Check Out The New Betsy Riot Website!

I was just about to post one of my usual, boring columns when I found myself looking at a new website which just went up today: https://betsyriot.com/.  As someone who got into media long before there was an internet, I have ambivalent feelings about the fact that anyone can turn on their computer or their tablet and become an immediate sensation just by putting something online which strikes some kind of chord.

betsy             But the world changes, thank God, and maybe the open-source media universe is a very good thing. Because if we had to depend on market-based media for all our information and news, it would preclude us from engaging with the kind of folks who are running this Betsy Riot website and frankly, what they are doing should be seen by as many people as possible both within the U.S. and around the globe.

Let’s start right at the beginning and ask: Who is Betsy?  Actually, that’s not the right question. What we need to ask is what is a Betsy since Betsy isn’t someone’s name, it’s a descriptive for how certain people think and behave. And the answer is right on the front of the website: “an unapologetic feminist patriot who has fucking had enough of Trump culture and gun culture and the death and terror they inflict on America.”

I like this approach because I’m frustrated at the degree to which many people who don’t like Trump and reject his embrace of a pro-gun narrative tend to be quite polite. And politesse is a generic issue with liberals, because they tend to be educated and education teaches people to be polite. You can’t yell out obscenities in a classroom the way Trump does at his rallies; for that matter, you can’t do it in front of an MSNBC camera, but you can do it if you’re in a studio owned by Fox.

Let me make it clear that when I talk about obscene language, I’m not talking about using words like sh*t and fu*k. To me, saying something obscene means something hurtful, nasty, racist, homophobic or something you know not to be true. I can’t recall a single Trump tweet which isn’t obscene. I have never seen an NRA video which doesn’t contain language which isn’t obscene. When that dope Dana Loesch does a video I which she talks about how she uses a gun to protect herself from ‘street thugs,’ she’s both a liar and a racist and that’s obscene.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong by talking about gun violence with the same language which Gun-nut Nation uses to promote the idea that anyone opposed to gun ownership is un-American, unpatriotic and worse. I like the fact that the Betsy Riot website refers to the ‘gun lobby’ as the ‘death lobby.’ It’s appropriate and it’s true. I like the fact that Trump’s staff is referred to as ‘dutiful fascists’ because that’s what some of them are. And most of all, I like when they say that their mission is to “rescue our country from this fascist fucking sideshow” because frankly, I can’t think of a more apt and accurate description of what’s going on in the Oval Office right now.

The reason Trump made common cause with the NRA and the reason that the boys from Fairfax continue to promote Trump’s agenda is because both Trump and ‘America’s oldest civil rights organization’ have a vested interest in mainlining gun violence if it’s the kind of gun violence which suits their ends and needs. The NRA promotes gun violence if someone defends himself by shooting a ‘street thug,’ and Trump made a point of telling his campaign rallies that violence committed against anti-Trump protestors was a good thing.

It’s time to stop being so polite and let the other side know in no uncertain terms that what they are promoting is violent, dangerous and wrong. And the message needs to be delivered in a direct and no-nonsense way.

Go to it Betsy Riot – go, go, go.

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How Many Members In The NRA? Depends Who’s Talking.

When the Pew Research Center released a detailed report on U.S. gun owners, I knew it wouldn’t be long until the organization which claims to represent all gun owners – the NRA – responded in kind. And the response appeared on the NRA-ILA website which tried to explain how and why Pew’s estimate that the NRA has 14 million members may have been wrong but was actually right.

NRA building             What Pew did was ask its survey panel, which they claim to be representative of a cross-section of Americans, to indicate whether or not they were members of the NRA. And then extrapolating the ‘yes’ answers against the percentage of Americans which Pew claims own guns, you wind up with 14 million people who say they have joined America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization,’ as the boys in Fairfax like to say.

Now since the NRA itself claims only to have 5 million members, how do we explain that all of a sudden the organization has added 9 million more to its membership rolls? Here’s how the NRA is handling it as of today: “we have millions more Americans who support us and will tell pollsters they are members, even when they are not.” And to underscore this point, the NRA website also linked to a story from The Washington Times (a real, balanced piece of journalism) which states that the Pew report shows that 21% of gun owners had contacted a public official about gun policy at some point in their lives, but only 12% of the nonowners said they did.

