Why Does The Gun Control Crowd Want To Take Away Our Toys?

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In 1890 the U.S. Census reported there were enough people living in every part of the continental United States to definitively eliminate the notion of a frontier.  By 1900, it is estimated that more than 90% of the U.S. population derived the bulk of what they ate through purchase of foodstuffs produced from some place other than where they lived.  In other words, it’s been more than 100 years since the average U.S. resident needed a gun either for self-protection or food.

The truth is that, all arguments notwithstanding about concealed-carry and the “right” to self-defense, guns are a hobby.  And like most hobbies, the hobbyists take their hobby very seriously.  They spend lots of money on their hobby, they spend time with other like-minded hobbyists, their hobby is more important than their work, and they define themselves in terms of the enjoyment they derive from engaging in their hobby.

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When I was growing up in the 50’s I had three hobbies: toy soldiers, toy trains and toy guns.  If I was a good boy my father would stop off on his way home from work and buy me a hand-painted, lead toy soldier which I added to a collection that was always on permanent display on a shelf in my room.  The floor of my room was almost entirely covered by the track on which my beloved Lionel trains ran, whistled, stopped and reversed course.  And in my closet I kept an impressive array of toy rifles and handguns, of which my most prized possession was my Roy Rogers plastic revolver, complete with leather holster and velour cowboy hat.

Over the years the toy soldiers broke into bits and pieces and weren’t replaced, my mother gave the trains away to my cousin, and God knows what happened to the toy guns.  They were probably replaced by baseball bats, balls and gloves as I moved from acting out Wild West fantasies in my room to acting out Major League fantasies at the playground.  But as I moved into adulthood the fascination with guns continued and ultimately the toys were replaced by the real thing.

I developed other hobbies as an adult – hiking, self-taught ‘gourmet’ cooking, winemaking – but none of these hobbies involved carrying over the toys of my youth  with the exception of guns.  When I pick up a Winchester Model 94 lever-action carbine today I’m also picking up the toy copy of the Daisy Red Ryder that I had from the time I was six.  When I take out a Colt Government Model 45 pistol, it hardly looks and feels any different from the toy Army Colt cap pistol that my father gave me when I was eleven or twelve.

When I was good, I was rewarded with a toy.  When I misbehaved, the toys were taken away.  If I didn’t do my chores, the guns were transferred to another closet for which my parents had a key.  Or the trains would suddenly disappear, the track broken down and put away. The toy soldier shelf would look like Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard.

I reacted to these catastrophes the way all children respond to a sudden confiscation of their toys: I threw a tantrum.  I wasn’t interested in the why or the how.  I wanted my toys back and I didn’t want them taken away again.  Believe it or not, I get those same feelings of anger today when I think that someone’s trying to pass a law that will result in the loss of my guns.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not accusing gun owners of being children.  But the emotion and anger about gun control usually crowds out any effort to conduct a rational debate.  Gun control advocates need to understand that when gun owners think about their guns, it’s not a simple pro versus a simple con.  Instead, it’s a question of memory and identity that has been nurtured and maintained for a very long time.

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Want to Know What the Gun Control Crowd Will Do About the Navy Yard? What They Always Do: Nothing.

pryorSenator Mark Pryor (D-AR) signs “safe gun” pledge at NSSF event.

 

It only took 9 months since Sandy Hook for another nut to get his hands on an assault-style weapon and shoot the hell out of the place.  The gun lobby will respectfully keep their mouths shut during the requisite mourning period.  Then Wayne-o will hold a news conference and state that this incident again proves the need for more armed security at sensitive locations, ‘sensitive’ being defined as any place where human beings might get in the way of a bullet or two.

The gun control crowd, of course, doesn’t have to wait for the shock and revulsion to subside.  Dianne already has faxed and emailed her requisite statement, ditto the President.  I’m sure we’ll hear from Biden shortly and since the Brady Campaign has also issued their statement, a comment from Mike Bloomberg can’t be far behind.

But that’s about as far as it’s going to go because the Colorado recall has effectively sapped any lingering energy from the diminishing number of members of Congress who are interested in gun control anyway.  And the good news for the NRA/NSSF juggernaut is they know something that most of us don’t; namely, that beyond statements to the media, occasional testimony before unreported sessions of various Congressional subcommittees, and a once-every-other-decade attempt to pass some largely-ineffective Federal legislation, the gun control crowd doesn’t have any real strategy or commitment anyway.

