Is Smart Gun Technology Coming Or Going? I’m Not So Sure Either Way.

Now that half the world will soon be walking around with an iPhone that recognizes the owner’s thumbprint as the way to unlock the device, it would stand to reason that smart-gun technologies would soon be offered to consumers as well.  But what stands to reason in the mainstream consumer market rarely, if ever, penetrates the world of guns, so it came as no surprise to me that the first-ever symposium on smart-gun technology came and went without a single representative of the gun industry in sight.

I’m referring to a meeting this past week in Seattle, hosted by the Washington Technology Industry Association devoted to the issue of smart guns and featuring an appearance by Loretta Weinberg, the New Jersey State Senator who authored the nation’s first smart-gun legislation requiring all new guns in New Jersey to be equipped with smart-gun technology within 30 months after the first smart gun was sold anywhere in the United States.  The countdown almost began last year when a gun shop in Maryland stocked a few models, but the owner yanked the guns off his shelf when the store was besieged by 2nd-Amendment terrorists who threatened to burn him down.

smart gun                Smart-gun technology got started in a big way during the Clinton Administration which awarded $600,000 in R&D monies to Smith & Wesson and FN in return for undertaking research into the development of smart guns.  These grants were the first step in a major investment in smart gun technology, with federal budget numbers as high as $10 million annually for research being bandied about.  The only little problem was that the initial awards were announced in 2000 and an unforeseen event, a.k.a. the election of George W. Bush put a quick end to all such plans.

So here we are in the waning days of another President who should be extremely friendly to the idea of smart guns, but he has no money to give out to anyone for anything related to guns, and it was clear from comments at the Seattle smart-gun conference that nobody else has any real money to fork over either for research or for moving such products into the consumer market which is where the real test of this technology would have to take place. The conference host, the Washington Technology Industry Association, has certainly seen its share of new, electronic innovations over the years.  After all, Seattle is a hop, skip and jump from Redmond, and I don’t have to tell you the name of a little hi-tech company that just happens to be located up there.

The folks who met in Seattle, while supportive of smart guns, were not unsparing in their concerns about possible technical and legal problems that such technology represents.  To begin, there is the simple issue of whether or not the technology actually works, and while there are several smart guns that allegedly have been tested under real-life conditions, even smart-gun proponents like King County Sheriff John Urquhart voiced concerns at the conference about whether he could trust this and other electronic gun accessories to operate in ways that would not impede the overall effectiveness of a police officer’s gun.

Much has been made in the liberal media about the NRA’s opposition to smart gun technology, but for once I have to say that taking the NRA to task over this issue may be a little bit overblown.  It’s true that some of the NRA bloggers and their allies in the ultra-right media have spoken out against these guns from time to time.  But this is nothing more than the usual attempts to feed the 2nd Amendment ‘absolutists’ their daily ration of red meat.

The problem with smart gun technology is that, unlike other new technologies, it’s coming from outside the industry rather than from within.  And the gun industry, the recent fascination with lasers notwithstanding, is a notoriously conservative, un-innovative industry from a technology point of view.  After all, probably the best-selling handgun today is the exact same gun that John Browning designed in 1907, a year before the first Model T.  Anyone seen a Model T lately?



The VPC’s New Report On Gun Violence And A New Book On Murder Both Deserve To Be Read

Every year the Violence Policy Center issues a depressingly similar report on gun death rates in all 50 states.  Based on data from the CDC, the report appears to confirm a basic tenet of the gun-sense approach to gun violence, namely, that states with high rates of gun death rates have fewer gun violence prevention laws and tend to have higher per capita ownership of guns.  The report ranks all 50 states by the rate of gun violence, the highest being Alaska at 19.59 per 100,000, the lowest being Hawaii at 2.71. Of the 50 states, 31 rank at or above the national mean of 10.64 and the other 19 below, with the lowest 7 states being Hawaii and 6 Northeastern states which traditionally have the tightest laws and the lowest per-capita gun ownership rates.  A quick glance at the state-level chart appears to confirm the VPC’s basic argument about the connection between gun violence prevention laws, rates of gun ownership and death rates involving guns.

VPC croppedThis is all fine and well except for two little things.  First, the gun “violence” captured by the VPC is of two very different types.  In the case of the five states with the highest rates of gun deaths, two of them – Alaska and Wyoming – have extremely low homicide rates (according to the FBI,) the gun death rate in these two states reflecting abnormally high suicide.  Is gun suicide is a form of gun violence? Of course,  but laws restricting access to guns by persons considering suicide would have to be much different measures than laws that keep crime-prone individuals from getting their hands on a gun.

