If Trump Goes Down The Tubes, The NRA Won’t Be Far Behind.

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Before everyone gets all hot, bothered and indignant about Wayne-o’s attempt to out-trump Trump at the CPAC conference, I’d like to point something out. Let’s remember that it’s been a long time since the NRA dropped any pretense towards being a gun-safety organization or a sportsman’s organization or any other kind of organization devoted to what we call the ‘shooting sports.’ Because unless you want to define ‘sports’ as wandering around with a gun in your pocket to protect the neighborhood from some kind of terrorist assault, you’d better look elsewhere to join other folks who just want to have fun with their guns.

wayne             The NRA is now contributing to the political debate with arguments that range from a warmed-over version of The John Birch Society (you’re right, Ladd Everitt) to the usual insurrectionist rhetoric of the dumbest militia-type groups. And if you think I’m being extreme, just listen to Wayne-o at CPAC when he went on a rant which included statements about the ‘violence’ of the ‘paid’ demonstrators at the inauguration that resulted in numerous cops being hospitalized during the event, even though there were exactly two officers sent to local hospitals for injuries which were considered ‘minor’ by the hospitals staffs.

So Wayne-o is now a caricature of Trump himself, the boy from Fairfax exhibiting a total disregard for anything that remotely smacks of the truth, and the question needs to asked: Has the NRA become a real threat?  I’m not talking about the possibility that a national concealed-carry bill might become law or that the movement to expand FBI-NICS background checks to secondary sales might get stopped dead in its tracks.  I’m talking about Wayne-o’s thinly-veiled appeal for people to use their guns against the new threat from the ‘violent’ Left: “Make no mistake. If the violent left brings their terror to our communities, our neighborhoods, or into our homes they will be met with the resolve and the strength and the full force of American freedom [guns] in the hands of the American people.”

Now this statement has played again and again throughout the #resistance community on Twitter, Facebook and everywhere else. But what didn’t make the digital airwaves was the very next sentence that came out of Wayne-o’s mouth, when he said, “And make no mistake about it – we are the majority.”  This line got a nice round of applause from the CPAC audience who probably felt they were the majority of the folks who ponied up a minimum of $150 for a day pass to hear Wayne-o and other CPAC-ers speak. But the truth is that what he said wasn’t true. It was a complete and utter lie and its within that falsehood that the NRA’s real weakness during the Age of Trump can be found.

Because look what happened yesterday when, according to Breitbart, we were going to see millions of God-fearing and Trump-loving Americans take to the streets to show their support for their Commander in Chief.  If there was a single ‘Spirit of America’ rally which drew more than 100 persons you wouldn’t know it from the pics that have appeared (20 people in Florida, 30 in Atlanta) all over Twitter and it wasn’t some phony troll who was putting this stuff out.

If things continue to go as they’ve been going, everyone will get sick and tired of Trump. Which means they will also get sick and tired of people and organizations that continue to prop him up. The bottom line is the NRA doesn’t represent a majority of any kind. It represents a bunch of well-meaning gun owners, most of whom voted for Trump but like many people who pulled a red lever in the voting booth, are now wondering if they did the right thing. And if these folks decide that Trump’s rhetoric doesn’t deserve support, then they’ll decide that the NRA doesn’t deserve their support as well. Resist Trump, resist the NRA – it may go hand in hand.

 

A Must-Read Book On Cop Killings.

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Now that we finally have a President who supports the police and promises to end the ‘dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America,’ we can begin to gauge how and why this so-called anti-police atmosphere has arisen from a remarkable piece of research, When Police Kill, written by Frank Zimring and published by Harvard University Press.  Zimring is no stranger to the field of gun violence research, having produced formative efforts in this field for more than forty years. And if you think for one second that the issue of cop killings doesn’t go to the heart of the debate about gun violence, think again. Because what Zimring shows is that not only are most fatalities which occur at the hands of police the result of cops using guns, but the number of such deaths each year is undercounted by more than half!

cops             Zimring bases his estimate of 1,000+ fatal cop shootings each year on the data collected by The Guardian, whose website contains incident-by-incident counts of cop shootings drawn from a constant scanning of web reports, tips from viewers, social media, what is referred to as ‘crowdsourced’ information which Guardian staff carefully examine and attempt to validate before posting the results online. The first half of When Cops Kill is based on the Guardian data covering January 1 through June 30, 2015. I looked at the remainder of 2015 and the year’s entire total was 1,146, more than twice the number estimated by the three government agencies – FBI, DOJ and CDC – which are supposed to provide solid information on which discussions about public policy usually depend.

