Do More Guns Equal Less Crime? The Lone Star State Says ‘No.’

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An article has just appeared which may prove to be one of the most significant contributions by public health research to the ongoing debate about gun violence.  Not that there is much of a debate about the fact that guns kill 30,000+ yearly, injure at least 60,000 others, the total costs of which amount to more than $200 billion each year.  But the response of the pro-gun gang to this state of affairs is to deny the negative effects of gun violence when compared to the positive role that guns play in keeping us safe from crime.  And to bolster this rather disingenuous way of getting as far away from the evidence as possible, the gun gang invariably rolls out Kleck’s phony telephone survey which found that gun owners prevented millions of crimes each year, or they listen to John  Lott on some red-meat radio station promoting his discredited thesis that ‘more guns equals less crime.’

Unfortunately, most of the research on whether gun ownership does or doesn’t prevent crime suffers from the admitted failure by public health researchers to construct a research model that can really explain to what degree a coincidence (i.e., concealed-carry licenses going up, crime rates going down) is actually a causality or not. What the research team which published this study did to sharpen the focus of this question was to look at county-level issuances of CCW in 4 states (Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas) and compare this date against county-level arrest data in the same 4 states for, and here’s the important point, ten years following the issuance of CCW, or what is also referred to as CHL.

        Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry

Before getting to the results of this study, I should mention one very important distinction between the research team that was responsible for this work, as opposed to public health researchers who have been active in this particular field.  For the most part, the work that has debunked the ‘more guns = less crime’ argument has come out of either elite, Ivy League institutions like Harvard or Yale, or has been the product of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.  And since everybody knows that the anti-gun monster Bloomberg funded the Hopkins School of Public Health, everyone knows that their work is only published when it supports something that is anti-gun.  And if you think I’m overstating the degree to which the pro-gun gang dismisses public health gun violence research through the shabbiest form of academic character assassination, take a look at what Gary Kleck recently said about criticisms of his work.

The group that researched and wrote the referenced article aren’t faculty from Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard or Yale.  They are from the Department of Health Policy and Management at Texas A&M. Whoa!  Texas A&M?  A school located in the state where the previous Governor claims he carries a gun for self-protection against prairie dogs when he’s out for his morning jog? But Texas, on the other hand, is not only the state for guns, but next January the Lone Star State will roll back a 140-year old law and let its good citizens carry guns openly just about anywhere they choose.

That all being said, exactly what did this team of Texans discover about the relationship between concealed-carry and crime?   They discovered that there’s no relationship at all.  Between 1998 and 2010, the personal crime rate in Florida dropped by 9%, it was flat even in Michigan, and went up slightly in Texas and Pennsylvania.  The property crime rate declined in Florida and Texas, murders increased slightly in Pennsylvania and the Sunshine State.  The burglary rate in all 4 states decreased, even though a major portion of Lott’s book was devoted to ‘proving’ that non-personal crimes would increase after CCWs were issued because criminals were afraid that more citizens would have guns.

I’ll end this comment by quoting the researchers themselves: “Is CHL licensing in any way related to crime rates? The results of this research indicate that no such relationships exist.” As my grandmother would say, “and that’s that.”

Dana Loesch Gets A Taste Of Her Own Medicine And It Couldn’t Happen To A More Deserving Gal.

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Now that Dana Loesch has discovered a new way to get people to listen to her stupid and senseless I’m a pistol-packin’ Mom video, we can all sit back and wait for her next attempt to climb out from underneath her rock and pretend that she knows anything about guns. I’m referring to the childish effort by a video designer to mock Dana’s even more childish defense of gun violence by creating what is obviously a satire of her message which ends with an explosion, a spatter of blood and, if you have any kind of imagination, it looks and sounds like Dana shot herself with a Glock.

Unfortunately, the video has been removed both from the Twitter page of its designer, as well as from a story that obligingly appeared in The Blaze.  But this hasn’t stopped Dana from lining up her right-wing media cronies like Cam Edwards, as well as her legion of adoring fans to come to her defense in her hour of need.  The problem is that Dana’s original video about having a gun because she needs to protect her family uses the same, old, senseless argument that the NRA has been putting out there for thirty years, namely, that we are all the targets of violent criminals both within our homes and out in the street, and the only way to defend ourselves in an increasingly violent world is to get our hands on a gun.

loeschBut this time the attack didn’t come from some imaginary (I’m going to use one of Dana’s favorite words) thug bursting through the door; it was in the form of a video that played harmlessly on the web.  Too bad for Dana that she can’t defend herself from words or pictures by brandishing her gun.  But she can remind all her fans that the only violence they need to fear is the artistic violence perpetrated by her enemies who want to get rid of the guns.  She tweeted that the video was a “threat” on her life and then in a later tweet accused the same, liberal crowd that was behind the video of being the real promoters of violence because, after all, they will kill “babies and conservatives” if and when they get the chance.