Second, states that have strong gun violence prevention laws and low per capita gun ownership are able to institute laws preventing gun violence precisely because gun owners don’t constitute a threat at the ballot box, the recent re-election of Connecticut’s Governor Dannell Malloy a case in point.  Do strong gun laws prevent gun violence or does the lack of gun violence and the lack of gun ownership make it easier to pass such laws? It’s a classic chicken-and-egg question but my state – Massachusetts – passed a very strong gun violence prevention law in 1998, and while the state now ranks near the bottom in gun violence rates today, it also ranked near the bottom before the 1998 law was passed.

ghettoDon’t get me wrong.  I’m not trying to undermine or devalue in any way the important work of the Violence Policy Center on issues like gun violence or the other problems which Josh Sugarmann and his team tackle every day.  Nevertheless, I still believe a basic question is being overlooked.  And the question has just been addressed frontally in a new book, Ghettoside, by Jill Leovy, which takes the reader through a series of murder investigations conducted by detectives of the LAPD.

The bottom line is that for all the talk about America’s abnormally high gun violence rate, the fact is that one specific group – African-American males – constitutes 6 percent of the population but 40% of the people killed every year.  Pretend this group does not exist, pull their numbers out of the overall murder count, and America isn’t such a violent place. Leovy’s argument is that in terms of addressing this problem, Black homicide victims don’t exist. Her book is an attempt to “penetrate the mystery of disproportionate black homicide,” for which she offers some tentative but hardly compelling ideas.

When Leovy writes about events at the street level, her descriptions are remarkably vivid and clear.  When she brings a wider sociological perspective to the problem, the text becomes suffuse and vague.  To her credit, she admits that we simply don’t know why black-on-black homicide, even with today’s lowered numbers, remains so disproportionate when compared to violence levels experienced by any other race.  The same, for that matter, could be said about gun violence and in the face of such uncertain explanations, we might be a little more modest in assuming that we know how to bring gun murders down.

On Amazon.








Are Any Gun Control Measures Reasonable? I’m Not Sure The NRA Would Agree.

This is going to be a difficult column to write but it needs to be written.  So I’m going to ask all my friends on the gun-sense side of the aisle (my friends on the pro-gun side seem to be dwindling – gee, I wonder why?) to read what I write very carefully and don’t jump to the conclusion that Mike the Gun Guy has finally lost his mind.  He hasn’t, he’s just trying to respond to a very difficult issue that has come up of late.  And what I am referring to is the recent Pew poll which finds that, for the first time since the poll began in 1993, “there is more support for gun rights than gun control.”  I am quoting Pew.

As can be imagined, the poll results created lots of chatter on both sides.  The NRA immediately weighed in, claiming the poll showed that, “Americans of nearly every description are embracing the Second Amendment at historic levels, even as its opponents pour historic amounts of money and effort into suppressing it.” The Campaign to Stop Gun Violence and other groups, went online with a petition asking Pew to change the wording of their poll question because the current question “creates a false perception of gun safety advocates, who are not trying to ‘control gun ownership’ but rather want reasonable regulations that keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people.”

gv                I have seen confidential marketing surveys conducted by more than one gun company which asks the same questions not just of telephone respondents, but focus groups, door-to-door surveys, the whole bit.  These studies are expensive, they are conducted with care, and the gun companies rely on this information (after all, they pay big bucks for it) more then they rely on public opinion polls from Pew, Gallup, or anyone else. And what these polls consistently show is that, by a margin of two-thirds over one-third, Americans support the idea of private gun ownership, but by the same margin support the idea that gun ownership should be subject to some kind of government control.  And this two-third, one-third breakdown appears in virtually every demographic, every geographic, every way in which the marketing companies slice and dice the information they receive.

So the argument gets down not to whether the government should control firearm ownership, but to what extent and to what degree these controls should exist.  And by the way, despite what all these 2nd-Amendment “absolutists” who are opposed to any government gun controls may say, no less a gun nut than Antonin Scalia gave the government explicit authority to “regulate” firearm commerce in the Heller decision of 2008.

