It’s Only New York, But The NRA Better Not Ignore A New Voter Poll About Guns.

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This week New Yorkers Against Gun Violence released a survey they commissioned of 600+ registered voters in New York State.  It’s part of an effort to promote new legislation that seeks to add additional safety measures to the SAFE law, which provoked lots of ire on the pro-gun side when Andy crashed it through the legislature shortly after Sandy Hook. The campaign is focused on a safe storage act known as Nicholas’s Law, named after a twelve-year old whose friend shot and killed him with an unlocked gun.

According to the NYAGV press release, the survey shows strong majority support for a wide range of gun-control issues beyond safe storage, including seizing guns from persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, microstamping of firearms sold in New York State, increased regulation  of dealers and limiting gun purchases to one every month.  With the exception of the last provision, a majority of gun owners also backed all the proposals, albeit by smaller margins of course.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Along with the specific gun-control proposals, the survey also asked both gun owners and non-gun owners about general attitudes toward the regulation of firearms.  Here again, both groups agreed that gun violence was a serious problem and that government had the right to set “reasonable”  regulations on gun ownership and gun use.

I am not surprised by these survey results, for the simple reason that New York is not a particularly gun-rich state.  And even though gun owners are probably in the majority in upstate, rural counties, if you conduct a survey in which respondents reflect percentages of New York State’s population living in large cities and suburban zones, you’re going to get most of your answers from people who, even if they own firearms, certainly don’t have the degree of enthusiasm or loyalty to the gun culture that you find in the South or rural parts of the Midwest.

That being said, when I looked at the cross-tabs for every question which break down responses by age, gender and race, the results of this survey raised some serious doubts in my mind as to what the future of gun ownership is really going to be.  Because what was interesting about the cross-tab responses was the degree to which for virtually every question, the groups that the gun folks have been trying hardest to persuade to join their ranks are exactly the groups who appear to be least interested in owning or, to put it bluntly, having anything to do with guns.

For example, in answer to this statement, “Having a gun in the home makes the occupants of that home safer,” a slightly majority (52%) disagreed.  This runs contrary to recent polls which show that a slight majority nationwide would agree.  But in New York nearly two-thirds of the female respondents disagreed, as did the Black and Latino respondents, as did the respondents ages 18 to 34.  As to whether to support reasonable gun regulations, roughly three-quarters of Blacks, Latinos and women agreed with this statement, but for the 18-34 age group the number was a whopping 82 percent!

Again, it needs to be remembered that these numbers would be different In states where most people own guns.  But I don’t think the gun folks should just write these numbers off because everyone knows that New Yorkers  don’t like guns.  Marketing campaigns to the contrary, women and minorities still don’t appear enamored of guns. Moreover, the fact that younger respondents exhibited the highest degree of approval for gun control and the lowest degree of support for the notion that guns protect us from crime tells me that the NRA and the pro-gun community may not be reaching the next generation of gun owners with a message that really works.  But that still leaves open the question of whether the other side can double down on the views of women, minorities and millennials to advance their agendas in gun-rich states.  New York ain’t exactly Dixie, right?

Noth Carolina Joins The List Of Dumb States In Trying to Keep Doctors From Talking To Patients About Guns.

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Here we go again.  Another state legislature, in this case North Carolina, may be joining 3 other dumb states in enacting a law that will prevent physicians from talking to patients about guns.  The bill would prohibit physicians from mentioning guns on intake questionnaires and worse, prohibits physicians from telling authorities about concerns that arise from interviewing a patient about gun ownership.  This stupidity first began in Florida which passed such a law inaugurating a legal battle known as Docs Versus Glocks which eventually resulted in the law being upheld by the 11th Circuit in 2014.

The North Carolina law, however, goes further into the realm of stupidity because it not only enjoins physicians from asking patients about gun ownership unless the patient has expressed a desire to harm himself or others, but it also prohibits disclosing information about gun ownership to any authorities except in instances where the aforesaid patient – ready for this? – has been “adjudicated incompetent due to mental illness.”  Does this law actually forbid a physician from informing law enforcement about a potential act of gun violence because the patient in question hasn’t yet gone before a judge who decided that the guy happens to be crazy as hell?  That’s right.  That’s exactly what the bill which may be taken up by the House Appropriations Committee actually says.

