The Myth Of The ‘Sensible Gun Owner.

In 1890 the U.S. Census declared that wilderness no longer existed in the continental United States. And this announcement provoked the first, public debate in this country between the fledgling conservationist-naturalist movement on the one hand, and the proponents of unrestrained, economic growth on the other.  This debate continues in the present day except now it has taken on a global perspective known as Global Warming, but the two sides – conservation versus development – haven’t really changed their respective positions at all.  And the reason the debate is so rancorous and unending is that neither side seems willing to engage in an effort to find some kind of compromise middle ground which will allow us to preserve part of what is still natural while, at the same time, giving economic development incentives to spread.

heston            This same profile – two sides unwilling to meet somewhere in the middle and compromise over basic goals – exists in the argument over guns and, more specifically, the argument over violence caused by guns.  On the one hand we have seen a recent growth in the size and activity of groups and organizations dedicated to reducing gun violence; on the other we have an entrenched and well-organized pro-gun community which denies that guns are responsible for any violence at all.  Or if there is a bit of violence that results from someone using a gun in an inappropriate way (Sandy Hook, Pulse, et. al.,) it’s a price we need to pay because of the value of gun ownership in terms of history, tradition, freedom, sport and most of all, self-defense.

But what about all those surveys which show that a whopping super-majority of Americans and even a substantial majority of gun owners support the idea of ‘sensible’ restrictions on guns?  The latest polls disclose a near-90% positive response to the question of whether background checks should be conducted on all transfers of guns and even four out of fine gun owners, according to the recent surveys, also endorse this particular form of ‘sensible’ restrictions on ownership of guns. So if just about everyone agrees that a ‘sensible’ strategy like universal background checks is a good thing, how come all these sensible folks, particularly gun-owning sensible folks, don’t show up to vote for expanded background checks whenever the issue appears on a state-level ballot or is the subject of a debate on Capitol Hill?  Yes, California passed a law mandating background checks for ammo purchases, but a ballot initiative in Maine to extend background checks on gun transfers failed.

So where are all these ‘sensible’ gun owners that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community will tell you really exist?  The truth is that their existence is more apparent than real.  And the reason it’s more apparent is because not one of those surveys which keeps discovering the existence of all those sensible gun owners ever asks the crucial follow-up question which is: Do you support the NRA?  Because if the polls did ask that question I guarantee you that the same four out of five gun owners who say they are in favor of expanded background checks would also state that they support America’s ‘oldest’ civil-rights organization, whether they are NRA members or not.

And guess what?  Back in August the NRA announced unequivocally and without reservation of any kind the organization’s total and unalterable opposition to expanding background checks, “because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms, because some proposals to do so would deprive individuals of due process of law, and because NRA opposes firearm registration.” And that’s that.

If one were to go back and ask all those ‘sensible’ gun owners whether they agreed with the NRA’s stance on background checks they would probably say ‘no.’  But if you were to then ask them whether this disagreement would make them withdraw their support for the NRA they would stare at you in shock and reply, “Who’s going to support my right to own a gun? And that last statement is the reason why the notion of the ‘sensible’ gun owner is a myth.

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If Minorities Are Buying Guns, It’s Not To Exercise Their 2nd-Amendment ‘Rights.’

During the Presidential campaign there were all sorts of stories floating around about how some of Trump’s supporters were planning armed insurrection if it turned out that their candidate was somehow cheated out of his rightful prize.  And even The New York Times ran a story based on some interviews with Trump loyalists, none of whom actually said that they would lead an armed revolt (which even to verbally promote such nonsense happens to be a federal crime) but they knew other people who were ready to take their guns into the streets.

hate           Luckily we were saved from a revolutionary situation because Shlump actually won.  But in the aftermath of his victory, while the guy who really understands the ‘common man’ lines up an Executive management team which represents the billionaire class, we are now being treated to the opposite of the ‘Trump loss equals armed revolt’ crap with stories about how people who consider themselves targets of Shlump-o’s fascist-populist message are arming themselves in response to the impending warfare that will sooner or later break out.