I think it’s not such an easy task, indeed perhaps a very difficult task, to convince gun advocates that “reasonable regulations” to keep guns out of the wrong hands can be understood as something other than more “gun control” laws.  And what makes it very difficult is that the NRA and its allies have never positioned themselves as being against “reasonableness” of any sort; rather, they dodge this issue by claiming that even the most ‘reasonable’ gun regulation becomes a ‘slippery slope’ that leads to real gun control, i.e., confiscation of guns.  Whether it’s banning Saturday Night Specials, or hi-cap magazines or expanding background checks, they have used this argument to fight against every ‘reasonable’ gun-safety measure over the last twenty years.

I’m not so sure that the Pew poll is necessarily catching responses to the wrong question as much as it reflects the degree to which opposition to government regulation, any kind of regulation, is increasingly the watchword of a major chunk of the electorate, particularly the electorate that is painted a bright red. The problem for the gun-sense movement is not that reasonable gun regulations are a partisan issue in and of themselves, but they have become a part of a wider argument about the role of government in and of itself.


Did The Gun-Sense Folks Gain A New Friend In Rev. Schenck?

I was dismayed, no, a better to say pissed off, when Jerry Falwell and other fundamentalist preachers began injecting religious faith issues into political campaigns.  And it goes without saying that I have been shocked at the degree to which the gun lobby has cynically cozied up to politicians who chase the Evangelical vote on the one hand while promoting their so-called fervent, 2nd-Amendment beliefs on the other.

      Rev. Rob Schenck

Rev. Rob Schenck

That is why I find the comments made by Rev. Rob Schenck about gun violence so difficult to comprehend.  Because the truth is that over the past few years Schenck has been perhaps the most public evangelical voice speaking out on issues that align with virtually everything the NRA says. Not that the NRA takes public positions on abortion and public prayer, which have been the rallying-cries of Schenk’s  Faith and Action organization.  But the annual NRA meeting wouldn’t be complete without the Prayer Breakfast, and this year’s event will be led by none other than Jonathan Falwell who preaches every week from his father’s pulpit in the Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying there’s any direct or indirect connection between the Evangelical movement and the NRA.  And I’m certainly not questioning the motives of people who are both staunch supporters of the 2nd Amendment and agree with fundamentalist positions on abortion, creationism and prayer in public schools.  What I am saying is that the NRA has spent the last twenty years telling its members that liberal politics go hand-in-hand with efforts to trample on gun owners’ rights, which means, in effect, that a conservative, pro-life minister like Rob Schenck should be the gun owners’ best friend.

But all of a sudden, this friendship seems to have become unglued because the Rev. Schenck has made some comments about gun violence that, as I said earlier, I really can’t comprehend.  Here’s an example of what he said: “As pro-life activists, we do what we do because we care deeply about the well-being of women and children. The presence of a gun in the homes of women and children suffering the scourge of domestic violence makes it five times more likely that the woman will be killed.” Schenck took his data from the unholy of all anti-gun unholies, aka Everytown, but Shannon and her folks got the data from public health research that used to be funded by the CDC.  So Schenck’s comment is not only a direct challenge to the NRA’s insistence that guns protect more than they kill, it’s a direct slap in the face of the gun lobby that continues to deny that even with 31,000 deaths each year, guns constitute a public health issue at all. Or have we already forgotten how Rand Paul pandered to the NRA by holding up Vivek Murthy’s nomination to run the CDC?

But if you think that Schenck’s statement about domestic violence takes the NRA dead on, you should read his commentary a little further when he talks about a Black youth losing his life to an “armed vigilante” who had the legal right to carry a gun.  Schenck is referring to the case in Florida where Michael Dunn, a CCW-holder, shot a Black teenager in an argument over the volume of rap music that was blaring from a car.  If the NRA has one sacred cow above all, it’s the idea that people with concealed-carry permits are the most law-abiding, reliable and responsible of all.

The reason I find Schenk’s comments on gun violence incomprehensible is that there’s no precedent for them at all.  There’s really no other issue that defines one’s political and social orientation as clearly as what to do about guns.  And if the pro-gun lobby is going to have some problems figuring out what to do with Schenck, I suspect the gun-sense folks will also need to figure out what he really means. Something tells me that he means exactly what he said.

Want To See The Gun Industry Flex Its Creative Muscles? Go To SHOT.