What the gun control folks do have, in abundance, is a wealth of research that proves, conclusively, the link between the existence of several hundred million privately-owned guns and a level of gun violence that is ten, twenty or thirty times higher than gun violence rates in all other Western countries.   The latest contribution comes from public health researchers at Boston University who have amassed a closet-full of data that basically makes it impossible to deny the degree to which gun violence rates correlate with gun ownership.  The report, just published in the American Journal of Public Health, is being republished and touted by every liberal advocacy organization and then some.

There’s only one problem.  When it comes to talking about guns, the NRA and the NSSF aren’t interested in facts or data.  They’re interested in keeping their constituency – gun owners – ready and able to challenge anyone who is perceived as doing anything that might make them lose their guns.  And when it comes to grass-roots campaigns, the pro-gun groups have the landscape all to themselves.

Every month the NSSF sponsors a major gun safety event, co-hosted by NRA-friendly Senators like Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Mark Pryor (D-AR.) Not to be outdone, the NRA has ramped up its Friends of NRA organization, which holds well-attended social events, complete with a meal, a raffle with guns as prizes, a speaker and other entertainment.  So far there are 8 events scheduled for the remainder of the year in Pennsylvania, 21 in Texas.  And for the remainder of 2013 there are probably more than 150 gun shows being held around the country, all of which feature NRA exhibits and membership displays. Will the gun shows have a total attendance in excess of one million?  Yes.  Do the gun control organizations ever hold grass-roots events? No.

There may be a link between gun ownership and gun violence, but there’s certainly no link between gun violence and attempts to control guns.  And if you want to blame this on the “strength” and financial “power” of the NRA, go right ahead.  But the next time you want to get together with a bunch of like-minded folks to talk about gun control, try contacting the Brady Campaign to see if they’ll sponsor the event.  Just try.

Where Do All The Shooting Victims Go?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Urban Institute just published an important report on the costs of gun violence.  Titled, “The Hospital Costs of Firearm Assaults,” it attempts to calculate the costs associated with hospitalizations due to shootings based on reports from hospital admitting units and emergency rooms.  Not surprisingly, the report found that more than 50% of gun-shot victims either had no insurance or were covered by public plans supported by taxpayer revenues. Since the total cost for all gunshot admissions was slightly short of $630 million, this means that Uncle Sam Taxpayer got stuck with at least half the bill.

Unfortunately, there’s only one problem with this report.  The data covers one year – 2010.  During that year, roughly 50,000 people were admitted to hospital in-patient and emergency units with gun shot wounds.  But according to the Department of Justice and the CDC, there were over 100,000 gun shootings that resulted in death or injuries in 2010.  So where did the other 50,000 go?  Maybe we can eliminate most of the 19,000 suicides that resulted from using guns because most of those folks went to the morgue.  But if that’s true, it still leaves another 30,000 men, women and children who got shot but found some other way to deal with their wounds besides going to the hospital. Maybe they went to a local clinic, or maybe there’s some over-the-counter remedy now available that takes care of the common gun shot the way that Ibuprofen takes care of the common cold.

Or maybe someone ought to get their data straight.

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The Party’s Over for the Gun Business

Back in July I posted a tongue-in-cheek comment about the correlation between gun sales and arguments about gun control and suggested that the gun control crowd would see a decline in gun sales if they would stop talking about guns.  Guess what?  Smith & Wesson just posted their first-quarter results for the current fiscal year and Mike the Gun Guy turns out to be correct!

Barron’s said it best in reviewing the gun-maker’s results:  “Gun buyers loaded up on weapons in fear of regulations that never materialized. Now, with lower sales in the company’ sights, the stock may fall short.” Which is exactly what happened.  The day after the company’s announcement, the stock dropped 8%.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t like to see gun-makers or gun-owners suffer because some nut walks into  school or a theater and starts banging away.  But the economic news from S&W should remind all of us that, NRA public relations aside, gun ownership is still largely dependent on the vagaries of the political climate, rather than reflecting some innate desire on the part of all ‘good’ Americans to own guns.