I guess if you accuse someone of murder in print it’s okay, it’s just when a violent event is captured on video that someone’s crossed the line.  But Dana’s ready for all possibilities because remember, she’s got a gun.  And just in case the video really does constitute a threat to her life, she’s already contacted the FBI.  Of course she also made sure that an obliging gun company, in this case Remington, offered to help her protect herself by sending her a new gun. The choreography of Dana’s response to this video is all too neat, all too perfect; I’m wondering –  did she produce the video herself?
I want to say two things about Dana Loesch.  First, she’s a real bore, and I don’t mean stupid and boring, which she is. What I really mean is that she debases every discussion she joins.  Dana reduces everything to the lowest common intellectual denominator, she shamelessly panders to anger and fear. I have no issue with pro-gun folks who state their views with attention to real facts and respect for the truth.  I didn’t notice cry-baby Dana mouthing any concern when a meme appeared in which an idiot actually did threaten Shannon Watts by putting an axe through her head.

Second, because I’m polite I won’t call her a liar but what she says is simply not true.  The number of women who are shot in domestic disputes with guns kept around the home is twenty times higher than the number of women who use a gun to protect themselves from harm.  When Dana stands there primping in her leather outfit (no doubt wearing it while she home-schools her kids) and tells women that a gun will make them safe, she’s promoting real danger, not responding to a make-believe event.

 

On December 10-14 You’ll See Why The Gun Lobby Is No Match For The Cross Lobby.

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I have published nearly 400 op-ed pieces on guns, which adds up to more than 240,000 words.  But until two weeks ago, when I posted a column about the November 3rd gun violence event at Washington’s National Cathedral, I hadn’t written a single word about the question of gun violence and religious faith, which the more I think about it, deserves a central place in the gun debate.

The Very Rev. Gary Hall

The Very Rev. Gary Hall

Part of my reluctance to write about guns and religion stems from the fact that I’m not particularly religious.  So I don’t instinctively think about religion or faith when I’m constructing an argument about guns or anything else.  But the good folks at the National Cathedral just sent me a notice about the Gun Violence Sabbath Weekend taking place on December 10-14, and the scope and depth of this remarkable event needs to be recognized and considered even by a non-religious sort like myself.

The event is actually designed to inject the issue of gun violence into the religious services of Christians, Jews, Islam, Hindus, Sikhs, Universalists and Buddhists – I hope I have them all.  Similar events took place in 2014 engaging more than 1,200 congregations and worship sites forming  a virtual coalition between the National Cathedral, the Newtown Foundation, Faiths United To Prevent Gun Violence and other faith-based and anti-violence groups.

I’m going to assume that if 1,000 congregations of different faiths choose to dedicate a Sabbath observance to gun violence that easily a million people could be involved in thinking about this issue over the four-day period beginning December 10th.  But it occurs to me that there’s one national organization that is somewhat conspicuous by its absence from the event, and that organization happens to be the NRA.  And the reason I say that is because the annual NRA fest, which will be held next year in Louisville, always includes a prayer breakfast which, according to the 2016 program, will present speakers “who will challenge you with stirring words of freedom and faith.” So if religious belief can be used both to invoke the Lord’s guidance for those who want to end gun violence, as well as to invoke God’s blessing over those whose devotion to their guns ultimately results in 30,000+ deaths each year,  how do we reconcile these two seemingly-contradictory views of faith?

