Guess Who Owns The Argument About Gun Violence? It Ain’t The NRA.

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Right after Sandy Hook we were treated to a rant from Wayne-o in which the head of the NRA blamed gun violence, among other things, on “a thousand music videos that portray life as a joke and murder as a way of life.”  He then castigated “media conglomerates” for bringing murder and violence as entertainment motifs into every American home. In defending gun ownership following this horrendous gun violence event, the NRA found it expedient and effective to rally its troops around the idea that popular culture and gun culture don’t mix.

I think that June 2, touted as Gun Violence Awareness Day, may mark a true turning-point in the argument about guns. The pro-gun community can lobby all it wants for laws that make it easier to own or carry guns, but fewer gun restrictions won’t really matter if the country’s dominant culture becomes anti-gun. And while the NRA has been promoting gun ownership as their response to the “culture wars,” the millennial culture that is emerging and will define the country appears to be solidly anti-gun.

june2                How can I say that when recent opinion polls indicate that a majority of Americans believe that guns make America a safer place?  I’ll tell you why.  First, the surveys which ask Americans if guns make them safer also show that less than a majority actually own guns.  Second, despite the Obama-driven spike in gun sales, the industry has not managed to penetrate new demographics such as women and minorities; most guns and ammunition sold in the last few years went to the same-old, same-old who bought those guns for the same reason that gun sales have spiked at other times, namely, the fear of losing their guns.  Finally and most important, the social and political views of millennials are completely at odds with the socio-demographic profile of the gun-owning population, and as millennials become the dominant generation, this could have dire consequences for the health and even survival of the gun industry as a whole.

According to Pew, a majority of millennials support gay rights, less than a majority are patriotic, only one-third are religious and they voted Obama in 2012.  As for Boomers, who buy and own most of the guns, they don’t support gays, they are fiercely patriotic, a majority are religious and they split their vote evenly in 2012.  What these numbers tell me is that over the next twenty years, the gun industry better come up with a wholly different argument for owning guns.

Gun Violence Awareness Day, as reported ruefully by Brietbart and other pro-gun blogs, garnered support from movie, song and media personalities like Russell Simmons, Aasif Mandvi, Padma Lakshmi, Amanda Peet, Tunde Adebimpe and many, many more.  I’m actually a pre-boomer, and I don’t have the faintest idea who any of these people are.  But I do know the celebs who show up each year at the NRA shindig; guys like Chuck Norris and Ollie North. Wow – talk about young, hip and cool.

Another master-stroke in planning this event was using orange to build identity and awareness for the folks who get involved.  Orange, or blaze orange as it is known, has always been worn by hunters and many states require it for anyone goes out after game.  Brady and Shannon’s Moms, among other organizations, have lately moved into the safety space which was owned lock, stock and barrel by the NRA. Guess who now shares and could soon own that space?

Until recently, the playing field where gun violence arguments played out was controlled by the NRA. But right now the field is tilting the other way.  And notice how millennial culture has no problem attaching the word ‘violence’ to the word ‘guns.’  This alone should make the NRA wonder if their message can win or even compete for hearts and minds.  The NRA always assumed that gun owners would defend their guns while everyone else just sat by.  After June 2nd, I wouldn’t want to take that assumption to the bank.

Does Time To Crime Help Us Understand How Guns Get Into The ‘Wrong Hands?’ I Don’t Think So.

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Ever since the NICS system went fully operational in 1998, gun-control advocates have been pushing to expand background checks beyond the original countertop sale.  And while it’s arguable, to say the least, that 40% of all gun transfers take place outside of the NICS background check process, there’s no denying the fact that regulating the movement of firearms throughout the civilian marketplace means, by definition, that less guns would get into the ‘wrong hands.’  In the meantime, however, the lack of comprehensive background checks has also spawned a series of assumptions about how and why guns end up being used in crime, and these assumptions then lead to policy strategies whose effectiveness, as far as I can tell, would be questionable at best.

nics                The biggest assumption flowing from the patchwork NICS system is the notion that guns end up in the ‘wrong hands’ because of something called ‘straw sales;’ i.e., someone who can pass muster with NICS buys a gun for someone who can’t, or someone sells a firearm to someone else who is prohibited under law from owning a gun. Another corollary that runs along the same line is the notion that many crime guns come out of the inventories of a relatively few rogue dealers who consciously furnish these weapons to so-called ‘gun traffickers’ who then set up shop on a gang-infested street.  This leads to the third corollary, namely, that states with weak gun laws (read: the South) are the spores out of which all these straw sales and gun-trafficked weapons initially emerge, then to be carted off and resold in gun-tough states like New York and other parts of the Northeast.

