All We Need To Solve Gun Violence Is To Fix Mental Health, Right?

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The NRA will let one week go by and then they’ll issue a statement about the Elliot Rodger shootings in Santa Barbara.  Actually, they’ll issue two statements which they always have ready to go.  First they’ll say that the slaughter shows that the mental health system is ‘broken’ and needs to be ‘fixed.’  Then they’ll say that a ‘good guy’ with a gun would have stopped the ‘bad guy,’ and they’ll remind everyone that CCW is impossible to get in California so there are no ‘good guys’ walking around in Isla Vista anyway.

The truth is that neither statement is true and have never been true.  But they sound like they’re true, which gets the NRA off the hook.  They can promote gun sales all they want but also come down on the side of safety and responsibility because it’s the mental health system that needs to be fixed, right?

Last week Dr. Richard Friedman, a Professor of Psychiatry, explained that the link between mental illness and violence is tenuous at best and accounts for less than 5% of overall violence at worst. Which means that if every nut lost his guns, the 10,000+ gun homicides we endure each year would drop by a whole, big 500 or so.  Wow – talk about ending gun violence by “fixing” the mental health system.  Some fix.

free school                As for all those ‘good guys’ walking around with guns, the FBI says there are roughly 300 justifiable homicides each year, a number that hasn’t changed even with the CCW upsurge in the past year.  Yea, yea, every year armed citizens ‘prevent’ millions of crimes just by waving their guns around in the air.  I also know that Martians actually did land in Parrump.

The self-satisfied folks who really believe that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’ simply refuse to accept the fact that if you pick up a gun, point it at someone else and pull the trigger, that the result is going to be very serious injuries or loss of life.  There Is no other way, including running over someone with a car, that has such a devastating effect.  The NRA gets around that problem by promoting, with an almost mystical reverence, the notion of using guns for self defense.  John Lott’s nonsense to the contrary, there is absolutely no evidence which proves that guns save more lives than they destroy.

Now don’t get me wrong.  If you’re already sending a comment about how Mike The Gun Guy is really Mike The Anti-Gun Guy, why don’t you save the HP screeners a little time and at least wait until you read this entire blog?  Because believe it or not, I’m not anti-gun.  I have said again and again that 99.9% of all gun owners are safe and responsible with their guns.  I have also said, but it bears repeating, that we should be able to figure out how to end gun violence without making lawful and careful gun owners jump through more legal hoops, including expanded background checks.

This morning I received an email from one of the largest internet gun-sellers who is dumping new, name-brand  AR-15s for under 600 bucks.  These are guns that were selling for twice that much a year ago and, as the email warned, “any sudden media attention topoliticalsituations, restrictive laws and regulations can drive prices through the roof again overnight.”

The gun industry sits on the horns of a dilemma.  They can moan and groan all they want about gun control but it’s high-profile shootings that ignite the debate which then leads to stronger sales.  The NRA claims that it’s all about safe gun ownership but let’s not make it too safe.  Because if we do, it will be more than just a couple of Tea Party politicians giving away free AR-15’s.

America Is Going All Out To Help John Lott Conduct His Gun Research.

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If you have followed my blog you no doubt have seen mention more than once of John Lott.  He’s the NRA acolyte whose book, More Guns, Less Crime makes the argument for armed citizens based on the alleged link between issuance of CCW and decline of crime.  And even though his research is often based on rather dubious assumptions, never mind occasional disappearances of the data, he still appears with regularity on Fox and other news outlets that shape their content to a conservative point of view.

Now Lott has taken his research to a new level and started a think tank called the Crime Prevention Research Center that will “conduct academic research to prove that guns protect citizens and reduce crime.”  And to get the whole thing started, he’s put together a fundraising campaign with $300,000 as the initial goal.  According to Lott, the purpose of the Research Center is to provide “honest, accurate, academic quality analysis of the issues” to counteract the “flawed” public health research promoted by Obama, Bloomberg and the rest of the liberal, anti-gun gang.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m in favor of honest, academic research regardless of whether I agree with the conclusions or not.  And while I have often publicized public health research on gun violence that represents what I believe to be a valid contribution to the field, I also have no trouble raising doubts and voicing concerns when a piece of public health research on guns might perhaps need to be re-thought.

