If We Can Correct The Record About Hillary, We Can Correct The Record About Guns.

If there’s one thing more than anything else that has pissed me off about Trump, it has been his propensity to use the most low-level, stupid and pandering statements about guns as if they are facts.  He probably does this with everything, but I’m no expert on economic affairs or international politics, so when someone scores him for saying something dumb about the economy or trade deals, I often take the criticism with a grain of salt.  But I know something about guns, in fact, I know a lot about guns, and if Trump really believes that walking around with a gun makes you safe, then he’s saying something that is simply dumb.

Correct-The-Record-Logo-White-300x105           Where does he get it from?  He gets it from the NRA, the NSSF and all the other organizations and individuals who produce hot air for Gun-nut Nation.  Believe it or not, I don’t blame the NRA for foisting such stupids on the public; the folks in Fairfax are a marketing operation and that’s what marketing operations do – they promote their products as  best they can, and as long as their lawyers tell them that something they are saying won’t wind them up in court, why not say whatever you want to say?

But this time the NRA may wind up in court not because of something they said about guns, but something they are saying about Hillary, which is just a shorthand way they are now using to talk about guns.  I’m referring to the ad that the NRA is running in some ‘swing’ states which features a Benghazi veteran named Mark Geist, who was apparently at Benghazi when the ill-fated attack took place in 2012.  And the ad shows him standing at a veteran’s cemetery warning the viewers that it was Hillary’s behavior that resulted in some of his comrades ending up in that hallowed ground, rather than standing alongside him.

By coincidence (yea, right,) the ad aired the same day that U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) released his long-awaited Benghazi report, which was so lacking in any new criticisms of Hillary that Rush Limbaugh’s response was to sink into a paroxysm of ‘Hillary’s a liar’ shrieks because he couldn’t find anything else to say. And Trump-o couldn’t find anything to say either beyond the usual ‘crooked Hillary’ riff or some words to that effect.

But the Veteran’s Administration did have something to say about the ad, and what they said was that it’s illegal to use a veteran’s cemetery for film purposes without express permission and they had not received any request from the NRA for this or any other purpose.  The NRA of course denied it had broken the law, stating that it was filmed ‘outside’ a veteran’s cemetery, but in fact the ad includes footage of Geist actually stepping between cemetery headstones.

Incidentally, I was directed to the controversy over the NRA ad by the folks who run a website, Correct The Record, which is a research and rapid-response effort aimed at supporting the Clinton campaign. Given the shameful degree to which Trump and his narrow band of supporters have based virtually every campaign statement on whatever will appeal to his so-called ‘movement’ regardless of even the remotest connection to the truth, the folks at Correct have their work cut out for them and I wish them the best of luck.

But as I page through their website, and it’s a site everyone should bookmark and read, it occurs to me that this is exactly the kind of resource that the Gun Violence Prevention community sorely needs but doesn’t have.  I wrote a column earlier today pointing out that a Youtube huckster is promoting the idea of concealed-carry without any training whatsoever and his videos get hundreds of thousands of hits! You know the old saying about appealing to hearts and minds.  GVP does a great job of appealing to hearts but Correct The Record might be a model for how to appeal to the minds.

 

Advertisements

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Training To Carry A Gun. No Stinkin’ Brains, Either.

This week the ‘show me’ state, a.k.a. Missouri, found itself embroiled in a major debate over gun violence because a bill known as SB 656 was sitting on Governor Jay Nixon’s desk awaiting his signature.  What the bill got was a veto, and while this immediately provoked calls for an attempted override, right now thanks to the Moms Missouri chapter, efforts by Gun-nut Nation to introduce ‘Constitutional carry’ into Missouri may be dead.

moms           Not that the NRA won’t try to explain Governor Nixon’s behavior as just another example of how out-of-state money (read: Bloomberg) surged into Missouri to help defeat what otherwise would have been a sensible effort to give the state’s citizens a little help in defending themselves against terrorism and crime. In fact, the NRA immediately issued a statement after Nixon’s veto, stating that “if events in Orlando and San Bernardino have taught us anything it’s that the need for self-protection can occur anywhere at any time.”

But the Governor’s refusal to sign the bill had nothing to do with making a pro or con judgement about the right to self-defense.  The real issue in this instance had to do with whether or not people who want to go around armed can prove that they possess even the slightest ability to defend themselves or others with a gun.