This latest effort to sensationalize every aspect of political news and commentary was the handiwork of NBC, which ran a story about how ‘fearful minorities’ (read: African-Americans) were ‘buying up guns,’ the reportage based entirely on interviews with a black lady who lives in Alpharetta, GA, a black gun-shop owner in Virginia and the guy who heads something called the National African American Gun Association, which just happens to be occasionally featured on the Breitbart website (where else?) because of the group’s strong support for 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

This idea that African-Americans should become gun owners predates the 2016 campaign, reflecting an attempt by the gun industry to reach out to new markets, in particular women, Hispanics and blacks.  The problem is that none of these demographics have ever shown any serious inclination to join Gun-nut Nation, and while noisemakers like Dana Loesch (for the women segment) and Colion Noir (for the African-American segment) push their stupidly-contrived videos on the NRA website and YouTube, they are basically speaking for themselves. The FBI, under statute, does not maintain or release data on the racial breakdown of NICS-background checks (my request for such information was politely refused last year) and anecdotal evidence is anecdotal but it’s not evidence.  What we do know from the latest Pew survey is that roughly one out of five African-American and Hispanic households contain guns, so there’s plenty of room for growth.

But let’s assume for the moment that even with the shallowness of the reportage, the NBC story about how minorities are streaming into gun shops is true.  You would think this would be a salutary news event for Gun-nut Nation, given how the gun industry has tried to promote the ownership of its products to non-white groups. But judging from a Breitbart story based on the NBC report, the enthusiasm is less than real.  Because the problem that Gun-nut Nation now faces is to find a way to promote the idea of minority gun ownership while, at the same time minimizing (or simply lying about) the reason why African-Americans are buying guns.  And the reason is very simple:  the incoming President of the United States has made it clear that minority communities can expect little, if any protection from a federal government whose Chief Executive pollutes the digital airwaves daily with a mixture of racism, appeals to violence and outright scorn.

If, as the NBC story suggests, minorities are considering gun ownership out of fear of what an unbridled racism promoted by Donald Shlump might bring, this also creates an important turning-point for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community as well. Because the one thing we know is that defending yourself or your community by going around armed basically does nothing except create circumstances and situations in which more gun violence occurs. I’m not denying the reality of a palpable sense of fear created by the shenanigans of Jerk Trump. But sticking a gun in your pocket will only make it worse.

The Government Issues A New Report On Safe-Gun Technology Which Moves The Discussion Backwards.

It’s official.  The newspaper of record, a.k.a. The New York Times, has just announced its support of a new government statement on safe-gun technology which probably represents the last thing the Obama Administration has to say about guns.  And if The New York Times believes that this report is the non-plus-ultra statement about safe guns, then this must be a very solid and very impressive report.  In fact, it’s not.

safegunThe report is an amateurish cut-and-paste job which was obviously put together so that someone deep inside the bowels of the Department of Justice could complete some end-of-year checklist and get on with looking for a new job. But of course once The New York Times gives this report its official imprimatur you can bet this shabby effort to make something out of nothing will become the new argument for adoption of safe-gun technologies, an argument that has been floating around for more than 20 years under the guise of how digital innovation can help us be safe with guns.

Entitled “Baseline Specifications for Law Enforcement Service Pistols with Security Technology,” the report is an effort to nudge the safe-gun discussion a little further by setting out design and performance standards that would have to be met by any manufacturer hoping to sell such a product to any federal agency whose personnel carries guns.  Actually, since the document is not any kind of official RFP, it represents no legal or practical advance at all.  For the most part the text consists of nothing more than a combination of the government’s handgun performance criteria which will be used to possibly adopt a new military handgun sometime in the future, along with design specifications which were taken from an RFP issued by the FBI for a new pistol awarded to Glock.

Buried near the end of the report is a brief section which describes the safe-gun technology itself except that all it basically says is that some kind of ‘security device’ will be a permanent part of the gun, will be programmable and may include something worn by the operator, like a wristband or a ring.  By the way, if the security device ‘malfunctions’ the gun will still work.