I went to my first SHOT show in 1981, and I can tell you that the only thing about the show that hasn’t changed from then until now is the name, which stands for Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade show, but has about as much to do with outdoor sports like hunting and old-fashioned shooting as a man in the moon.  I’m not saying that the old stalwarts like Browning or Leupold or Mossy Oak clothing aren’t there.  Outdoor sporting goods manufacturers are at SHOT in abundance, because it’s the only time all year that gun industry manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and customers get to mingle under one roof, check out new products, place orders and spend time doing what is always done at trade shows – schmoozing, eating, and after the show closes down, drinking.

nssf                But don’t for one minute imagine that the crowd at SHOT just can’t wait to run out of the Sands Convention Center and paint the town.  Actually, a majority of the attendees are Ma and Pa types from smaller towns, fairly conservative, older, hard-working White folks who form the backbone of the gun industry because that’s who still owns a majority of the guns.  And since the gun business may be the last consumer product category which still relies on small, independent shopkeepers for the great majority of retail sales, the show attendance tends to reflect this traditional demographic both in terms of attitudes and tastes.  It goes without saying, of course, that you can’t walk very far without seeing some kind of anti-Obama poster, and Sarah Palin drew a crowd when she appeared at the Outdoor Channel booth to plug yet another onscreen effort to make people forget that she’s really faded from the political scene.  Next year’s SHOT will no doubt attract all the Republicans who are hoping to succeed the gun industry’s most successful salesman, and talking about sales, the mood at the show was definitely upbeat.

Now I never met a salesman who didn’t believe that things were always going to be better tomorrow than they were yesterday or are today.  And the takeaway from this year’s show was that innovation and new products were back in the forefront because the industry needed to flex its “creative muscles” after spending the last several years filling all those backorders that piled up thanks to the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his stance on guns.  The good news for the gun industry is that, practically speaking, there’s little that Obama can do to hurt gun owners now that both chambers of Congress are painted bright red.  But this didn’t stop Steve Sanetti, President of the NSSF which owns the SHOT show, from getting up at the big SHOT dinner to report that the “state” of the gun industry was “determined.”  And what was the industry determined to do?  According to Sanetti, the industry is going to expand its efforts to counter the “mis-information” about gun violence spread by the “anti-gun lobby, close-minded legislators and sensationalist-seeking media.”

And how did Sanetti demonstrate that the anti-gun folks were refusing to accept the value of guns?  By trotting out the same, old, incorrect statistics on how violent crimes have gone down while gun sales have gone up.  If you’re interested, take a look at the NSSF’s own website and you’ll see that since 2001, as gun sales have soared, gun homicides have not declined one bit, and have actually moved slightly back up.

I don’t really blame Sanetti for getting up in front of the faithful and promoting the gun industry in glowing, albeit fanciful terms.  He’s a salesman, gun sales have slumped dramatically, and his job is to promote the product in good times and in bad.  But one of the exhibitor booths I found most interesting at SHOT contained products made by a company out of Troy, Michigan named BulletSafe Vests.  Now what’s a bulletproof vest company doing hawking its products at a shooting, hunting and outdoors show?   If this is how the gun industry is flexing its innovative muscles, then shooting sure ain’t what it used to be.

We Don’t Need Better Laws On Gun Safety. We’ve Got The NRA.

            Shannon Watts wrote a column for Huffington Post promoting more effective laws to hold parents accountable when their children get their hands on guns. She points out that child access prevention (CAP) laws make a real difference in unintentional gun injuries in which the victims are kids, but that the NRA has chosen to oppose such laws because CAP might “infringe on gun owners’ rights to effectively protect their homes.”

eagle            What Shannon didn’t mention is that the NRA goes a lot further than just fighting CAP laws. They also promote themselves as America’s gun-safety organization through their Eddie Eagle program which they claim to have introduced to more than 26 million children in schools throughout all 50 states. The program materials consist of instructional brochures, DVDs, student workbooks and the like, all designed to “keep America’s young children safe.”

The gun industry and the NRA touts their commitment to gun safety because unintentional gun injuries have steadily declined over the past twenty years.  The NSSF cites data from the National Safety Council which shows that deaths of children from accidental shootings has dropped by more than 70% since 1993, with all unintentional gun mortality for both children and adults now standing at an all-time low. What better proof could there be about the effectiveness of the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program or other safety programs conducted by the NSSF?  All the more reason why comprehensive CAP laws would just make it more difficult for gun owners to protect themselves, their families and their homes, right?

Duhhh, there’s only one little problem.  The NRA and the gun lobby in general can’t ever seem to understand that causation and causality are two very different things.  The fact that unintentional gun injuries have declined over the same period that the NRA claims to have introduced its Eddie Eagle gun safety program to millions of school kids doesn’t mean that one has anything to do with the other, even if they occurred at the same time.