There’s a Youtube character named Yankee Marshal who shoots his mouth off about various gun issues and he’s an entertaining sort of fellow if you like to be entertained on a third or fourth-grade level, and he’s put out a video in which he claims that training to use a gun is a waste of time: “I think that most people with common sense and average intelligence can figure out how to safely operate a firearm.”  And he then goes on to say that if you want to carry a gun, you should also be able to exercise that ‘right’ without getting any training at all.

Which brings us back to the 2008 Heller decision that defined the 2nd Amendment – clearly and explicitly – as a Constitutional ‘right’ to keep a loaded handgun in the home for personal defense.  Not in the street, not in a holster or fanny pak as you walk around – in the privacy of your home. And what Heller unleashed was a torrent of nonsense from Gun-nut Nation, Yankee Marshal to Donald Trump, that everyone also has the ‘right’ to walk around with a gun.

Now the good news is that the judiciary hasn’t seen it that way.  We have the Peruta decision in California which upheld the ‘right’ not of the gun owner but of the county government to decide whether or not someone who owned a gun could also carry it outside his home. And back in 2014 the Supreme Court with Antonin Scalia alive and still well refused to review a New Jersey decision which basically said the same thing.

But those decisions haven’t stopped a growing movement known as ‘Constitutional carry’ which basically says that anyone who is qualified to own a gun is, ipso facto, entitled to carry it around not just within their home, but any place they damn well please.  There are now 10 states that do not require any special licensing to carry a gun outside the home, and Missouri would have been the 11th had Jay Nixon not shown some common sense and political backbone by vetoing the bill.

I would love to see whether idiots like Yankee Marshal or Donald Trump, for that matter, could actually pull a gun out of their pants and hit the broad side of a barn. The Police Foundation estimates that half the active law enforcement officers can’t do it, but why should we impose gun training requirements on civilians that we don’t even require for cops?

OK Moms.  You know what you have to do. Won a big one in Missouri but make sure it sticks.

 

How Much Will Trump Owe The NRA? If He Wins – Plenty.

If anyone thought for one second that the NRA wouldn’t have Street Thug Trump in their pocket if he’s elected President, today’s announcement should make you think again.  Because the NRA is going to drop $2 million on an ad campaign that will remind voters about how Hillary was in some way responsible for the Benghazi attack.  And while the ads are starting to run at the same time that Trey Gowdy’s House Committee was unable to pin any Benghazi blame on HRC, never mind details or even basic facts, if you want to believe that Trump is the man who can protect us from terrorism, this advertisement is where you can start.

trump2            But what the advertisement really does is get Street Thug’s name on some television screens and computer panels without costing him one dime.  Which is actually more important than what the advertisement actually says because Street Thug doesn’t have a dime to spend on any advertising these days, nor does he have two nickels to rub together or even two cents here or there.  Now he claims to have raised $3 million was his first, big email campaign, but that figure is disputed not just by liberal pundits, but by the conservative National Review as well. The headline of their online article referred to Trump’s fundraising claims as ‘lies.’  I thought that only Street Thug could use a word like ‘lie’ when talking about the Hillary campaign.  Now a conservative source is pasting that epithet on him? Hmmmm.

I’m not really all that worried about the impact of this ad because increasingly Street Thug appears to be talking only to his solid but diminishing band of supporters who just aren’t going to make a majority dent when we all go to vote on November 8th.  Leaving alone the slippage at the national level, what caught my eye was the first, serious poll to come out of Texas, which shows Street Thug ahead, but not by enough to say that he can even win in that reddest of all red states.

The Texas poll shows Trump ahead by 41 – 33 in a head-to-head matchup (slight declines for both when Libertarian Gary Johnston is added to the mix.)  This leave a large, undecided vote but when everything was counted back in 2012, Romney beat Obama 58 to 32!  In other words, if the undecided vote breaks even from here on out, Trump barely ekes out a majority in a state that handed the 2012 Republican candidate an overwhelming win.

We won’t know until late next month whether Trump’s alleged fundraising is more fantasy than real.  But right now it can honestly be said that without the ads being produced by the NRA, the Street Thug’s media campaign is still the handiwork of Fox News.  But what’s interesting about the NRA ad is that it doesn’t mention guns or the 2nd Amendment at all.  The ad pans what is described as a veteran’s cemetery (which may be illegal to show) and the speaker who says he was posted at Benghazi then intones the usual anti-Hillary complaint that she didn’t protect us when and where it counted the most. And it took Street Thug 46 minutes to mention the 2nd Amendment at his rally rant last night in St. Clairsville, OH, means that the subject that used to be his stock-in-trade for ramping up the crowd has now almost disappeared.

