What Do All Mass Shootings Have In Common? A Gun

It turns out the Florida Department of Social Services conducted a review of Nikolas Cruz’s behavior and decided he was at ‘low risk’ for hurting himself or anyone else. The good news about this report is that it takes the onus off the FBI, whose investigation into the shooter’s background led nowhere fast. The bad news is that neither of these investigations prevented Cruz from buying a gun.

parkland              Gun-nut Nation hasn’t yet begun trumpeting their usual mantra about how even the ‘mentally ill’ don’t necessarily forfeit their Constitutional ‘rights;’ Wayne-o will wait at least another week until he gets a wink from the Oval Office and then issues his now-standard nonsense about how every school in American needs an armed guard.  In the meantime, the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement will ramp up their demand for a renewed ban on assault rifles, carefully sidestepping the fact that Seung-Hui Cho, who used to hold the American record for most homicides in a single, mass shooting, managed to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech using a semi-automatic pistol, the Glock 19. For that matter, the kid who almost murdered Gabby Giffords in a Tucson parking lot on January 8, 2011, managed to kill and wound 20 people with a Glock 19.

What do these rampage shooters and so many others of the same ilk have in common?  Sorry, it’s not the fact that they used an AR-15, because that’s not always the case. On the other hand, if we look at the personal histories of the shooters at Aurora,The Pulse, Virginia Tech, Santa Isla, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Umpqua CC, we find a disturbing pattern; namely, all of them were either treated by mental health professionals, or were investigated by law enforcement authorities, but as far as we can tell, none of the individuals who intervened with the shooters ever asked them about guns.

Nancy Lanza, for example, the mother of the kid who shot his way through the elementary school at Sandy Hook, dragged her son hither and yon for mental health treatments, while at the same time that she was building an arsenal for his use. The Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was admitted overnight to an on-campus mental health facility because he had threatened to take his own life, but the report covering his contact with a staff professional makes no mention of guns. At the request of his mother, the Santa Isla shooter, Elliot Rodger, was interviewed by the cops the day before he started his shooting spree, but the issue of guns was never raised.

Let me make one thing very clear. I am not trying in any way to raise doubts about the professionalism or dedication of anyone in either the mental health or law enforcement communities. This column is not an attempt to imply or infer blame. What I am simply trying to point out is that for all the talk about banning assault weapons on the one hand, or better mental health screening on the other, what I see again and again leading up to these horrific events is a tacit acceptance of the idea that a professional intervention with a troubled individual somehow occurs without any mention of guns.

This may come as a great shock to my friends in Gun-nut Nation, but asking someone whether they own or have access to a gun isn’t a violation of anyone’s Constitutional ‘rights.’. And this statement applies equally as well to my friends in the GVP who sometimes appear overly concerned about respecting the 2nd Amendment, regardless of whose ox then gets gored. If you walk up to any adult in the street, the odds are one out of three that this individual can get their hands on a gun, in some neighborhoods more, in others less. Would you look the other way if you thought this same person might be infected with Ebola virus or some other virulent, communicable disease?  According to the CDC, Ebola killed 29,000 people during the outbreak in 2014. That’s nothing compared to the 38,658 Americans who were killed with guns in 2016.

 

 

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Will Condolences And Prayers Stop Mass Shootings? Of Course.

The day after a 29-year old security guard named Omar Mateen walked into The Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016 and began blasting away with his trusty Sig assault rifle, killing 49 people and wounding another 58, then-candidate Donald Trump immediately started yapping about how the shooting wouldn’t have happened if someone in the nightclub had been carrying a gun. Of course his real campaign manager, a.k.a. Chris Cox of the NRA, had to  remind him that the boys in Fairfax didn’t actually endorse mixing alcohol with guns. But that didn’t stop Trump from continuing to promote the necessity of arming civilians for the remainder of his campaign.

prayer            Now that candidate Trump has transmogrified into President Trump, the narrative has all of a sudden changed. When word reached the White House that a shooting rampage in a Florida high school was going to end up costing an untold number of lives, Trumpo’s first tweet was: “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” An hour later, when the death toll had reached 17, and it may go higher, America’s guardian of the 2nd Amendment couldn’t resist another burp, this one saying, “Just spoke to Governor Rick Scott. We are working closely with law enforcement on the terrible Florida school shooting.”

In case you’re wondering, Trump the Shlump was demonstrating his leadership by talking to the same Rick Scott who signed 5 gun laws in one day on June 23, 2014, one of which which made it easier for residents of the Gunshine State to get concealed-carry licenses, another making it easier for defendants to justify violent behavior under the state’s Stand Your Ground law, all of which made him, according to the NRA, the Governor who “has now signed more pro-gun bills into law — in one term — than any other Governor in Florida history.”