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Ever Hear About The NSSF? Not If You Don’t Own A Gun

 

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The biggest problem in dealing with the issue of gun violence is that the two sides don’t have the foggiest idea of what the other side is talking about.  The gun control people talk one language, the anti-gun control crowd speaks in a different tongue.  They talk to different audiences, they talk about different issues, they might as well be on different planets.  Want the latest example?  It comes from the gun control side.

 

The current issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine contains an article entitled, “The Gun Lobbying Group You Don’t Hear About” and it goes on to detail the activities of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, whose national office, ironically, is located right down the road from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

 

The article details the extent to which the NSSF, which represents manufacturers, gun wholesalers and retailers, has of late stepped up its lobbying and PR efforts to match the influence and expenditures of the National Rifle Association.  In fact, the author makes the point that the NSSF’s role in the gun debate has of late become more important because people within the industry have begun to question the role and value of the NRA.

 

I’m not saying that the NSSF is a household word when it comes to pro or con discussions about guns.   And if you’re not a gun owner, or haven’t been to the annual gun trade show (aka the SHOT show) run by the NSSF in Las Vegas, there’s no reason that you should be aware of the organization’s existence or activities.  Furthermore, the NSSF’s President, Steve Sanetti, is a quiet, corporate guy who avoids the media spotlight about as diligently as Wayne LaPierre tries to attract it.

 

For all those reasons, you could argue that an article introducing the NSSF to the readership of a magazine like The Atlantic is a worthwhile exercise in investigative journalism.  There’s only one problem.  The NSSF has of late begun to promote several public campaigns that are not only a break with past industry strategies for defending themselves against the anti-gun crowd, but are designed to put the gun industry in the forefront of the debate about the issue that makes them most vulnerable, namely, the issue of gun safety.

 

Historically, the gun industry’s response to concerns about gun violence, as promoted by the NRA, was to argue that everyone would be safer if they had or were protected by a gun.  Remember Wayne LaPierre’s call for armed guards in schools following the massacre at Sandy Hook?  As a counterpoint, take a look at the new NSSF website promoting its ChildSafe campaign.  It’s direct, it’s clever and it calls for every gun owner to take a pledge to lock up or lack away all their guns – the American Academy of Pediatrics would be proud.

 

Mike Bloomberg campaigned hard for expanded background checks to eliminate or curtail “straw sales.”  For years the NSSF has sent literature and display posters to all its gun dealer members (myself included) promoting its “Don’t Lie For The Other Guy” campaign.  Now they are taking this message directly to the public with full-size, highway billboards that are being mounted in inner-city neighborhoods throughout the United States.

 

Don’t get me wrong.  The NSSF’s newly-found concern about safety and responsibility isn’t without its faults.  The distribution of gun locks, as The Atlantic article points out, was a PR sham.  And their attempt to convince us that military-style rifles are nothing more than the twenty-first century version of the traditional hunting rifle is a joke.  But when was the last time that Michael Bloomberg put up a roadside billboard that reminded people that straw sales were against the law?

 

 

 

Guns for Good Guys, Guns for Bad Guys

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Hot off the presses, my new book on gun violence.  Available on Kindle through this link and by Monday the print edition will be available too.

I wanted to write a book about guns that wouldn’t be the same-old, same-old stuff.  I also wanted to combine hard data with anecdotes drawn from my 35 years in the gun business. It’s a very different book and I’m sure you’ll like it.

Hunters and Conservationists: Why Don’t They Like Each Other? (2)

huntingThe argument between hunters and environmentalists isn’t about confliciting goals; it’s about conflicting communications, both within and without the advocacy groups that claim to speak for hunters and environmentalists.  But let’s go back to the beginning.

Hunting and conservation started at the same time and at the same place: hunters from the East who went West to hunt for recreation and then discovered that their activities were depleting or actually eliminating wild game.

It didn’t take long.  As early as the 1840’s, species like white-tail deer and wild turkey were disappearing, and by the time of the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, the bison herd was being reduced to a fraction of its former size.  When Teddy Roosevelt went into Wyoming to bag a grizzly, the only North American big game animal for which he didn’t yet have a trophy, he spent more than a week wandering around the Wind River Range before he even saw one.