Now I thought the whole point of safe-gun technology is to prevent a gun from being used at any time except by someone digitally authorized to use the gun. But the problem with these digital gizmos is they need some kind of power source which comes from a battery and batteries wear out.  Is the average cop going to check to make sure while he’s on the job that the gizmo is always ready to go? He won’t, which is exactly why the gun defaults to being used by anyone which is exactly why nobody’s going to adopt this gun.

The NYT Editorial Board says this report is a positive step forward in the development of safe-gun technology because it creates “industry standards for reliable battery power in a smart gun, for ensuring unhindered speed in drawing the weapon and for the distance allowed between the gun and its owner’s ID device.”  In fact, what the report does is give the gun lobby an excellent opportunity to once again claim that gun-grabbing bureaucrats will find any reason to take away our guns.  The NRA called the report another example of “empty gestures meant to placate a gun control constituency that was disappointed Congress had spurned efforts to restrict Second Amendment rights.,” and went on to list several parts of the report (beyond what I mentioned above) which demonstrated the lack of substance and understanding about the actual use of safe guns.

The gun industry opposes safe-gun technology because it fights any effort to reduce gun violence through government mandates, government regulations or anything else that interferes with the industry’s ability to control the kinds of products it decides to put out for sale.  But the gun violence prevention community shouldn’t make it any easier for the gun lobby to pursue its aims, and the decision of the NYT Editorial Board to promote this report moves the safe-gun argument in a direction it shouldn’t take.

 

How’s Trump Going To Pay Back All Those Gun Votes? He Won’t.

Every four years the GOP trots out something from their ‘family values’ arsenal – abortion, school prayer, traditional marriage – to help define their electoral message and in 2016 they trotted out guns.  Not that these stalwart defenders of a pretended status quo ever really reward their supporters with anything beyond attempts to cut taxes for themselves and you would think that after thirty-five years of getting nothing that those legions of fervent followers would finally begin to realize that top-down, right-wing populism is nothing but a big, fat con.

trump5
           And in the aftermath of this election the biggest, single con job of all is the one which Trump sold at every, single campaign stop that he made, namely, the idea that he’s going to change the landscape when it comes to how America owns and uses guns.  I watched at least a dozen of his campaign rallies, and whenever the crowd got tired of yelling ‘lock her up,’ he would veer away from mumbling about some trade deal and remind the audience that: a) he would ‘defend’ their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights;’ and, b) he wanted a national, concealed-carry law, and, c) on his very first day in office he would eliminate all ‘gun-free’ zones.

So in the interests of giving my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community some guidance on what to look for in a Trump presidency and what can be dismissed as nothing but a variation on the traditional GOP social-messaging mirage, I thought I would subject each of Trump’s claims to some degree of scrutiny to see what comes out.  And what comes out, as I suspect you may already know, is that none of those statements bear any resemblance to facts or the truth.

At some point during the campaign Trump released a list of judges from whom he would choose a SCOTUS nominee, and he made the point of saying that every, single candidate would ‘defend’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ This was nothing more than political hyperbole nonsense since the NRA decided long ago that every registered Democrat represents a ‘threat’ to those rights, but the fact is that the only post-Heller 2nd-Amendment case decided by the SCOTUS while Scalia was alive was a case in which a majority said that the law which gave the government full and complete regulatory authority over gun sales was as fully constitutional as any law could be.  So much for a ‘conservative’ SCOTUS defending 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

As for a national CCW law, no doubt the NRA and its Congressional allies will once again run this one up the legislative flagpole, but like the veritable monkey who wrapped his tail around that same flagpole, such a law would require reconciling the state-level CCW regulations of all 50 individual states because unlike local driving laws, local gun laws from state to state are not the same.

Finally, when Trump says he’ll ‘immediately’ get rid of gun-free zones, maybe someone might remind him that Executive Orders apply only to the actions of Executive agencies, but cannot be used to change laws.  And there happens to be not one, but two federal laws that establish K-12 schools as gun-free zones, neither of which are going to be eliminated just because Trump wants to get up in front of a crowd or go on Twitter or YouTube and play his version of Macho Man.