I found an answer to that question in the sermon preached by The Very Reverend Gary Hall who will retire as Dean of the National Cathedral shortly after the December GVP event.  Reverend Hall preached this message on December 16, 2012, just two days after the Sandy Hook massacre that took the lives of 20 first-graders plus 6 adults.  After recounting his own reaction and the reactions of others to the horrifying event, Dr. Hall turned to the question that had to be answered: “What are we, as people of faith, to do?”  And to answer that question, he reminded the Congregation of their sacred duty:  “As Christians, we are obligated to heal the wounded, protect the vulnerable, and stand for peace. “

But if, as Reverend Hall went on to say, the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby, then shouldn’t people who devote themselves to the cross also be out there talking to people who devote themselves to guns?  I’ve never attended the NRA prayer breakfast, but I’m sure the audience considers themselves to be persons of deep faith.  And don’t ask me how, don’t ask me why, but the religious ‘faith’ of those Republican Presidential candidates always seems to go hand-in-hand with their unwavering support for 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

Don’t get me wrong.  Reverend Hall’s post-Newtown uplifting sermon was a powerful antidote to Wayne LaPierre’s fear-mongering rant which constituted the NRA’s response to Sandy Hook.  But there are plenty of people out there who still want to cling both to their religion and their guns. The faith-based coalition that will come together around the country on December 10-14 might consider ways to reach those folks as well.

 

Does It Matter Whether Guns Protect Us From Crime? Not If You Want To Sell Guns.

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Last week the pro-gun gang received a shot in the arm from a story out of Detroit where a legally-armed private citizen yanked out a gun and shot a man who was running away from a bank with a pile of cash. Actually, the armed citizen shot the bank robber in both arms, as well as the leg, shooter and robber doing just fine; the latter in the hospital under arrest, the former no doubt on his way to Fairfax, VA to be congratulated by Wayne-o for reminding us all about the true value of our 2nd Amendment rights.

Granted I’m indulging in a bit of hyperbole, but you would think that since groups like Everytown and Brady post interviews with victims of gun violence on their websites, the NRA would want to run stories about citizen-defenders to promote their point of view.  Actually, the NRA has been running such stories since 1978.  It’s something called the Armed Citizen, which is a monthly collection of press reports about good guys stopping the bad guys; for the current month there are four reports, including the incident in Detroit, which is slightly less than the average 6-7 reports published each month.

             Glock 21

Wait a minute!  Hold the presses!  In a country of 319 million people, in a country where civilians own more than 300 million guns, in a country in which at least 12 million good guys have concealed weapons permits, how in God’s name is it possible that only six or seven people use a gun each month to defend themselves or others from a crime?

To try to answer this vexing question, the first thing I did was turn to the Armed Citizen website, which bills itself as the place that “provides you with the news and resources you need to remain informed and active.” One of their latest examples of the work of an armed citizen has the following headline: “Car fleeing from police goes through park, nearly hits children.”  So I guess this website collects stories about citizens armed with cars.

Then there’s another outfit called GunPitt – Guns Saves Lives, which advertises itself as the “secure way to trade guns online” although the link is broken, also produces a series of gun podcasts, including a series called God and Guns, The Responsible Christian Gun Owners Interests (they must have been pretty busy this week given what Pope Francis told the Congress), and also collects stories about defensive gun uses which now totals 1,360 anecdotes about the work of armed citizens, although it’s not clear how many years are covered by this report.  In any case, I took a look at the latest DGU story out of my neighboring state of Connecticut, and here’s what the website says: “A woman in Waterbury, Connecticut had to grab a gun in order to capture a naked man who was allegedly raping the woman’s dog in her backyard.”

Here’s the bottom line: If the same bunch which assures us that guns are used to stop crimes “millions” of times each year tries to prove it by publishing stories about cars driving through playgrounds or man rapes dog, then the argument about good guys stopping bad guys bears no relationship to the truth.  And maybe it’s time to stop advancing cogent, reasoned and researched arguments against gun fantasists like Gary Kleck and John Lott, and step back to take another look.

Take a look, for example, at the marketing message of a company like Glock.  Under personal defense products, the website shows a tough, executive-type strapping on his gun: “Defense is personal, and it should be, it’s about invading your space.” Then off he runs to catch the 7:15, armed with his G42 pistol and the Wall Street Journal to confront another harrowing day.  Marketing isn’t reality; it’s about merging a product with a fantasy, in this case a lethal weapon which makes you feel that you’ll come out ahead.  Sells guns, doesn’t it?

Colion Noir Is Having Trouble Finding People Who Like Guns.

