We Still Don’t Know What Happened In Vegas. So What?

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We are now going on Week Four since the terrible, terrible event in Las Vegas and we don’t know any more about what happened beyond what we knew ten minutes after the shooting stopped, namely, the name of the guy who stuck a gun out of the window and began blasting away. Oh, I forgot, the LVPD is conducting their own ‘internal’ investigation and the management of Mandalay Bay is also trying to figure out how come it took private and public security more than fifteen minutes to get up to the 32nd floor after they were notified that someone was lying in the hall with a bullet in his leg.

LV2             The Connecticut State Police took nearly a year to issue their official report on what happened at Sandy Hook. The Governor’s report about Columbine was released more than two years after Klebold and Harris walked into the high school and began shooting the place up and detonating a few bombs. Have you even heard about the formation of any kind of official group to study and explain what happened on October 1st?

As the continued spiral of mass shootings appears to be swirling in an ever-widening circle (more than one per day so far this year) I notice that the same arguments about how to identify people who might start gunning everyone down are once again restating the same risk factors that we have known for the last twenty or so years. The latest version can be found in a commentary by our friend Garen Wintemute, who says that predictors of gun violence include “abuse of alcohol and controlled substances, acute injury, a history of violence (including a suicide attempt), poorly controlled severe mental illness, an abusive partner, and serious life stressors.”

The problem with Wintemute’s argument, unfortunately, is that those same predictors have been used to identify people at risk for any kind of violent behavior, and since only 7% of the people arrested for aggravated assault used a gun, how come the other 93% weren’t attempting to inflict serious injury in the same way? You can’t tell me that only 75,000 out of one million aggravated assaults occurred with a gun because it’s hard to get your hands on a gun. Give me a break, okay?

On the other hand, it occurs to me that maybe we really shouldn’t worry about learning the facts about Las Vegas and here’s the reasons why. First of all, folks who believe that we should have open access to all the guns we want to own don’t base their arguments on anything which happens to be true. Remember what Trump said the other day when he accused his predecessor of never calling the families of dead service members, an accusation which turned out to be totally untrue? He said, “That’s what I was told.” Know what? If you ask the average member of Gun-nut Nation how he knows that armed citizens prevent millions of crimes every year you’ll get the exact, same response – I was told. If I had a nickel for everybody who has wandered into my gun shop over the last 17 years and begins lamenting our state’s ‘tough’ gun laws by saying, “Someone told me….”

The other reason we really don’t need to know any more facts about what happened in Vegas on October 1st is because not a single fact would change what is the basic takeaway from the event, namely, that someone decided to see how many people he could kill by using what the small-arms industry refers to as a ‘modern sporting gun.’ Now of course the story, not yet actually shown to be true (here we go again with the search for facts) is that by sticking a bump-stock on a semi-auto rifle, Paddock was no longer shooting a ‘modern sporting gun.’

But the truth is he was never shooting a ‘sporting rifle’ because there’s nothing sporting about shooting human beings with any kind of gun.

How Come We Believe Stuff About Guns Which Simply Isn’t True?

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In 1960 Gallup conducted a national poll which asked the following question: “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of pistols and revolvers, except by the police and other authorized persons?” Had such a law then been passed, it would have brought the United States into line with just about every other advanced country and might have saved as many as 600,000 lives.

mass             It’s also accurate to say that intentional, non-fatal gun injuries over the last fifty-five years may have ended up around 3 million, and these numbers prove there was every good reason for public health researchers to study what Catherine Kristoffel calls the ‘endemic’ nature of gun violence, with works by Kellerman and Hemenway (among others) demonstrating a clear link between elevated levels of gun homicide/suicide and access to guns. Despite the continued campaign by Gun-nut Nation to argue that the benefits of gun ownership far outweigh the risks, the evidence that open access to handguns is a fundamental factor in explaining the 3.5 million deaths and injuries since the 1960’s is compelling and true.

The problem with this argument, however, is that it might be considered valid by researchers and public policy advocates, but somehow this idea hasn’t been picked up by the average person because the six out of ten Americans who supported a ban on handguns in 1960 has now dropped down to less than one in four. And since one in three Americans now believe that having gun is a better way to protect yourself than not having a gun, obviously even lots of people who don’t own guns don’t buy the idea that owning a gun increases risk.