The NRA has never validated its claims about the effectiveness of Eddie Eagle through an objective, third-party source.  And while the NRA Eddie Eagle website contains what at first glance appears to be an impressive list of individuals who comprise the program “task force,” if you examine the list closely you soon discover that while it includes teachers, school administrators, NRA staff and a few cops, there isn’t a single individual connected to the program in any way who has ever attempted to study the impact or value of the program at all.

Public health researchers have convincingly demonstrated that efforts to change the behavior of children by discussing issues in group settings yields little, if any positive results.  The most effective way to modify the behavior of children is on a one-to-one basis, and if the teaching is widened to a group setting, the target group should be very small.  The fact that the NRA has never conducted any study to test the before-and-after results of distributing their safety literature either in classrooms or in community groups makes it impossible to accept their self-congratulatory statements about teaching gun safety to kids.

I’m not saying the Eddie Eagle program doesn’t work.  I’m saying that to use a totally non-validated safety program as an excuse for opposing CAP laws is shabby at best, harmful and unsafe at worst. The real reason that unintentional gun injuries have declined over the past twenty years is because gun makers have phased in more safety engineering (e.g., floating firing pins) and states now require additional safety features such as loaded chamber indicators and minimum trigger-pull weights. But neither factor invalidates Shannon’s call for more comprehensive CAP laws.  If the NRA was really serious about representing all those responsible gun owners, they would welcome laws that require guns to be locked or locked away.




Here’s The Latest In Gun Fashion For Women Who Carry A Gun.

I wasn’t surprised when the news about the unfortunate shooting of Veronica Rutledge by her two-year old son revealed that the kid had evidently pulled Mom’s gun out of a specially-designed gun tote bag that she had received as a Christmas gift, because those kinds of items have been around for a few years.  But I did a double-take earlier this week when I received an email from the NRA pushing the sale of various shooting accessories and one of the items was a “Flashbang” woman’s holster designed to be attached and worn between the two cups of a bra. To quote the ad: “Simply pull up your shirt with one hand and pull down on your pistol with the other – in a matter of seconds you’ve safely deployed your self-defense sidearm.”

The NRA has been pushing the women as shooters for the last few years with the consequent appearance of feminine-styled products like clothing, jewelry, pink gun grips and the like, but sticking a gun into a molded holster and then concealing the holster in the cleavage between a woman’s breasts really takes the cake.  And what I love most of all is the gung-ho image of raising the garment up with one hand and yanking out the gun with the other.  If this isn’t right out of some early Angelina Jolie action flick that she and Brad would now rather forget, I don’t know what’s what.

holsterw                The only problem with this marketing plan is that the movement of women into becoming serious shooters hasn’t really caught on.  Yea, yea, I know there are a few blogs out there for the chicks with guns and the NRA video channel features some girls who look like they almost made the final cut to do commentaries on Fox News or sideline interviews for the NFL.  But if all those women are flocking into gun shops to get all armed up, how come gun sales continue to slide?

Last year the NRA rewrote its training course known as “Personal Protection in the Home.”  In fact, the intro says that the course was especially developed by the “women of the NRA.”  The course, which I am certified to teach, explains “how to make your home less appealing to professional criminals, avoiding confrontation, and thoroughly covers the practical use of a firearm as a last resort to defend your home and family.”  It covers subjects like security systems, telephone and other communications, locks on windows and doors and, of course, some hands-on training if either you or the trainer happens to show up with a gun. There’s even a section on what to do and what not to do after you’ve shot the bad guy coming through the back door; i.e., don’t touch the body, keep your mouth shut when the cops arrive, make sure you have a good lawyer, all the usual stuff.  Interesting that there’s nothing in the course about what to do if the bad guy shoots you first.

The truth is that where women are concerned, most if not nearly all the “bad guys” who attack them happen to be their husbands, their ex-husbands or their boyfriends, none of whom are considered to be “professional criminals” by any stretch at all.  In fact, women are 15% of the homicide victims each year, most of them killed with a gun, and when a woman does pull out a piece and bangs away, it’s always a husband, a lover or some other type of intimate partner violence that provoked the use of a gun.

Last week Michigan’s Republican Governor, Rick Snyder, vetoed a bill that would have lessened certain safeguards for the issuance of CCW permits where there was a history of domestic abuse.  In their usual fashion the NRA supported the bill because any removal of restrictions on gun ownership leads to more guns.  The NRA is delusional if it really believes that women will buy into any kind of self-protection that doesn’t start and end with the issue of IPV.  And women aren’t going to be persuaded otherwise because they can now use a holster to buckle themselves up.