And my theory for the disappearance of gun ‘rights’ as a motif for Street Thug’s campaign is very simple, namely, that the energy and activity of the Gun Violence Prevention community, in particular since Orlando, has tipped the scales the other way.  But if, God forbid, Street Thug somehow pulls it off, he’s going to owe the NRA big-time because they stuck by him while others faded away.

So let’s not forget that there are 132 days left until either we win or we lose.  And we better not lose.  No way.

 

If You Think The Sit-In Over Gun Violence Ended Last Week, Think Again.

There’s a new group on the Gun Violence Prevention landscape called Rabbis Against Gun Violence, and they have engineered a clever event today that deserves some attention. Actually, it’s a series of events they are calling a Sit-InTo Disarm Hate, and it is an attempt to carry forward the direct action of the House of Representatives sit-in last week to the district offices of Congressional reps, many of whom will be back home for the July 4th break.

rabbis           Here’s the way it’s going to work. First you print out a sign. Then you share it on whatever social media platforms you use (and of course personalize with a pic,) then tweet it to: @RabbisAgstGunV and use the hashtag #DisarmHate. Then contact the Rabbis group on their website and they will help you coordinate or join an event.

It doesn’t really matter whether you are by yourself, or it’s just you and a few other folks, or maybe it’s an anti-violence or anti-hate group that is looking for something to do.  The bottom line is that in many, if not most cases, you’ll be sending a message to the home office of an elected representative that they may not have ever received before.  And you are also telling your rep that when he or she goes back to DC, the possibility of more direct action looms ahead.

Because the truth is that this issue is not going to fade away.  We have reached a tipping-point because for the first time a grass-roots effort to promote an end to gun violence is beginning to take hold.  And if nothing else, what Orlando demonstrated beyond the shadow of any doubt is that something has to be done.  And it’s not just a question of ‘fixing’ this or ‘fixing’ that; serious and substantial changes have to occur.

I’m kind of an old-fashioned guy so the idea that religious groups should spearhead political change isn’t how I was brought up to think.  Religion was religion, politics was politics, the two didn’t usually intersect. But it was the Civil Rights movement that started in the 1950’s which changed all that, and the rabbis who have put together this new group to confront gun violence are acting in a tradition which now goes back more than sixty years.  Remember the Selma Bridge march in 1965?  One of the marchers was a Rabbi named Abraham Heschel, who was an admirer and confidante of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was his leadership that forged a Jewish commitment to civil rights that remains strong to this day.

Now it turns out that a member of the group’s Executive Committee, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, attended the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which happens to be where Dr. Heschel taught from 1946 until his death in 1972.  So the mission and work of this new group flows directly from the previous generation of Jewish rabbinical activism and is reflected in the group’s founding statement that “we are rooted in and inspired by Jewish values, teachings, texts, history and traditions,” which if it isn’t rooted in Heschel’s life and work, I don’t know what is.

The NRA loves to advertise itself as America’s oldest civil rights organization. But I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe the attempt to link guns to civil rights may be about to take a different turn.  Because when you stop to think about it, isn’t it everyone’s civil right to live a life free from violence and physical strife?  And aren’t we actually advancing a civil rights agenda when we call for an end to violence caused by guns?

I hope this new group Rabbis Against Gun Violence continues to flourish and grow.  I wish them and their supporters on June 29th a zissen tag, which means a sweet day.  What they are doing needs to be done.
 

What Would Happen If Americans Didn’t Own Guns?

The NRA keeps saying that if HRC is elected, the first thing she will do is confiscate all the guns.  So that got me thinking.  What would happen if the guns were taken away?  Or to put it more specifically, what would happen if America implemented licensing for gun ownership similar to what exists in the rest of the OECD?  Such a system would mean the immediate disappearance of assault weapons, the gradual disappearance of small, concealable handguns and the remaining firearms (true sporting rifles and shotguns) being regulated to varying degrees. The number of guns manufactured and imported each year would drop by more than half, but the revenue loss of roughly $13 billion in a GDP of almost $18 trillion would hardly be noticed at all.

conference-program-pic            On the other hand, what would the absence of guns mean to public health and crime?  As to the former, there would probably be some drop in the 20,000 suicides that occur each year with guns, but the evidence also suggests that there would be a ‘substitution’ effect, meaning that many, if not most suicide-prone individuals would find other means for ending their lives.  As for unintentional injuries from guns, as the total number of guns in civilian hands declined, so would the number of injuries, but the medical costs of gun accidents is less than .001% of the medical costs racked up each year for treating all unintentional injuries, hardly a major component in driving costs of medical care.

