How Savage Were Those Savages? Part 2 of 2.

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Native Americans flee from the allegorical rep...

Native Americans flee from the allegorical representation of Manifest Destiny, Columbia, painted in 1872 by John Gast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the last post I tried to explain that the two civilizations that confronted each other when the United States cleared its wilderness had very different social and political structures because of the difference in how they viewed and used land.  For the Indians, land was something held in common by everyone but owned by no one.  For Whites, land was property with its value set by the market.  We used the Common Law and the political system based on Common Law to secure and protect property; Indians had no law to protect property, hence, no political system based on anything like our conception of laws.

Added to this different view of land was how it was used.  Indigenous populations used land for subsistence; they took what they needed from the land but what they took was the amount required for survival of the tribe.  For white Americans, what was produced from the land very quickly passed from subsistence of people living on the land to commercial enterprise in faraway markets.  Within one generation after the frontier was opened to settlement, even the settlers were deriving their primary goods from faraway markets, delivered to them by wagons, canals and trains.

This difference in how we used land only intensified the degree to which white settlers and the promoters of settlement (commercial interests, government) viewed the Indians as a less-civilized species whose removal from the frontier was a “natural” consequence of the change from wilderness to settled lands.  And the “proof” that the Indians weren’t civilized was the extent to which all our efforts to provide them with the advantages of our civilization through the development of the reservation system ultimately failed.

What’s so interesting about the Indian-White confrontation in North America is that at the beginning, when fur trappers and traders first went West over the Great Plains and through the Rockies, they had a much different view of the Indian civilization than what later emerged when we later pushed the Indians out of the way.  Not only did the early Western explorers need the Indians to show them the trails, the watering-holes and the game, they also reflected again and again on the civilized manner in which the Indians behaved.  Here’s the description of a Snake chief recorded by a member of the Wyeth expedition that crossed the Rockies in 1834: “The chief is a man about fifty years of age, tall and dignified looking with large, strong aquiline features. His manners were cordial and agreeable.”  And here’s a description of Indians met by another traveler in 1810: “Their manner of speaking is extremely dignified and energetic. They gesticulate with great force, freedom and animation.”

These early descriptions of the ‘uncivilized’ inhabitants of our ‘wilderness’ can be found in many of the journals and letters of Western explorers collected on a remarkable website devoted to the history of the Western fur trade.  Reading these documents, and comparing their contents to the “Manifest Destiny” exhortations of Polk or John Quincy Adams makes clear just how different were the views of Whites and Indians about the land in which both were now having to live.  Did the inability of indigenous peoples to cut canals, railroad tracks and highways through this landscape mark them as savages? You decide.

Based on my book, Hunters in the Wilderness.  Volume II in the series, Guns in America, to be published in December.

How Savage Were Those Savages? Part 1 of 2.

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Hunkpapa Sioux Chief Sitting Bull in 1885

Hunkpapa Sioux Chief Sitting Bull in 1885 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It took the United States only a quarter-century to populate and settle the vast wilderness that we acquired with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  Over the period from the opening of the Oregon Trail in 1840 until the joining of the intercontinental railroad in 1869, more than 500,000 people who had previously lived east of the Missouri River either settled between the Missouri and the Rockies or journeyed on to the West Coast. Twenty years after the railroad stretches from coast to coast, the US Census in 1890 declared that the frontier was “closed.”

One of the basic themes of this westward migration and settlement was the idea that as white Americans moved west, they turned the wilderness into civilization and, in the process, civilized all those ‘savages’ who otherwise would have continued living in an uncivilized state.  Much of the notion that we were civilized, they were not, grew out of the fact that the Indians weren’t Christians and hence, by definition, couldn’t be considered as equals to whites in any respect.  But the notion of Indians as savages wasn’t so much an extension of the racism that colored (pardon the pun) the white view of all non-white folks.  Rather, it reflected an absence among Indians of the basic societal relations on which our civilization, both then and now still rests.

