Don’t Lie For The Other Guy – The Campaign Takes A New Twist

dont lieThe National Shooting Sports Foundation has been running an anti-gun trafficking campaign for many years called, Don’t Lie For the Other Guy. The campaign reminds gun owners that it’s a federal crime to go into a gun shop, lie on the background check form and then give the gun you’ve purchased to someone else who can’t purchase the gun themselves.  Most gun shop owners proudly display a campaign poster like the one in this blog, and just about every gun shop owner does a good job in supporting the campaign.

But in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting this campaign has taken on a new twist because one after another, NRA sympathizers and NRA-based pundits are lying like hell for the other guy, in this case, the NRA.  What are they lying about?  The alleged cause-and-effect between shootings and the existence of “gun free” zones.  This first became the NRA mantra after Newtown, when LaPierre called for a replacement of gun-free zones in schools with armed guards, a statement he repeated after the Navy Yard.  Now we have the same nonsense being promoted in the wake of Navy Yard shooting that took place on a military installation which was “de-gunned” by an Executive Order issued by President Clinton in 1993 (although the policy had been in force at many military bases unofficially under George Bush I.)

The latest version of the lie was produced last week by none other than John Lott, whose book on gun violence was based on data that he couldn’t actually produce, so I guess we can say that he probably doesn’t know when he’s lying or not.  In any case, he went on a TV talk show and said the following about mass shootings in ‘gun-free’ zones: “With few exceptions,  they’ve occurred where guns have been banned.”  He repeated the same comments in a Fox News blog.

He’s wrong.  The FBI data on mass shootings (4 or more victims) clearly shows that two-thirds of all mass shootings occur exactly the same place where all homicides occur – at or directly nearby the home of the victim.  What a surprise, that the location of mass shootings is basically the same as the location of all shootings.  But since most gun homicides start off as drug-related crimes or domestic arguments, where else are they going to take place?  In a school?

Maybe John Lott’s not lying for the NRA.  Maybe he hasn’t looked at the Uniform Crime Reports.  After all, he only touts himself as a leading expert on gun violence.  And once you’re a self-declared expert you don’t need to look at anything.  All you have to do is keep shooting your mouth off (pardon the pun.) But if Lott doesn’t know this data he doesn’t even deserve amateur status in the argument about guns.  if he does know the data, then he’s just lying for the other guy.

 

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The Dumbest Thing Ever Said About Gun Violence – 1st Of Many.

Emily Miller

Emily Miller

I’m going to start giving out an award for the dumbest comment about gun violence.  I’m not yet sure how often I’m going to select a winner and I haven’t yet figured out a prize.  In fact, I invite all the readers of this blog to take the poll following the text to send me their ideas.  In the meantime, the first candidate for our Dumb Award is Emily Miller, a so-called “opinion writer” for the Washington News.  She gets on our list of possible award-winners for her column last week about mass shootings, in which she accused the President of  exploiting the fear of mass shootings to push his gun-control agenda, and noted that mass shooting deaths in America are a “rarity,” accounting for no more than 18 deaths each year.

Where does she get such crazy numbers?  Miller claims she got them from the Congressional Research Service although her link only goes to other Washington Times stories that mention the CRS.  But there is another source for this data, namely, the FBI which publishes something called Supplementary Homicide Reports each year.  Like most crime data, the reports are several years behind, the most recent covering 2011.  So our good friends in Mike Bloomberg’s shop took the FBI data covering 2009 – 2011 and added newspaper accounts covering 2012 and what’s happened so far in 2013.   If I saw a copy of the report then so did Emily Miller.  But you don’t ever mention the name ‘Bloomberg’ in the Washington Times other than to remind your readers that he’s a big clown.  Clown or not, here’s what the Bloomberg report says.

