Was Colorado Springs The Work Of A Terrorist? According To West Point It Was.

There is simply no getting away from the fact that the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs may mark a turning-point in the debate about gun violence.  And I don’t mean a positive turning-point either.  Because like it or not, the assault by Robert Lewis Dear was a classic example of domestic terrorism, in particular the type of terrorism directed at human targets that has been significantly increasing since a certain you-know-who started living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008.

murrah              If anyone wants to place the Colorado Springs episode in its proper context, I suggest you read a very detailed study and report on American terrorism that came out of the West Point Combating Terrorism Center in 2012. This report covers nearly 4,000 terrorist attacks on American soil between 1900 and 2012, of which more than 1,600 occurred after 2008.  The report only deals with Far Right terrorism, but that’s because Far left terrorism, which was endemic during the Viet Nam War, particularly after Nixon was elected, fell off and then basically disappeared following the Paris peace accords in 1973.  Far Right terrorism, on the other hand, has a long pedigree beginning with the Ku Klux Klan prior and particularly during Reconstruction, gaining strength again during the Civil Rights era and once again emerging in the recent Obama years.

The authors of this report break terror activities into three basic but related strains: racist terrorism, anti-federalist terrorism, and fundamentalist terrorism, the last often associated with racist ideologies and behaviors, but also aimed at attacking abortion providers and eliminating abortion rights.  The most notorious abortion attacker was the survivalist Eric Rudolph, who bombed two abortion clinics before his deadly assault at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. The other fatal abortion attack took place in Wichita, KS, when a physician who was not a PP provider but ran his own abortion clinic, was shot dead in his church.

A majority of American terrorist acts are not, as it turns out, directed at human targets but at property, which ranges from graffiti on the side of a synagogue to burning down a Black church, although it’s not really clear whether some of those Black churches burned during the Clinton Administration were actually White churches, rather than Black. But even though attacks against property still comes out ahead of attacks against persons in all terrorist activity, there has been an alarming increase in terrorism aimed at individuals since the beginning of the Obama years, with 700 human targeted events between 2008 and 2011, as opposed to 425 human attacks during the administration of George Bush.  The good news, if you can call it good news, is that attacks against mass populations, such as Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995 are the rare exceptions, with mass attacks accounting for less than 3% of all terror incidents since 1991.

On the other hand, the report notes that “contentious and conservative political environments as well as the political empowerment are positively associated with the volume of violence; thus, it is not only feelings of deprivation that motivate those involved in far right violence, but also the sense of empowerment that emerges when the political system is perceived to be increasingly permissive to far right ideas.”  And let’s be honest folks.  This report wasn’t written by a bunch of lefty do-gooders sitting at Harvard or Yale.  It came out of West Point which, the last time I looked, promotes a pretty traditional view of things; i.e., left, center or right.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not accusing anyone of fomenting attacks on anyone else.  But the bottom line is that Robert Lewis Dear fits the profile of the American terrorist perfectly: a white male, loner, head filled with fundamentalist ideas and, it goes without saying, access to a gun.  Now if fundamentalism and gun ownership isn’t the sine qua non of Red political rhetoric these days, want to tell me what is?

 

 

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An Important And Compelling New Book About Gun Violence.

Gun Violence and Mental Illness is the most important book on gun violence published since Sandy Hook.  And what makes it important is not only the eminence and research capability of the contributors, but the breadth of the discussions about gun violence itself.  In a sense, the title of the book is somewhat misleading, because the work goes far beyond mental issues.  In fact, this superb collection touches on every aspect of gun violence – causes, mitigations, public policies – even though the authors and editors often define the issue in mental illness and mental health terms.

gold bookIt must be mentioned, however, that Dr. Liza Gold, her co-editor Dr. Robert Simon and the 27 expert contributors, are hardly the only ones carrying on a public discussion about guns and mental illness at the present time.  In fact, none other than such esteemed medical specialists as Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, and all the other know-nothings running for the Republican Presidential nomination have been speaking their empty minds about gun violence and mental illness, and let’s not forget that the Republican field even includes a real-life medical expert, Benjy Carson, who when he opens his mouth and talks about gun violence actually sounds like the dumbest of all.  At least Trump, unlike Carson, hasn’t yet tried to blame the Holocaust on all those unarmed Jews.