docs versus glocks                This new law creates a rather interesting predicament for doctors even if they don’t feel compelled to ask their patients about guns.  Because let’s say that a patient tells a physician, for example, that he’s suffering from extreme depression and is thinking of taking his own life.  He then further tells the physician that he owns guns and he is planning to use one of the guns on himself because he knows that it’s the quickest and easiest way to get the job done.  Under this law, the physician can’t actually do or say anything at all.  The guy is depressed but he’s lucid and hardly mentally incompetent.  The doctor can ask the guy about what kind of gun he’s planning on using to blow a hole through his head, but all he can do is perhaps suggest that the patient rethink the whole idea.  He can’t even tell the patient to get rid of the gun because the law also says that an individual’s right to own a gun is a “private matter” over which the doctor has no authority or input at all.

I’m not totally surprised that such a law would be enacted when I consider the original source, namely a loony Republican State Representative named George Cleveland, who once stated that nobody in North Carolina suffered from ‘extreme poverty’ when, in fact, roughly 8% of the state’s residents have incomes that fall below the extreme poverty line, and overall North Carolina ranks as the 13th poorest state. This rock-red Republican, by the way, just happens to be a gun nut and you can get a sense of this from his home page on Pinterest which is covered with guns. Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think that Representative Cleveland is a bad guy because he likes guns.  I think he’s a bad guy because this is a bad law.

Cleveland’s bill stands the Hippocratic Oath on its head. The law basically says that a physician cannot do or say anything to reduce the possible harm caused by someone who admits wanting to use a gun to hurt themselves or someone else.  Of course this same physician would be free to pick up the telephone and call the cops if someone walked into his clinic and said he was going to stab someone else with a knife.  If anyone other than the NRA really thinks this law is an important step forward in protecting our 2nd Amendment rights, then I just hope you’re not the guy or gal in North Carolina whose spouse just told a physician that they are going to grab you, grab their gun and put a bullet through your ear.

Let’s Hear It For Antonin Scalia: The Best Gun Salesman Of All Time.

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As the wheels start turning towards the 2016 election, I can’t figure out why the gun lobby continues to prattle on about the ‘threats’ posed by liberal candidates like Hilary, when everyone knows that the industry’s best friend is that arch-liberal Barack Obama, whose presence in the White House for nearly another two years means that guns will continue to sell like crazy until he departs from the scene.  And even though gun sales have slackened off since the halcyon days right after Sandy Hook and ammunition is once again appearing on at least some retail shelves, there’s no question that the only thing that really drives the gun business is the fear that gun owners won’t be able to buy or own any more guns.

Gun makers have never been able to convince a majority of Americans to go out and buy guns.  With all the recent efforts to attract new gun consumers like women, college students and Blacks, the profile of the average gun remains a blue-collar White male with a family and a truck who lives in one of the 13 Confederate states, the 3 border states and the rural parts of 5 Midwestern states. Most gun owners are politically conservative and, generally speaking, vote bright red. Looking for liberal gun owners is like trying to run a fundraiser for a politically conservative candidate in Silicon Valley or the Hollywood Hills. The fact that certain demographics sway one way and others sway in the opposite direction shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  We are a pretty diverse country, and diversity tends to create different points of view.

scalia                Yet despite these differences, the one thing that just about everyone believes is that the Constitution is truly the law of the land.  And while Republicans paint Obama as some kind of anti-Constitutional despot, anyone who would take such partisan nonsense seriously well…you can fill in the rest.  Which is why I find myself coming back to examine the 2008 Heller decision, because when all is said and done, this decision is more important for the future health and welfare of the gun industry than anything liberal gun-grabbers like Barack or Hilary could say or do.

Not only did the Court decide 5-4 that owning guns was a Constitutional right, the majority justified the decision by claiming that the right of personal gun ownership actually pre-dated the Constitution, the 2nd Amendment simply codifying a long-established practice that existed even before the Framers met in Philadelphia in 1787 or, for that matter, before British troops fired on colonials at Concord Bridge in 1776. It turns out that George Washington owned more than 50 firearms, both long guns and handguns, which qualified him as a true gun nut for his day.  Thomas Jefferson, not only was an accomplished gunsmith, but invented some of the assembly-line techniques that later were used in the manufacturing of small arms.

The number one Constitutional gun nut, however, is none other than the author of Heller, Antonin Scalia, whose justification for claiming that we have a Constitutional right to own a gun is based on nothing more than his own needs.  Try as he might, Scalia was utterly unable to find any significant legal precedent which justified using a gun for self-defense against personal threats or crime.  Aside from a few vague statements from the anti-Federalist side, the overwhelming definition of self-defense in pre-Constitutional jurisprudence and commentaries involved defense against political threats from a national state.