Between January 2009 and the Navy Yard massacre last week, there have been 93 mass shootings, defined by the FBI as events in which 4 or more people were killed.  In calculating the number of victims, incidentally, the FBI did not include the shooters who turned the gun on themselves, nor did they include shooters who were killed by responding police.  I included both categories because, frankly, I don’t see how you could leave them out.  And the grand total of dead people three months short of five years?  498.  Now according to Miller, the total should be slightly less than 90.  It’s not.  It’s 498, which is more than 5 victims per mass shooting.

Of the more than 100 shooters involved in these events (in some mass shootings there were also multiple perpetrators,) there were 25 who took their own lives.  Deducting this number from the overall victim count still leaves more than 470, or more than 90 per year.  And there’s no reason to exclude the 8 mass shooters killed by police because they wouldn’t have been shot if they hadn’t committed a mass murder in the first place.  And here’s the big news: for Emily Miller and the entire NRA gang who go around touting the preposterous idea that an “armed citizenry” will protect us against gun violence, there was not a single mass shooting since 2009 that was thwarted or responded to by a civilian carrying a gun.  Not one.

One other important point needs to be mentioned about mass shootings.  Despite the NRA’s contention that “gun-free zones” (like schools) increase the possibility of shootings, the overwhelming number of mass shootings took place exactly where most gun violence occurs, in or near the home of the victim.  This is true in two-thirds of the mass shootings, and for overall gun violence the percentage is about the same.  And a common thread appears in many of these domestic tragedies; i.e., they happened during holiday celebrations – Thanksgiving, Christmas – which is when lots of people are gathered in the same place.

Know what?  I really wish that Emily Miller wasn’t such an idiot.  I wish her numbers were correct.  If we only suffered 18 mass shooting deaths each year that would probably mean the overall number of deaths from shootings would also be substantially lower than the 11,000 that now occur.   Now

take the poll.

 

 

Gun Violence: Let’s Stop Researching And Start Yelling, Or At Least Talking

Chantilly, VA gun show

Chantilly, VA gun show

You may have noticed in my last several blogs that I am dismayed by the extent to which the pro-gun crowd completely owns the public debate about guns.  They get their message out endlessly and continuously, and they get it out regardless of whether anything they say is true or not.  If you think I’m over-stating the case, take a look at the recent analysis of Emily Miller’s pro-gun book by Media Matters.  Miller is the latest in a long line of NRA sycophants who masquerade as “objective” journalists or researchers, but in reality just parrot the NRA-NSSF  line.

So Miller publishes a book promoting the idea that women should buy and carry guns.  And she’s immediately interviewed by CNN and Politico who allow her to make false statement after false statement without the slightest attempt to push back or discern whether what she’s saying is actually true.  And the reason she published the book?  Because while sales of small, concealable handguns have created a new market for gun manufacturers over the past decade, the increase in female ownership of guns has lagged far behind.  And the truth is, that with the percentage of families that actually own guns decreasing, the only way that sales can continue strong is to find new sales opportunities within existing gun-owning families, women over 21 being the most underrepresented group.  Want an example?  Take a look at the photo at the top of this blog.  It’s a gun show in Chantilly Virginia and if you want a larger view just click the last-cited link. Or just take my word for it that of the 20 or so customers lined up in front of the tables, every single one is a man.

So the NRA relentlessly pushes its agenda without regards to facts.  And who can blame them?  After all, their job is to help the gun industry sell guns.  They may promote themselves as a training organization, as a public-interest lobby, as a charitable and educational effort, but they don’t operate, shall we say, for the common good.  They are basically a marketing group, and they have developed a very successful marketing campaign.

It’s particularly successful because they’re up against nobody on the other side.  When was the last time you heard of the Brady Campaign doing anything besides sending their lobbyists up to Capitol Hill?  And Brady’s the best of them.  Everyone else in the gun control camp is busily hacking away at this piece of research or that which they read to each other and then basically throw away.  In the last two weeks alone gun control scholars have issued several serious and detailed reports about the link between gun ownership and violence.  One report came out of the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, the other led by medical researchers at NYU.  Both reports added additional evidence to support the idea that maybe, just maybe, there’s a link between 250 million guns floating around and high rates of violence with guns.  Both reports received the usual, 30-second mention in various liberal media outlets and blogs.  Both reports went no further than that.