John Lott

John Lott

But where I draw the line is when someone claims they are going to do research on an issue for which they have already figured out the end result.  And if the point of John Lott’s new Research Center is to come up with information that shows that he’s correct and the public health cabal is wrong on the issue of whether armed citizens protect us against crime, then he’s not doing research at all.  He’s just doing what he’s always done; peddled ideas that appear to have an academic pedigree when, in fact, there’s nothing academic about them at all.  Lott’s not a researcher, he’s an advocate, and while there’s nothing wrong with wearing first one hat and then the other, he should at least be honest enough not to pretend that you can fit both hats on your head at the same time.

The good news is that Lott’s attempt to make people believe that he can really put together a “think” tank even though he’s going to be promoting, not researching, doesn’t seem to be working out very well.  Back on April 21 he started his fundraising campaign on a public fundraising site, indiegogo.com, with an announced goal of $300,000 to be raised by June 10.  To date this national campaign has raised slightly over $30,000 which, at that rate he’ll hit about forty grand by the time the campaign is done.

And don’t think that an indiegogo fundraising campaign can’t tap into serious money if your idea is what people really want to support.  There’s a company out there called Solar Roadways that is developing a solar panel that can be used to pave roads and parking lots while, at the same time, absorbing sunlight and generating power.  They set a 30-day, million-dollar goal and with three days left have raised more than $1,500,000.  Or if you want to be a little more idealistic, you can donate money to a family that is buying a farm where people can visit and play around with the pet – pigs!  Esther The Wonder Pig campaign has raised over $150,000 in less than 30 days.

Lott’s been around for years, he’s promoted himself tirelessly and endlessly on Fox and with the NRA.  But you know what? When a sadly-depressed kid can get his hands on some high-powered pistols and go around shooting up a lovely town because he couldn’t get a date for the prom, no amount of snide comments about Obama’s gun-grabbing agenda is going to help us figure out what to do.  And while it doesn’t cost anything to add your two cents in a comment on John Lott’s (or my) blog, plunking down real cash just to hear the same half-baked opinions that you’ve heard for years doesn’t make any sense. Even if you agree with the opinions.

 

Yo Colion – How About A Few Facts?

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Now that the second episode of Colion Noir’s new talk show on the NRA Freestyle media network has once again made even the pro-gun bloggers call him out for being about as boring as a rerun of a 1960’s afternoon soap opera, the NRA’s self-professed expert on anything and everything having to do with guns has released a new video in which he gets it all wrong on the issue of gun-free zones.   And just to make sure that he squeezes the maximum number of non-sequiturs and erroneous statements into a three-minute video, Colion doesn’t just talk about gun-free zones, but doubles down on the question of multiple shootings because, according to him, it’s “multiple shooters” who are attracted to victims in places where people aren’t supposed to bring guns.

Noir begins his rant by explaining the mentality of the mass shooter to the rest of us in a tone that leaves no doubt that he really has it all figured out.  Let’s put aside the fact that the official report issued by the Connecticut State Police a year after the Sandy Hook massacre could not find an explanation for Adam Lanza’s rampage, nor has Jared Loughner ever really explained what drove him to shoot Representative Gabby Giffords and nineteen other people in an attack on January 11, 2011. But not to worry because Colion knows that mass shooters are “pathetically non-confrontational” and pick their targets the way sexual predators pick their victims.  A gun-free zone is to a mass shooter, Colion lectures, like a pre-teen chat room is to a sexual predator.  And the answer, of course, is to get rid of gun-free zones and let the “good guys” (that’s Colion, you and me with our concealed-carry permits) go anywhere and be ready to thwart a multiple shooter who otherwise will mow everyone down.

noir                Last year Mike Bloomberg’s group issued a comprehensive study of mass shootings covering 2009 through 2013. Using a combination of law enforcement and media reports, the researchers were able to identify 43 mass shootings, using the FBI’s definition of ‘mass shooting’ as any incident in which at least four persons were killed by someone using a gun.  Of these shootings, 40% arose out of domestic disputes, and at least 6 of the 17 shooters had been named in previous domestic assaults.  In only 10% of the shootings was there evidence of prior contact between the perpetrator and a mental health professional, although friends and relatives of other shooters expressed some awareness that mental health issues might have precipitated the attacks.

Now let’s get down to Colion’s real nitty-gritty, the issue of multiple shootings in gun-free zones.  The report states that, at maximum, one-third of these shootings took place in what might have been considered gun-free zones.  But other than 4 school shootings, the Aurora movie theater and Fort Hood (the report was released before the Navy Yard shooting), it’s not clear that any of the other 37 mass shootings took place in specific gun-free zones, although the researchers probably assumed that the 2 multiple shootings in Chicago and 1 in DC also took place in gun-free zones.  And how many of the 43 multiple shootings ended with a “good guy” pulling out a gun?  None.  In every incident except one, the shooter either shot himself or was arrested by the police.  The bystanders who subdued Jared Loughner after he shot Representative Giffords were unarmed.