What I am referring to is the whole notion of property.  It’s not clear exactly when Western civilization “invented” private property.  We see bits and pieces of private ownership in the earliest Western law codes, but when the Romans marched through Gaul, for example, they encountered many indigenous populations for whom all land was held in common and the notions of private ownership didn’t yet exist.  And even when early monarchs began giving out land grants to reward vassals for fighting on their behalf, the ownership of these properties were tied more to family lineage and occupancy than to any modern notion that allowed the land to be bought and sold.

It was only after the Norman conquest of England that a legal system began to emerge which, at its core, was based on defining and protecting property as something whose value was determined when it was bought and sold.  And it was this legal system, known as the common law, that was brought to the New World and established here by the colonists at Plymouth Bay.  And it was this same legal system that underlay the political system adopted first by the colonies, then by the states, and then by the territories that were formed as we moved west.

There was only one problem.  The Indians had no system of private property.  And because they didn’t have private property, they couldn’t develop a political system that in any way, shape or form, was similar to what existed in what was then called the united States.  In 1868 more than 30 Sioux chiefs, including Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, signed a treaty at Fort Laramie which gave the Indians control in perpetuity for an immense territory which today would have covered most of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and a piece of Nebraska.  But what we didn’t understand was that the 30-odd chiefs who put their marks on the document were signing only for themselves.  There wasn’t a single brave in the camps of any of those chiefs who were bound to follow what the treaty said.  And many wouldn’t follow it.  And the treaty was a dead letter within 6 months.

We fought and won the Plains Indian Wars after 1868 because we believed the Indians were ‘savages’ and needed to be taught the white man’s ways.  What else could we do when faced with a population that wasn’t ready to behave?

Based on my book, Hunters in the Wilderness.  Volume II in the series, Guns in America, to be published in December.

Do Guns Make Us Safer? Seattle Can Be Our Test Case

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One of the ways that the gun industry tries to maintain momentum is to promote the idea that if everyone would go around with a gun, we would all be a lot safer.  Or to put it in the words of the chief gun guy in America, aka Wayne LaPierre, “a good guy with a gun will always stop a bad guy with a gun.”  The only problem is that although concealed-carry permits are now available in all 50 states, there isn’t a single state that actually requires any special training before all those good guys put a gun on their hip and go out to find and stop the bad guys.

Which is one reason among others for gun-free zones.  Because the real problem is that a lot of those good guys walking around with guns may not be able to do such a good job stopping the bad guys if they’ve had a couple of drinks, or maybe just lose control because it was a bad day at the office or the traffic on the way home just got to be too much.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not accusing gun owners of behaving any differently from anyone else.  That’s exactly the point.  If they behave like everyone else, a certain percentage are going to do something stupid or careless which could result in a good guy doing something very bad.

The truth is that the NRA is opposed to gun-free zones because they know that the more places where you can’t go with a gun, the more people will leave the gun at home.  And the more they leave the gun at home, the less likely that they’ll buy more guns.  The main reason that people have stopped smoking is not because of fears for their health, but because it’s just getting too difficult to find anywhere to light up. And the last thing the gun industry needs is for guns to be considered as much of a threat to our health as cigarettes.

In light of all this, it’s interesting that Seattle is making a big push in the business community to enroll business-owners to designate their shops, theaters and restaurants as gun-free zones.  Yesterday the organization spearheading the drive announced their 100th business, a movie theater, that has agreed to post a sign asking patrons not to enter the theater with a gun.  Of course the NRA and other gun activists immediately denounced the plan, claiming that they “knew” that gun-free zones resulted in more, not less gun violence.  And what is their proof?  An article on a Fox News blog by none other than John Lott, the gun researcher best known for inventing evidence about the alleged use of guns by armed citizens to prevent crime.