Much of this evidence about how, why, when and where crime guns appear comes from those folks who are responsible for regulating gun commerce, a.k.a. the ATF.  The agency publishes an annual report on a state-by-state basis which shows how long it takes for a gun originally sold by a federally-licensed dealer to wind up in the street.  This process is known as Time To Crime (or TTC), and the average for all 50 states is somewhere around 11 years.  Consequently, when the ATF notices that a particular dealer has a TTC of two years or less, there’s a good chance that this shop is somehow involved in straw selling, gun trafficking, or both.  Let me break the news to you gently: If I had a nickel for every piece of research that has been published on the utility of TTC as a way to cut down on guns ending up in the wrong hands, I’d be sitting in Zelo’s in Monaco instead of the diner near my house which has a hot spot that I’m using while I write this piece.

I hate to break the news to the ATF and the gun-control advocates who rely on the ATF to help formulate their strategies for regulating guns, but the TTC data published by the ATF doesn’t explain anything about the movement of guns from legal to illegal hands.  The trace request received by the dealer is based on the date that the wholesaler shipped him the gun.  So the data which comprises a TTC dealer profile is based on the first time a particular gun was sold.  In most gun shops, upwards of 40% of the guns that are sold (and for which a NICS check is conducted) happen to be used guns.  I sold more than 12,000 guns in my shop and I can tell you that I often sold the same gun two or three times.  But if I received a trace request for that gun, my response would be based only on the earliest, initial sale.

If the average gun dealer sells 30-40 percent used guns, there’s a 30-40 percent chance that the ATF trace will not be a reliable indicator of when that particular gun started moving from legal to illegal hands. Want to base public policy and advocacy on those odds?  You go right ahead.

 

Shouldn’t Docs And Cops Work Together When It Comes To Guns?

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Down in Brazos, Texas, two ER doctors made local headlines by donating a pair of Mossberg shotguns to the local County Constable office.  The guns were donated in memory of Constable Brian Bachmann, a 20-year law enforcement veteran, who was killed while attempting to serve an eviction notice onan enraged individual, the latter after shooting Bachmann then shot and killed a civilian, and wounded two other police officers before being killed himself.

What caught my eye about this story was the fact that it highlighted the relationship between law enforcement and medicine when we think about violence perpetrated with guns.  After all, if we use a phrase like ‘gun violence’ to cover every incident in which someone suffers an injury from a gun, then three-quarters of all violence involving guns also happen to be crimes. In 2013, hospitals treated roughly 60,000 people who were victims of shootings and treated 135,000 victims of stabbings and other serious assaults.  But the resources required to deal with gun assaults is probably ten times higher than what’s needed to deal with stabbings or cuts. And every one of these costly gun crimes also creates significant costs and resource use for the cops.

mossberg                The bottom line is that physicians and police are the two groups which must respond to every, single act of violence committed with a gun.  That being the case, how come we have so little interaction between law enforcement and medical communities when it comes to figuring out how to deal with guns?  Back in 2013, three of the leading public health gun researchers published a truly seminal article calling for more engagement between physicians and public health researchers to figure out how to respond to the risks posed by guns.  But shouldn’t this dyad actually be a triad by adding criminology to the mix?  Because if, as the public health authors propose, people buy and carry guns out of fear, don’t we need to know what makes some people then use these guns to commit crimes?

I think the absence of criminology from the public health – medical gun conversation has only served to make it easier for the NRA and other gun promoters to advance the stupid notion that gun ownership is a prima facie way of dealing with crime based on the equally-stupid notion that every illegal gun use can and should be responded to by simply taking the guns away from the ‘bad guys’ and locking them up for long periods of time.  The fact that public health research indicates that guns first appear on the street in the hands of young teens, many of whom might still be guided into non-criminal pursuits given the proper social and therapeutic interventions, is a response to gun violence that the NRA and its cohorts simply ignore.

The NRA reminds its membership every day that being pro-cop and pro-gun are one and the same.  But their relationship to the law enforcement community is ambivalent at best.  For every Western (and some Eastern) sheriff who says he won’t enforce expanded background checks or other gun controls, there’s another police official arguing against laws to weaken CCW or allow college students to walk around armed.  Lots of cops are gun guys, and the average cop will tell you, and he’s right, that law-abiding gun owners are never a problem when it comes to violence caused by guns.  But these same cops also know that most, if not all the guns they face in the street were stolen from a law-abiding gun owner who forgot to lock his guns away.