Zimring’s explanation for this whopping discrepancy in the numbers covering cop killings basically falls back on some well-worn idea about the limitations of coroner reports, the lack of money for more intensive research and the fact that not one single police agency whose jurisdiction might encompass a police shooting (or any kind of shooting, for that matter) is required to report this information to the FBI.  But what’s really behind this lack of specificity about cop shootings is something more generic to the problem itself, namely, that better data would require that the cops do a more thorough job of investigating and reporting shootings by their own, and this just simply doesn’t take place.

One might be tempted to assume that the underreporting is also a function of the extent to which police gun violence, like all gun violence, primarily involves minorities, but this is not the case.  In fact, in 2015, whites were 50% of all victims shot by cops, blacks were 27% and Hispanics comprised 17%.  But of the 12,979 deaths attributed by the CDC to non-cop gun violence, the ratios were reversed, with whites comprising 24% of the total, blacks comprising 58% and Hispanics at 16%. The bottom line is that police gun violence is ignored because it’s ignored, period.

Reported or not, the real question is why are there so many fatal cop shootings each year – the numbers dwarf differences between our overall gun violence and what is experienced in other Western countries. Zimring’s answer is what you might expect, namely, “the proliferation of concealable firearms in the civilian population.”  For the first half of 2015, guns were recovered from 56% of the victims of fatal police shootings, a number which dropped to slightly below 50% for the year as a whole.

Notwithstanding the lack of training, the lack of thorough reporting and the lack of operational concern, the fact is that a police officer in the United States who finds himself in a confrontational situation believes that there is a one out of two chance that his adversary is carrying a gun.  And as we say, you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.

I will publish a separate column on Zimring’s recommendations for what he refers to as ‘the mess’ of police gun violence. But don’t wait for my additional thoughts on this valuable and important book before reading it yourself. It needs to be read.

Move Over Bannon – The NRA Is Now Leading The Alt-Right.

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Sooner or later the NRA was going to forget its traditional role as an organization devoted to gun training, gun safety and sportsmanship and turn itself into an organization that represents the lunatic fringe.  Not only does the NRA want to be part and parcel of the loonies, according to our friends in The Trace, America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ wants to play a leadership role. And their campaign is being kicked off tomorrow with a speech that will be delivered by Wayne-o at the real inauguration of the 45th President, which is the annual CPAC meeting being held just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.

bannon            How the wheels of fame and fortune doth turn.  I remember it was just a few years ago that the CPAC headliner was Sarah Palin – what happened to her?  And while Dana Loesch is on the program, how come there’s no space for Ann Coulter, perhaps because she tweeted  a defense of Milo Yiannopolous whose former Breitbart boss will, of course, spend his appearance burnishing his national security credentials before his boss takes the stage?

I’m not sure if this year’s CPAC meeting is the first time that Wayne-o has appeared at the event, but it certainly marks a decision by the NRA leadership to throw all their energies into a full-fledged effort to move to the forefront of the conservative tide.  Because it’s one thing to dump some cash into the willing laps of pro-gun legislators or lobby for less gun regulations at the federal level or within individual states.  The NRA’s been doing those things for nearly fifty years, but the organization never before presented itself as a self-appointed leader of the lunatic fringe.

And let’s be honest folks about who Trump really represents.  Because the fact is that he won the election because he pulled one-half of one percent more votes in MI, WI and PA than she did and, by the way, Jill Stein outpolled Ms. Clinton by almost two to one in those three states. So Trump can lie from here to high heaven about those ‘millions’ of illegal votes that she got, but the bottom line is that a combination of the worst-managed Presidential campaign of all time (thank you Bill Clinton for waiting until after the votes were counted to say that Mook should have been fired) and the statistical vagaries of the Electoral College allows Trump-o to pander to the lunatic fringe to his heart’s content.

But how come he’s being joined in the decision to institutionalize his hateful and wacko rhetoric by the NRA?  Okay, the gun guys want a national, concealed-carry law, they want to prevent extended background checks, they want more guns and less gun laws as the order of the day. But what does that have to do with the issue of immigration? What does that have to do whether a transgender kid goes into this bathroom or that? Wayne-o claims that his CPAC speech will be an effort to lead the forces that are conspiring to sabotage Donald Trump.

Let me tell you what’s really going to sabotage Trump and it ain’t all these evil forces against which we can protect ourselves by carrying guns.  What’s going to sabotage Trump are the 30 million people who may find themselves without health coverage or the 150 million middle-class Americans who will discover that Trump’s ‘fantastic’ tax plan won’t help them one bit.