Lott claimed that the Aurora shooter, James Holmes, chose the Cinemark theater because it was the one theater near his residence that banned guns.  Did Lott interview Holmes to learn this so-called evidence?  Did anyone actually hear Holmes say that this was the reason? In all of the investigations that have taken place since the shooting has a single investigator stated that the theater’s no-gun policy is what motivated Holmes to  walk into the Cinemark and start blasting away?  And the answer is: no.

I really hope that authorities in Seattle will create a truly gun-free zone and then, at a later date, give us some hard data on the incidence of crime in that area before and after the gun-free zone came into effect.  I don’t know whether crime will go up or down.  But I do know this: every time the NRA parades someone like Lott out to support the use of guns by inventing evidence, an opportunity has been created to figure out whether we truly need to walk around with guns.  Maybe we do and maybe we don’t.  But Seattle may be giving us a real chance to find out.

Here He Comes Again: Tim Wheeler Continues His Crackpot Attacks On Physicians

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NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA

NRA Headquarters, Fairfax Virginia USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just when I thought we heard the last of him, Tim Wheeler’s back in town with his patented combination of half-truths, distortions and outright lies about physicians and guns.  In case you haven’t heard of him, Wheeler is the head of something called Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership which he founded back in the 90’s to help the NRA convince Congress to cut gun research funding for the CDC.  Wheeler, who claims to be a physician, has never published a scholarly article of any kind, nor for that matter has he ever engaged in any medical or scientific research about guns or anything else. But because he can put the initials MD after his name, the NRA trots him out every time gun research appears in a medical journal.

Wheeler’s loony version of reality was in full evidence this week following the publication of an article in the journal Pediatrics, which is a favorite target for the ravings of delusionals like Wheeler who pander for the NRA.  The article, co-authored by a dozen medical specialists who work in emergency and trauma departments in the Far West, compared treatment outcomes and costs for children at emergency facilities based on the type of injury suffered that led to admission.

In addition to gunshots, the study covered cuts, blunt object injuries, falls and vehicle accidents. Not surprisingly, gun shots comprised the smallest number of all injury categories.  But gunshot injuries also resulted in the highest cost per admission, more than $28,000 per patient (the next highest, vehicle accidents, was $15,000,) and the highest incidence of in-hospital mortality.  In other words, when a kid gets hit with a bullet, he or she will require a degree of medical care that is unlike any level of care required for any other type of serious injury.

In brief, that’s what the article says.  That’s all it says. Oops, there are some recommendations which I’ll quote: “Public health, injury prevention and health policy solutions are needed to reduce gunshot in juries in children.”  I’m quoting the recommendations so that you’ll understand the irresponsibility of Wheeler who reacted to this study in an appearance on NRA’s Cam Edward’s talk show by condemning the “anti-gun hype” of this and other medical research on guns.  And just to make sure that his argument remained at the absolutely lowest intellectual level, he didn’t miss the opportunity to remind everyone that since the majority of the gunshot patients were minority males ages 15 to 19, there’s no doubt that they were gang members whose criminal behavior brought the injury on themselves.

The truth is, that with the exception of quacks like Wheeler, the NRA is afraid of physicians. They fear physicians because they know that most Americans probably trust their physician more than they trust anyone else.  They rely on their doctors, they confess their deepest fears and secrets to their doctors, and when a parent wakes up in the middle of the night and hears that child in the next room having difficulty breathing, he’s not going to grab the phone and call the NRA.  He’s going to call the doctor.

The NRA has spent the last twenty years trying to convince us that we will all be safer if we all have a gun.  Most physicians disagree.  I’m not sure that the research has yet been conducted or published that definitively proves one or the other point of view.  But I do know that the shrill and stupid comments by people like Timothy Wheeler only serve to debase the efforts of honest people to search for a reasonable point of view.

 

Bloomberg Goes After Gun Traffickers: Does He Know Who He’s Looking For/

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bloomMike Bloomberg, soon-to-be former Mayor of New York City, has blanketed the airwaves and the internet since Sandy Hook with his campaign to stop gun trafficking.  Although I can’t find a strict explanation for what constitutes gun trafficking, I guess we can use the one found in H.R. 2554, the bill to prohibit firearms trafficking that was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) that never got out of committee.  The text of the bill says that trafficking is the transfer of a firearm to an individual:

whose possession or receipt of the firearm would be unlawful; or who intends to or will use, carry, possess, or dispose of the firearm unlawfully.