How does the consensus on gun risk within the medical and public health communities somehow not circulate within the public at large? The usual argument is that the ‘gun lobby,’ particularly the NRA, has been a powerful and effective voice in promoting pro-gun sentiment, thanks as well to a compliant Republican Party and a guy name Scalia who used to sit on the Supreme Court. All fine and well except for one little thing. The NRA may inundate its membership with emails, videos and offers for all kinds of crap you can buy, but generally speaking, the messaging doesn’t go out to people who don’t own guns. And since less than half of Americans own guns, obviously non-gun owners who should be receptive to the idea that guns are a risk aren’t getting told.

In 1969 Franklin Zimring published a government-funded research study, Firearms & Violence in American Life. As far as I am concerned, this 147-page document has never been surpassed by any subsequent work on gun risk, nor is it mentioned in any of the recent gun-risk discussions within or without public health. Zimring’s calculation about the number of guns that were floating around the United States before the government started keeping accurate records post-1968, remains the estimate on which even the work of pro-gun advocates like Gary Kleck is based.

According to Zimring’s careful research, there were slightly more than 100 million modern guns owned by civilians in 1968. But of this total number, less than 40 million were handguns, about which Zimring says: “When the number of handguns increases, gun violence increases, and where there are fewer guns, there is less gun violence.” And Zimring said this in 1969, before countless studies by public health researchers then said and continue to say the exact, same thing.

I know all the reasons why the GVP community believes that advocating a ban on handguns is a dead end. It’s a no-win position, there’s the 2nd Amendment, blah, blah, blah and blah. But the GVP narrative should be based on what is true, not what is believed to be true. Because what a majority of Americans now believe about handgun risk simply isn’t true, and advocacy must inform based on truth, regardless of whether or not it will work.

Do We Really All Support Background Checks?

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If I had a nickel for every gun violence prevention (GVP) advocate and/or gun violence researchers who believes that the American public is not so polarized about controlling guns, I would be somewhere at my golf club and not sitting in my office writing, doing emails, answering the phone and doing all the things I do in order to keep my checkbook occasionally in balance. And this GVP belief in the ability to work with the ‘other side’ stems primarily from endless surveys which show that even gun owners and/or Republicans (usually the same thing) support comprehensive background checks.

polls2             The latest pronouncement in this respect comes from one of our leading gun researchers, Garen Wintemute, who is now overseeing a $5 million grant from the State of California to fund research that has been left undone since the CDC stopped funding gun violence research back in 1998. As ‘proof’ that we are not so divided over the issue of background checks, I quote Wintemute from a recent interview in the Los Angeles Times: “90% of the general population supports (background checks for all firearms purchases), 80% of gun owners support it and 70% of self-reported NRA members support it. Things are not as polarized as they seem.”

I’m assuming that Wintemute took these numbers from the Pew poll published back in June which found, among other things, that 19% of all gun owners were members of the NRA. If this were true, the $165 million they pulled in from dues in 2015 would be chump change compared to what they would really rack if the 19% ‘NRA members’ were paying annual dues. Try about $250 million, okay?

But since the Pew researchers made no effort to ask people why they said they were members of America’s oldest civil rights organization, for the moment let’s accept the number as true even if it’s not. Here’s a bigger truth. The NRA has come out officially and publicly against any expansion of background checks. Period. No compromise whatsoever. So what the Pew researchers should have asked, and perhaps one of Wintemute’s research colleagues will get around to asking at some point is this: ‘If you favor background checks, would you drop your NRA membership because the organization is opposed to background checks?’  Or perhaps instead of that question, the researchers would ask something along the lines like this: ‘Would you vote for someone whose stance on issues included expanding background checks?’

Remember a political candidate named Hillary Clinton? She used a very strong GVP argument to knock Bernie out of the box. The only problem is that the same argument didn’t work in the general election worth a damn. I’m not saying that Trump won the election only because of his stance on 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ What I am saying is that asking the average person if they favor expanded background checks doesn’t really tell you very much about how that individual will really line up and be counted when a new gun law is being debated in the jurisdiction where that individual happens to live.

I’m also not saying that gun owners are ignorant of the importance of background checks for the transfer a gun from one set of hands to another set of hands. Nor am I saying they are lying when they tell a survey-taker that they support expanded background checks. But asking someone to respond to a specific question about guns doesn’t really tell you how the answer to that question lines up with other thoughts the same person holds about guns and how best to use public policies to diminish the violence caused by guns.

