Will Universal Background Checks Solve The Problem Of Gun Violence? It’s A Start.

According to rumor, the White House will shortly close a legal loophole that currently lets a large number of guns move from one set of hands to another without a background check.  Evidently Obama will issue an EO that redefines what it means to be a gun dealer by substantially reducing the number of private transfers that can be made, thereby forcing gun owners to acquire a federal license which will effectively require that every gun transfer beyond a minimum number go through a NICS-background check.

Which brings up the ultimate question, namely, if we had universal background checks, what would this mean in terms of reducing gun violence overall?  Right now the CDC tells us there are 30,000+ intentional gun deaths and 65,000 intentional gun injuries every year.  There are also 17,000+ unintentional gun injuries, fatal and non-fatal, each year.  We can probably discount most, if not nearly all unintentional injuries because they usually involve the legal owner of a gun and/or his/her children or friends.  We can also discount the 20,000+ suicides, which leaves somewhere around 75,000 acts of gun violence each year for which, in theory, universal background checks should help reduce the toll.  But by how much?

In fairness to the researchers who are concerned with this problem, they were not trying to figure out the impact of universal background checks per se.  Webster and Wintemute have come up with a very comprehensive summary of research on the effects of policies designed to “keep firearms from high-risk individuals” published between 1999 and 2014. This article covers more than 60 peer-reviewed works and looks both at policies designed to regulate the supply of guns to high-risk individuals (i.e., dealer practices) and policies designed to make it more difficult for high-risk individuals to get their hands on guns (i.e., background checks and other licensing practices.)

I’ll leave a discussion about dealer practices for another time, insofar as our concern here is the issue of universal background checks. As for that question, W&W argue that the prohibited persons categories defined by GCA68 and used as the basis for disqualifying transactions through NICS “would not disqualify the majority of individuals who commit gun violence.”  What does seem to have a significant impact on gun violence is where states have gone beyond the federal definitions of prohibited persons and passed laws that make it easier to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

conference program pic              The most rigorous licensing in this regard is known as Permit to Purchase (PTP), which requires that the purchase of every gun, in particular handguns, be approved following an application to acquire the specific gun.  This is, in fact, the procedure in New York City since the 1911 implementation of the Sullivan Law, but there is virtually no connection between how this law has been administered over the past century and changes in the rates of violent crime.  On the other hand, W&W cite numerous studies, including Webster’s study of the effect of abolishing PTP in Missouri, which indicate that when states strengthen the licensing process beyond NICS-background checks, gun-violence rates tend to go down.

The evidence to date does not appear to support the notion that universal background checks will have a substantial impact on gun-violence rates unless it is accompanied by more rigorous gun-control policies at the state level.  Which is not an argument against universal checks, just a warning about setting expectations too high. What I find frustrating in the whole ‘guns in the wrong hands’ discussion, however, is the continued lack of interest or concern about stolen guns.  Webster and colleagues studied the source of 250+ crime guns used by prison inmates in 13 states and as many as 85% of those guns could have entered the illegal market through theft.  This situation won’t change because we strengthen the licensing process for acquisition of new guns; it just requires diligence for the guns we already own.

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The Washington Post Does A Story About Gun Violence And Gets It Wrong Again.

This is not a column that I am going to enjoy writing but what follows still needs to be said. And although I am going to appear to be very critical of law enforcement in the commentary that follows, please take my word for it when I say that I am extremely pro-cop.  And the reason I am very supportive of the men and women in blue is that I have witnessed on numerous occasions their willingness to be the first ones who rush into a location when God knows what is behind that closed door.  But nevertheless I still believe that what follows needs to be said.

postActually, I’m not going to be critical of law enforcement so much as I am going to say some pretty unkind words about a long article about police shootings that has just appeared in The Washington Post. The article claims to be a very detailed study of almost 1,000 police shootings that have occurred this year.  Turns out that the FBI’s annual report on what they call justifiable law enforcement shootings is like everything else that is published in the UCR, namely, a best-guess estimate based on what local law enforcement wants to report (or not report) to their federal friends in DC.  But the fact that the given by the Post is twice as high as what we get each year from the FBI makes me wonder about the credibility of any crime data published in the UCR.