But to get back to people who know what they are talking about, or for sure writing about, the format of Dr. Gold’s book lends itself to a very clear awareness just how complicated and diverse gun violence can be, in terms both of understanding it and responding to it.  If there’s one thing above all that spawns my opposition to the current iteration of the NRA, it is the ‘dumbing down’ of every commentary produced by the pro-gun community simply by dividing the world into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’  From the capable introduction by Dr. Gold, all the way to the concluding essay on public health interventions by Shannon Frattaroli and Shani Buggs, you are made aware that there ain’t no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys;’ instead there are many complex issues, each of which must be studied on its own terms.

I mention the chapter by Frattaroli and Buggs because it happens to focus immediately on one of my own pet peeves in the whole gun violence universe, namely, the notion that children can and should be taught safety procedures around guns.  This represents the single most pernicious attempt by the pro-gun community to remove the whole notion of lethality from the discussion about guns, and unfortunately, some of the GVP adherents subscribe to the alleged mitigating effects of childhood gun safety education as well.  Basically, what the authors conclude is that interventions based on educating children about gun risk are, at best, a mixed bag, with most of the studies producing results that are too ambiguous to be of any real outcome-predictive value at all.

I concur.  There’s only one way to guarantee that your children won’t shoot themselves or someone else with a gun in your home.  Either the kids get out or the guns get out.  And the idea that all those responsible gun owners will always lock up their guns has no empirical basis at all; we are human, we are careless, we forget. Thank you Shannon, thank you Shani.

All 14 chapters treat different aspects of the problem (mass shootings, school shootings, youth violence, suicide, etc.) and each compellingly begins with a list of ‘Common Misperceptions’ about each topic followed by ‘evidence-based facts.’  A book on gun violence held together by facts?  What an interesting, new approach. Hyperbole notwithstanding, I did a quick calculation and it appears that the pro-gun community’s mis-perceptions about gun violence lead GVP mis-perceptions by better than two to one.  It’s too bad that the folks who really need to know what’s in this book probably won’t be reading it.

 

Obama Gives Gun Nuts An Early Christmas Present: Thanks A Lot.

Christmas is coming early this year for gun nuts, thanks to a provision of the Defense Authorization Bill that Obama just signed into law.  And the NRA is cheering because this small part of the military funding bill releases a huge stash of 1911 45-caliber pistols that have been gathering rust in military arsenals since the Army switched its battle pistol to the Beretta M9, 9mm model back in 1985.

1911             John Browning’s small-arms masterpiece was actually designed and then initially manufactured in 1907.  But the gun wasn’t adopted by the U.S. Military until 1911, hence the nomenclature under which the pistol probably became the second most popular handgun of all time (the first being Browning’s other great design, the Hi-Power, aka P-35.)  In addition to the United States, the 1911 was adopted by military units in at least 28 other countries, carried by police worldwide, and copied by manufacturers in South America, Eastern Europe and the Far East.  I have probably owned 20 of these pistols since I bought my first one in 1976; I have three of them currently, including an absolutely mint civilian model manufactured at the Hartford Colt factory on Huyshope Avenue in 1920.

Despite its long-standing popularity, the Colt 1911 and, for that matter the 45 caliber ammunition eventually fell into disfavor in the 1970s when European pistol makers, in particular Beretta, Glock and Sig, began manufacturing high-capacity, double-action, polymer framed pistols in 9mm caliber that were capable of holding and shooting (without reloading) 15 or 16 rounds.  Since the 1911 only held 8 rounds and was a single-action gun, it was seen as too outmoded and too traditional in design for the modern day.  Ironically, the first lightweight-framed, double-action 9mm pistol on the market was manufactured by Smith & Wesson, which was sold in the United States prior to the appearance of any of the off-shore guns.  The only problem with this gun, known as the Model 59 (there was also a beautiful, single-stack version known as the Model 39) was that it didn’t work.  Well, it kind of worked, but often it didn’t work, and if you took the gun apart to clean it there was a good chance it would have to be shipped back to the factory service department in order to get it reassembled again.

When the U.S. Army commenced field tests to replace the 1911, the Model 59 didn’t get through the first round. Then the Army, in response to pressure from (believe it or not) Senator Ted Kennedy, conducted a second series of field tests in order to choose a new pistol, the Model 59 immediately flunked the tests again. Which meant that, sooner or later, in addition to the military, cops throughout the U.S. would be carrying European-style, hi-capacity pistols, which would then result in the same types of weapons ending up in the street.