Now before everyone in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community gets all hot and bothered about a tidal wave of gun owners out there who are endlessly surging forward to defend their ownership of guns, let me inject a bit of reality into the NRA’s membership claims. In 2015 the organization claims to have received $165 million in dues, which happens to be $10 million less than what they picked up in their biggest year, which was 2013.  At the current rate of $40 a year, this works out to slightly more than 4 million members, although there are various multi-year deals which might alter those numbers somewhat.

The other way to estimate the NRA membership is to figure out the circulation of their four magazines – American Rifleman, American Hunter, Shooting Illustrated, America’s Freedom – one of which every dues-paying member receives. But if you take a look at their press kit, you’ll notice that the figure for American Rifleman of 5.5 million refers to ‘total audience,’ which is based not on circulation of the magazine, but on a survey conducted by a firm, GfK, which does consumer research about all kinds of things. In fact, this same company conducts surveys for Pew.

How many members does the NRA really have?  As many as they want to have as long as their numbers aren’t totally crazy or based on things they say which simply can’t be true. But if, according to Pew, 9% of gun owners contacted a public official this past year as opposed to 5% of nonowners, then what these numbers tell me is that, pace what the NRA is trumpeting about the political activism of their members, the numbers don’t show that at all.

Remember that Pew reported gun ownership as representing 30% of the adults who answered the poll. Which means that there are 73.5 million who own guns in the United States and 171.7 million who don’t. And if you do the math on the percentages of both groups who contacted a public official, the gun-owning group numbers 6.6 million but the non-owning political activists topped 8.6 mil.

I would be willing to bet that gun owners, by and large, probably reach out more frequently to lawmakers because the NRA has its communication strategies down pat. But if anyone believes that the playing field over gun rights hasn’t become more level since Sandy Hook, they better think again. The NRA is hardly moribund, that’s true, but the other side seems to be keeping pace.

I’m Not Sure We Really Know Why People Own Guns

What concerns me about surveys which report on why Americans own guns, is the surveys all make the mistake of asking respondents who say they own a gun whether the gun is owned for hunting and sport shooting or for self-defense. And survey after survey claims that while in the olden days people owned guns for hunting and sport, now most guns are kept around for self-defense.

sales   I happen to think that such surveys don’t really tell us anything about why people own guns. Because people are much more complicated and if you ask them questions about how they think or how they behave, you need to give them ways to respond which will let them say what’s on their minds. The problem is that the people who usually create and conduct gun surveys aren’t for the most part people who own guns. And people who don’t own guns don’t usually have much contact with people who do. So what you end up getting in these surveys, like the recent survey conducted by Pew, are answers to questions that people creating the survey believe to be important but might not be important to the person who takes the survey at all.

I have been running some surveys through Survey Monkey and have so far received more than 1,100 responses from residents of 47 states. The surveys ask respondents to identify themselves either as gun violence prevention activists (GVP) or gun rights activists (GRA) advocates, and members of each group can take three surveys which cover: (1). basics demographics; (2). knowledge of gun laws; (3). facts about gun violence and guns. This is the first time that surveys will be published that generate data not from ‘average’ Americans who may or may not own guns, but from the people on both sides whose energies and activities create and sustain the gun debate.

Links to all surveys are here:

Survey #1 – GVP survey   GRA survey.

Survey #2 – GVP survey    GRA survey.

Survey #3 – GVP survey    GRA survey.

I have recently posted another survey which asks people to respond who not only own guns, but explain how they are really used. For example, the survey question about why people own a gun has four possible answers: (1). self-protection, (2). hunting and sport, (3). because I like it, and (4). I don’t know. Believe it or not, so far 85% of the gun owners who answered this question say they own a gun because they like owning a gun.

Another question asks respondents if they reload ammunition. So far, 25% of the responses have been ‘yes.’  This is a remarkable number because it is so high. I used to reload 9mm and 45. There was a sand pit about 5 minutes from my house; I could go out to the garage, run 50-100 rounds through my press in just a few minutes, grab my Colt 1911 or my Hi-Power, drive out to the pit, set up a couple of empty beer or soda cans and bang away.