Had these reports been issued before Newtown and the Navy Yard the NRA would have immediately dispatched one of its academic hirelings to refute them in detail.  This time around these reports were ignored.  At the same time that these reports were issued, Emily Miller was hosting a book-publishing party in Washington, complete with accolades from Rick Perry, Ted Nugent and Donald Trump.  There’s no longer a give-and-take between the pro-gun and the anti-gun crowd.  There’s a pro-gun crowd out there celebrating success after success and a pathetic group of gun control researchers talking to themselves.

Anyone ever hear of a group called the Violence Policy Center?  They have published a remarkable series of studies about gun violence, all of which are available for everyone to read.  The studies are meticulous, detailed and true.  And I’m willing to bet you that there’s not a single person reading my blog who’s ever read one of these reports.  But why should you bother?  After all, you’re not in the business of academic research.  Going to a book-publishing party would always be more fun.

DON’T THINK THE NRA IS HIDING BECAUSE OF WHAT HAPPENED AT THE NAVY YARD

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In their never-ending campaign to rid America of gun violence by blaming it on people who want to control guns, the NRA has unleashed its latest weapon in the form of Emily Miller, previously a staffer with Tom DeLay and Rick Lazio, and now a writer for the Washington Times.  Miller has just published a book detailing the extraordinary difficulties she encountered in trying to get a license to purchase a gun in Washington, D.C., a decision she claims to have made after being the victim of a home invasion.

According to an interview in Politico, it took poor Emily four months and 17 “steps” to get her license, a process which not only made her the latest self-appointed expert on gun violence, but convinced her that gun control does nothing to reduce crime.  In fact, Emily told Politico, gun ownership is at its highest level ever, yet crime has been going down “every year” since 1991.  She made the same point in her recent Times column in which she noted that the gun homicide rate has dropped from 6.62 in 1993 to 3.27 in 2012.

Furthermore, according to Miller, it’s the President who’s really to blame for gun violence because he “selectively” talks about mass shootings but never draws attention to the daily killings in his own home town: “Why do you never hear him talk about the children who are killed on the streets of Chicago?” she asked during her Politico interview.

I’ll give the NRA credit for foisting Miller’s nonsense on the American public; this time they’re not even waiting for a debate to break out in Congress before beginning their barrage of untruths and half-truths designed to stifle any meaningful public debate.  And I guarantee you going forward that the sui generis script being used this week by Emily Miller will find its way into every public comment made by anyone else who enlists to do battle on behalf of the NRA.

The only problem is that what Miller is saying simply isn’t true.  And what is so disheartening about her false claims is that nobody – Politico, Anderson Cooper, anyone else – wants to even take the trouble to check her blatantly false recitation of the “facts.”

The truth is that the entire decline in gun homicide rates that began in 1993 ended in 1999. According to the Department of Justice, 18,253 people were killed by guns in 1993, falling to 10,828 in 1999, and rising back to 11,101 in 2011.  The unprecedented increase in gun sales and concealed-carry licensing has occurred since Obama’s first election in 2004.  There has been no diminution in gun violence since that date.

As for the President’s alleged failure to mention gun violence in Chicago, the truth is he explicitly referred to the shootings in his home town not once but twice in the last week alone.  First he mentioned it in the memorial service at the Marine Barracks (“And these mass shootings occur against a backdrop of daily tragedies, as an epidemic of gun violence tears apart communities across America — from the streets of Chicago to neighborhoods not far from here.”) and then again at a speech Wednesday night before the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (“Just two days ago, in my hometown of Chicago, 13 people were shot during a pickup basketball game, including a 3-year-old girl.”)