Scalia is considered to be the foremost champion of centralized government authority sitting on the High Court.  But I’ll bet that when he sat down to write Heller he was thinking first and foremost about how to protect his own guns. The fact that he crafted a decision effectively limiting the authority of the federal government while giving him and the rest of us the right to always own guns makes him a much better salesperson for the gun industry than Barack or Hilary could ever hope to be.

Want To Defend The 2nd Amendment? Go Shopping.

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Last week another idiot wearing a sheriff’s badge announced he would not enforce any law extending NICS background checks to private gun transfers in Oregon because keeping guns away from felons and other dangerous folks wasn’t on his list of priorities.  At least this particular lawman had the good sense to justify his enforcement concerns because of duty demands made on the deputies under his command; several weeks earlier an even bigger idiot with a sheriff’s badge in Oregon stated that he wouldn‘t enforce a new background check law because he considered it to be “borderline treasonous.”

I may be wrong, but I always thought that the role of law enforcement was to enforce the law, not to decide which laws to enforce.  Nobody’s arguing with the fact that when it comes to public safety you can’t take a cat down from a tree while the building across the street burns down.  And I happen to be 100% pro-cop, I really am.  I’ve seen cops and other first responders rush into dangerous situations while civilians like myself sat back and quietly gave thanks that we didn’t have to go in there ourselves.  But this nonsense about not enforcing gun-control laws is nothing other than a cynical, calculated ploy to build anti-government (read: anti-liberal, anti-Democrat) sentiment in red-leaning districts and gun-rich states.  The idea that we need to stand up against gun-grabbing Obama because he represents some kind of illegitimate power-grab is a recipe for talk among fools, and I’m being polite.

2A                The sheriffs in Oregon seem to be part of a national trend of lawmen allegedly protecting the 2nd Amendment whenever a state passes a new law restricting the purchase or use of guns.  A group of these sheriffs were particularly active in Colorado where expanded background checks were made into law; another bunch of 2nd-Amendment sheriffs met with Governor Jerry Brown in California while he was considering which gun bills to sign and which to reject; even in liberal New York State a couple of sheriffs publicly stated they would not enforce Andy’s SAFE Act after it became law.

Some of these disgruntled lawmen follow Oathkeepers, a group founded by a former Ron Paul staffer, dedicated to defending the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  With all due respect to the concern for foreign enemies, the group appears to be much more worried about threats from the Bureau of Land Management (you may recall the ongoing dispute with rancher Cliven Bundy) than anything being cooked up in Syria or Iraq.  The poster-boy for this crackpot bunch is a former Arizona sheriff, Richard Mack, who runs his own cabal called Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association which claims to be the “last line of defense” although I’m not sure against what.

The CSPOA claims to have enlisted over 500 sheriffs to “stand” with the 2nd Amendment and they have also “trained” 300 sheriffs in Constitutional rights.  What I find most interesting about this group is the endless array of ads for products and other commercial schemes that evidently help fulfill the requirements for Constitutional defense.  You can protect yourself in an “uncertain world” by stocking up on freeze-dried and dehydrated foods, or reach a new level of personal security by getting into a military-style body armor vest.  For those who want to make absolutely sure they won’t face threats in the most intimate and personal moments, you can register at the Patriot Date website and find the girl or guy who shares your Constitutional dreams.

The organizations worried about the erosion of our Constitutional rights are nothing more than commercial scams.  Which is fine when you stop to think about it, because if nothing else, the Constitution gives us all the unalterable right to buy and sell.  When it comes to threats to my Constitutional rights, the greatest threat would be if Amazon suddenly stopped debiting my Visa card. If that ever occurs, I’m sure Sheriff Mack will accept my payment for something he’s selling, no questions asked.

 

Book Review: A Restless Spirit – The Last Months of Manfred von Richthofen.