I’m not saying that Gun-sense Nation has a friend in Trump.  We don’t.  Make no mistake: as long as he panders to the Right, and I’m not about to bother distinguishing between the Right and the Alt-Right, he’s an opponent of any, even the most benign attempts to reduce gun violence to any degree.  And going forward, Gun-sense Nation needs to respond forcefully to every effort by Trump and Gun-nut Nation to legitimize the violence caused by guns. Trump may have a loud voice, but it’s not the only voice in town.

Want To Reduce Gun Violence? The Real Battle Is In The States, Not The Feds.

Now that The New York Times has once again become the newspaper ‘of record’ even for Donald Trump, we can sit back and wait for the Gray Lady to begin pronouncing on everything and anything having to do with the election results on November 8th.  And the newsroom started right off with an ‘analysis’ of whether Trump’s victory was fueled by the ‘gun vote,’ and to nobody’s surprise, at least not mine, they discovered that it was.  Or at least Gun-nut Nation thinks it was.  And since the NYT will now begin to feature story after story about all those ‘forgotten’ folks who came out for Trump – in the interests of fair and balanced journalism –  you can bet that the gun-nut gang will be a central feature of more articles to come.

Of course the Times made sure to give a bit of space to the other side, quoting Everytown’s Erika Soto Lamb and also Jenn Crowe who worked on the Nevada background-check vote, but basically the piece was fluff and nonsense for various pro-gun advocates, including none other than C. J. Grisham from Open Carry Texas who proudly stated that he went out last week and bought two more AR-15 rifles just in case Hillary actually won.

Let me break the news gently to the gun violence prevention (GVP) community:  the real problem going forward will not be to figure out what to do; nor will it be to craft some kind of ‘new’ message about the politics of guns.  The real problem will be to find some way to push back against what will surely become an attempt by liberal influencers, pundits and newsmakers at the national level to cloak the wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak, and shift the spectrum towards a more ‘balanced’ view on guns.  And like it or not, this attempt by liberal media to find some way of making ‘gun rights’ a more reasonable proposition will last for as long as the liberal media feels that its relevance is dependent on how much access it can maintain with President Shlump.

But since pictures usually are worth lots of words, especially my words, I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of pics that highlight what I believe is the challenge faced by GVP.  Here is a map which shows how many states granted CCW (blue or green) in 1986:

rtc1986

            And here’s how the map has changed from then until now:

rtc2016

Want to know what’s also changed over those same thirty years?  Republican control of state governments has gone from one-third to two-thirds. Now many of those Democratic-controlled state governments were in the hands of southern Democrats whose views, at the time, not really all that different from the Republicans who would replace them and many of these states were gun-rich states anyway, so it wasn’t like either party was going to run around proclaiming the virtues of regulating guns.  But if you think for one second that state legislatures are awash in NRA lobbying money, you’re wrong.  In the Nevada fight over extending background checks, the NRA was outspent by more than two to one.

After the 1994 election when the GOP grabbed control of the House for the first time since 1952, much of the post-election narrative was based on the idea that the vote was payback time by the NRA for how representatives voted on the assault weapons ban bill.  And even though subsequent research indicated that this narrative wasn’t necessarily true, the notion that guns represent a toxic element for politicians at the national level continues to take hold.  And the proof of what I just said can be found in the NYT article quoted above.

I got a good idea for my friends in the GVP.  Do what you gotta do on K Street in DC but let’s not take our eyes off the ball because where the ball really bounces is in those increasingly-red state legislatures from sea to shining sea.

An Important Survey That Sheds Some Light On How Voters Thought About Guns.