Miller’s an experienced journalist based in Washington, D.C.  She had to know that Obama made these statements and she had to have looked at the DOJ data before she made her comments about crime rates and guns.  The reason she and other members of the NRA noise machine get away with such egregious lying is because nobody’s bothering to respond from the other side.  The pro-gun folks are waging a continuous and effective campaign; the gun control folks are busy talking to themselves.

Should Physicians Advocate for More Gun Control? Of Course They Should

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A remarkable article on gun safety advocacy by physicians has recently been published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  Written by three public health specialists, it calls for physicians and other health care professionals to be more aggressive in advocating measures to cut gun violence.  What’s remarkable about the article is not what it says, but the fact that it has been published at all.  Because despite the overwhelming evidence that the existence of several hundred million guns is coincident with the highest levels of gun violence of any advanced country, physicians of late have been reluctant to play the role of advocates in the gun violence debate.

The self-imposed constraint on gun safety advocacy goes back to the firestorm that was ignited by physicians who were one of many groups that called for stricter gun controls, if not some degree of outright abolition of guns, during the public debates that led up to the passage of the assault weapons ban and Brady laws in 1993-94.  In retaliation, the NRA launched a successful campaign to defund the CDC from sponsoring gun research, and continues its barrage of nonsensical claims about the inherent value of guns to protect us from crime and violence.  Worse, many of these so-called “studies” are the handiwork of individuals who use their alleged medical credentials to promote social and political agendas that go far beyond any rational discussion about guns or anything else.

One of the latest salvos is the handiwork of an Arizona internist, Jane Orient, who recently published a survey of gun control research in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, an organization which can best be described as “libertarianism meets medicine.”  Now don’t get me wrong.  Physicians have as much right to organize and advocate for any political position as anyone else.  They also have the right to publicly criticize any and all government policies that affect their work as physicians.  But there is a difference between using your status as a medical professional to challenge medical procedures or policies, as opposed to promoting a political agenda based on unproven claims masquerading as medical research.

There is simply no valid proof to the continuous claims made by NRA-leaning researchers that a positive correlation exists between private ownership of guns and decreases in crime rates.  The best the pro-gun crowd can offer are studies that show a decline in gun violence coincident with an increase in concealed-carry licensing.  But what do they say when a jurisdiction like New York City sees a significant drop in violent crime while, at the same time, refusing to relax its stringent gun control laws at all?  The silence is deafening.  The truth is that Dr. Orient and her followers are opposed to gun control because they are opposed to all government regulations, not just as they might apply to guns, but as they apply to environment, financial activities and, of course, the practice of medicine itself.

On the other hand, when serious research on gun violence is done by serious medical and public health researchers, they need to put as much time and energy into publicizing the results as they spend in doing the research itself.  Sending a press release to the gun control lobby, like the Brady Campaign or The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence does nothing to mitigate the pro-gun advocacy work of Jane Orient and her like-minded friends.  But if the American Academy of Pediatrics decided it wanted to tell the world about a new study on school bullying, I guarantee they would send something to every PTA.  I’m really glad that a few voices are finally speaking up for the necessity of more physician advocacy about guns.  Like I said yesterday, I just want a fair fight, and for that to take place, the medical community has to get back into the fray.

Too Many Guns Equals Too Much Gun Violence: Still Arguing About That One?

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What a surprise!  We are treated to yet another piece of research, this time in the American Journal of Medicine that tells us that the ownership of 250 million guns results in more gun violence.  To me, the surprise is not the conclusion of the study, but the fact that medical and public health researchers continue to indulge themselves in trying to prove something which, analytically and logically, is so obvious.

Why is it obvious?  Because the possession of a gun, by definition, creates a risk that disappears if the guns aren’t around.  Now you can go on and on about mitigation strategies – mental health, background checks, enforcement  – but to suggest that reducing something which is harmful should be based on increasing its availability is to engage in an Alice-in-Wonderland argument totally divorced from reality or common sense.