Take a look at gun industry promotions and you’ll notice that the term ‘gun violence’ is never used.  In fact, the standard mantra among pro-gun criminologists is that guns actually reduce violence because the ‘good guys’ are carrying so many of them around. The real challenge for public health researchers is not disproving this cynical and self-serving nonsense one more time.  It’s making common cause with all the stakeholders who want to advance sensible solutions for the problem of guns.

Physicians Need To Be Engaged In Preventing Gun Violence Right From The Start.

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In 1969 I was a caseworker for the Cook County Welfare Department, working out of the West Madison office near Garfield Park in Chicago’s West Side.  The neighborhood, then and now, was considered one of the city’s more troubled areas characterized by high levels of crime and low levels of economic opportunity; not quite as bad as some other Chicago neighborhoods but not a place where I would ever feel comfortable or at home.  And when I recently looked at the Chicago Tribune’s crime map, it hardly came as a surprise that East Garfield was still a place where getting shot or shot at is a regular feature of life in that part of town.

Actually, Chicago is right now enjoying a slight respite from the gun violence of the past few years with 2015 shootings running about 20% lower than in 2014.  I’m not sure, however, that the word ‘enjoying’ actually fits what happened this past weekend because so far during the holiday there have been 9 killed and 32 others wounded by gunfire and Memorial Day celebration still has one more day to go. Is it actually possible that a city of 2.7 million could end up with 50 shooting victims in just 3 days?  Last year, New York with twice as many people experienced 10 shootings over the holiday weekend and the media called it a “shooting spree.”  When it comes to gun violence, Chicago is hardly the “Second City,” that’s for sure.

conference program pic                 Of course the crime numbers on Chicago’s West Side are appreciably different from where Barack and Michelle live in the South Side neighborhood known as Hyde Park.  This area surrounding the University of Chicago and counting about the same number of residents as east Garfield recorded only 6 violent crimes in the past month.  I suspect that crime in Hyde Park will drop even further in 2017 when the President comes home to live full-time surrounded by a phalanx of Secret Service agents complete with dogs, anti-crime patrols, choppers, the whole Presidential security bit.

In addition to the Obamas, Hyde Park is also home to the Chicago Crime Lab, a research and think-tank at the University supported by a who’s who of America’s glitterati foundations and various government funding sources.  The Lab has published significant research on gun violence, much of the work conducted by Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig and one of their reports, Gun Violence Among School-Age Youth in Chicago, stands out as a model for public health research of this kind. The report deserves to be read in its entirety, but my self-imposed space limitation requires me to focus on only one major theme, namely, the fact that youth who engage in gun violence can usually be spotted at a very young age.

The report argues that children start to exhibit behavior that pushed them to get their hands on guns by the time they reach middle school years; i.e., the eighth grade.  This report was published in 2009 but America’s foremost criminologist, Marvin Wolfgang, basically made the same argument in his remarkable book, Delinquency in a Birth Cohort, published in 1972. Wolfgang didn’t tie delinquency to gun violence per se, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to assume the connection between repeated delinquency, serial criminality and access to guns.

If, as Cook and Ludwig argue, behavior predictive of gun violence begins to appear at a young age, their call for interventions by school authorities and community programs lacks one vital piece.  Every young child in cities like Chicago is examined by a physician at least once each year.  And who better than physicians are trained to diagnose youth behavior that might create risk? When it comes to children’s health, we need to think of gun violence not just as a socio-economic phenomenon, but as a medical condition whose diagnosis and treatment should be handled by the same medical professionals who make sure that kids are immunized against measles, mumps and the flu.

 

 

Here’s A Safe Gun Device That Does What It’s Supposed To Do: Make A Gun Safe.

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Guess what?  There’s actually a safe-gun device out there that really works.  Well, it’s not out there quite yet.  But I fooled around with prototypes that will fit most pistols and the AR, and they really do what they are supposed to do, namely, only allow the gun to be used by the person who owns or uses that gun.  There’s been a lot of chatter lately about safe-gun technologies that kind of work, or maybe work, or work only on one particular gun, but this device gets beyond all those problems and is so simple and well-designed that how could it not work?