Our friends at the Center for American Progress (CAP) have just released a post-election poll which gets right down to the details about how and why folks voted the way they did.  I’m going to leave the discussion about the overall poll results to the experts in politics, but I would like to discuss the results of several poll questions which related specifically to the issue of guns.

cap-logo2           The CAP press release which accompanied the survey found that in most areas, a majority of voters for both candidates preferred a middle-of-the-road approach to legislative issues and priorities, as well as a “notable alignment between Trump and Clinton voters on progressive issue priorities such as equal pay, money in politics, gun violence, and criminal justice reform.”  But when I examined the answers to specific questions about gun violence, with all due respect, this ‘notable alignment’ does not appear to be all that notable or all that aligned.

The survey contains a reference to gun issues in three questions:  Question #65 asks participants to rate the degree to which the candidates’ stance on ‘ensuring no infringements on the 2nd Amendment’ was important in determining how they voted; question #89 asks participants to rate the importance of ‘ensuring no infringements on the 2nd Amendment’ as a priority of the next Administration and Congress; question #102 asks participants whether they would support or oppose “legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales, including those sold online or at gun shows.”

And here’s how it went down.  Three-quarters of Trump’s supporters said that protecting the 2nd Amendment was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ in determining their decision to vote for him; less than half the Clinton supporters used the same 2nd-Amendment criteria for supporting HRC.  In other words, Clinton’s call for more gun regulations motivated her voters considerably less than Trump supporters were motivated by his defense of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  Gun-sense Nation was rightfully exultant that we finally had a national candidate who was willing to take on the NRA, but it wasn’t a strategy that appeared to have swayed votes.

Now things get a little sticky, because the next question asked participants to indicate the degree to which they expect Trump and the Congress to act on different priorities, one of them being protecting 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  And on this one, the views of Trump versus HRC supporters didn’t align at all.  Again, nearly three-quarters of the Trumpsters expect Trump to make good on his campaign claims to bolster 2nd-Amendment guarantees; again less than half of HRC’s supporters want to see the 2nd Amendment strengthened, a division of opinion that was exceeded only by views on keeping the ACA and building s Mexican wall.

Finally, and here’s the hot-button issue, namely, the question of comprehensive background checks.  Trump voters split about 70-30 on extending background checks; HRC voters, not surprisingly, came down more than 8 out of 10 in favor of comprehensive checks.  I didn’t mention a fourth gun question (#58 and #82) because asking people if they support efforts to reduce gun ‘crime’ and gun violence is really a two-edged sword.  This was the only gun question where both sides more or less agreed, but I guarantee you that had the question been broken down to its two component parts – gun violence versus gun crimes – one side would have been much more concerned with reducing gun violence, the other side much more concerned with doing something about gun ‘crimes.’  And if you need to be told which side is which on that one, you didn’t pay much attention to the HRC-Trump argument on guns during the campaign.

I’ll always stand up and applaud CAP for the really great work they do; work which is much more important right now as we look for ways to check the behavior of the lunatics who want to turn the government into their private asylum.  But in opposing the craziness, we have to understand it for what it is and not look for silver linings which may or may not exist.

 

Some Suggestions For A Gun Violence Prevention Strategy In The Age Of Trump.

gun-violence           Now that the dust is slowly beginning to settle and the smoke slowly beginning to clear, Gun-sense Nation has to sit down and come up with a workable plan to drive the issue of gun violence prevention in the Age of Trump.  Because at least for the next couple of years, until he really screws things up and/or everyone gets sick of his noise, the organizations and individuals committed to ending the senseless behavior that kills or injures 120,000 Americans ever year are going to have to figure out how and what to do with the lunatics in charge.  So while I’m not suggesting that what follows should be adopted as an agenda by the gun violence prevention (GVP) community, I do hope that at least some of these ideas will at least be discussed as plans for the future of GVP begin to take shape.