According to the U.S. Census, America still had an open frontier and wilderness areas until 1890.  But for many game animals and birds, their frontier had long since been taken away.  It’s not surprising, therefore, that it was hunters like Roosevelt and George Grinnell who first called for conservation as a way of protecting wild species from unlimited exploitation at the hands of man. Both men were founders of the Audubon Society and the Boone & Crockett Club – advocacy for hunting and conservation was in tandem.

The strategic alliance between hunters and conservationists broke down in 1962 with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  The damage wasn’t done by the message (industrialization threatened environment) but the manner in which it was delivered.  The book was first serialized in The New Yorker magazine, then was a feature for the Book-of-the-Month-Club and shot to the top of the New York Times best-seller list.  If you were an educated, urban resident with no interest or involvement with hunting, you read and talked about Silent Spring.  If you were a hunter living on a farm or a small town, you never heard of Rachel Carson.

Carson’s book described what would happen to the natural environment without government regulation of industry.  Hunters, on the other hand, had been regulated for decades.  In fact, they had been instrumental in calling for regulations, writing regulations and putting up their hard-earned money to enforce them.  Hunters have been buying duck stamps since 1934 and this program along with excise tax revenues has pumped billions into habitat conservation.

You would have thought that hunters and environmentalists would have made common ground given the fact that both groups understood the need to protect the environment through government regulation.  But mis-communication quickly obliterated the commonalities between the two groups.  On the one hand, hunters wanted to preserve wildlife habitat so as to replenish animal and bird species.  On the other hand, environmentalists presumed that there was no distinction between a tree and a deer; they were both ‘wild,’ so they both needed to be protected.

It didn’t help matters that within a decade after the publication of Silent Spring, the hunters came to be represented by well-financed advocacy organizations, in particular the NRA, while the environmentalists fared just as well in developing and promoting well-financed advocacy groups, (ex. the Sierra Club.)

At the risk of provoking lots of snarky comments on both sides, let me quickly say that while advocacy organizations can play a very important role in getting a message out to a wide audience, they also have their own agendas which may or may not fit the needs and goals of the programs for which they advocate.  In the case of the NRA, their chief goal is to protect gun-owners from government efforts to regulate sale or ownership of guns.  Since hunters were the NRA’s chief constituency in the 1960’s, any regulation of hunting meant, by extension, a regulation of guns.  As for the Sierra Club and other environmental advocates, their success relied primarily on getting people who didn’t live in the ‘natural’ areas to visit or at least take an interest in such locations.  Neither of these agendas really responded to the issues raised by Roosevelt, Grinnell and the other hunters-turned-conservationists of the earlier period.

It is now clear that the greatest threat to wildlife comes not from the behavior of hunters, but from threats to habitat due to urbanization and economic development.  You would think that hunters and conservationists could respond to these threats as one voice, but, if anything, they seem more polarized than ever.  I would suggest that this polarization has nothing to do with habitat or wildlife; it has to do with a lack of reasonable discussion about the role of government and the options available to both sides in searching for a solution.

But when two ‘opposing’ groups seek a solution, by definition there has to be compromise.  We don’t seem to live in a period where compromise is valued or even sought.  To be continued in the next diary, and don’t forget to join our group: Hunters and Environmentalists.

Why Don’t Hunters and Tree-Huggers Like Each Other?

Why do hunters and conservationists dislike each other? It wasn’t always that way. In fact, the modern American conservation movement that appeared in the 1880’s was started by hunters, chief among them our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt. In the many books and articles that he authored about hunting and wilderness, Roosevelt tried to find a balance between conserving wilderness to protect animal habitat, while also allowing economic development of the frontier to move ahead.

But the world has changed and so have the battle lines between hunters on the one hand and conservationists on the other. Or have they?

For a moment, let’s put aside the vitriol and passion surrounding the proposed legislation  in California to ban all lead ammunition, a bill that that is on its way to Jerry Brown’s desk and will shortly become law. There are arguments to be made on both sides. The environmentalists have data to prove their point of view; likewise the hunting lobby can roll out their set of facts.

The problem is that nothing in nature is that easy to understand; nothing can be reduced to a simple take-it or leave-it explanation, no matter what proponents on either side would like you to believe. And Roosevelt keenly felt the need to unite both sides, as he said in a letter written in 1902: “the lover of big game and wilderness [is] an instrument against, instead of in favor of both.”

