cases, criminals find alternate methods to obtain firearms. In fact, 40 percent of state prison inmates who possessed a gun when they committed their offense obtained their firearm from an illegal source such as through a drug deal, theft, or the black market, and that is why we need rigorous prosecution of gun-related crimes.”

Is Senator Ayotte actually saying that if 40% of all guns used in felonies cannot be tracked or controlled through background checks, that we shouldn’t go after the other 60%?  Is a United States Senator saying something quite that stupid? Hold on – it gets better. She also says that the whole NICS is a “broken system that the government is not fully enforcing.”  And she adds: “For example, in 2010, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was referred 76,412 National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) denials, about two-thirds of which were based on the applicant being a felon or fugitive from justice. Of those, charges were brought in only 44 cases – and resulted in just 13 successful prosecutions.”

This business about all the NICS denials that aren’t being prosecuted has been floating around the background checks debate and I’d give anything to find out who said it first. Because I’ve heard it repeated again and again and while it sounds like the system really isn’t working, I wouldn’t assume that there’s any problem at all.  For example, what does the phrase “fugitive from justice” really mean?  In Los Angeles, for example, there are more than one million outstanding bench warrants for such offenses as failing to pay a fine for jay-walking, or smoking, or God knows what else.  The number in New York City is about the same.  None of these warrants will ever be served and every one of these individuals is a “fugitive from justice.”  I’m not saying the system is perfect; there have been NICS denials in my shop and I know at least one instance in which the individual who was denied really shouldn’t have gotten a gun.

The truth is that Kelly Ayotte didn’t want to vote for expanded background checks because for the moment she’s a friend of the NRA.  She can’t come out and admit it, so she cloaks her vote in an appeal for ‘better enforcement’ of existing laws.  Oh well, I guess in politics you get what you vote for.  Maine voted for Kelly and Kelly voted for the NRA.

 

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