There’s a Republican Congressman in Texas, Louis Gohmert, who just cancelled his Town Hall meeting because he was afraid that someone might show up and start banging the way that Jared Loughner shot Gabby Giffords and 17 other folks with, of course, a legally-purchased gun. Gohmert’s rated an ‘A’ legislator by the NRA which means that he supports their nonsense about how everyone should walk around armed. But the real reason Gohmert cancelled is because he knows that representing the loonies won’t replace the ACA. And by the way, Wayne-o, appealing to the loonies won’t sell any more guns -they have as many as they need.

What’s the difference between a modern sporting rifle and a weapon of war? A court decision, that’s what.

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When it comes to court decisions, it hasn’t been a particularly good few days for my friend at the NRA or, for that matter, the NSSF.  It’s the latter group, after all, that has been promoting this marketing scam known as the ‘modern sporting rifle’ to make everyone believe that an AR-15 or AK-47 is just a modern version of the same, old semi-auto hunting rifle that Grandpa used to lug out into the woods.

AR2            I used to own one of these guns.  In my case it was a Remington Woodmaster 742 which had a magazine that held 4 rounds and was almost as accurate as my bolt-action Remington 700 – the best hunting rifle I ever owned.  The Woodmaster was a heavy old thing and it didn’t work so well with the lighter-weight 30-06 bullets, but put a 220-grain Federal Express cartridge up the pipe, aim the gun at Bambi standing 200 years downrange, and parts of Bambi ended up in the pressure cooker that night.

Folks – that Woodmaster was a ‘modern sporting rifle.’ My Colt AR H-Bar, which means it has a heavy barrel is not. And it’s not a sporting rifle because it’s a weapon of war. Yea, yea, I know that Colion Noir and all the other Gun-nut stinkheads like to post videos of themselves prancing around in some sandpit blasting away with their ARs at this Coke bottle or that tin can. And of course they’ll all repeat the NSSF nonsense about how their AR can’t be a military weapon because it only fires in semi-auto (one trigger pull, one shot) mode. But what these marketing warriors all fail to mention is that the standard rifle used by our troops in the field also can be set to fire one round at a time.  So if a trooper decides to set his battle rifle in semi-auto, is he now taking a modern sporting rifle into the field?

The good news is that the 4th Circuit Appeals Court understood this issue exactly when they upheld the new Maryland law on assault rifles which basically puts Maryland back to the situation that existed for ten years after the 1994 Clinton assault rifle ban.  The law defines an ‘assault rifle’ as any semi-auto rifle with a detachable magazine and other military-style attachments (handgun grip, etc.) and also bans magazines which hold more than ten rounds. The majority opinion says that such guns are ‘weapons of war’ and therefore do not fall under the 2nd-Amendment protections enumerated by the Heller decision handed down by the SCOTUS in 2008.

Last week another court case rocked Gun-nut Nation, in this case where the 11th Circuit tossed out the Florida law that criminalized the behavior of doctors who counsel their patients about guns.  In the 8-3 decision, which is about as definitive as you can get, the Court held that doctor-patient discussions are protected by the 1st Amendment’s protection of free speech because in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities, physicians must be able to talk about anything they please.  Of course such conversations are entirely confidential and, like any other counseling by a physician, the patient is always free to reject the doctor’s advice or refuse to discuss the issue at all.

Right now Gun-nut Nation is 0-2 on issues that have been at the forefront of the promotion of gun violence over the past twenty years.  And why do I say that this bunch is trying to promote gun violence instead of, as they claim, just protecting all our 2nd-Amendment rights?  Because the argument that 125,000 gun deaths and injuries each year are the price we have to pay to protect ourselves with guns is an argument with no basis in truth.

But let’s remember that we are in the Age of Trump where truth and evidence-based information have little relevance to the public debate on gun violence or anything else. At least the majority of two federal courts have chosen to disagree.

Now Docs Have The Information They Need To Talk To Patients About Guns.

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Back in 2015, eight national medical organizations and the American Bar Association issued a ‘Call to Action,’ promoting the idea that physicians should take a more active and aggressive role in talking to patients about gun violence.  Nobody argues with the fact that more than 115,000 Americans are annually injured or killed with guns, but leave it to Gun-nut Nation and their various sycophantic noisemakers who claim it isn’t a medical issue.  According to these dummies, it’s the ‘person,’ not the ‘gun’ which causes gun injuries, so why worry about the gun?

md-counsel             It wouldn’t matter if the NRA and its toadies would just say what they have to say and leave it at that.  But in Florida they got a law passed which criminalizes physicians who counsel patients about guns, and there’s even a physician in the U.S. Senate who (briefly) ran for President and chased the NRA vote by telling everyone that he didn’t think that guns were a public health issue at all.