As for intentional gun injuries, for the sake of argument, let’s place annual gun assaults midway between FBI and CDC, or roughly 100,000.  That’s still only 15% of all serious assaults which might not be committed if guns couldn’t be used, but I suspect that the ‘substitution’ effect here would also render the difference less, because our overall assault rate is not much different than average assault rates throughout the OECD.  As for the argument that our homicide rate would be much lower if we didn’t have easy access to guns, this is perhaps true.  But in 2014 the U.S. still racked up almost 5,000 homicides without guns, substantially higher than most of the OECD.

In all of the arguments being made about strictly regulating guns however, what seems to be missed is the effects of gun absence on gun owners themselves.  Because there are somewhere around 30 million households that contain legal guns, and of the 60 million or so legal gun owners, at least 5 million define their life-styles, the social milieu, their culture and cultural beliefs in terms of guns. So what happens to these folks and their everyday existence if they can’t have access to guns?

When I was growing up in the 1950s, I had lots of toy guns but what I really took pride in was my collection of Lionel trains.  The trains and the room-wide track display eventually disappeared, both for me and for just about everyone else who loved model trains.  By the time my children were old enough to play with model trains, they were sitting in front of a television set playing Nintendo and collecting video games.

For that matter, when I was in my twenties and thirties, I don’t recall all that many cars on I-91 going towards New Hampshire and Vermont with kayaks on top or backpacks and tents behind.  Times change, styles change, leisure activities change – the market will always find a way to satisfy our desire to accumulate objects we really want but don’t need.

Which is exactly the problem with guns.  More than 30,000 people die and another 70,000+ are injured each year because Americans have free access to something they really don’t need.  So the issue of how and why to regulate this product doesn’t come down to numbers at all.  It comes down to a moral imperative which says that we should not sanction the use of violence in the ordinary course of human affairs – neither violence towards ourselves or towards anyone else.

Gun Violence Prevention Takes A Big Step Forward With The Sit-In On The Hill.

I was a college sophomore in 1964 when I went to my first demonstration against the Viet Nam War.  There were maybe 10 of us; we stood outside an armed forces recruiting center in New York’s Times Square and handed out leaflets for an hour or two, had some very brief conversations with a few pedestrians, none of whom even knew where Viet Nam was, and then we went home.

vietnam           Even though I continued to demonstrate against the war over the next few years, it wasn’t easy to get folks involved.  Congress routinely voted military appropriations, most people, even those against the war didn’t really pay it much attention, and the government was able to convince a majority of Americans that we could still find a way to win.

The 1968 Tet offensive changed all that.  For the first time, these rag-tag guerrillas called Viet Cong engaged front-line American troops throughout South Viet Nam, inflicted heavy casualties and almost overran our big air base at Da Nang.  The photo above was part of a news film that played on every national news television program the 2nd day of Tet.  It showed a South Vietnamese colonel shooting a ‘suspected’ Viet Cong sympathizer in the head.  It was graphic, it was brutal, and it demolished our government’s argument that we were fighting for a good cause.  If you know anyone who says they were not involved in an anti-war demonstration on a college campus after Tet, they are either lying or spent the whole year comatose or brain-dead.

The Congressional sit-in led by John Lewis may mark the beginning of the Gun Violence Prevention Tet offensive here in the United States.  Because thanks to Orlando, the issue of gun violence may have finally come into its own.  And what I mean is that, for the very first time in the fifty-plus years that I have been involved with guns, Gun-nut Nation isn’t setting or controlling the terms of the debate. If anyone’s walking through the House chamber saying that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, they are saying it to themselves.  And while you can always count on Cam Edwards, an NRA-funded mouthpiece, to say something bizarrely stupid about anything that even remotely smacks of gun control, his referring to the Democratic lawmakers as ‘criminals and terrorists’ simply demonstrates how far off from center the pro-gun argument has gone.