Someone who reloads today is really into guns because there’s so much cheap, military surplus ammo around that who can be bothered to scavenge some lead, then scavenge brass, then run out and buy powder and primers when you can go down to the gun shop and buy 50 rounds for ten bucks or less? There may be a couple of real gun-nuts out there who reload because they want to carry the single, most accurate hunting round into field. But have you ever seen a gun survey that asked respondents whether or not they reload for theie guns?

My dearest friend and hunting buddy Sherrill Smith passed away last year at the age of 81. He was probably the best deer hunter and reloader in all of South Carolina, which in the Palmetto State is saying something mighty big. Sherill always carried a gun, usually two guns just to make sure. He was also a lifelong member of the NRA. If I had ever asked him why he carried those guns he would have shrugged and said, “Well Mike, I just like those guns.”

 

Is Keeping Guns Out Of The Wrong Hands The Way To End Gun Violence?

Increasingly I find myself uncomfortable with the prevailing orthodoxy in gun violence prevention (GVP) circles that the way to reduce gun violence is to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ As far as I’m concerned, gun violence, intentional or not, has little to do with whether the hands holding the gun are the ‘right’ hands or the ‘wrong’ hands, because this approach defines gun ownership in legal terms, and legal terms don’t speak to the reasons for most gun injuries. In fact, the whole concept of defining gun behavior based on ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ hands comes out of the debates which led to the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA68) which was crafted to avoid or at least lessen arguments over whether Americans could or couldn’t own guns.

Here’s the preamble to that law:

“The Congress hereby declares that the purpose of this title is to provide support to Federal, State, and local law enforcement officials in their fight against crime and violence, and it is not the purpose of this title to place any undue or unnecessary Federal restrictions or burdens on law-abiding citizens with respect to the acquisition, possession, or use of firearms appropriate to the purpose of hunting, trapshooting, target shooting, personal protection, or any other lawful activity….”

gun-violence             The whole point of gun regulations is to deal with crime, not with gun violence per se. This is because gun violence and crime simply aren’t the same. There are roughly 32,000 gun deaths each year, but only 11,000 or so are criminal events – homicides – the rest are suicides, accidents and police shootings, none of which represent a gun that was, legally speaking, in the ‘wrong’ hands. As for non-fatal injuries, somewhere around 60,000 are assaults, but many of those events (we don’t actually have any idea exactly how many) grow out of ongoing disputes between family members, spouses, friends; in fact, the FBI says that only 20% of all gun assaults occurred during the commission of another felony crime. And then there are somewhere around 20,000 non-fatal gun accidents which don’t result in any criminal charges at all. Add it all up, and the number of gun injuries which occur because a gun ended up in what the law says are the ‘wrong’ hands is not even half of the gun injuries suffered by Americans each year.

The NRA has a habit of saying things which are stupidly true, such as the idea that criminals don’t obey laws, so why make more laws that regulate guns? If the criteria for creating any law was that it had to be a statute that would be obeyed by criminals, then you could throw out the entire legal system altogether. We pass laws to establish behavioral norms, and if the norms are violated, the violator pays the price. We believe that intentionally shooting someone else with a gun is a bad thing to do. Does that mean that only ‘bad guys’ will commit armed violence with a gun? Of course not. Does everyone drive at the posted speed limit or stops at a red light before making a right-hand turn?

But the real problem is that if we want to stop gun violence before it occurs, we have to figure out who might be prone to commit gun violence and try to keep guns out of their hands. Tell that to the research team which studied every emergency room visit in Flint, MI of boys, 14 y/o and older, and discovered that the exact same social factors (poverty, lack of education, drug use, joblessness, etc.) which were associated with violent injuries were also associated just as frequently with patients who never sought medical help for a violent injury at all.

Keeping guns out of the wrong hands may pass the 2nd-Amendment litmus-test for all those folks who are worried about Constitutional ‘rights.’ But was anyone walking around Wal Mart with an AR slung over their shoulder when the Constitution was ratified in 1789?

 

What Can Happen If You Sell A Gun Legally And It Gets Into The ‘Wrong Hands.’