What actually brought about the revival of interest in the 1911 pistol was another government move, namely, the Clinton assault-weapons “ban” of 1994.  By placing a limit of 10 rounds on all gun magazines shipped with new guns, the superior firepower of high-capacity, double-action pistols disappeared.  What was the difference between 10 rounds of 9mm ammunition versus 8 rounds of the larger, 45-caliber shell?  Not very much, which explains why the venerable 1911 is still valued today. Which also explains why the NRA is making such a big deal out of releasing the 1911 service pistols to the Civilian Marksmanship Program, hence to licensed dealers, hence to gun nuts like me.

There’s only one little problem.  Right now if I want to sell one of my 1911 service pistol with the original markings on the slide and frame, the gun will fetch me somewhere just south of two thousand bucks.  Know what’s going to happen to that price when hundreds of thousands of surplus army pistols hit the street?  The value of my 1911 stash just disappeared.  Thanks for nothing, NRA. Thanks for nothing President Obama. And Merry Christmas to both of you too.

The Epidemiologists May Need To Dig Deeper To Understand The Problem Of Gun Violence.

If we want to advance some meaningful responses to gun violence, we need to figure out the what, who and where of the problem or, as public health researchers would say, the epidemiology of gun violence. A good start in this respect is a recent publication by one of our most prolific public health gun scholars, Garen Wintemute, whose summary of gun-violence data covering 2003-2012 appears in a symposium devoted to strategies to prevent gun violence in the Annual Review of Public Health.

Wintemute introduces the problem by noting that 313,045 Americans died from firearm-related injuries, a larger number than all the troops killed in World War II.  But on a White House gun violence website, the number for gun mortality between 2001 and 2013 is given as 150,000. How come there’s such a big difference?

conference program pic               Because to the public health community, gun violence means every kind of injury caused by gunfire, whether the gun is pointed at the user or at someone else.  The fact is that a majority of gun killings are suicides, not homicides, and among certain populations, such as elderly White men in certain Western states, suicides account for virtually all gun mortalities, with homicides contributing nothing to total gun mortality at all.  This is not the time or place to engage in a discussion about the causal/responsive differences between gun suicides and gun homicides; suffice it to say that Wintemute and other public health researchers clearly acknowledge that homicide and suicide are subsets of a generic problem – access to guns – each of which needs to be understood on its own terms.

Where Wintemute’s careful and thorough analysis of CDC violent mortality data bumps up against a serious limitation (which he acknowledges) is not in terms of defining gun violence to include both homicide and suicide, but in the fact that he is forced to create an epidemiology of gun violence without being able to utilize data on non-fatal gun injuries, the incidence of which is at least twice as high each year as the number of people getting killed with guns.

Not only is the non-fatal gun injury rate twice as high as the gun mortality rate (suicide and homicide), but while the overall gun mortality rate has been fairly steady over the years covered by Wintemute’s research, the non-fatal gun injury rate has shown a remarkable annual rise, from 14.11 per 100,000 in 2001 to 19.68 in 2013, an increase of nearly 40 percent!  Part of this increase is due to innovations in trauma surgery, also to the speed at which seriously-injured victims get moved from the incident site to a trauma unit and the fact that most of the jerks who use guns probably can’t shoot very straight.  Or is this increase simply due to the fact that more guns are where they shouldn’t be?  We don’t know.

Make no mistake. The costs of gun violence cannot be understood if we don’t factor in what happens when someone is shot but not killed with a gun.  Direct medical costs of treating non-fatal gun injuries are 30-40% higher than the costs of dealing with any other serious injury; these numbers don’t include the frequent, long-term costs of post-discharge therapies, as well as the excessive loss of wages that often are the result of the physical and mental damage resulting from guns. A recent estimate of the total annual cost of all gun violence – mortality and morbidity – as being around $229 billion, may be an underestimate by far.

One other point which emerges from Wintemute’s work deserves comment here.   Of the fourteen states that rank highest in suicides and homicides, eleven are located in the South.  Some of these states, like Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, experience gun violence similar to Panama and South Africa, not yet Honduras, but not far behind. If we construct an epidemiology to help us figure out gun violence, the answers and strategies for some may not be sufficient for all.

If You Don’t Think There’s A Connection Between The Black Lives Matter Shooting And Donald Trump, You Haven’t Been Paying Attention.