When you stop to think about it, the loss of 50 lives and the terrible injuries suffered by so many others shouldn’t be needed to spur an honest debate about gun violence. And God knows it takes less than 24 hours each and every day for a good deal more than 50 people to lose their lives thanks to guns.  But for most of us, until and unless we are immediately and directly affected by something, we quickly put bad things out of our minds.  The assassination of the young man on a Vietnamese street by an Army colonel made it impossible in 1968 for anyone to pretend that the Viet Nam War wasn’t wrong.

I think right now that the Gun Violence Prevention community owns the discussion about guns.  And the fact that Hillary has continued to raise the issue whereas Street Thug can’t even get his script approved by the NRA only increases the degree to which the terms and conditions that apply can be set by the side which often found itself unable to make any headway in this debate.

Advocates for Gun Violence Prevention should not make the mistake of thinking that because they were unable to get a bill through Congress means they cannot win the war.  Tet turned Americans against the war in 1968 but the last U.S. troops came home in 1975. It’s going to be a long and difficult struggle; think of how difficult it is for folks who lost someone at The Pulse.

There’s A New Gun Petition Out There And It Sure Ain’t To Promote Guns.

Funny how politics makes strange bedfellows, doesn’t it? Way back when, sometime around 2007 or so, I sent a donation to moveon.org because they were running a campaign against the Iraq War, in particular the escalation of the war known as the ‘surge.’  And to explain and justify the strategy, none other than General David Petraeus was brought back from the battlefield to explain what was going on to various Congressional committees on the Hill. And the fundraising request I received from moveon.org started off by saying, “Here comes Petraeus, don’t let him betray us.”  I thought this was very funny so I sent moveon.org a few bucks.

moveonSo now it’s a different time, a different place and I got Petraeus and Mark (Gabby’s husband) Kelly coming together to form a new gun-control organization which, like all the Gun Violence Prevention groups, is trying to attract more attention to the gun violence problem in the wake of the Orlando shooting last week. And I was about to give the Petraeus-Kelly combine my award for this week’s most significant addition to the roster of organizations and activities that are promoting gun violence prevention except that another horse coming out of the moveon.org stable caught my eye instead.

What I am referring to is a petition on the moveon.org website which calls for the banning of all AR-15 guns.  And what I like about this petition is that it’s simple and direct: “We need to ban all assault weapons now, while moving quickly to enact common sense gun reform.”  The petition doesn’t call for redesigning the guns, or removing the hi-cap mags, or any other small reform like that. It says ban ‘em, period.  End of story. Throw them all away, or melt them down and turn them into useless junk.

And not only does the petition call on the government to ban the damn things, it also refers to these weapons by their rightful name, assault weapons, because that’s exactly what they are. And if you happen to be someone who really and truly believes that the AR-15 or the Sig MCX whatever nomenclature is used to avoid the word ‘assault’ isn’t an ‘assault rifle,’ do me a favor and go lay brick. Because it really doesn’t matter whether the first assault rifle was a gun produced for the Wehrmacht near the end of World War II, whether it fires in full-auto or semi-auto mode, whether anything other than a machine gun is covered by 2nd-Amendment rights, blah, blah, blah and blah.

The gun is lethal as hell, you can kill 60 human beings with it in less than 60 seconds without even reloading the damn thing, and if anyone thinks that such guns will protect freedom-loving Americans from the dangers of ISIS or the tyranny of another Clinton regime, then this is someone with whom a reasonable conversation about guns or anything else simply cannot take place.

And frankly, this is usually a big part of the problem whenever the Gun Violence Prevention community takes a stand.  Because they are always, despite what Gun-nut Nation says about them, so damn reasonable whenever they argue any position at all.  For example, today’s online medical bulletin JAMA contains a new study on the effects of Australia’s 1999 assault weapons ban which clearly shows that once assault rifles disappeared from the civilian arsenal in Australia, mass shootings disappeared as well.  But in an accompanying editorial, Daniel Webster, one of our foremost public health gun researchers, made sure to mention that evidence showing a direct cause-and-effect between the assault weapons ban and overall gun homicides was not so clear.

And maybe the data on assault weapons and homicides isn’t so clear. But so what?  If we accept the crazy notion that a semi-automatic gun which can kill 60 people in one minute is no different from any five-shot rifle that is used to bag a deer, then there’s no reason to be upset about Orlando at all.  Sign the petition, okay?