I have a friend named Dave LaGuercia who happens at the moment to be in a Boston hospital for a second round of surgery – let’s hope all goes well. I have known Dave since 2004 or 2005 when he opened a small gun shop in Connecticut just over the Massachusetts line. Dave had previously been in the car business as a broker, he had done quite well, but being a gun nut once he had some dough in his pocket he did what we all do, he bought some gun inventory and opened a shop.

mcx            One thing led to another and within three or four years Dave had moved to a much larger location and now had a gun shop that was maybe the second-largest store in the whole state. And since Connecticut is a fairly small state and Dave’s store was situated right off an exit of Interstate 91 (‘easy on – easy off’) he got customers from as far away as the Danbury area, one of whom was Nancy Lanza, who showed up some time in 2011 or 2012 with her young son, Adam, and purchased an AR-15.

Two days after the Sandy Hook massacre, as Dave was about to close for the night, a squad of helmeted ATF agents carrying rifles and wearing body armor drove up in two Humvees and charged into the shop. Oh yes, they were immediately followed into Dave’s store by some media folks who had been alerted by the ATF that something connected to the Sandy Hook mess was about to go down.

Let me interject one point here that needs to be understood. I heard about Sandy Hook while I was standing behind the counter of my gun shop; I closed the shop immediately and went home.  But later that night after the shooter was identified, I went back to the shop and pored through my records to find out whether or not I was the dealer who had sold the gun. Since it was a rifle, Nancy Lanza could have come into Massachusetts and bought the gun from me. I would have been required to ship the gun to a Connecticut dealer, so I was able to quickly check and I knew that the gun hadn’t come from me. I can guarantee you that every gun dealer in Connecticut and Massachusetts was looking through their books that same night in the hopes that the AR wasn’t sold by them.

The ATF spent the next several weeks examining every gun sale that Dave ever made. They also suspended his license which he never got back. Eventually they found a sale of a hunting rifle which was improperly made, but it was still a violation of 4473 law so they could now build a case. A year later, having absorbed the loss of his entire business, Dave took a misdemeanor plea for the sale of the hunting rifle and also agreed never to go back into the business of selling guns. All the result of a legal sale of an AR-15.

Back in 1995 my good friend in Fairfax, Wayne-o LaPierre, took a lot of flak for calling the ATF a bunch of ‘jack-booted thugs.’ Wayne-o has never been known to be as a master of the understatement, but when I think about how Dave LaGuercia was treated by the ATF, I have to say that Wayne-o was right. And by the way, every, single gun-shop owner throughout the Northeast knows what happened to Dave because every shop is visited on a regular basis by the sales reps for S&W, Ruger and Glock, so news gets around.

I’m not trying in any way to justify Sandy Hook or the lethal dangers of an AR-15. What I am saying is that there are reasons why people in the gun business don’t trust the government to regulate their industry in a proper and positive way. Something to think about the next time an advocate for gun violence prevention gets into a discussion with a gun nut about his guns.

A New Monthly Chart On NICS Background Checks.

I have decided to keep a running record of FBI-NICS checks to help keep our friends in Gun-nut Nation at least somewhat honest, although as John Feinblatt has just reminded us, keeping that bunch honest is about as easy as keeping me on a diet. But be that as it may, with certain caveats that I am going to quickly list, the monthly background check numbers published by the FBI are still an effective measurement of the health and welfare of the gun industry, which usually stands in direct opposition to the health and welfare of the general population.

The caveats about using the NICS numbers as an industry measurement are as follows:

  • Only a handful of states require that all gun transfers go through NICS, so a large number of guns move from one person to another without any paper trail being created at all.
  • On the other hand, what NICS does indicate is the number of new guns that are added to the civilian arsenal each month, and that’s the most important number of all.
  • Of course NICS doesn’t capture the new gun transfers in any universal sense, because many states opt out of the NICS system when a resident holding a concealed-carry license buys a gun.

nicsBut the bottom line is that what we do get from NICS is a very clear trend of the degree to which America is or isn’t arming up. And basically this is the trend which is most important for determining the extent to which America will continue to suffer from gun violence, because without guns, there is no gun violence – it’s as simple as that. And please, please don’t give me the bromide about all we have to do is keep the guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Enough already, okay?