I don’t see anything wrong with Colion Noir or anyone else going on YouTube and expressing their opinions about this or that.  But perhaps Colion’s new foray into media entertainment on the NRA Freestyle network would be better received if he would stop trying so hard to enlighten us with his distorted version of the facts.  You’re not just boring your audience, Colion, with a delivery that runs from the un-cool to the bland, you’re also insulting us by pretending that you understand things about guns and shooting that simply are not true.

Gun Control Then And Now. Does History Repeat Itself?

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It’s a standard argument among pro-gun advocates that gun control is antithetical to the norms and traditions of a free society.  And the proof that is usually thrown up consists of vague references to the efforts by dictators like Stalin, Mao and Hitler to disarm their own populations as a way of consolidating their repressive regimes.  Now we finally have a serious book on the subject written by Stephen Halbrook, an attorney whose resume shows him to be one of the most active, pro-gun litigators in the United States, including serving as Counsel to the NRA.

Halbrook’s book, Gun Control in the Third Reich, details the efforts byhitler the Nazis to disarm the German population, in particular the German Jews, between the advent of the regime in 1933 and the widespread anti-Jewish violence known as Kristallnacht that broke out in November, 1938.  It was the latter event that escalated anti-Jewish persecution from legal statutes to organized violence, and paved the way for a much wider consolidation of repression and dictatorial authority. The author shows how the Nazi government used gun control measures promulgated under the democratic, Weimer government, to identify and arrest Jews and other political undesirables, thus effectively frustrating the ability of anti-Nazi elements from resisting the growing tyranny of the National Socialist regime.

While Halbrook’s well-researched and balanced narrative is a significant contribution to modern European historiography, it is also, despite his claims to the contrary, an argument against current efforts to expand gun controls in the United States.  The author notes: “A disarmed population that is taught that it has no rights other than what the government decrees as positive law is obviously more susceptible to totalitarian rule and is less able to resist oppression.”  [Page. 218] If anyone believes that this statement is anything other than a thinly-veiled reference to the anti-gun ‘dangers’ of the Obama Administration, I refer you to a recent statement, among many others, made by Jim Porter, current President of the NRA, who argues that Obama’s attacks against the 2nd Amendment are just another example of his “usurpation” of Congressional authority.  Isn’t that exactly how Germany slid from the democracy of Weimar to the tyranny of Hitler?

It’s a nice and simple way of viewing the world to assume that one government’s attempts to disarm its own population is no different from any other attempt.  Unfortunately, it’s not true.  The original gun control measure passed by Weimer in 1920, and then refurbished by the Nazis in 1938, came about as the government’s response to organized, armed political violence from political movements both on the Right and the Left.  The extension of gun control by the Nazis was motivated by a similar desire to disarm groups that posed a political threat to the government, insofar as these populations, including Jews and Communists, were considered “enemies” of the State. At no time did either Weimar or the Nazis ever consider or even discuss gun control in response to non-political violence of any kind.

The last time that anyone in the United States took up arms against the U.S. Government was the bombing of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861.  And while the initial impetus for the first federal gun control law in 1968 was the assassination of JFK, nobody ever imagined that Lee Harvey Oswald was spearheading an all-out assault on our political institutions or laws.  Whether it takes the form of crimes (homicide, assault) or mental illness (suicide), gun control initiatives in this country always flow from concerns about gun violence perpetrated by citizens against themselves or others, not violence either for or against the State.  In fact, data gathered by the United Nations shows that we are the only country in the entire world whose level of gun violence rises to levels found only in Third World countries where the use of small arms is still a destabilizing political or economic force.

Don’t get me wrong.  Halbrook’s book is a welcome addition to the literature on the organization and consolidation of the Nazi regime.  But what this country needs is a serious and sober discussion about how to limit and ultimately eradicate gun violence, and this discussion will not take place if either side continues to justify their positions by taking historical events out of context and pretending that they somehow apply to the present day.

All Of A Sudden The News About Guns Ain’t So Good.