If you want to know what this means or doesn’t mean, which is a polite way of asking whether Bloomberg, Maloney, et. al.,  knows what they’re talking about, just read on.

Bloomberg’s gun trafficking “evidence” is presented in two ways: there’s a detailed report and an interactive website.  The website allows the viewer to choose any state and see where guns initially sold in that state were later picked up by the cops, or you can turn it around, choose a state and see where guns picked up in that state were first sold.

Not surprisingly, the states that exported the most guns to other states are also states where there are few, if any legal restrictions on gun sales.  The website lists 10 state gun regulations that help deter illegal gun activity (licensing, straw sales, etc.) and only two of the top-10 exporting states, Virginia and North Carolina, had 4 of these regulations on the books, and nearly all the other high-exporting states had one or none.

It has long been an article of faith held by Bloomberg and other gun control advocates that more gun laws equals less gun crime.  But the evidence isn’t so much causal as coincidental because states that have stricter gun laws also tend to be states with less gun ownership.  And the bigger problem is that it’s simply impossible to take a phenomenon as complicated as crime and try to find a single factor that explains why and when it occurs.

But the real problem with Bloomberg’s search for gun traffickers lies in the fact that if we use the transfer of a firearm to test the definition of gun trafficking, and restrict our data to interstate seizure of crime guns, the data used to rank the exporting states starts to get less than precise.  For example, Georgia ranked 10th in total exports and yet 35% of all their exported guns were found in contiguous states.  Virginia was the 7th-highest export state but 40% of its gun exports were found in DC, Maryland and North Carolina.

I’m not surprised that a majority of the crime guns recovered in New York come from non-contiguous states when you consider that both Massachusetts and Connecticut not only have strict laws but have a per capita gun ownership rate far below the national average.

I could write ten more diaries on the analytical problems involved with understanding gun trafficking but my point is simply this:  If anyone thinks there’s a silver bullet out there that will solve the issue of gun violence, think again. The problem is very complex, it’s simply not amenable to any sort of “quick fix,” and before we change the laws, we better make sure that we really know what’s broken and whether we can fix it.

 

Want To Own A Gun? Move To New York City.

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English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

English: New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you follow the gun debate at all, you’re aware of the fact that Mike Bloomberg, the soon-to-be ex-Mayor of New York City, takes credit for a steep decline in the city’s crime rate due to his strict enforcement of the city’s tough gun laws.  But while this may mean that very few city residents own legal guns, research published by Gary Kleck (UCLA Law Review, #56, 2009) indicates that within another few years, the number of illegal guns may exceed the number of adults living within the city.  Imagine that!  The city with the toughest gun laws will also be home to the largest number of guns.  How is that possible?

According to Kleck, roughly 60,000 people move into New York City every year.  He doesn’t know how many people move out of the city each year, he’s just interested in how many move in.  Why?  Because he assumes that they bring guns with them when they show up. In 2000, just under 800,000 NYC residents had been born in another state:

These migrants presumably moved their possessions with them.  If handgun ownership among these migrants was equal to the U.S. average, migrants born in other states would have moved about 260,000 handguns from other states into NYC.

Kleck bases his calculations on the idea that per capita American handgun ownership is .0325 (one-third of a gun for every person.)  But those numbers have changed.  In fact, since the 1980s, handguns have entered the market over long guns by a ratio of two to one.  So the per capita ownership of handguns is probably now close to 0.50.  This being the case, if we follow Kleck’s logic to its ultimate conclusion, the continued migration of people into New York City from 2000 until 2013 means that at least 400,000 new handguns have come into town during the same period. Add this to the 2 million guns that NYPD believe were in the city in 1980, then tack on another 30,000 each year between 1981 and 2000, and we are up to 3 million guns.
If the demographic breakdown of New York City is anything like the national average, there are approximately 2,700,000 males between the ages of 18 and 65 living in the five boroughs right now.  Since very few women own guns, let’s add in the men over the age of 65 and the total is still below the total number of guns floating around the Big Apple.
You don’t have to take my word for it.  Just read Kleck’s article and do the math. New York City is the handgun haven of the United States.  There’s no doubt about it.