I’ll take the short odds that sometime in the next 24-48 hours, Donald Trump will get up at a campaign rally and tell the crowd that the kids who were shot at the Black Lives Matter encampment outside the Minneapolis police station “got what they deserved.”  I found myself at a Republican Party election rally in South Carolina on the eve of the 1976 election which was the last time that the Democratic Party was able to carry the South.  And this rally, which was headlined by none other than Strom Thurmond, could have been at another time and another place, a meeting of the Klan.  The speeches were overtly racist, the Federal Guverment was comin’ down to take away everyone’s rights, the South, according to Senator Strom, was goin’ to be ruled by a combination of the NAACP and HUD.

trump2               If you don’t think there’s a connection between the Black Lives Matter protestor who was beaten up at a Trump rally in Alabama and the attempted killing of peaceful demonstrators in Minneapolis, then you haven’t been paying attention to the news or the Trump campaign.  When you stand up in front of a cheering-jeering audience and call someone a ‘jerk’ or a ‘dope’ or a ‘crazy’ because they yell something during your speech, you’ve abandoned any degree of public civility and are now just pandering to the lowest and meanest folks in the crowd.

When Trump first started encountering hecklers during his long-winded speeches he handled them pretty well.  He never had the class of John McCain, who once bluntly told a woman who made an ugly, racist comment that she had gone over the top.  But I knew that Trump’s brief encounter with civilized behavior wouldn’t last because once he responded to a demonstrator in a proper way, he was just sounding like everyone else.  And what keeps him at the top of the polls without spending any of the billions which he claims to have but really doesn’t, is his ability to always say something that nobody else is willing to say.

So let me say something about Trump that nobody else is willing to say, at least not in a public way.  What he’s doing is debasing political rhetoric to the point that we won’t have any meaningful discussion about political or public issues at all.  He reminds me of kids in the New York neighborhood where I grew up who hung out on the corner and yelled insults at drivers whose cars whizzed by in nthe street.  If you were an African-American they yelled ‘nigger,’ if you were a Chinese-American they yelled ‘chink.’  They didn’t yell because they expected the drivers to hear them; they yelled because using an ethnic slur out loud was just fun. Some of these kids ended up in Viet Nam, others got menial jobs with ‘da city,’ one got a job in the power plant shoveling coal.  They probably still use words like ‘nigger’ and ‘chink’ but now they have to keep those words to themselves.

But they don’t have to keep quiet if they can go to a rally headlined by Trump.  And they don’t have to keep quiet when they walk up to a demonstration held by Black Lives Matter because another Black man may have been gunned down by the cops.  After all, these guys have a Constitutional right to call someone a name and they also have a Constitutional right to walk around with a gun.  Put those two rights together and you know what you get?  You get three young Black men in the hospital with gunshot wounds and the cops, in a shooting which took place right outside a police station, still looking for the guys who pulled out the guns.

It happened right outside the police station.  Think about that.

 

Want To Really Take On The NRA? Here’s Where It Starts.

There’s old boy down in Virginia goes by the name Mark Carman.  Posted a video on his Facebook page and website waving around some little-ass Ruger pistol – talking one thing or ‘nuther ‘bout the 2nd Amendment. Got hisself a million hits, maybe more. Invited to the Big House up 1600 Pennsylvania way in DC.  Says that no ‘responsible’ gun owner should be afraid of universal background checks. I shoot my mouth off all the time about the 2nd Amendment and the closest I’ll ever get to the White House is to stand in front of Blair House across the street.

acrgo               What I really like about Carman, all kidding aside, is that he’s a bone-fide gun nut, same as me.  How do I know he’s a gun nut?  Because he’s from the South, which is where most gun nuts happen to be.  The truth is that guns are really a Southern thing; below Mason-Dixon gun ownership, gun use and gun violence go hand-in-hand.  So when an old boy like Carman starts saying he’s not afraid of universal background checks, like it or not he’s going to get some attention fast and quick.

I saw Mark’s video the day after it went live and today went back and viewed it again.  Then I switched over to the NRA video channel to compare his performance to the latest digital missives from Colion Noir and Dana Loesch.  The truth is that neither of them look or sound like they have any real connections to guns.  Yea, there’s Colion prancing around with an AR-15; Dana or someone whose rear end looks like Dana is pointing a pistol down range.  But the NRA videos have become too slick, too perfectly scripted, too predictable in terms of what they say. If I had a nickel for every time an NRA flack tells me that guns are the best way to protect myself from crime, I could quit work.

The video produced by Mark Carman looks like he shot it with a Droid propped up against a bookshelf on the bedroom wall.  Out of focus, lighting patchy at best, any second you think the whole gizmo is going to break down and you’ll be staring at a blank screen.  But it’s exactly the lack of pretense, the amateurish quality (believe me, Carman’s no amateur) which gives this video its power and its strength.  To use an overused word, this thing’s authentic and the message, even when Carman mumbles and drops a syllable here and there, is sharp and clear.