The good news is that the medical community has refused to be cowed by this distemperate demonstration of stupidity and has begun asserting its authority to put the discussion about gun violence exactly where it belongs, namely, in face-to-face meetings between patients and their doctors which happen every day. And the news is that last week the 11th Circuit told the State of Florida to take its pernicious attempt to gag doctors and shove it you know where.

But while most people have no issue with a doctor talking to them about guns (after all, there’s no law that requires a patient to follow a doctor’s advice) many physicians don’t know what to say to their patients in discussions about guns. It’s not part of the medical school curriculum, there’s no medical academy that has yet to publish a treatment protocol on the subject, and many physicians don’t own guns.  So how to proceed?

Now there’s an answer and it has been provided by a collaboration in Massachusetts by the Massachusetts Attorney General and the Massachusetts Medical Society which has now posted informational pamphlets on gun safety both for patients and physicians, as well as a Continuing Medical Education (CME) course on counseling patients about guns.  Together, these resources constitute the most comprehensive effort yet developed to help physicians both identify patients who might be at risk for gun violence, as well as specific counseling strategies that might be employed in a clinical setting.

The CME course, available to the public either as a video or viewable slides, includes a section on how to initiate a conversation about gun safety which recognizes the fact that most gun owners are very conscious of the necessity to be careful with their firearms, so reminding them of the need for safety should not be done in a judgmental or accusatory way.  Even more important is the presentation of five clinical scenarios, each describing a different situation involving potential gun violence risk (possible suicide, intimate partner violence, child playing with a real gun, etc.) and recommendations on how to effectively communicate risk-mitigating options to the patient and family members.  Perhaps the most instructive scenario covers how to respond to the patient who is reluctant to talk about the existence of firearms in the home, and the guidance offered for this scenario might also ease the concerns of patients who would rather not discuss the gun issue at all.

This effort marks a significant step forward in the medical response to gun violence because we now have a substantive resource that can be used to make physicians feel more confident in talking to patients about guns and give patients reassurance that their physician is interested in their health and not trying to promote a particular point of view. An effective doctor-patient relationship assumes that any subject which arises during a medical consultation can be treated in a compassionate, honest and medically-proper way. It also assumes that the physician will give the patient evidence-based information about any risk to health. These new resources do both – it’s a big win-win.

Let’s Stick To Guns And Let The Shrinks Worry About Mental Health.

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On June 26, 2014, a 24-year old man in Fargo, ND, Christopher Hampton, picked up a legally-owned gun and shot his cousin, 28-year old Randall Doehner, dead.  The two shared an apartment, they had been arguing about something or other for some period of time, and allegedly Doehner pulled the gun on Hampton, but then Hampton grabbed it, pulled the trigger and is now serving time. In the several days prior to this murder, Hampton visited no less than four medical clinics, complaining each time that his cousin was trying to poison him although blood tests didn’t reveal any toxins in his system at all.  Hampton also admitted that he had stopped taking meds that had been prescribed for a diagnosed case of mental illness, in this case bipolar disorder which also led him to have paranoid delusions aggravated by his use of amphetamines and marijuana now and again.

mental            Now if you were to ask Donald Trump, or Wayne LaPierre or any other Gun-nut Nation noisemaker what needed to be done to prevent shootings like this from occurring, they would immediately answer: “We need to fix the mental health system.” Except that’s no answer at all.  Because what killed Randall Doehner was not the fact that his cousin had gone off his psychotropic medicines – even the cops who interviewed Hampton several hours before the shooting thought he was behaving a little nuts; what killed Randall Doehner, plain and simple, klor aun pshut, was access to a gun.

With all due respect (and I really mean it) to the dedicated work and caring of people in the mental health community who labor endlessly to try and prevent people with mental illness from harming themselves or others, I happen to think that connecting mental illness to gun violence often results in playing the Devil’s own game.  And what I mean is that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community should take care to make sure that it doesn’t find itself aligned on any issue with the bunch who represent the other side. And I say this because I have been listening to the other side for more than fifty years (I have been a member of the NRA since 1955) and their views on gun violence not only are never drawn from anything remotely representing evidence-based facts, but their arguments increasingly depart from even a shred of reality, no matter what aspect of gun violence is being discussed.