  1. There must be a dedicated and serious effort to prevent Gun-nut Nation from achieving its most fervent goal, namely, a national concealed-carry law that will be valid in all 50 states. And I am opposed to national CCW not because it would necessarily increase gun violence, but because it would make walking around with a gun just as normal and mainstream as driving a car.  Which would lead to even less restrictions on the ownership and use of guns.
  2. States and individual communities should be encouraged to more strictly regulate the most lethal guns. A town north of Chicago – Highland Park – banned the ownership of AR-style rifles by town residents following Sandy Hook and the ban was upheld. The Attorney General in Massachusetts banned purchases of black guns in the Bay State which unleased a spate of lawsuits that will probably end up in the trash.  Let’s remember that the 2nd Amendment protects private ownership of guns but doesn’t say anything about purchasing a particular type of gun.
  3. Gun buyback programs work. The buyback program in Worcester, MA, has taken more than 2,500 guns off the streets of Worcester and surrounding towns at an average cost of $60 a gun.  Let’s increase the buyback tariff to $150 a gun and see if 20 cities with high levels of gun-violence could pull 500 guns of the streets of each city every year.  So it would cost $1.5 million to reduce the gun arsenal by 10,000 guns – that’s chump change for someone like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or (God forbid) the Clinton Foundation to pony up for collecting a really big pile of guns.
  4. Start pestering school districts to mandate gun violence instruction in the primary grades. Guns don’t show up in high school; they first start appearing in the middle-school years.  Massachusetts mandated an anti-violence curriculum several years ago but confined the instruction to lessons about bullying after several unfortunate student suicides took place.  Shouldn’t they also have added a module on violence cause by guns?
  5. Don’t stop talking about gun violence – no public forum is out of bounds. Public discussions about gun violence used to be of the moment, provoked by this mass shooting or that.  The GVP community has gone far beyond rallying around the issue only when something dreadful takes place.  But keeping the dialog going and increasing its volume is not something that should only occur in response to specific events.  It should go on all the time.

Note that I did not mention the ‘usual GVP suspects’ like universal background checks or tightening up taking guns away in at-risk situations like suicide or domestic disputes.  I didn’t mention these issues because there is enough momentum behind them now to sustain such strategies even when the chances for success are less positive than they were before.  I just wanted to throw a few more items on the table because we need to attack this issue from as many different perspectives as we can, and let’s not forget that the next election is now less than two years’ away.

A Little Suggestion For Funding Gun Violence Research.

One of Gun-sense Nation’s primary concerns that will now linger in an unfinished state is the question of funding public health research into guns.  The major funding sourceCDC – was shut down in the 1990s, but while private sources stepped in to try and close the gap, much important work remains undone. And analyzing both this unfinished agenda and its implications for gun violence prevention (GVP) advocacy and policy are the subjects of a commentary by Everytown’s innovation director, Ted Alcorn, that recently appeared in a JAMA issue published online.

ph                 Before I go further into Alcorn’s discussion, I need to make my own thoughts and biases about gun-violence research clear.  As someone who holds a Ph.D. in Economic History and published several university monographs on same before getting into writing about guns, I would never, ever suggest or imply that serious research on any topic is anything other than a good thing.  But I am occasionally dismayed by what I perceive to be a desire on the part of gun-violence researchers to present themselves as being ‘neutral’ or ‘unbiased’ when it comes to the reason they study violence caused by guns.  I don’t think that a researcher should feel at all reluctant to state the obvious, which is that without guns there would be no gun violence. And if the political powers-that-be feel that 120,000 gun deaths and injuries each year are a price worth paying for a cynically-invented fiction known as 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ there’s no reason why any serious researcher should pay respectful homage to all that Constitutional crap. Because it’s not as if Gun-nut Nation would ever believe that any research into gun violence could be free of bias anyway since they don’t believe there’s really anything called ‘gun violence’ at all.

But let’s get back to what Ted Alcorn has to say.  He and his research group looked at 2,207 scholarly articles published between 1960 and 2014, and discovered that the number of yearly articles doubled between 1984 and 1990, then doubled again between 1990 and 1994-95, then doubled again by the early 2000’s, and then plateaued until they increased again noticeably in 2013-14.  In other words, the volume of gun research as measured by the number of published articles has not specifically increased since the mid-90’s, except for what has recently happened, no doubt due to the fallout from Sandy Hook.