How Do We Know That Crime Is Going Up or Down?

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Violent crime rates 1973-2005

Violent crime rates 1973-2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every time the gun control crowd makes a peep, the NRA and its juggernaut PR operation swings into high gear to remind  us that Americans are safer because we can own guns.  And they point to the fact that over the last twenty years, while the number of guns in private hands has doubled, the rate of violent crime has dropped by half.  Now let’s forget the fact that 95% of the decline in violent crime took place fifteen years ago and that over the last few years the violent crime rate has been slowly inching up.  If for nothing other than coincidence, you still can’t argue with the notion that more guns does seem to equal less crime.

But a funny thing happened the last time this debate broke out, namely, that despite the evidence of a decrease in violent crime, a majority of Americans feel that they are living in a more dangerous place.  This was the finding of public opinion polls published both by Gallop and Pew, the former finding that more than two-thirds of their respondents felt crime was worse, the latter pegging the number at 55 percent.  Given these findings, should it surprise that so many Americans are heeding the NRA’s call and rushing down to their local ;police stations to apply for permits to carry a gun?  Every day we read another story about how police agencies are unable to keep up with the flood of applicants for concealed-carry permits while most gun manufacturers report that they are at least six months behind in  catching up with the demand for small, concealable guns.

But if you want to blame the NRA for ginning up public concern about crime and therefore the necessity to go out and buy a gun, you may be barking up the wrong tree.  Because it turns out the percentage of Americans who believe that crime has increased and are in favor of stricter gun laws outweighs the percentage who agree that crime has increased but are against stricter laws by a factor of two to one! And even though this is a Rasmussen poll, and everyone knows that Rasmussen screwed up 2012, a difference of 64% to 28% simply can’t be ascribed to the bias or agenda of the polling organization.

So where does this disconnect between perception and reality about crime come from on the part of people who don’t like guns?  You might find the following story interesting, if not instructive.  Last week a community discussion about gun violence took place in Jamaica Plain, MA, which is a middle-class, racially and ethnically mixed community bordering the Roxbury ghetto on one side and the very affluent community of Brookline on the other. The meeting was called by the area’s State Representative, Jeff Sanchez, who supports a new gun law proposed by Gov. Patrick.

Reading the report of this meeting, it’s clear that the tone and the content of the meeting was decidedly anti-gun.  But what caught my eye was the comment by County Sheriff, Steve Tompkins, who noted that Massachusetts already had some of the toughest gun laws in the country but gun crimes were “spiraling” upwards.  Not moving slightly upwards, not increasing substantially, spiraling upwards. His word, not mine.

There’s only one problem with this ‘spiral.’  It doesn’t exist.  In 2011 Massachusetts recorded 28, 232 violent crimes, including 184 murders, 19,626 assaults and 6,768 robberies.  For 2012, violent crime totalled 26.953, murders were 121,  assaults were 18,638 and robberies were 6,552.  In fact the data clearly shows that there has been a crime spiral in Massachusetts – downward; more than a 5% decline in the overall numbers in one year.  The drop in murders (roughly 30%) is particularly significant because murders are mostly committed with guns.

I don’t blame the folks who attended this meeting for thinking that crime is increasing when their own law enforcement officials tell them that this is the case, even when the same officials send data to the FBI that shows the opposite to be true.  But I have to wonder about the motivation of law enforcement officials who talk about the ‘spiraling’ of crime to the people whose taxes pay their salaries.  I hav to wonder…

 

 

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