Which is exactly what the NRA has been doing for the past thirty years.  And ever since they were able to end CDC funding of gun violence gun research, they’ve flooded the public domain with pro-gun bromides that not only deny the link between gun ownership and gun violence, but even claim that more guns in private hands protects Americans from gun violence.  The “proof” that guns are a deterrent to gun violence is the assertion that gun homicides have dropped by more than 50% since the mid-90s, while gun ownership and concealed-carry licensing has doubled in the same twenty-year span.

The problem with this argument, however, is that more than 90% of the annual decline in gun homicides took place prior to 2000, while the increase in gun ownership and concealed-carry licenses largely took place after that date.  In fact, gun homicides have slowly increased since Obama took office, exactly the period when gun sales and the number of concealed-carry licenses both showed significant growth.  No matter how you analyze the data, the numbers since 2000 simply don’t support the NRA claims that more guns equals less gun violence.

Despite what readers may believe, I’m not against guns.  After all, I make my living by selling them and training people how to use them.  But I believe in informed public debate and, as Senator Moynihan used to say, “we’re entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts.”  The CDC ban doesn’t prevent anyone from using the data, it simply doesn’t allow the CDC to fund research.  In that regard physicians and medical professionals who want to contribute to the gun violence debate might take a page from the history of another physician-based organization that made a significant contribution to understanding and limiting violence of a much more dramatic type.

I’m referring to Physicians for Social Responsibility, a physician-led organization founded in 1961 that focused public consciousness about the health threats from nuclear war.  PSR first began advocating test bans, arsenal reduction and non-proliferation during the height of the Cold War and faced an opponent – the U.S. Government – whose powers to persuade the public about the necessity of an arms race was far beyond the persuasive abilities and resources of the NRA.  In 1985, largely based on its anti-nuclear work, PSR shared the Nobel Prize.

The role of physicians is to lessen harm.  This not only means treating a patient after harm occurs, it also means developing pro-active strategies to diminish harm before the unhealthy event takes place.  Physicians shouldn’t be in the slightest bit defensive about wanting to end gun violence, nor do they need to justify their commitment to healthy outcomes because the gun industry wants to keep selling guns.  It’s time for physicians to move from research to advocacy and level the playing field between themselves and the NRA. I don’t care who wins the argument, I just want an even match

When It Comes To Mental Illness & Guns, The NRA May Be Crazy Too

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In the wake of the Navy Yard massacre, the argument about gun control has shifted away from background checks and now has landed on fixing the mental health system.  This is my second blog on mental illness and gun violence and I’m going to write several more.  But here’s my latest thoughts on the subject so follow my drift.

I am an NRA-certified trainer and, as such, spent the weekend with a group of NRA trainers qualifying in a new training certification recently developed by the NRA.  Two things impressed me about the training. First was the character and caliber of the other trainers.  Many are active law enforcement or military personnel, all are ‘first responders’ and would think nothing of charging into a burning building to rescue me. Second, the NRA training course, like all NRA courses, mentions gun safety and gun responsibility on every page. Anyone out there who thinks that the “average” gun owner doesn’t know and understand the basic rules of gun responsibility doesn’t know any average gun owners and certainly hasn’t been paying attention to the endless calls for gun safety voiced by the NRA.

But when it comes to moving from rhetoric to reality, in particular the issue of mental health and gun safety, the NRA’s behavior is so at odds with their own rhetoric that they seem to be suffering from a new form of organizational schizophrenia that may only be found in the gun business and perhaps Wayne LaPierre can become an expert on this type of mental illness as well. He certainly seems to be an expert on mental health issues that lead to mass shootings, at least he never misses the opportunity to call for “fixing” the mental health system as a way to eliminate the kind of tragedy that just occurred at the Navy Yard in DC.