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I don’t usually give the pro-gun gang free publicity, but I think that everyone who is concerned about reducing gun violence should take out 15 minutes and look at the recently-posted NRA video with Colion Noir. Nobody would pay Colion much attention if it weren’t for the fact that he’s such an atypical gun owner that he gets noticed no matter what he says or does.  He’s Black, hip, cool, a real dude in Armani clothing who talks the talk and walks the walk, the talk being how much funs it is to be into guns.  And in particular he talks up the whole issue of armed, self-defense which has become the rallying-cry for the surge in gun sales over the last few years.

noir                Actually, the real reason why gun sales have nearly doubled in the last few years has to do with one thing and one thing only, namely, the Kenyan, or the Muslim, or whatever Donald Trump thinks the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue happens to be.  And if someone like Trump or any other red-meat Presidential pretender moves into the People’s House in 2017, I guarantee you that gun sales will fall back down to where they were under George W. Bush, 9-11 or no 9-11.

All the more reason why the gun industry is trying to convince everyone that a gun is the best protection against crime.  But there’s only one little problem.  Violent crime keeps going down.  Or at least it keeps going down in neighborhoods where most gun owners happen to live.  Because most gun owners are married, White men who live in smaller cities or rural areas, and these are locations that, generally speaking, don’t experience a lot of crime.

Enter Colion with this video attempt to make gun owning to the demographics that don’t seem particularly interested in buying guns: racial minorities, urbanites, women and millennial men.  He’s got them all in this video; more than twenty people appear and most actually have something to say.  The only problem is that by the end of the production, you really understand what the industry will be up against when the current White House tenant moves back to Illinois.

The video begins with a very realistic and forbiddingly well-done scene in which a young woman screams her head off because someone has just broken down her door.  We then segue to a series of discussions between Colion and passerbys on a Houston street, some conversation snips between him, this guy and that guy, a stupidly-banal verbal exchange between Colion and four old high school friends, the requisite appearance of two hip-looking lesbians, and a final, philosophically-concerned exchange between Colion and his female friend, Ja-Mes Sloan.

In this final scene Colion gives the whole thing away because in responding to the doubts about gun ownership voiced by Ms. Sloan, here’s what Colion has to say: “I have the right to defend myself however I choose to defend myself.”  He’s a lawyer and he said that?  He has the ‘right’ to decide for himself what kind of a weapon he’s going to use? Even gun-nut Antonin Scalia said in Heller that the government can regulate and even outlaw weapons considered too dangerous for civilian use.

But maybe what we’re looking at in this video is Colion’s own attempt at cinema verité because if I were Colion, I’d be pissed off and frustrated by the time I got done speaking with all these old and new-found friends.  And the reason I might feel that way is that not one single person says that he or she would ever want to own a gun – not one!  In fact, the only person who expressed an interest in self-defense said she would rather get herself a dog. So here we have a video produced by the NRA which starts out with a home invasion but then says that when push comes to shove, most Americans would rather trust Man’s Best Friend, and that friend isn’t a gun.

 

You Can Regulate Guns All You Want, But It’s Still The Gun Stupid, It’s The Gun.

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Yesterday I drove up to Vermont, met a guy in a parking lot and bought a Remington 1100 shotgun from him for four hundred bucks.  It’s a beautiful gun, 20-gauge, left-handed ejection since I’m right-handed but left-eye dominant, just what I’ve been looking to add to my personal collection of guns.  Vermont has no state gun law so we didn’t have to bother with a background check but now that I’m back in my home state of Massachusetts I’m supposed to go on a state website and register the gun.  Am I going to bother?  Like I’m going on a diet, that’s how I’m going to bother.

remington1100stockIf Vermont had passed the gun bill they debated this year and had that bill included a background-check requirement for all gun sales, I can guarantee you that I would still have the Remington 1100 in the trunk of my car and Ted (I think that was his name) would still have my four hundred bucks.  The truth is that I need that Remington 1100 like I need a hole in my head, but yesterday was a beautiful Fall day, the leaves are beginning to turn, take a ride, fool around, buy a gun.

For all the nonsense about we need guns to defend ourselves from crime, from ISIS, from Obama, from whatever, the truth is that 99% of all the guns that go across the gun shop counter for the first time go into the hands of people who not only don’t need that gun for any earthly reason, but really don’t have the faintest idea why they just bought another gun. And the reason I say ‘another’ gun is that the number of guns that are sold keeps going up and the number of gun owners keeps going down. Which means that fewer and fewer people own more and more guns.  Right now roughly 40 million households contain some 300 million guns.  If current trends continue another ten years, roughly 30 million households will hold 350 million guns.  In other words, the average gun-owning family will own more than 10 guns.  And if someone wants to explain how owning so many guns is anything other than an impulsive form of behavior, I’m all ears. Right now my personal gun collection numbers 41 or 42, and believe me when I tell you that I’m at the low end of the totem pole when it comes to owning lots of guns.