In the interests of full disclosure as we like to say, I have no financial connection or investment in the company – Gun Guardian, LLC – which developed and patented these devices.  I wish I did.  But I don’t, which is why these products aren’t on the market just yet.  But if you want to get in on the ground floor from a financial point of view, I don’t think there’s a better time and I don’t know of a better product, and with that said, let me tell you why.

guardian                First and foremost, the device is basically a trigger lock that is enabled with a finger-tip security code which can be changed or set with multiple codes.  Better yet, the device fits on the accessory rail of most polymer-frame pistols and ARs so it can be readily attached just like a laser or a light.  When the correct security code is entered, a spring-loaded shield opens to reveal the trigger and then can be easily re-set.  I drew the prototype pistol up to the firing position and it added hardly any time in moving the pistol from the ‘ready’ to the ‘go.’  The device for the AR works exactly the same way but replaces the hand-grip of the weapon, so it doesn’t add any extra bulk or size to the gun itself. You can view these products on the company’s website, complete with action videos that can also be viewed on YouTube, but believe me, they work.

In addition to how well these products work, here’s a few other things to consider. The company is owned by two Florida cops who happen to know a lot about safety because they are currently detectives with the Florida Bureau of Fire, Arson and Explosion Investigations.  Which means that when they talk about gun safety, they can’t be accused of being a couple of tree-hugging liberals who just want to get rid of all the guns.  Much of the opposition to safe-gun technology has been based on the idea that it’s just another way to get around the 2nd Amendment and make it harder or more expensive for the gun guys to get their hands on guns. Anyone who would accuse the Gun Guardian owners of being anti-gunners is no longer in control of his mind.

More important, these devices don’t involve any engineering within the guns themselves.  As I said earlier, basically what we have here is nothing more than a trigger lock, except that the lock can only be disengaged either with a finger-tip combination or, if the product developers wanted, they could also add a finger-tip scanning device.  Either way, it’s a standalone product that would be purchased independent of the gun.

And that’s the best part of the story of all.  Because the cost of the device doesn’t change the cost of the gun, which means that this product can be purchased at a later time. It can also be purchased not just by a gun owner but by someone who doesn’t even own a gun but wants someone else to keep their guns locked up and safe.  The Ad Council has just started a massive publicity campaign on gun safety with a message that simply says, “Lock it up.” Wouldn’t a clever counter-top Gun Guardian display in every Brookstone store net some sales?

A New Book On CCW That Deserves To Be Read.

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Jennifer Carlson teaches sociology at the University of Toronto but has just published a book on America and its guns.  The book, Citizen-Protectors, The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline, is a little misleading, because the decline which Professor Carlson studied took place only in Flint, MI and the shabbier sections of Detroit.  Analyses of Rust Belt socio-economic alienation are hardly new (think Clint’s Gran Torino) but Carlson’s attempt to explain CCW as a paradigm through which to understand the human response to things going from bad to worse is a somewhat novel interpretation of why many Americans appear to be turning to guns.

Basically, Carlson argues that the notion of armed citizens, or what she refers to as ‘citizen-protectors,’ responds to fears of economic and social insecurities that pervade neighborhoods in economically-depressed cities like Flint.  Most of the guys she interviewed (Carlson was the only gun-carrying female mentioned in the book) were not motivated to carry guns out of any ideological or high-minded ideals; they had been threatened or attacked or otherwise felt that carrying a gun was simply something that daily life circumstances compelled them to do.  On the part of Whites, the overriding concern was fear of crime; on the part of Blacks it was a conviction that the cops weren’t there to help them out.

holsterw                The author explains how the NRA’s push for CCW and elimination of gun-free zones has neatly captured the concerns of both Whites and Blacks who carry guns in Flint and Detroit.  She correctly refers to the ‘moral politics’ of armed self-defense, which not only takes the form of believing that gun-carriers are law-abiding citizens, but that carrying a gun is actually a fundamentally-sound way to uphold the law.  The idea that America should depend first and foremost on armed citizens has been the NRA rallying-cry for the past twenty years, and if you don’t believe me, just read what Wayne LaPierre said about carrying guns after the massacre at Sandy Hook. What Carlson believes is that socio-economic decline, among other things leads to the collapse of public faith in public institutions to maintain the peace.  What more propitious atmosphere in which to promote the idea that guns represent a social good?