More problematic than the fact that the number of scholarly resources has been essentially unchanged for the last twenty years is that the general interest in gun violence research, as measured by the number of times that scholarly articles are cited, reached a high-watermark in 1988 and then declined more than 60% through 2012.  This corresponds with the fact that the number of active gun-violence researchers also plateaued in the late 1990’s and has not increased ever since.

The problem facing gun research is not the absence of research funding per se.  It’s that the absence of research dollars tends to discourage new researchers from entering the field.  And when all is said and done, advances in science have a funny way of growing because more people not only conduct that research in a particular field, but also share their research, critique each other’s research and, most of all, conduct more research.

I think the idea that manna from heaven will ever again appear for government-sponsored gun violence research is a non-starter at best, a pipe dream at worst.  But I have an idea that I want to run up the flagpole about where to find money for this kind of research.  There’s a little foundation out there which happens to be sitting on $400 million bucks.  They refer to what they do as ‘life-changing work.’ What could be more life-changing than saving the lives of 120,000 Americans each year who are killed and injured by guns? The outfit is run by Donna Shalala who gave out plenty of gun-violence research money when she headed HHS from 1993 to 2001. Shouldn’t Gun-sense Nation give her a call?

If The Facts Don’t Support Gun-nut Nation, Why Bother With Facts?

Now that we have a President-elect who has made a virtue out of not even trying to distinguish between fact and fiction in debates about public policy, we will begin to see this confusion appear in public policy discussions about guns.  Actually, it’s not a confusion at all; rather, the door is now open for Gun-nut Nation to say anything they want to say about guns because as long as they say it, then it must be true. And if the other side says it, since they lost on November 8th, it’s false.

ccw           How long did it take for this new approach to appear?  Exactly one week following the election, with an article in National Review. The author, Andrew Branca, a self-described expert on self-defense, floats around the alt-right radio world and also teaches self-defense ‘law’ on a website which, of course, contains the usual disclaimer that none of the content ‘accurately communicates laws or court decisions,’ too bad these classes can’t be listed any longer on the Trump University curriculum.

The subject of the NR critique is an article which just appeared in a leading medical journal, JAMA – Internal Medicine, which finds a clear connection between the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in Florida and an increase in homicide in the Gunshine State. The article looked at homicide rates and gun-homicide rates between 1999 and 2014, and found a significant increase in both trends after the SYG law was passed in 2005. This increase was particularly evident for age groups 20-35 and for males, which happen to be the two most common demographic categories for gun violence overall.

This is not the first study which links SYG laws to increases in gun violence and violence in general.  The Everytown research group found that after the law was passed, the justifiable homicide rate tripled, with most of the victims, not surprisingly, being young, Black men.  A detailed study based on Texas data showed that such laws did not deter crimes like assault, robbery or burglary, but did lead to an increase in murder and manslaughter. In other words, if you walk around armed and are not required to first back down when facing what you believe to be a criminal threat, you might end up shooting someone but you won’t be protecting yourself or your community from crime.

Which is exactly the opposite of what Gun-nut Nation claims is the reason for walking around with a gun. And you can be sure that you’ll hear this nonsense again and again next year when the NRA leads the charge to get a national, concealed-carry law on the Chief Executive’s desk. Which brings us back to Branca’s critique of the JAMA new study on the effects of the Florida STG laws; a critique based on a misuse of data that reaches colossal terms.

Branca states that the SYG study is ‘fatally flawed’ because it does not distinguish between murder on the one hand and homicide on the other and, in many cases, murder turns out to be a reasonable response by a victim to a violent crime.  And since the whole point of STG laws is to give a crime victim an opportunity to defend himself before or during the commission of a crime, of course the number of people killed would go up as all these gun-toting community defenders use their guns to protect themselves and everyone else.

.  In Florida, the average annual homicide rate increased from 600 to 840 after STG was passed. Meanwhile, according to the FBI, the number of justifiable homicides recorded throughout the entire United States averaged roughly 280 per year for the years covered by the JAMA report  Should we assume, therefore, that every, single act of justifiable homicide occurred only in the Gunshine State? And that’s the level of stupidity masquerading as informed opinion that we will now face when it comes to the public debate about guns.