The problem is that when you have 350 million guns out there, it’s simply not possible to keep a bunch of them out of the ‘wrong hands.’ I don’t care how many background checks are run, how many mental-health databases are sent to NICS, how many times every gun owner tries to remember to lock up all his guns.  If 300,000 guns are stolen each year, that number isn’t going down if the number of personally-owned guns goes up.  Particularly when breaking into a gun owner’s home increasingly means there will be a pile of guns, not just one or two.

Regulating any product means making it more difficult for people to get their hands on the regulated item, which is why states with more gun regulations also tend to be states with fewer guns. The problem, of course, is that the ownership-regulation equation can also be reversed; states with fewer gun owners have more regulations because there aren’t enough gun owners to stop gun laws from being passed.

If you’re concerned about reducing gun violence, then of course you’ll support common-sense, workable laws that keep guns out of the wrong hands.  But as long as most guns are purchased impulsively, you’re not going to stop most hard-core gunnies from buying more guns just because they have to jump through another legal hoop.  As long as someone buys the damn things, some of them will be used either on purpose or accidentally in ways that create harm.  Like I keep saying, it’s the gun stupid.  It’s the gun.

 

 

How Do Teens Get Guns? From Their Parents – Where Else?

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This week’s JAMA article on whether and to what degree gun laws impact the carrying of guns by teenagers reflects, to me, both the great strengths and inherent weaknesses of the public health approach to research on gun violence.  This is not to say that public health research in toto should be abandoned or in any way proscribed, although the NRA would no doubt endorse a variation of the anti-lawyer joke, ‘What do we call 10,000 public health researchers buried under water? A good start,’ (there should only be 10,000 public health researchers.)

The strength of public health gun research is that it is grounded in the idea that guns are a risk to health, and if anyone doubts that rather mundane statement, frankly, what follows isn’t for you.  I have written nearly 400 commentaries on my own website and I’m done trying to convince the “other side” that guns create risk.  You don’t believe it, take another puff on your cigarette and go lay brick, okay?

gun crimes                Public health research has informed us about gun risk relative to homicide, suicide, assault and domestic violence.  It has been instrumental in linking gun violence to the absence and/or presence of regulations and laws.  It has also enabled us to better understand how the existence of a massive civilian arsenal affects criminal behavior in this country as opposed to every other industrialized country where unregulated guns do not abound. And I should add that the pro-gun response to public health is so intellectually vapid that I would be insulting gun owners to say that their interests have been supported by anything remotely smacking of serious research.  Noise ain’t research.

The weakness with public health gun research, however, is that it proves nearly impossible to validate its findings through studies that capture before-and-after changes in public policies and laws.  This is because most of the regulatory and legal responses to gun violence over the past twenty years have been changes that eased regulations and restrictions on gun ownership and gun access, rather than making it more difficult for guns to get into the ‘wrong hands.’  To the degree that public health researchers have been able to compare the results of changes in the regulatory environment that promoted safer-gun use, the examples have not been definitive or comprehensive enough to bolster a generic ‘more gun laws equals less gun violence’ argument.

The authors of this current study are aware of these limitations and, in fact, are at pains to assure the readers that their conclusions are, at best, inferential and would need further validation before definitive conclusions could be reached.  Nevertheless, certain important findings stand out, chief among them the correlation between teen-age gun access and the level of gun regulation and per-capita gun ownership in different states.

Teen access to guns is probably, in all its dimensions, the single, most important problem facing the constituencies who want to reduce gun violence.  This is not only because the age cohort 14-19 is where gun violence first becomes a significant behavioral and health issue, but kids who acquire guns in the pre-adult years tend to keep using them as they move into their adult years. If we could do a better job restricting teen access to guns, it would have a significant impact on the overall rate of gun violence.

Buried in the conclusion of this study, however, is a caveat that deserves further comment, namely, the degree to which teen gun access is clearly associated with the number of guns owned by adults.  And the level of gun ownership wouldn’t be an issue per se if it weren’t for the attempts by the NRA to reduce the minimum age for handgun purchase and promoting the idea that guns are ‘cool.’  Most Americans live in states that do not regulate whether parents give their children access to guns. If you’re a gun-owning adult, you wouldn’t let your teen-age children drink and drive, but you’ll let them play around with the guns, right?

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