As for the boyfriend of Stormy Daniels ‘working closely with law enforcement,’ I wonder if he was referring to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who would have been the chief law-enforcement officer on the scene. You may recall that just two weeks before we had to start putting up with this schmuck of a President, the exact date was January 6 2017, a guy named Esteban Santiago-Ruiz got off a flight from Alaska, collected his luggage, then pulled out a 9mm pistol and quickly shot 5 people dead. When a few Florida lawmakers then talked up a law allowing guns to be carried in certain areas within airports, Sheriff Israel spoke out against the measure, claiming that letting civilians walk around with guns would just make it more difficult for police officers to tell the good guys from the bad.

Incidentally, the day of the airport shooting, although not yet President, the New York landlord was obviously practicing for how he would respond to mass shootings from inside the Oval Office, because he tweeted that he had ‘spoken’ with Governor Scott and was ‘monitoring’ the situation. Oh yea, don’t forget the thoughts and prayers.

What I find interesting about this charade of concern is that Obama also responded to rampage shootings by first always mentioning how the victims were in his thoughts and prayers. But he would then call for some kind of ‘action’ in response to the shooting, which of course meant a new law regulating guns. The moment he switched from ‘thoughts and prayers’ to ‘regulations and laws,’ the various Gun-nut Nation mouthpieces accused him of ‘politicizing’ the event.

Remember when Wayne-o reminded us after Sandy Hook that it’s the bad guys we need to worry about, not the guns? Sooner or later I figured they would have to come up with a new slogan to keep the discussion away from whether we should be doing something about the guns. Who can argue with condolences and prayers? Perfect, just perfect.

John Lott Meets The New York Times. A Win-Win For Both Sides.

What? The New York Times is carrying an op-ed by John Lott? The John Lott? The John Lott who is the bete noir of the entire gun violence prevention community because he has singlehandedly convinced a majority of Americans that keeping a gun around the house will make them safe? No, not The New York Times. Not the newspaper whose recent op-ed by Gail Collins begged the GVP community to ‘energize’ and not give up.

lott             John has been making arguments about the positive social utility of guns since 1998 when the first edition of More Guns, Less Crime, was published by the University of Chicago Press. I also happen to be a Chicago Press author, so I’m not about to say anything nasty about his book. But I don’t have to worry, because nasty and unkind comments about this book abound.

When John first published More Guns, roughly 35% of all Americans said that guns made their home a safer environment, while 50% said a gun at home made it a more dangerous place. The GVP will tell you that this shift in opinion is due to the power and financial clout of the NRA. And while the boys from Fairfax have certainly done their best to tilt the legislative field their way, the fact is that what the poll numbers indicate is that a lot of Americans have changed their minds about gun risk who don’t happen to own guns. Our friends at Harvard estimate that somewhere under 25% of American adults (most of them men) own guns, and that’s a much smaller percentage than the percentage of people who now say that a gun makes them safe.

There are two reasons why I am pleased to see Lott’s work show up in The New York Times. First, the shift towards guns for self-defense is not just a function of the decline in hunting, nor it can’t just be blamed on the NRA. Something else is going on in the United States which has caused a growth in what scholars like Alan Fiske, Tage Rai and Steven Pinker  call ‘virtuous violence;’ i.e., the use of violence to achieve positive ends. Lott’s research is an attempt to explain why this shift has occurred and needs to be acknowledged from that point of view.

Second, I am not terribly comfortable with using regression analysis to explain human affairs. Finding an ‘association’ between two trend lines is more a kind of statistical alchemy rather than a scientific method to establish causal facts. I agree with Richard Berk who refers to most regression analysis as a good way to describe patterns of data, but description and causal explanations are two, very different things. In that regard, Lott’s reliance on regression analysis doesn’t necessarily persuade me that his argument is true. But none of his critics seem willing to do anything beyond running his data through different statistical models which will always yield different results.

The problem with relying on public health research to explain gun violence is that most of this research usually follows the traditional, epidemiological approach to figuring out risk by defining the victims, figuring out how the risk enters and move through a particular population, and then coming up with protective strategies to protect everyone else. The result is that we know an awful lot about the victims of gun violence, but we know very little about why less than 5% of Americans who commit a serious injury each year, against themselves or someone else, do it by using a gun.

Until and unless the GVP figures out why people commit gun violence, condemning John Lott for offering an answer to that question which they don’t like is a strategy leading nowhere fast. If my GVP friends would examine their own arguments with the same degree of critical vigor that they use with Lott’s work, his appearance in The New York Times will be a positive event for helping to end the violence caused by guns.

 

 

Why Do So Many ‘Trafficked’ Guns Wind Up In New York?