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If you’re in the gun business, or even if you just like guns, the news has been pretty good for a pretty long time. First there was the Heller decision in 2008 which gave every American, or just about every American the unchallenged right to own a gun.  This was shortly followed by the election of Barack Obama, and gun sales started going through the roof.  Then we had a couple of more court cases and all of a sudden concealed-carry was permitted in all 50 states.  And finally, just when it looked like Obama was going to be a one-term President and gun sales started to slip, it was Mitt Romney who slipped instead, Obama and the FLOTUS didn’t have to move out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and gun sales once again surged ahead.

But if this wasn’t enough to keep the gun business going, we than had the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook which unleashed a national debate on gun control, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since  Clinton proposed the assault weapon ban in 1994. And while no new law was passed on Capitol Hill, the NRA and other pro-gun groups finally had real proof that gun owners faced the possibility of having some of their guns taken away, or at least having things made more difficult to get their hands on another gun. Which meant that gun sales, which had actually slowed considerably in the second half of 2012, then went through the roof beginning in 2013.  From November, 2012 through March, 2013, NICS conducted nearly 11.5 million checks, which was higher than the yearly total for 2007 and just one million short of the entire NICS background check number for 2008.

Best gun salesman ever!

Best gun salesman ever!

The demand for guns after Sandy Hook had its impact on the balance-sheets of the gun-makers’ as well.  Smith & Wesson’s stock price had been rumbling at between $5 and $7 a share through the mid-point of 2012.  It began moving up after Sandy Hook and was at 15 by March, 2014.  Ruger stock was bouncing around $40 a share in 2012 but briefly hit $80 at the beginning of 2014.  None of the other gun companies are publicly owned, but the Olin Corp., which owns Winchester ammunition (along with other companies largely producing chemicals) has seen a 25% increase in the value of its stock since the beginning of this year.

The standard joke in the gun business used to be that if you wanted to make a million dollars, you had to start with two million.  Guns were always a good cash flow but a lousy investment with thin margins, and demand tended to fall off just as quickly as it revved up.  But this time things looked different; no matter where you looked,  everyone was talking about guns and everyone seemed to want to buy a gun. At least that’s the way things were going until…now!

Let’s start with NICS.  In March the FBI reported the second-highest March numbers of all time, except that the number was actually a decrease of nearly 20% from the March totals from 2013.  The same pattern appeared again last month when April, 2014 saw the second-highest number of background checks for any April, except again the total was 13% below the same month in 2013.  But the big news was announced on Monday, when one of the nation’s largest sporting-goods chains, Dick’s, announced it would be revising its year-end forecast due to dismal returns from guns and golf.  Now the decline in golf has been going on for a few years, a combination of changing recreational habits and the aging of top-draw stars like Tiger Woods.  But Tiger kept golf on the front pages since the mid-90’s, while the skyrocketing demand for guns only commenced in 2008.

The dirty little secret about the gun business is that it grows only when gun owners are afraid that they might lose their guns. The real problem for the gun-makers is that, try as they might, they just can’t convince more than one-third of all Americans that life isn’t complete without a gun.  And if the Republicans really live up to their claims of recapturing the Senate at the end of this year, I won’t sell my guns but I’ll dump my Smith & Wesson stock.

 

Want To Read ‘Quality Research’ About Guns? This Isn’t It.

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John Lott is the former researcher and now full-time NRA flack who’s been tirelessly promoting the notion that the best way to fight crime is to give everyone a gun.  Now he’s founded an organization called the Crime Prevention Research Center which will replace what he calls “poorly done and misleading public health studies”  with academic “quality research” on the relationship of laws regulating the ownership or use of guns, crime and public safety.”

John Lott

John Lott

Now I’m all for quality research and and even though Lott’s been publicly accused by other scholars of inventing data, I’ve decided to take him seriously and, over the next several weeks, will examine some of his work from a serious and non-polemical point of view.  The first piece is an article he co-authored in 2000 which claims to find a positive correlation between issuance of concealed-carry permits and a decline in multiple shootings.  This has become a big part of the NRA public-relations arsenal since Sandy Hook, and Lott has been featured on all kinds of media shows promoting the dual notions of getting rid of gun-free zones (like schools) and widening concealed-carry rules so that virtually anyone can carry a gun anywhere they want.