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The books I like to read more than any others are works of historical fiction set in and around World War II.  Give me a new novel by David Downing, Joseph Kanon or Alan Furst, particularly Alan Furst, and everything else I need to do can go to Hell in a hand basket from the moment I crack the front cover until I finish every last word. I’m not saying that Marc Cirigliano is catching up to Furst in terms of style or output and in fact he’s writing about another war – World War I. But the book I just read, A Restless Spirit, The Last Months of Manfred von Richthofen, excited me and made me hope we will see more such treatments from a professor of art history who knows how to tell a good tale.

ace                It wasn’t until I started reading A Restless Spirit that I remembered that we are, in fact, in the middle of the centenary of World War I.  And while a few WWI memorial organizations  and events have sprung up here and there, you can wander around Washington, D.C. and easily miss the WWI Memorial which was erected in a secluded spot on the edge of the Mall to honor DC residents who died in that war.  Meanwhile, the National World War II monument sits between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and if that’s not enough, you can always go across the Potomac and visit the splendid Marine Corps – Iwo Jima memorial which commemorates the great Joe Rosenthal photo of Mt. Suribachi as the men of Company E, 2nd Battalion unfurled the flag.

We only fought for 18 months in World War I and our total casualties, dead and wounded, were slightly more than 50,000 men. We had that many casualties of Confederate and Union fighting men in four days at Gettysburg, and between the British Isles and the Empire, the cost in dead alone from World War I was almost 2 million men.  That perhaps explains why the First World War holds just a sliver of the popular imagination when compared to World War II.  But in many respects, World War I may have been more important in terms of shaping subsequent events.  Both Hitler and Stalin were products of how their countries were ravaged between 1914 and 1918 and it’s doubtful that we would have had World War II if those regimes had not emerged from the chaos and destructiveness of what we now call the Great War.

The terrible cost of the war is brought home in vivid detail by Cirigliano’s descriptions of the air battles engaged in by Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a the Red Baron, whose 80 combat victories not only made him the leading fighter ace of the war, but transformed public consciousness about the value of air technology both during and after the war.  Richthofen, who came from Prussian nobility, was in military service from the day the war began until he died in April, 1918.  He led by example, was fearless in combat and in one month alone was credited with more than 20 enemy kills.

The author nicely weaves portraits of air combat with the day-to-day soldiering duties on the ground; the text puts the reader onto the battlefield, behind the lines, whatever and wherever troops were encamped or making ready for the next attack or defense against the foe.  But within this stressful and dangerous narrative another portrait emerges, that of Richthofen the outdoorsman and hunter who got away from the strains and harm of war by taking his Mauser into the woods.

I really liked the descriptions of Richthofen tramping through the forests around his native Schweidnitz and other spots.  The author tells us that he writes to illustrate “cooperation, self-development, conflict resolution and peace as essential components of the human experience,” and he ties this all together in fulsome descriptions of Richthofen hunting elk and boar. As you can tell, I really enjoyed reading this work and you’ll like it too.

 

Who Owns The Argument About Guns And Crime? We All Own It.

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When a major player in the world of political messaging gets involved in the gun debate, we should all read what he has to say.  That’s because Danny Franklin from the Benenson Group isn’t about to waste precious space in The Washington Post talking about something that isn’t near or in the middle of the public opinion radar scope.  And Franklin knows a little about public opinion, having conducted political polls for guys named Barack Obama and Cory Booker, to name a few.  His op-ed piece in The Post appears to have been occasioned by a poll he conducted which showed that a majority of respondents believe that a house with a gun is safer than an unarmed home; in fact similar results have cropped up here and there in recent years.

conference program pic                What I like about Franklin’s piece is the linkage between reducing gun violence and public health which, if nothing else, confirms again what we all know; namely that gun violence has an epidemiology that has to be studied and treated on its own terms.  We can talk all we want about strengthening or passing laws to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands,’ but when all is said and done, getting shot usually means a major commitment of medical resources, extended psychological trauma for the victim, family and friends, and costs in the millions for apprehending, convicting and punishing the dope who pulled the trigger of the gun.

These costs – financial, psychological, cultural – might be somewhat more acceptable if it were the case that guns in private hands serve any positive civil function at all.  In fact, if you are a gun hobbyist who collects guns or uses them for hunting or sport,  guns do serve an enjoyable end in and of themselves.  But the nonsense peddled by the NRA and pro-gun politicians about how armed citizens protect us from crime in not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense at that.  The odds that the average middle-class person will be the victim of a violent crime are about the same as the odds of that person getting run over by a rhinoceros; on the other hand, a gun in the home of that same person possibly considering suicide poses a real threat.