Be that as it may, the very first headline of the Post’s story is that only 4% of all police killings resulted in the deaths of “unarmed” Black men shot by White cops.  The Post should be ashamed of itself for writing something so basically divisive, stupid, and in terms of its implication, simply wrong.  Because the report immediately linked this number to the protests that have sprung up about cops shooting blacks in many communities, the most notable of course being the shooting of Michael Brown. The report then goes on to say that although Black men represent only 6% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 40% of the unarmed men shot to death by the cops in 2015.  So the takeaway from all of this is that if there’s a racial problem in the issue of police homicides, it’s not so much that cops shoot unarmed Blacks so much as there is a disparity between Black males as a percentage of the overall population and the numbers of ‘armed’ Black men who are shot dead.

There’s only one little problem with this analysis and it makes me wonder whether the staff that created this report for the Post even took the trouble to look at the data on which the report is based.  Because when I started to read the details of the actual shootings themselves, what jumped out at me was the extent to which the definitions of what constitutes ‘armed’ versus ‘unarmed’ victims, Black or White, doesn’t add up to the same thing at all.

There were, according to the article, 70 police homicides in December, of which the victim in 47 cases had a gun.  There were also 15 shootings in which the victim had a knife and 9 instances in which the victim wielded some other kind of weapon, including a baseball bat, a “metal stick” and a brick.  Now don’t get me wrong.  If someone came at me with a brick I would certainly feel that I was being threatened with serious bodily harm.  But in fact the victim threw the brick at an officer, he didn’t actually hit him with anything at all.

Again, I’m not in any way attempting to impugn the dedication and hard work of our men and women in blue.  If anything, my concern here is with the obvious attempt by The Post to create a sensational story out of some buts of thin air.  But when it comes to stories involving guns, The Post usually gets it wrong.

Texans Will Make A Big Decision On January 1st. Do They Want A Burrito Or A Gun?

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment gave Americans the Constitutional right to keep a loaded, unlocked handgun in their homes to use for self-defense, the pro-gun nation has been trying to push the notion of armed, self-defense beyond the home and into the street.  This strategy has taken two paths; on the one hand promoting concealed-carry licensing, on the other, bringing weapons into gun-free zones.  There’s nothing but anecdotal evidence supporting the idea that a gun can protect its owner from crime, but there’s plenty of serious research which shows the opposite to be true.

open               The latest effort to widen the scope of armed defense is about to be unveiled in Texas with the law allowing open carry to take effect on January 1st.  This law was the brainchild of a former Army Master Sergeant, C.J. Grisham, who parlayed an argument with a cop over how he was openly carrying a gun into a statewide movement which even made him briefly consider a run for the State Legislature until his campaign ran out of dough. Bottom line is that even though an earlier attempt to promote open carry in Texas was condemned by the NRA, those fearless advocates for gun rights in Fairfax, VA, eventually saw the light and lined up behind the bill that Governor Abbott signed into law.

Believe it or not, I’m really happy to see the open carry law go into effect in Texas, because I think the result is going to be exactly the reverse of what the pro-gun nation hopes to achieve.  First of all, the law has an opt-out procedure known as 30.07, which allows merchants to post signs at the entrance to their establishments stating that only shoppers who carry their guns concealed will be allowed on the premises after January 1st.  And I am frankly astonished at the extent to which major merchandisers in Texas have announced that they will not welcome folks openly carrying guns into their stores.

Take, for example, a company like Simon’s, which operates malls and discount outlets in 39 states.  They run 35 major shopping destinations in Texas, including such flagship locations as the Gateway in Austin, The Galleria in Houston (which includes the first Webster boutique outside of Florida), and the Shops at Clearfork in Fort Worth.  Simon’s is opting out of open carry, and so are major food chains, like H-E-B, which has supermarkets in 150 towns, and national chains like Safeway and Whole Foods.  Opting out of open carry is also now spreading through the religious community, with the Catholic Diocese in Lubbock, Dallas and other areas posting notices that guns aren’t welcome on hallowed ground.

The public discussion over this new law has also given GVP advocates like Moms Demand Action an opportunity to engage store owners and other operators of public venues with their unique message about gun violence, as well as providing 30.07 signage and instructions for opting out of the new law.  Anyone who thinks that Shannon Watts and her ladies aren’t playing a visible role in promoting 30.07 at the grassroots level will be in for something of a surprise as more signage denying access to open carry continues to appear.