The same gun owners who told Pew they favored comprehensive background checks also said they wanted teachers to carry guns in schools and in case you don’t remember, arming teachers was the NRA’s response following the massacre at Sandy Hook.

If only the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ could be measured by responses to a single question in a poll.

Either We Know What Happened In Las Vegas Or We Don’t.

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It is now going on eleven days since the cops burst into Stephen Paddock’s Mandalay Bay hotel room, and the only verifiable fact which has emerged from the entire episode is that Paddock is evidently dead.  One gun violence prevention (GVP) advocate explained this extraordinary delay as a necessity, since cops have to be very careful in making any determination about what did or didn’t happen because otherwise they might be providing a defense attorney with grounds for getting the case thrown out of court. Except that in this case the defendant appears to be dead.

LV2             I’m certainly not trying to argue that there should be any rush to judgement in a situation like this, but the result of this continued delay in releasing any hard data on what happened before, during and after Paddock began his shooting spree is that the virus of jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions based on no evidence and then using those conclusions to craft and pass new gun legislation is beginning to spread.  Just yesterday, the Massachusetts House voted 191-3 to ban any device ‘that is designed to increase the rate of discharge of the rifle, shotgun or firearm,’ with the individual who violates this statute facing jail time of up to 20 years.

The state gun group, Gun Owners Action League, immediately took exception to this move, claiming that someone could be charged with violating this law just by cleaning his weapon which could then result in the gun firing at a faster rate. C’mon guys, if you can’t come up with a better squawk than that, you really should fold your tents and go home. But the bottom line is that this bill, which was actually an amendment to the state budget, will certainly be signed by Governor Charlie Baker, and as opposed to the proposed federal bump-stock law, the Massachusetts law is a real ban.

In defense of the gun group, it should be said that the representative who wrote and sponsored this bump-stock bill, David Linsky, is the same rep who several years ago proposed what has to rank as the dumbest response to the lethality of AR rifles, which was a bill that would have required all owners of AR-style guns to store their weapons in a locked gun safe in a shooting range or club. Unfortunately I can’t find a link to this bizarre attempt to protect residents of the Bay State from the scourge of what the gun industry claims is nothing but a ‘modern sporting rifle,’ but why should pro-GVP legislators like David Linksy have any more of a realistic view about guns than what is considered reality by the pro-gun group?

But getting back to where this all started, I simply do not understand how and why the Las Vegas Police Department continues to get everything wrong about what happened last Sunday night in Vegas, and why nobody seems to be concerned about when or if we will get the real facts. Now the cops are saying that Paddock first shot the hotel security guard before he opened fire on the concert crowd; last week they claimed it was the other way around even though the Mandalay Bay management is disputing this latest statement by the cops whose chief is saying that the timeline might “change again.”

The last I heard, at least three separate law enforcement agencies – FBI, ATF, LVPD – are involved in this investigation, and as I said above, the only thing we know is that apparently the shooter is dead. So if the cops want to wait until they really know what happened, why did they open their mouths in the first place?

I’ll tell you why. Because someone who got into that hotel room took pictures and gave those pics to someone else who published them online. And that’s the only reason why bump-stocks have become a subject of national debate even though we still don’t know whether Paddock used one for his rampage or not. That’s not very well done.

All Of A Sudden Everyone’s In Favor Of A New Gun Law – Kind Of.

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What a surprise. A guy mows down more than 500 people with an assault rifle of some sort and all of a sudden Congressional Republicans, the NRA and their spokesperson, Donald Trump, are willing to have a ‘discussion’ about gun laws. Charles Grassley, who never met a law protecting 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ he didn’t like, wants to hold hearings; Marco Rubio, who used a visit to Sturm, Ruger for a photo-op during his brief Presidential campaign wants to insure that there are no ‘vulnerabilities’ in federal gun laws (whatever that means); and even Rep. Mark Meadows, head of the Congressional Freedom Caucus (a.k.a what’s left of the Tea Party) is open to considering a gun bill.