But here’s where the schizoid behavior of the NRA sets in, because at the same time that they call for more effective ways to identify and treat the mentally ill, they’re also try to make it impossible for medical professionals to figure out whether a patient who reports mental illness symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, is a threat to engage in gun violence at all.  Why?  Because the NRA, believe it or not, wants to prevent physicians and other medical professionals from responding to the earliest warnings about gun violence provoked by mental illness by criminalizing any attempt to discern whether a depressed or anxious patient has access to a gun.

In 2011 the NRA backed a law passed in Florida that made it a felony for any physician to inquire about the existence of guns in the home even if the patient reported symptoms of mental distress.  The rationale behind this stupidity was that such a question (not that a patient ever has to answer any question during a consultation) was an invasion of the patient’s right to privacy under the 2nd Amendment, as if the 2nd Amendment says anything about privacy at all.  In the arguments before Federal Judge Marcia Cooke, the NRA-backed attorneys rolled out their ‘slippery slope’ defense which basically says that any kind of gun regulations will eventually lead to total confiscation.  How do we know this is will happen?  Because the NRA says it will happen.

The good news is that Judge Cooke permanently blocked the legislation, but the NRA claims it will appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit Court.   But while the issue meanders through the appeals process, physicians and mental health professionals in Florida and elsewhere (similar bills sat in various state legislatures waiting to see what would happen to the Florida law) will actually have the opportunity to notify both the mental health system and the requisite law enforcement authorities when and if they learn that a gun-owning patient might do harm to himself or someone else because he exhibits or admits to mental distress.  Isn’t that how we should begin to “fix” the mental health system?  Sounds fairly logical to me even though mental health expert Wayne LaPierre will probably disagree.

Mental Illness Leads To Gun Violence: They Finally Agree On Something And So What?

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One thing that both sides in the gun debate seem to agree on is the notion that we would suffer much less gun violence if we did a better job of dealing with people who are mentally ill.  After all, what normal person would walk onto a navy base and kill twelve people, or walk into an elementary school and end the lives of several dozen adults and young kids?

Wayne LaPierre

Wayne LaPierre

One of America’s foremost authorities on mental illness, Wayne LaPierre, made this point when he was interviewed following the massacre at the Navy Yard in DC. The NRA chief said, “This outrage was [because] of a mental health system that is completely broken.”  How do we know that Wayne’s a mental health expert?  Because he talks about it all the time.  He made the same, exact point in his first public comment after Sandy Hook, then he repeated his demand to fix the ‘broken’ mental health system in his speech before the membership of the NRA.

First time on my blog.

First time on my blog.

But Wayne’s only an executive of the NRA.  What if you’re the Chief Executive of the United States?  The President is also convinced that tightening up the process for getting mental health records into the FBI background-check database will also protect us from the damage caused by guns.  In January, the White House said it would help states remove barriers for sending mental health data to the FBI background check system known as NICS.    Then in April Obama directed the CDC to begin figuring out how to increase the flow of mental health information to the FBI without violating the privacy provisions of HIPAA and other privacy laws.

So while we can all feel pleased that the leaders of the pro-gun and anti-gun movements can finally agree on something, it’s not clear that this new-found alliance really means anything at all.  For one thing, calling someone “mentally ill” because they commit an outrageous act doesn’t mean that the way they behave fits the definition of ‘mentally ill.’  Consider the definition that is held by the real experts, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illnesss:   “A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.”  The same definition is used by the CDC.

Note the fact that we are dealing with a ‘medical condition,’ which means something that should be treated by medical professionals.  But what does the treatment consist of? A visit or two to a therapist and perhaps a brief regimen of pills?  Not a single one of the recent mass murderers – Lanza, Alexis, et. al., – sought or received medical treatment that could have resulted in their names being added  to a mental health watch-list that would have been sent to the FBI.  And note that the definition of mental illness also incorporates the idea that the condition “disrupts” daily functioning.  Not true in the case of the Aurora shooter, not true for the young man who shot Gabbie Giffords, not true for Virginia Tech, not true, not true, not true.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all we had to do to end gun violence was to crank up the computers and stuff some more data into NICS?  If the NSA can record, analyze and store one billion cell-phone calls every day, it can’t be that difficult to enlarge the capacity of the NICS system to track a few million loonies who otherwise might be able to buy guns.