I believe that wearing a gun in a public venue does nothing to promote public safety.   And the merchants who have opted out of open carry evidently agree, with most citing concerns about guns endangering rather than protecting their customers, particularly in places where alcohol is served. In that regard I am particularly interested in the fact that Gringo’s Mexican Chicken and Jimmy Changas, two of Houston’s most popular Tex-Mex restaurant chains, will be going 30.07, because if gun folks like to do anything more than argue about the 2nd Amendment, they love to eat. And when all is said and done, I predict that consuming a burrito will turn out to be more important than wearing a gun.

 

 

Do You Really Think The NRA Supports The 2nd Amendment To Keep Us Free? Think Again.

One of the reasons often advanced to explain the success of the NRA in promoting pro-gun attitudes and laws is something known as the “intensity gap.”  According to this argument, the NRA wins because their supporters are more committed, more dedicated and more fiercely loyal to the organization and its goals, as opposed to the GVP movement whose supporters are only driven to express their support for more gun control after a mass shooting or other high-profile violence involving guns.

The latest iteration of this argument is the handiwork of Professor Gary Gutting, whose op-ed appeared today in The New York Times.  Gutting, who teaches philosophy at Notre Dame, claims that the GVP movement should borrow the energies and viewpoints of recent anti-racist efforts like Black Lives Matter who have successfully enlisted black and white support by pointing out the basically racist nature of police (and civilian) shootings of inner-city blacks.  He further argues that white antipathy towards racism would counteract the intensity that gun owners exhibit whenever they feel that the 2nd Amendment is being attacked, an intensity based on America’s fear of ‘tyranny’ which explains the strong support for 2-A rights.

Gutting may or may not be correct in asserting that Black Lives Matter has tapped into a concern held by white liberals about violence and racism directed at blacks, but his attempt to build a case for the NRA’s anti-tyranny argument through support of the 2nd Amendment is just dead wrong.  The NRA doesn’t promote itself as an anti-tyranny organization pari passu, it promotes the anti-government position only when the government is in the hands of what Fox News calls ‘the Left.’ Ever hear Dana Loesch, Sarah Palin, Wayne LaPierre or any other pro-gun noisemaker talk about the gun-control law that Governor Ronald Reagan signed that mandated, among other things, a fifteen-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns in the Golden State?

Know which members of Congress voted against GCA68?  Virtually the same southern federal office-holders who voted against GCA68 also voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  And they voted the same way for the same reason: both were instances in which Northern liberals passed laws to teach Southern whites how to behave.  If anyone believes that the current opposition to gun control is anything other than a reprise of the conservative-liberal battle over states’ rights as it originally played out during the struggle over civil rights, think again. The NRA can tell you that gun control today leads to gun confiscation tomorrow, but from 1939 (Miller v. United States) until 2008 (District of Columbia v. Heller) we had plenty of liberals running the federal government and passing gun-control laws. Meanwhile, not a single gun was ever confiscated from a law-abiding gun owner.  Not once.

2A             I’m also confused, frankly, by Gutting’s pronouncement that the GVP movement lacks the intensity that’s found among followers of the NRA.  That’s a rather shop warn view of things lately owing largely to a bunch of street-wise, energetic and savvy woman both in leadership and grass-roots positions who have levelled the advocacy playing field to a degree not previously seen.  If there’s an intensity gap about gun violence nowadays, I perceive it more as a gender gap within the GVP movement itself.  But as in so many other things, the men (like myself) tend to sit back, watch the sports on a widescreen, pop a few tops and let the women do the work.

What moved America on civil rights were pictures of blacks being hosed, beaten or worse when they sat at segregated lunch counters, enrolled in all-white schools or stood fast against Sheriff Connor at the Selma Bridge.  What has moved Americans to rally against gun violence is the carnage at San Bernardino, Umpqua and Sandy Hook. Racism and gun violence are cut from the same cloth. There’s no reason why we need to borrow the outrage against one to be outraged at the other.

 

When It Comes To Reaching Hearts & Minds About Gun Violence, The NRA Doesn’t Stand A Chance.