Lott’s article on multiple shootings covers 1977 to 1997, during which time he claims to have information on 566 shooting incidents resulting in 1,421 injuries and 931 deaths.  Lott defines multiple shootings as shootings in which two or more people were killed or injured, and he restricts his analysis to “public places” although he never defines what the word ‘public’ actually means. Of the total homicides that occurred during this period, 82% took place in the 20 states (and DC) which did not issue concealed-carry permits prior to 1997, with only 18% of multiple gun homicide deaths occurring in the 31 states that did.  To bolster his argument about the value of CCW to mitigate multiple gun shootings, Lott then attaches a plethora of statistical data correlating multiple shooting with just about every other socio-economic factor that could be related to crime (unemployment, crime rates, incarcerations, etc.) and finds that no other factor explains the discrepancy in multiple shootings as well as citizens walking around with guns.

The data is breathtaking, the statistical analysis is dazzling, but Lott’s comparison of multiple shootings between CCW and non-CCW states is misleading and simply wrong.  Why?  Because of the 31 states that comprise his CCW sample between 1977 and 1997, 14 states (AZ, CT, ID, NH, ND, ME, MT, NV, OR, SD, UT, VT, WA, WY,) had minimal gun homicide rates before, during and after the period he studied, which makes any comparison between those states and the non-CCW states hazardous at best.  The national gun homicide rate in 1977 was 6.6 per 100,000, the rate in New Hampshire, for example. was 2.3 and the rate in North Dakota was .68.  How do you compare numbers from those states to such high-homicide and non-CCW states like California, Maryland and New York?  You don’t.

But if you’re John Lott you do, and the reason you do is because it’s not scholarly research that you’re trying to advance. It’s a political agenda that promotes the ‘armed citizen’ as a replacement for government authority because government, particularly a government headed by an anti-gun President, just doesn’t work.  I’m going to keep track of the Crime Prevention Research Center’s efforts to refute “misleading public health studies” and if they publish anything that’s as shabby as this article, I’ll be sure to let you know.

 

Heller Versus District Of Columbia II: The NRA Loses A Big One

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Ever since the Supreme Court decided in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment gave law-abiding Americans the right to keep a gun in the home for self-defense , the NRA had been racking up a very impressive series of legal wins in various courtrooms around the country, most recently a decision in California that struck down San Diego’s concealed-carry law as being an infringement of 2nd-Amendment rights.  But the music stopped playing last week when the Federal District Court in Washington D.C. upheld the city’s gun registration procedure which had been challenged by the self-same Dick Heller whose lawsuit became the basis for the historic 2nd Amendment decision in 2008.

Dick Heller

Dick Heller

Anyone who wants to own a gun in DC has to go through a pretty lengthy and cumbersome process, including a detailed background check, followed by a safety and proficiency course, and then is required to submit the actual gun to the police department for inspection and registration, the permit for which must then be renewed every three years.  Gun purchases are also rationed, i.e., nobody is permitted to purchase more than one handgun every thirty days.  There is no other political jurisdiction in the entire United States, including New York City with its infamous Sullivan Law, that mandates such a comprehensive registration procedure for all firearms, and it was the requirement that long guns be subject to background checks and inspections that, among other procedures, was challenged by Heller in his new lawsuit.

The District Court’s opinion runs more than 60 pages, based largely on testimony by, among others, the DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier, former ATF agents Mark Jones and Joseph Vince, and Dan Webster, who heads the Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy at Johns Hopkins University.  The plaintiffs produced testimony from Professor Gary Kleck, a long-time academic supporter of the NRA.  I don’t have space to go over every point that was argued in detail, but there was one basic issue that stood out and, not surprisingly, was omitted from a summary of the case posted by the NRA.

The NRA and other pro-gun organizations have consistently argued against any expansion of gun control measures because, according to them, such procedures make it more burdensome for law-abiding citizens to own guns while, on the other hand, criminals will always find a way to get around the law.  To quote the Plaintiffs: “Criminals circumvent the process by purchasing guns on the street and bypassing registration altogether.”  To which the District Court rejoined: “According to the Plaintiffs, municipalities should be limited to enacting only those firearms regulations that lawbreakers will obey – a curious argument that would render practically any guns laws unconstitutional.”

You got that one right, baby.  That’s what it’s all about.  The truth is that pro-gun activists don’t want any laws or regulations on firearms, regardless of the intent of the law.  On the other hand, it has to be said that most people who want more gun control would just as well see the 2nd Amendment go fly a kite.  As future gun litigation rumbles through the legal system, I hope that  jurists will be as candid and forthright as was Judge James Boasberg in speaking for the D.C. District Court, because in a debate that has been too clouded with overheated rhetoric and unsupported facts, it’s refreshing to read a legal opinion which clearly points out the basic issue separating the two sides.

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