Here’s John Lott’s comment about Obama’s Executive Order which required the Social Security Administration to furnish the names of people receiving mental illness disability payments to the FBI: “My elderly mother has given my sister power of attorney to handle her finances. But computer illiteracy and inability to pay bills online shouldn’t mean stopping my mother from defending herself.” But the issue isn’t whether John’s dear old Ma should be able to pick up the old six-shooter even if she can’t turn her computer off or on.  The issue is the stupid assumption that she can protect herself with a gun.

I would be willing to take a little seriously Gun-nut Nation’s most cherished belief that everyone would be safer if everyone was walking around with a gun, except that the idea has absolutely no basis in fact.  It’s simply not true. And what makes the ‘armed citizen’ position even more shameful is that the same people who tell you that having a gun makes you safe, are the self-same people who vehemently reject any kind of mandated gun training at all.

I’m sorry, but the fact that the Supreme Court says Americans have a Constitutional ‘right’ to keep a loaded, unlocked handgun in their home for self-defense doesn’t mean that the GVP community should spend time, energy or money trying to figure out how to help folks have legal access to guns.  Let the other side worry about that; GVP’s job is to reduce gun violence and the only way this will happen is when there are fewer guns.

Oops!Docs Can Talk To Patients About Guns But Patients Can Keep Their Guns.

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Six years ago the State of Florida decided that doctors could not talk to their patients about guns. The state of Florida has become the legislative sandbox for every attempt by Gun-nut Nation to rid the country of any and all protections against the violence caused by guns. Stand Your Ground, Concealed Carry – both of these harebrained schemes came out of the Gunshine State. But the law known as FOPA (Firearm Owners Protection Act) was the craziest of them all.

doc-glocks             What made the law so crazy wasn’t the fact that it criminalized doctors who talked to their patients about guns; it was that in a state of 18 million people, the law was based on six unsubstantiated anecdotes which, as the 11th Circuit Court noted, didn’t even address the same concerns.  Which was one, but not the only reason why the 11th Circuit Court ruled 10 – 1 that the law was unconstitutional and couldn’t stand.

Throwing doctors out of the discussion about gun violence has been a major and ongoing NRA project since the medical profession first started warning about the risks of guns. Which is exactly how the Hippocratic Oath defines the role of physicians, namely, to reduce risk.  But I can’t blame the gun industry and its noisemakers like the NRA from taking an anti-doctor stand; after all, if you manufactured a consumer product which was considered by physicians to be too risky to own, you’d be up in arms (no pun intended) against those physicians too.

But what the Court said in this regard effectively stood the NRA’s argument on its head, because 10 out of 11 justices found that “there was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients’ firearms or otherwise infringed on patients’ Second Amendment rights.”   And this is what the argument is all about, namely, whether any attempt to regulate gun violence or even talk about gun violence is somehow always construed as an ‘attack’ on 2nd Amendment ‘rights.’

Right now a bill is being debated in the State of Washington Legislature which would make a failure to secure guns in the home a reckless endangerment felony if an individual who, under law, cannot have possession of a firearm gets his hands on the gun and discharges it or uses it in a criminal or threatening way.  The NRA is opposed to this bill, calling it “an intrusive government legislation [which] invades people’s homes and forces them to render their firearms useless in a self-defense situation by locking them up.”

The bill does no such thing. Nor does a doctor talking to a patient about guns threaten the patient’s ownership of that gun. But if we now have a President who stands up in front of the entire nation and after he’s corrected about the size of his electoral victory repeats the same falsehood again, should we be surprised when the representatives of Gun-nut Nation continue to promote their own false claims again and again?

No doubt that when the dust settles and the smoke clears, Gun-nut Nation will come up with their own, self-fulfilling narrative about the ‘Docs versus Glocks’ case.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if the first thing they say is that the 11th Circuit is tainted because 9 of the 10 judges who supported the majority decision were appointed by gun-grabber numero uno, Barack Hussein.  But that’s nothing more than another riff on Trump-o’s attack on the ‘politicized’ judiciary, which seems to be the latest in a dwindling list of options available to the Chief Executive before he’s forced to resign.

The decision by the 11th Circuit not only puts an end to a six-year battle that erupted when the FOPA law was first announced.  It also puts a big dent in the thirty-year campaign waged by the NRA and others to keep evidence-based information about gun risk and gun violence on the margins of the public domain. This just isn’t a victory for doctors and patients, it’s a victory for the value of reasoned, public debate.

 

 

 

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