Because the real problem with the NRA which comes through in everything they do and say, is that the gun world is divided into ‘us’ and ‘them,’ the good guys versus the bad guys, the ones who totally agree with us and the ones who don’t.  They’ve become shrill, they’ve become strident, take a look at their videos and see if a smile ever crosses anyone’s face.  I’m sorry folks, but I lived through wars, recessions, illnesses and premature deaths.  Making me go to a licensed dealer every time I want to buy or sell a gun just isn’t that big a deal.

It’s this sense of perspective which gives Mark Carman’s video the upper hand.  Wait until near the end when he takes on the whole question of the registration of guns.  I really can’t convey how flawlessly he demolishes the ‘slippery-slope’ NRA argument when he says, “You’ve got a concealed-carry license, you’ve got a hunting license.  You think the government doesn’t know you own guns?”  Perfect. Just perfect.

And during the entire video, all eleven minutes, he’s holding onto that cheap-ass little Ruger and you know he just enjoys fiddlin’ with one of his guns. When a guy like that says that gun folks shouldn’t be afraid to support common-sense rules to keep guns out of the wrong hands, you’re hearing it about as honestly as it can be said.  And gun folks tend to be honest folks too. Which is why Mark will clean the NRA’s clock.

 

Sarah Palin Believes That God And Guns Go Together But She Might Look At Her Home State.

Now that Sarah Palin has decided America is the Home of the Free and Land of the Brave because of its devotion to God and the 2nd Amendment, I thought I would do a bit of research about gun violence in her own state.  According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Sister Sarah’s home state ranks 44th out of the 50 states in terms of the having the most lax gun laws, and is also the 4th highest gun-exporting state, with a gun-export average twice the national state average, notwithstanding that to take a gun from Alaska down to the lower 48 is really quite a trip.

Not only does Alaska impose no state requirements on gun ownership, it doesn’t even require gun dealers to be licensed by the state.  Get yourself an FFL and you’re good to go.  When I was a gun wholesaler in New York back in the 1980s, we had a customer in Fairbanks who ordered loads of Ruger hunting rifles from us all the time, but this reflected the fact that hunting was and is a major source of tourist dollars in Alaska; I doubt if many of these guns came back to the Lower 48 to be picked up as crime guns.

palin On the other hand, Alaska’s violent crime rate is remarkably high in and of itself, the rate of aggravated assault twice the rate for the country as a whole, the homicide rate also above the national rate.  But yet on the other hand, both the aggravated assault and homicide involving guns is well below the national stats, so maybe Sister Sarah’s on the right track by exhorting us in Jesus’ name to get out there and buy more guns.  Except that when it comes to gun violence there’s an elephant in the living room that I haven’t yet mentioned, and that’s the violence which occurs when someone picks up a gun and aims it at themselves.

I will shortly be reviewing a remarkable new book on guns and mental illness that blazes important paths on issues gun-related suicide, so I’m not going to get into that whole issue just yet.  But I do want to make it clear that anyone who believes that gun violence and gun suicide should be treated as autonomous and unconnected issues is just trying to find a reason why the public health risks from guns should be ignored.  You simply can’t kill yourself as quickly and efficiently any other way; and the moment you contemplate some other method to end it once and for all, you are increasing the possibility that an intervention will occur that will save your life.

And this is where the data from Alaska makes a mockery of Palin’s cynical nonsense about how God’s plan includes ownership of guns.  Because of all the 50 states, Alaska has a suicide rate and, in particular, a suicide rate among Alaskan Indians and, even more particularly, a gun-suicide rate among Alaskan Indians that’s a wonder to behold.

The Western states lead the country in suicide with an overall regional rate of 14.13 per 100,000, well above the national rate of 13.02 and far above the Northeast which comes in at 10.38.  The highest suicide state is Montana, with 23.94, but right behind it is Alaska at 23.26. But only 60% of the suicides in Montana are committed using a gun, while nearly 70% of suicide victims in Alaska pull out the ol’ firearm when they decide that enough is enough.  But here’s the real number to contemplate: Alaska’s Indian population has a suicide rate twice the state’s rate as a whole, and these unfortunate folks have no trouble getting their hands on guns.

Palin’s message is pure crap and she should be ashamed of herself for pandering to the lowest mental denominator she can find.  There’s simply no excuse for someone from a state with such horrific gun violence numbers to be promoting God and guns.