But it’s not the unfortunate individuals suffering from real mental illness who walk into a building and begin shooting everyone in sight.  It’s the guys you don’t notice, the ones who walk around seemingly normal and functioning who all of a sudden just snap.  Want to keep those types from getting their hands on a gun?  We’re right back to where we started arguing whether it’s guns or people who do the killing.

It’s Time To End Gun Violence Against Kids

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For a country as wealthy as we are, the failure to do something about violent gun deaths suffered by children is really shameful. And it’s particularly shameful when we consider the disparities in between white and minority kids.  Let’s look at the numbers.

From 2005 to 2009, there was an average of 3,500 fatal deaths per year, or nearly 10 deaths every day.  About one in five of these victims was between ages 5 and 14, and the death rate for African-American children in this age bracket was three times higher than the rate for white children of the same age.

The problem with gun violence is that everyone wants it to end, but we can’t seem to get everyone on the same page.  Today Wayne LaPierre from the NRA will be interviewed on television and whatever he says, you can be sure that the anti-gun folks will find every word he utters to be wrong.  And at the end of the day, another 10 children will have been killed with guns.

So I have an idea.  For once let’s all get together around some common-sense ideas that will unite instead of divide us.  Let’s agree that if we all act responsibly around guns, they won’t get into the wrong hands.  After all, every single gun that will be used today to kill those ten children was first sold legally to someone who passed a background check.  But then the gun was lost, or it was stolen, or it wasn’t locked up or locked away.  Let’s get everyone: manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, gun owners and non-gun owners to do the responsible thing.

If we can agree to be responsible, we can do something about this terrible violence against kids.  And if we work at it, hopefully next year there won’t be ten kids killed each day but only eight, and the next year six, or four, or none!  We’ll give everyone a little badge or a little pin for being part of the solution instead of the problem.  LaPierre and Bloomberg can be the first recipients of our annual ‘responsibility’ award.

lapierrebloom

Now just to make sure that I’ve got my facts straight, I’m going to check the data on gun deaths one more time.  It’s from the CDC.   Oops.  There’s a little problem.  The overall numbers are correct as is the disparity between white and minority deaths.  But somehow, don’t ask me how, what I thought were the alarming numbers about child gun violence turn out to be annual child deaths from – unintentional drownings!  Boy, talk about misreading the data. Man, I really blew that one.

No biggee, we’ve already got things going and we’re gaining momentum every day.  Need to change our logo a bit and re-print our mission statement. Now let’s find a nice, little backyard pool to substitute for the AR-15 and don’t forget to re-do our Facebook page.  I’m sure the same people who are upset about children being shot by guns will be just as concerned about kids who fall into pools.  And the good news is that safe swimming is just like safe shooting – it’s all about responsible ownership and doing the right thing.

Did America Ever Have A Frontier?

frontier1

 

The American frontier has been one of the enduring cultural motifs of our entire history.  After all, we started out as a couple of rag-tag coastal towns in what later became Virginia and Florida, and ended up conquering an entire continent, with all the attendant history and personalities that we attach to that effort. You may not know the name of your Congressman but you surely can recall with pride such frontier heroes as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and Wyatt Earp, just to name a few.

Single Action Army Revolover

Single Action Army Revolover

For those of us who like guns the great Western frontier saga has a special significance because without the Winchester Repeating Rifle or the Colt Single-Action Army Revolver, we may not have won the West at all! So it’s not surprising that stories and legends about the Old West continue to provoke our imaginations. The great cattle drives from Texas up to Kansas City, the shoot-out at the OK Corral, Westward Ho! the wagons, and so forth.