This morning I sat down and watched the NBA-Everytown gun ads again.  They really get a message across.  And it’s a very simple message; if a gun gets into the wrong hands, someone’s going to get hurt.  And of course it’s not just the message, but the messengers.  I mean, is anyone going to accuse Carmelo Anthony of being a shill for Mike Bloomberg when his salary tops $22 million a year?

carmelo              On the other hand, sooner or later I’m expecting to see the NRA’s Number One shill, the so-called Colion Noir, prancing around with his AR-15 on a basketball court in Dallas, telling all those folks who pretend to be his camp followers about the value of their 2nd-Amendment rights.  In fact, his latest attempt to promote Mossberg, FN and the other gun companies who sponsor his amateurish digital nonsense has him lecturing four African-American brothers who, like eeny-meeny-miny-moe, sit around mouthing various nothings while Colion explains the dangers of gun control because “as soon as they get their hands on the plastic stuff, they’ll be after the wooden stuff next.”

It might come as something of a surprise to Colion or whatever his name is that for forty-nine years before the 2008 Heller decision, which extended 2nd Amendment protections to private ownership of guns, the only thing that the 2nd Amendment actually protected were guns kept at home by Americans who used them for what we call the ‘common defense;’ i.e., service in military units like the National Guard.  And do you know how many guns all those liberals confiscated from law-abiding Americans between United States v. Miller in 1939 and District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008?  None.  Not one.

This is one of the two biggest falsehoods that the NRA and gun-loving sycophants like Colion Noir repeat all the time.  And Colion is allegedly a lawyer so he knows that what he is saying just isn’t true.  The other big falsehood which Colion also repeats again and again is that without access to guns we would all be the victims of violent crime.  The last time I checked, there were on average 250 justifiable homicides each year and between 2007 and 2011 less than 1% of all violent crimes resulted in someone protecting themselves with a gun.  Occasional anecdotes aside, the chances that a card-carrying member of the NRA would find himself in a situation where he needed to protect himself with a gun are about the same as that individual walking out of his home and being run over by a rhinoceros.  Walking around with a gun to protect yourself may sound good, may feel good, may provide Colion with some footage for one of his video rants, but it’s got nothing to do with the reality of guns.

I’m going to say something that’s probably going to get me into hot water with my gun-nut friends but I really don’t care. I happen to think that this whole notion of guns as being necessary for self-protection is a case of arrested development and nothing else. If, according to the Police Foundation, cops on the job aren’t adequately trained to deliver lethal force, then how in the world can all these CCW civilians believe they have the training and experience to defend themselves with a gun?  Has Colion Noir ever used a gun in self-defense?  Of course not.

Colion gives the whole thing away when he talks about “taking back the narrative for a new generation of gun enthusiasts.”  Want to listen to the new narrative?  Listen to NBA star Carmelo Anthony when he introduces a national PSA on gun violence with, “the gun should never be an option.”  Now who is the next generation going to listen to?  Colion Noir who says that guns are the most important option for self defense?  Or Carmelo Anthony who doesn’t have to get your attention by proving anything at all?

In The GVP-NRA Contest, GVP Will Win.

I have been involved in the gun business since 1965, which is longer than most of the people have been alive who follow me here and on Huffington Post.  And that is because in 1965 I went down to North Carolina to work for my great-Uncle Ben who owned something called the Imperial Metal Products Co., where he manufactured a little 22-caliber revolver called the IMP.  The gun held five rounds but the effective capacity was far less, because by the third shot either the 2-inch barrel would fall off or the cylinder would crack in half.  This Saturday Night Special sold for about thirty bucks in pawn shops all over the South, and when GCA68 ended Ben’s life as a gun maker he became the Smith & Wesson law enforcement distributor for North Carolina and sold plenty of better-made revolvers to the cops.

gun free              So there’s very little about guns and the gun business that I don’t know, and in that regard when I say that the GVP movement is soon going to eclipse the NRA, it’s not a feeling based just on hope or whimsy, it reflects what I have seen and heard over the past fifty years. The truth is that when it comes to guns as an issue of public safety, until the last couple of years the NRA had the playing field all to itself.  Every once in a great while there would be a little public dust-up, like after good ol’ Charlie Whitman climbed the Texas Tower in 1966 and killed or wounded more than 45 people in a 90-minute spree.  Or again in 1969 when the cops and the Black Panthers in Los Angeles exchanged several thousand rounds of gunfire from which, unbelievably, no one was killed. But the deliberations leading up to GCA68 hardly, if ever made front-page news, and even the gun bills passed by Clinton in 1994 were hardly front-page stories except perhaps on the day of the votes.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that the NRA is a paper tiger that will roll over and play dead every time a new GVP initiative comes down the line.  To the contrary, since the mid-90’s the gun gang has scored some notable victories, in particular a rewriting of CCW laws in nearly every state, a law gagging doctors in Florida and three other states, and a public mood shift towards more support for 2nd Amendment rights.  And of course let’s not forget the biggest victory of all, namely the 2008 Heller decision by gun-nut Scalia which says that the 2nd Amendment protects private ownership of guns once and for all.