LV             Most everyone in Gun-nut Nation fell into line once Trump mumbled something about a discussion on gun laws as he was getting ready to fly to Puerto Rico before going on to Vegas the following day. There were some holdouts, of course, such as the nuts from Gun Owners of America who consider themselves to be the true holder of the flame for gun rights, but they can be ignored. As for Rush, he had to come up with some pathetic defense of Trump’s new ‘soft’ position on guns, so he’s spinning the bizarrely-stupid idea that the President is ‘pretending’ to be for a gun bill in order to get the left-wing media off his back.

And then we have the response of our friends in Fairfax, who rather than waiting a week and then blasting away which is what they did after Sandy Hook, have released a written statement supporting the idea that the ATF should review the accessory known as a bump-stock which can be used to make an AR or AK-style rifle fire full-auto even though the trigger is still re-set to its firing position after every shot.

So both sides are getting a little bit of what they want: the pro-gun gang aren’t discussing the banning of an actual gun and the gun-control crowd can finally say that the industry’s attempt to pass off assault weapons as something they call ‘modern sporting rifles’ has just taken a big dent. But before the political posturing on both sides goes any further, there’s something you have to understand. Here we are a week beyond when the shots rang out, and we still don’t know out whether, in fact, a gun with a bump-stock was used at all.

The cops who busted into the shooter’s room didn’t need five minutes to figure out which gun or guns he used in the assault. The floor was evidently littered with spent shell casings; look down at one and you instantly know the caliber of the gun. Then walk around the room, grab every gun in that caliber, put your hand around the barrel and the amount of heat coming off the carbon steel identifies the requisite gun. The cops were actually too busy taking pictures which were sold or given to various news websites to worry about the guns, which means this all-important crime scene was contaminated beyond belief.

And if you think I’m coming down too hard on the Las Vegs cops who reacted to the rampage in about as quick and effective a way as they could, think again. Not only do we have pictures of the guns floating around, but there’s also a picture of Paddock lying on the floor obviously very bloody and very dead. Who first posted this gem? Alex Jones – who else!

So now the entire political ruling class begins a debate about gun violence without having the faintest idea what they are talking about. What if the shooter was using a legally-purchased full-auto gun? What if it turns out that he bought what the gun industry would like you to believe is a ‘modern sporting rifle’ and converted it into an automatic rifle without using a bump-stock? Engaging in a discussion about gun violence without any evidence-based information has become as normal as gun violence itself.

 

What’s The Difference Between This Semi-Auto And That Semi-Auto? Plenty.

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Before the debate about a post-Vegas gun law collapses into a complete muddle as Gun-nut Nation tries desperately to stave off any significant attempt to impose even the weakest regulations on firearms, I thought it would be instructive and useful to clarify exactly what is and isn’t involved in turning a semi-auto rifle into a gun which will shoot upwards of 700 rounds a minute and therefore create a level of destruction which can only be experienced by using what we ordinarily call a machine gun, or full-auto gun.

bump              The attachment which may or may not have been on the gun used by Stephen Paddock (the Las Vegas Police Department is too busy trying to figure out what actually happened to be bothered figuring out what type of gun) was determined to be a legal accessory because it still requires that the trigger be activated for every shot, whereas with a full-auto gun, or what we call a Class-III NFA weapon, the trigger needs only to be pulled one time in order to completely empty the ammunition mag. What the bump-stock does is to use the gun’s recoil to pull and release the trigger each time, so the trigger is pulled and the gun fires at the rate which the bolt moves back and forth rather than by the speed at which someone can manually pull the trigger to shoot each round. Get it?

But here is where the confusion sets in. Because in fact there are many different types of semi-automatic rifles, but this doesn’t mean that a bump-stock will work with each and every one.  Here’s an AR-15:

AR

              Notice that the stock is actually just a cheekpiece which screws onto a tube extended from the gun but is not connected to the frame.

Here’s a standard, semi-auto hunting rifle:

browning

              Notice the stock is attached to the frame and if you want to remove the stock to stick on an accessory like a bump-stock, you basically have to cut away the back half of the gun. In other words, it can’t be done.

The gun industry has been trying mightily to convince consumers that the AR-15 is no different from any other ‘sporting’ gun. In fact, they have even invented a name for this product, they call it the ‘modern sporting rifle’ and they insist that there’s absolutely no difference between the gun pictured above and the gun pictured below because they both are semi-auto guns.