The total NICS number for each month is comprised of 24 different categories, of which only 4 categories – handguns, long guns, other guns, multiple sales – represent contacts with the FBI call center to get authorization to sell or transfer a gun. The other categories represent either checking the validity of gun licenses, or redeeming previously-pawned guns, or transfers between individuals rather than between a dealer and a customer; in other words, background checks which don’t represent any new guns being added to the civilian arsenal at all.

I am going to start publishing a monthly NICS chart which will compare numbers over time and will cover the following categories: handguns, other guns and personal transfers of hand guns. Why only handguns and other guns? Because these are the guns we need to worry about since handguns are usually what are used in gun violence of all kinds, and other guns are assault-rifle receivers to which the owner then attaches a bolt and a barrel and he’s got a very lethal gun.

Here’s our very first chart:

Jun-17 Jun-16 2017 to date 2016 to date.
Handguns 569,149 582,821 3,777,008 4,083,589
Other Guns 29,730 49,220 195,537 218,023
Private transfers 1,884 1,198 11,845 8,231

 

These are some interesting numbers, and they fly in the face of comments from various Gun-nut noisemakers that there hasn’t been any ‘Trump slump’ on guns.  Well, I guess a drop of more than 306,000 new handguns hitting the market between January and June isn’t anything to worry about, and a 30% increase in background checks between private buyers and sellers clearly indicates that gun owners just won’t go along with private NICS checks. Incidentally, I’m not going to track long gun transfers, but you should know that long gun checks dropped from 2.5 million in 2016 to 2.3 million so far this year. As handguns go so does the whole gun market, oh well, oh well.

If I had to estimate, I would say that a drop in handgun and long gun sales of roughly 500,000 units means a loss of revenue for the gun industry of somewhere around $150 million bucks. I don’t think that really makes up for Wayne-o going to the White House for the Easter Egg roll.

The First Glock To Enter New York.

Sometime in 1983 or 1984 I went to the Kingston, NY gun show with two NYPD gun-nut buddies, Don and Jack. We drove up from ‘da city,’ parked outside the Kingston Armory and spent the next 3-4 hours playing with hundreds of guns, talking to other gun nuts like ourselves, and having a good time.  In those days the Kingston gun show was known as a show where buying a gun and doing any kind of paperwork was considered a contradiction in terms. As for the cops, they could also ‘buy on shield,’ which meant you flashed a badge, gave the guy the cash and you got the gun.

logo glock              At some point I came across a gun I had to have. It was a 4-inch, nickel-plated Smith & Wesson Model 58 revolver, the heavy N-frame gun which shot the 41-magnum load. The 41 mag was and is a great round – not as much kick as the 44 but a real slammer nonetheless. And this gun was really mint.  I counted out $400 bucks as quickly as I could.

Now I’m walking down the aisle, Jack comes up to me, grabs the S&W blue box out from underneath my arm, puts his hands on the Model 58 and says, “I gotta have this gun!”  So we made a deal right there. He gave me what I paid for it and promised that when we got back to New York he would sell me his NYPD black leather duty jacket for $50 bucks. The cops were in the process of shifting from leather patrol jackets to the ugly, crummy velour jackets which they wear today. I think my daughter still has the leather jacket which I got from Jack.

Anyway, so now I’m walking around the show looking for another gun. All of a sudden I’m standing in front of another dealer’s table and there’s my Model 58. What the f—? The dealer said the gun would cost me $400 bucks so I ended up buying the Model 58 twice. (About a year later I traded the 58 for a Colt AR with a full-auto sear courtesy of a guy I knew who worked in the Colt Custom shop on Huyshope Avenue in Hartford, but that’s another story for another time.)

A few minutes after I repurchased the 41 magnum, here comes Jack down the aisle with a couple of other NYPD gun-nuts in tow. They are all handing a gun from one to the other, telling Jack that they don’t believe he got the friggin’ gun, Jack’s standing there basking in the adoration of his friends.