The degree to which hunters and conservationists should be fighting the same battles is remarkably underscored by the data found in the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation newly published by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of the Department of the Interior.

In 2011, more than 90 million Americans either fished, hunted, watched wildlife or did all three. Of the total, 26 million went hunting and fishing, 64 million looked at birds or animals either near their own residence or by taking a trip. Together, all three groups spent $144 billion.
Three-quarters of the people who went fishing engaged in fresh-water angling, bass being the catch of choice. For the hunters, 60% went after big game: deer, elk, bear and wild turkey. As for the wildlife watchers, three-quarters did it primarily around their home, but more than 25 million took trips away from home. Both groups primarily watched (and fed) birds.
watching When we break down fishing, hunting and wildlife watching by size and location of community, all of a sudden the three types of activities blend into one. The highest proportion of residents engaged in fishing, hunting and watching are found in rural locations. Break it down on a state-by-state basis, the north-central and deep-southern states have the highest proportion of people who do all three.

You can discard the stereotype that hunters are blue collar and birders are the educated, upper-class elite. The same communities where hunting is most popular are also the communities with the greatest number of people who enjoy wildlife. When you stop to think about it, why shouldn’t this be the case? After all, people closest to nature tend to get out into nature.

Hunters and conservationists would do everyone a big favor if they would sit down together and figure out what they have in common, rather than always arguing about what keeps them apart. There may be competing claims about what to do with natural spaces but these spaces belong to all of us.

Gun Violence: Who’s Killing Whom?

                If we really want to do something about gun violence, it’s time to sit down and have a sober, serious and thoughtful discussion based on facts.  Not based on opinions, not based on political agendas, and not based on rantings and ravings about the 2nd Amendment.  Based on facts.  Here goes:

Fact: 31,000 people died from gunshot wounds last year – 19,000+ suicides, 11,000+ homicides and 800+ accidents.  More children drowned in backyard pools than died from guns.

Fact:  90% of all gun deaths involve a handgun.  The “official” figures tend to over-count long guns because many death and crime reports do not actually describe the type of weapon.

Fact:  50% of gun suicide victims are white males, age 30-50, most legal gun owners.  60% of gun homicide victims are African-American males, age 17 – 30, most shot by other African-American males using illegal guns.

Fact:  If we deduct white male suicides and African-American homicides from the overall gun death rate, the U.S. gun death rate falls from 3.4 per 100,000 to 1.6, well below the gun death rate for such advanced countries as Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg and Israel.  Note that our 1.6/100,000 rate is for a country in which the number of guns circulating amongst civilians exceeds the total of all guns found in the six countries listed above.

The U.S. does seem to be the one advanced country in which shootings involving mass or multiple victims occur on an episodic but not infrequent basis.  And it is these mass slaughters that invariably (but not always) ignites our debate over guns. But the numbers cited above have been published again and again, and the numbers testify to the fact that, with the exception of certain specific groups, we are a law-abiding and basically non-violent country.  Even with 250 million guns floating around.

So what should we do about gun violence?  First, we should tell the truth.  We should stop talking about the assault rifle “threat” on the one hand, and the protections afforded by “armed citizens” on the other.  The nut who walks into a movie theater or a classroom with an AR-15 is in no way typical of the people whose use of guns results in 30,000+ homicides and suicides each year.  For that matter, the guy or gal who takes a two-hour class in gun safety (if a class is even required) is about as ready to defend themselves with a gun as I’m ready to finally go on a real diet.

Telling the truth about gun violence also means telling the truth about the argument over guns.  And the truth is that it’s not really an argument about guns, it’s an argument about the role of government. We long ago decided that government should playa significant role in regulating behavior when the behavior in question impacts the common good.  Try starting an argument about seat belts. Or vaccinations.  Or the design of infant cribs.

The problem with regulating the behavior of gun owners is that there’s no common good because the majority of Americans don’t own guns.  So telling a large, well-organized and extremely vocal minority that they have to suffer more regulations isn’t going to win friends or influence people in the gun world. It’s just going to piss them off.

We know who’s shooting whom with guns.  We need to figure out how to regulate their behavior and the guns they use without worrying about everyone else. I have some ideas that I’ll share with you in blogs to come.