If one thing comes out of the debate about bump-stocks, it will hopefully be a recognition that the argument made by the gun industry to pretend that an AR-15 is no more lethal than any other type of legal firearm is an argument which will finally be put to bed.  Because what makes the AR-style gun so very different from traditional semi-auto rifles is not just that it can accept high-capacity mags that can be switched in and out without losing point of aim, not just that with a collapsible stock the gun is much more concealable and transportable than a standard-size gun, and not just that you can attach hand grips to the rails which makes it easier for the recoil to be controlled.

What makes the AR-15 too dangerous to be floating around is that it can easily and quickly be converted into, in effect, a full-auto gun.  Which is not the case with traditional semi-auto rifles like the Browning BAR rifle pictured above.

If Congress wants to really get serious about preventing the kind of terrible tragedy that played out last week in front of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, they should not just prohibit accessory products that can be fitted to an AR and turn it into a full-auto gun, they should also prohibit guns that will accept those kinds of products because here’s the dirty little secret you need to know.

Listening? There are instructions floating around for making and installing your own bump-stock on your AR, which would be [perfectly legal even if the so-called ‘ban’ is passed.

The 2nd Amendment Haa Nothing To Do With What Happened in Vegas.

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Thanks to our friend Shaun Dakin, all of a sudden I’m beginning to see pro-gun folks coming out of the woodwork to express their concerns about what happened in Vegas and isn’t staying in Vegas. And this is taking the form of some comments appearing here and there about how there really are some good, compassionate gun owners out there who shouldn’t be blamed just because some nut decided to set a new record for the number of people killed and wounded by one shooter using (we think but don’t actually know) one gun.

2A             The first story appeared on Medium, where a self-described libertarian who says he knows enough about guns “to do serious damage to a fundamental human right I hold dear.” We’ll get to how the writer defines this ‘fundamental human right’ in a minute, but he goes on to lament the fact that most people who advocate reducing gun violence damage their own arguments because they don’t know anything about guns.  He then goes on to list various examples of egregious errors made by the gun violence prevention (GVP) crowd, including the usual canard about how the GVP always wrongly defines an assault-style gun.  The writer ends up by saying that he would love to have a frank discussion about gun policy with the ‘other side,’ but first we need to learn the proper way to talk about guns.

Incidentally, this guy never gets around to explaining the fundamental ‘human right’ which he feels duty-bound to protect, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that he’s talking about something having to do with the 2nd Amendment, even though I always thought that the Bill of Rights enumerated certain Constitutional rights, which may or may not have anything to do with so-called human rights at all.

The second compassionate, pro-gun contribution by someone desperately trying to bridge the gap between Left and Right on the issues of guns was published in The Federalist, which has been promoting 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ since before most of you were born. Like the blogger on Medium, this writer also hopes that we can have a “better conversation about guns and the Second Amendment in America,” which is shorthand for letting the GVP community know that it’s the other side which really understands why we all need to protect ourselves with guns.

The author of this piece wants us all to understand and appreciate the fact that someone can feel nothing but horror and despair about what happened in Vegas and yet still fervently believe that all law-abiding citizens should have access to guns. Forgetting for a moment that Stephen Paddock was as law-abiding as you can get, the writer wants us all to know that “a person can watch this, ache, hurt, and be profoundly affected by these events and not change his or her position on the Second Amendment.”

These banal attempts to ‘normalize’ support of the 2nd Amendment while at the same time attempting to join to co-op what appears to be a growing national concern about the destructiveness of firearms is nothing but pure, unadulterated crap. No matter how horrific the assault, no matter how many lives are lost or damaged beyond repair, you can count on even the most compassionate pro-gun advocates to remind us of their sacrosanct Constitutional ‘rights.’ Except there’s only one little problem. What they say and have been saying about the 2nd Amendment isn’t true.

When the Supreme Court reversed a long legal precedent by ruling in 2008 that private gun ownership was a Constitutional ‘right,’ there were already more than 300 million privately-owned guns floating around, none of which enjoyed any kind of Constitutional protection. And despite this failure to guarantee our God-given right to protecte ourselves, there has never been any law in any jurisdiction which stripped Americans of their ability to own a gun. So let’s cut out the nonsense and return the post-Vegas discussion to where it belongs, namely, what needs to be done to end gun violence once and for all.

 

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