Notwithstanding the above, I still believe that the GVP’s time has come.  First, anyone who pretends that GVP is not a strong, widespread and growing grassroots movement is either a pro-gun sycophantic noisemaker paid to say otherwise, or is blind, deaf and dumb. And let’s not forget that much of the GVP organizational activity has only been spurred since the massacre at Sandy Hook. Second, for the first time in all time we have a national Presidential candidate who is not only calling for a national GVP movement, but promises to lead it if she is elected in 2016.  And let’s not forget the remarkable GVP ads that ran yesterday during NBA games.  Nothing the NRA will ever push out on its silly video channel will ever achieve even a fraction of the audience that heard Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul.

Last week the NRA put out a statement reminding its members that Obama, Hillary, The New York Times and every other liberal politician and publication is basically anti-gun.  They have been running this same message for the last twenty years.  But often there hasn’t been much of a response from the other side.  For the first time in my 50 years of watching the gun industry, the GVP message is loud, continuous and clear.  And it’s going to get louder, of that I’m sure.

 

Women Are Getting Into Shooting, But Not In The Way That Keli Goff Wants You To Believe.

Whether she knows it or not, feature writer for The Beast, Keli Goff, has just published an article about the alleged increase of women in the shooting sport which reads right out of the NRA-NSSF playbook on how to win friends and influence people about guns without knowing anything about guns.  Keli has unquestioned liberal credentials and a piece she did last year on guns and ghetto crime said all the right things from a GVP perspective, but this time she seems to have gone into the deep water and I’m not sure that her life-jacket can keep her afloat.

loesch              Keli begins by noting what we all know, namely, that recent surveys show that the popular mood has shifted from gun control to gun rights, and since women have historically been more supportive of gun control than men, Keli uses the shift from gun control to gun rights as proof that women are increasingly interested in guns.

Of course making assumptions about the relationship between public opinion surveys and buying habits is one thing; proving a connection is something else.  But having obviously done well in Journalism 101, Keli knows that she needs to come up with some real numbers in order to prove her point.  And since the FBI doesn’t track or aggregate gender data from the NICS checks (I know, because I asked the FBI for this data) and at least 40% of all gun transactions occur without any background check at all (I believe this figure to be correct), Keli has no choice but to support her argument by going to what she hopes will be a credible, second-hand source.

And what source does she use?  The NRA, which is about as reliable a source for valid information about the gun business as Exxon would be a valid source for the effects of global warming.  So it should come as no surprise to the readers of Keli’s column that the NRA claimed that between 2004 and 2011 there had been a 77% increase in the number of women who own guns.  Now even if this number is true, all it really reflects is that before 2004 the participation of women in the shooting sports was virtually nil.

It would be wrong to assume there hasn’t been an uptick in female ownership of guns. After all, more than 40% of all households now count women as the primary earner and traditional male-female gender roles continue to blur or disappear.  If there has been any slight increase in lady shooters, however, it is largely due to the unending attempt by the gun industry to use right-wing noisemakers like Dana Loesch and the slightly over-the-hill Sarah Palin to promote female ownership of guns.

Know what’s really changed as regards women and guns? It’s the degree to which women have moved to the forefront of the effort to limit, not expand gun ownership, a subject that Keli Goff handles in a rather disjointed and unfair way.  To be sure she was careful to grab a few quotes from two female GVP activists, Donna Dees Thomases and Colette Martin, but she then contrasts the alleged growth of female gun owners to a “lack of momentum” in the gun-control movement of today.

Let me break the news to you gently, Ms. Goff.  I have been involved with guns since 1965 and I have never seen a GVP movement as determined, widespread and active as what I now see.  And whether it’s Colette, Donna, Shannon and so many others, what stands out in the current GVP environment is the energy, activity and public presence of women who want to see gun violence come to an end.

Keli – your story is not just short on facts, it’s a slap in the face to women whose efforts have levelled the playing field with the NRA. Your article represents quickie, digital journalism at its worst, and other than wishing you a Merry Christmas, there’s nothing more to say.