The gun was a semi-automatic pistol, it didn’t have a hammer, the finish looked painted on and was black rather than blue. The grip was some kind of plastic and the slide had these big letters: G-L-O-C-K. I had never seen a Glock before, never held one, never knew there was a pistol that held 16 rounds. And that’s why Jack dumped the Model 58 because he bumped into ‘some guy’ who had walked into the show with this Glock.

Of course Jack’s great joy at being the first member of the NYPD to own a Glock only lasted a week, because when he took the gun down to the License Division to register it (the NYPD required that the guys register all their-personally owned guns, but didn’t have to say exactly how they acquired their guns) he was told that he couldn’t keep a Glock within the city limits because it was a ‘plastic gun’ and would be a security risk if Jack wore the gun when he went through a metal detector in order to testify in Court.

So Jack told Mrs. Skeba (who ran the License Division and nobody messed with Mrs. Skeba) that he would give the gun to ‘brother-in-law’ who lived somewhere out in Jersey near the Woodbridge Mall. And that’s how the first Glock to be registered in New York City quickly came and quickly went.

The world has changed, hasn’t it?

Is Gun Violence Endemic Or Epidemic? It’s Both.

So far this year our friends at the Gun Violence Archive are posting 7,821 deaths from guns. Which means that if the rate of gun deaths continues for the remainder of 2017, this year will end up seeing an increase in gun deaths over last year of around 15 percent, and an increase since 2014 of nearly 25 percent.

urban            I thought that gun deaths were going down because all law-abiding citizens are walking around with guns. Or at least they should be walking around with guns if you agree with the NRA. After all, the gun industry has been bragging about the ‘decline’ in violent crime at the same time that so many Americans are buying guns. Since the early 90’s, according to the NSSF, “homicides, other crimes, and accidents involving firearms have decreased dramatically,”

Actually, this dramatic decrease in gun violence more or less ended around 2000, then went up a bit, went down a bit, but now seems to be moving quickly upwards again. And don’t make the mistake of believing that this is just Chicago’s problem, even though the jerk in the White House keeps saying he’s going to send the troops into the Windy City to help Rahm out.  In fact, homicides in Chicago appear to be down by roughly 15% so far this year; too many lives are still being lost but we’ll take every bit of progress we can get.

Cities like St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland rank far ahead of Chicago for murder rates, Newark and Memphis are also more dangerous cities in which to live. Guns and gun violence are so endemic in many locations that the IPO of Shotspotter, whose technology tells the cops where guns are being shot off, jumped 26% as soon as shares went public, a sure sign that the violent use of guns isn’t going to disappear.

What appears to be happening in gun violence is what a brilliant physician and public health researcher, Katherine Kaufer Christoffel, wrote about in 2007 when she analyzed a shift in gun violence from ‘epidemic’ to ‘endemic’ rates. I happen to think that Dr. Christoffel’s article is one of the most important and informative contributions to the public health literature on gun violence and you can download it here. What she argues is that gun violence quickly spiked and then just as quickly declined between the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s because it was perceived as an ‘epidemic’ and treated as an emergency through a combination of local policing and health initiatives, coordination between stakeholding agencies and national legislation (e.g., the Brady bill.)

The result of these efforts, which also paralleled an overall decrease in violent crime, was that gun violence rates fell back to where they had been in the early 1980’s, but have since then remained steady and, in the last several years, started to go back up. But the transition from epidemic to endemic gun violence doesn’t mean that a fundamental ‘cure’ for the problem has been found. To the contrary, the problem with endemic public health conditions, as Dr. Christoffel points out, is that not only do they result in much suffering within the populations where the problem still exists, but they can ‘flare up’ as epidemics from place to place and time to time.

What we are witnessing in cities like St. Louis, Baltimore and Detroit are exactly the return of an epidemic of gun violence which grows out of an endemic condition that has stabilized nationally but has never really been brought under control. In 1993, there were just under 40,000 gun deaths (homicide, suicide, accidents) which set a national gun-violence rate of 15.4. If the year-to-year increase continues at the recent rate, we could exceed the 1993 gun violence numbers within the next two or three years.

I hate to say it but it needs to be said: A lot more people may have to get killed or injured before something that really reduces gun violence ever gets done.