What gives the Western saga (and the role of guns within the saga) such enduring strength, of course, is the image of a few, hardy and independent souls going out into a vast wilderness, a wild and unknown place, and slowly but surely transforming a frontier into a settled place. First were the explorers, like Lewis and Clark, then a few mountain-men, hunters and trappers, later a very few homesteaders, and finally the ranchers and the farmers whose descendants still lay claim to much of this territory today.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 first opened up the frontier to expansion. In 1890, less than a century later, the U.S. Census announced there were enough people living in every part of the United States to consider that wilderness no longer existed and the frontier had come to an end. And who could argue with this claim? Both coasts were linked by multiple train lines, the Indian wars had come to an end, Chicago was now our second-largest city, and the buffalo were nearly extinct.

Over the following fifty years, what had been the reality of the wilderness frontier turned into a myth. And the myth was developed and spread first through the medium of motion pictures, later through television. Whether it was John Wayne with his Winchester 94 carbine, or James Arness with his six-shooter, the taming of our frontier by a man with a gun became the filter through which most of us learned about the settling of the West.

Whether it’s the Greek Jason and the Argonauts or the Roman Romulus and Remus, most myths of origin are exactly that: they are myths and they don’t represent anything that really happened. But the interesting thing about the myth of the Old West is that it supposedly represents the truth. Davy Crockett and Chief Crazy Horse were real people and what made them famous is they both played important roles in the transformation of the wilderness and the closing of the frontier.

Davy Crockett

Davy Crockett

But there’s just one little problem? What if there was no wilderness? What if the frontier that we closed in less than a century had been closed centuries before? Recall that the Census Bureau stated that the frontier was closed by 1890 because there was some degree of human settlement in every area within the continental United States. They couldn’t pinpoint exactly where all these people lived, but it was presumed that between the area between the Missouri River and the Great Basin (Nevada) now held an average of at least two people per square mile which, according to government calculations, meant that the frontier was gone.

Crazy Horse - maybe.

Crazy Horse – maybe.

Actually, this territory probably held a lot more people three or four hundred years earlier, perhaps as many as ten times the number that were living there when we allegedly ‘closed’ the frontier. But they weren’t white settlers, they were indigenous populations whom the whites called Indians, and while there were probably 250,000 of them living in the west, there may have been as many as several million living in this territory at the time that Europeans first hit the eastern shore.

Where did they all go? For the most part, they died. And they didn’t die from lack of food because the buffalo were killed off, nor did they die at the hands of the cavalry, they died from disease.  And because disease always disproportionately kills off the youngest, if a population suffers a substantial loss of children as the result of disease, this means that the next generation of this population will be smaller still. And the early white settlers infected the Indians with multiple diseases – smallpox, measles, typhoid, influenza – which provoked multiple epidemics that reduced the Indian population to a shadow of its former self.

It may be comforting to believe that because we live in cities, drive cars and use telephones that we are somehow more ‘civilized’ than people who live out in the woods, ride horseback and communicate with smoke signals. And when white Americans first started going out on to what we called the frontier, we believed, then and now, that we were transforming the wilderness and thus bringing the fruits of civilization to people who had always lived there, whether they wanted to share that fruit or not.

In 1876, General George Crook hired more than 30 Indian scouts to guide his cavalry and wagon train from Fort Laramie to the Powder River, a trip that I have driven comfortably in less than six hours. Crook already had wagons with wheels, the railroad and the repeating rifle. The Indians he hired had none of those things. But they knew how to guide him from one place to the other. Without their knowledge of the ‘wilderness,’ Crook believed that the Army campaign against the plains Indians would fail.

So who were the real ‘savages’ in 1876 when we were slowly but surely closing the frontier? It wasn’t the Indians who had no trouble moving about, living and knowing the land. It was all us white folks with our fancy machines, our store-bought clothing and our guns. Think about that the next time someone tells you that then, as now, we needed guns to protect ourselves from less-civilized folk.