I would have no problem with Carlson’s argument had she kept her focus on places like Flint and Detroit.  But she’s after bigger game, what the end-notes refer to as a ‘captivating and revealing look at gun culture,’ and here I’m not so sure that the book completely succeeds.  Notwithstanding the fact that the number of CCW permits has probably doubled in the last ten years, the biggest increase in concealed-carry activity has taken place in parts of the country which benefited from the movement of people and industries away from Rust Belt cities like Flint and Detroit. Does the socio-economic alienation template constructed by Carlson for concealed-carry in Michigan explain the growth of gun-carrying in states like Florida, Texas or other Sun Belt states?  To me, that’s something of a stretch.

Notwithstanding the enormous upsurge in gun sales during the administration of you-know-who, the fact is that a smaller percentage of people own guns now then owned them ten years ago, and the demographics of gun ownership (older white males living in rural areas and smaller cities and towns) has basically remained unchanged.  I’m not disputing what Carlson discovered by going around to shooting ranges in Detroit and Flint, but the latter’s population has dropped by 50% since 1970, with Detroit losing almost two-thirds during the same forty-five years. Even if every single qualified adult in both cities went out to buy and carry a gun, it would make precious little difference in the overall downward trend of gun ownership in the United States.

Jennifer Carlson has published an interesting book and some of the comments about guns on her blog are really a ‘must read.’ Now that she’s done roaming around Detroit and is back in Toronto, I’d love to know what she did with her gun.

Want To Be Good Guy With A Gun? Join The Bandidos.

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One thing we can say for sure about the parking lot in front of the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco – sure isn’t a gun-free zone.  When the fracas came to an end last Sunday, at least nine people were dead, another eighteen were injured and more than 150 biker gang members had either been arrested or detained for additional questioning, a number which kept changing as the cops ran out of usual spaces (read: jail cells) to stick all the guys who engaged in the rumble.

And if you think that it was only the parking that was an unfree gun zone, the Waco Police Department issued a list of all the weapons found in the restaurant before, during and after the gang members were being carted off to the hoosegow.  Ready?  Along with an AK-47, the cops found 118 handguns stuffed into potato chip sacks, flour bags, hidden on shelves in the restaurant’s kitchen and simply lying around on the floor. And here’s the best of all; someone actually tried to flush a handgun down a toilet.

motorcycles                I remember back in the 1980s when Glock first started promoting gun sales, the company ran a very clever advertisement called the Glock “torture test” which showed someone dropping a Glock from the roof of a building, then coming downstairs, picking up the gun and it still worked.  The test was a riff on Timex watches and how they take a licking but keep on ticking. So I’m thinking that maybe someone in the Waco Twin Peaks restaurant wanted to update the Glock test by first trying to flush the pistol down the toilet. Dumber things with guns happen all the time in the Lone Star State.

In any case, the Waco mess apparently grew out of a fight that started inside the restaurant and then spilled outside.  The melee evidently involved members of at least four biker gangs, including but not limited to members of the Scimitars, Vaqueros, Cossacks and Bandidos, the last-named bunch having been dubbed a “growing criminal threat” by the Department of Justice, even though their French subsidiary allegedly runs a Toys for Tots drive every year – in France.

Biker gangs have been around almost as long as motorcycles have been around, but they achieved their unique counter-cultural status in the 1960s when they were rhapsodized and condemned by “gonzo” journalist Hunter Thompson, whose relationship with the bikers ended when he got the crap beaten out of him by several members after Thompson rebuked one of them for punching out his wife.  Two years later the Angels and other biker gangs engaged in a slugfest at the Altamont rock festival, which both ruined the festival and stripped the biker gangs of any last vestige of romantic imagery in the media or the popular imagination.

Meanwhile back in Texas, a bill to allow open carry of handguns appears to be ready for passage which Governor Abbott has promised to sign. The bill’s supporters, of course, claim that what happened in Waco shouldn’t have anything to do with this law, but the mess outside of the Twin Peaks restaurant, it seems to me, does have something important to say about the NRA’s most cherished project, namely, to get rid of all gun-free zones.  Recall what Wayne-o said after Sandy Hook:  “Only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

But think about this:  There may have been more than 100 bikers at Twin Peaks, all of whom believed they were ‘good guys’ who needed to carry guns in case a ‘bad guy’ from another gang was also armed.  So if everyone can decide for themselves who are the ‘good guys’ and who are the ‘bad guys’ and back up this decision by strapping on a gun, the incident in Waco won’t be the last time that bullets and bodies go flying.  Do people become ‘good’ because they walk around with a gun?  The Bandidos and the NRA would definitely agree.

 

 

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