The data which demonstrates the indisputable risk of gun ownership comes from research produced by scholars in the field of public health.  And Franklin is on solid ground when he uses this data to advance the argument for viewing gun violence in public health terms.  Where I want to raise a comment, however, is when he evaluates public health strategies that will reduce gun violence because I think he identifies an interesting issue whose importance for the safe-gun movement has been ignored or not fully understood.

Franklin notes that public health measures were sometimes successful not just because of changes in the law but because of a growing public awareness which developed a momentum of its own.  By the time the Federal Government put health warnings on cigarette packs, for example, the number of adult smokers had already dropped from one out of three to one out of four.  And Franklin claims that the drop in gun crimes over the last twenty years might provide a similar degree of public awareness and momentum in the gun debate as well.

Every year when the FBI publishes its crime data the gun lobby seizes on the continued decline in violent crime as ‘proof’ that an armed citizenry is keeping us safe.  The truth is there’s absolutely no evidence showing any linkage between gun ownership and rates of violent crime.  I think the gun-safe movement should jump on these numbers to help promote their point of view, namely, that Americans clearly understand the risks posed by guns and should welcome everyone’s help to reduce gun violence even more. Why should the pro-gun community own the argument about guns and crime? If we are all concerned about gun violence, then we all should take credit when the numbers go down.

 

 

The New York Times Thinks The NRA Has Won. I’m Not So Sure.

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It’s official.  The NRA has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. The victory has been announced by none other than The New York Times in an editorial from Charles Blow, reporting on a report from Pew Research, which shows that more Americans favor “gun rights” than favor “gun control.”  The margin is narrow, 52 to 46, but in surveys conducted since 1993, the gun-control folks held a substantial lead over the pro-gun gang in every poll.  Now for the first time, the positions have “flipped,” leading Blow to announce that “The NRA appears to be winning this round.”

Not surprisingly, this opinion piece caught the attention of the gun-sense community, and not in a particularly positive way.  After all, the Times has published numerous editorials calling for stricter gun licensing, and the paper went out of its way to highlight the news that none of the guns displayed at the recent NRA show in Nashville could actually be made to shoot.  Want to get someone on the pro-gun side to quickly lose his cool?  Mention Mike Bloomberg or The New York Times.  Take your pick.

nyt logo                After announcing the results of the Pew survey, Blow gave his best guess as to why public opinion appears to be favoring less gun control.  I’m being polite by characterizing Blow’s explanations as being a ‘best guess.’  The truth is that nobody really knows whether anyone who is asked a question about something as politically insignificant as guns has spent more than two seconds thinking about the issue before they picked up the phone.  Guns only register as an important issue in polls that are conducted immediately after a high-profile shooting (Gabby Giffords, Sandy Hook), and with all due respect to Mr. Blow, I have never been convinced that we should take public opinion all that seriously about an issue whose significance rises and falls following random events.

Be that as it may, I want to offer a counter-argument to the Times and Charles Blow, and I want to make it clear that neither am I looking for some kind of silver lining in what otherwise might be seen from the gun-sense side as a depressing state of affairs, nor am I suggesting that the survey question no longer captures a valid view of what the gun argument is all about.  Because no matter what people who want to see an end to gun violence might think, changing public policy on gun ownership means making changes in the law.  And even if the laws are only changed to make it more difficult for guns to get into the ‘wrong hands,’ (e.g., domestic abusers, violent misdemeanors), this still means extending the reach of government as to whom should be able to own guns.  If that doesn’t qualify as new or additional controls, no matter how you dress it up, then perhaps I need a refresher course in English 101.

One thing I do know is that the mortality and morbidity resulting from the use of guns amounts to more than 100,000 Americans every year.  And it doesn’t matter whether it’s intentional or unintentional, whether it’s self-inflicted or inflicted by someone else, the one thing that all this mortality and morbidity shares is that it involved a gun.  And the other thing we know is that changing anything that results in this kind of behavior takes a very long time.  Tobacco was proven harmful fifty years before warnings appeared on cigarette packs.

Widespread advocacy about gun violence is really only twenty years old.  And let’s not forget that the survey used by Charles Blow was actually conducted and published last December, with public opinion about all progressive issues in the doldrums after the mid-term election results of 2014.  The fact that the NRA continues to marginalize and sensationalize its own message is not symptomatic of strength, but of a failure to attract new demographics (women, minorities, etc.) to its fold.  I wouldn’t be so quick to move the NRA into the winner’s circle.  Not just yet.

 

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