Now that everyone has seemed to forget about what happened in Vegas on October 1st, the noise machine is gearing up on both sides about what appears to be the possibility that the national concealed-carry bill will get to the Senate floor for a debate. The law easily floated through the House in December, but any piece of NRA-backed legislation is guaranteed to get out of the lower chamber. The question for Republicans is whether they can not only secure every red Senate vote, but grab a bunch of Democrats from gun-rich states who might be feeling a little vulnerable going into the midterm vote.

trafficking             An interesting media piece about this issue surfaced last week in, of all places, The New York Post.  If there is one newspaper in the United States which has slavishly pumped up Trump, it’s the Fox-owned Post, whose fawning coverage of Trump has been going on for years. But instead of using the gossip space on what is called Page Six, the tabloid usually gives Trump the front-page headline, and goes out of its way to make the headline read as positive as it can.

So here’s a big story about concealed-carry but the headline is a quote from the NYPD Commissioner, Jim O’Neill, describing the national CCW as ‘insanity’ and “a disaster for major cities around the country.” The Manhattan DA, Cy Vance, also chimed in, saying that he wouldn’t presume to tell the residents of West Virginia what their gun laws should say, but neither should anyone take a law written for West Virginia and apply it to New York. Vance was referring to the narrative started by Mike Bloomberg who blamed high levels of gun violence on the movement of illegal guns up the I-95 “iron pipeline” from states with lax gun laws to more restrictive states like New York.

Thank you, Cy Vance, for that quick lesson in federalism.  But with all due respect to the idea that everything would be hunky-dory in gun land if we could just figure out a way to keep those guns from the South down in the South. Back laat May, the Brooklyn DA, Eric Gonzalez, announced the biggest gun “bust’” in the borough’s history, with indictments of 24 Virginia residents who had brought more than 200 guns into the Big Apple, including a Thompson sub-machine gun, you know, one of those rat-tat-tat bangers used by the Al Capone gang. Actually the so-called machine gun is actually a semi-automatic rifle but it looks like a machine gun.

The Brooklyn press conference was quite entertaining, because in addition to all the guns lying around, DA Gonzalez also played a taped conversation between two of the crooks, one of whom was bragging to the other about how he could walk around to 10 different gun shops, buy a legal gun in each one, bring the stash up to New York and unload the guns in the street.

If someone can buy a gun legally in Virginia, they were able to pass the FBI-NICS check. A legal gun purchase is a legal gun purchase no matter where it’s made. So how come all these ‘legal’ guns only seem to come to New York from Southern states? I’ll tell you why.

If you look at the number of federal dealer licenses in Southern states  and compare to the FFL numbers in states like New York and New Jersey, there are three times as many gun licenses per capita in the South as opposed to the North. Gee, what a surprise, given the fact that per-capita gun ownership is also three times higher in the South than in the North. The movement of legally-purchased guns from one section of the country to another is a perfect example of the way the market responds to an imbalance between supply and demand. It’s not the ‘lax’ gun laws which bring Southern guns up to New York; it’s unmet demand, and laws don’t prevent the market from responding to demand.

Bruce Pankratz: Terror Management Theory and the Great Gun Debate

The book GUNS FOR GOOD GUYS, GUNS FOR BAD GUYS Gun Violence in America by Michael R. Weisser says “The basic problem with the debate about guns, as opposed to debates about other public policy issues, is that the two sides have absolutely no idea what the other side is talking about. They’re not arguing about different definitions, they’re not just using different facts. The two sides exist in two very separate universes.”  One explanation for the two different universes comes from Terror Management Theory.
hal (004)In short Terror Management Theory assumes people are anxious about the fact they will die and know it could happen anytime. People live in cultures that function to keep death anxiety in the background by allowing people to believe the cultural myths to find meaning and significance in their lives. Anything that threatens that faith in their culture has to be defended against or the death anxiety rears its ugly head. I think the gun debate is a clash between two cultures in America each with its own creation myth. People in each of the cultures need to defend themselves against beliefs that are different. This explanation is perhaps too simple but I think there is a lot of truth in it and shows how logical arguments and facts do not matter much just like when people deal with deeply held religious beliefs.

My hope in writing this up is some academics out there will emerge and better discuss how terror management theory applies to the gun debate. I am only looking at one aspect in this article but think it applies in other areas as well.  With that in mind I will attempt to distill some ideas from the books The Worm at the Core: On the role of Death in Life (The Worm for short) by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and  Tom Pyszczynski (SGP for short) and In the Wake of 9-11: The Psychology of Terror (The Wake) on terror management theory and hope to show how terror management theory may offer some insights into the great gun debate.

The theory started when experimental social psychologists SGP discovered anthropologist Earnest Becker’s work and realized Becker was trying to explain two questions SGP were interested in. First, why do people need self – esteem (meaning the belief you have value in a world that means something to you).  And question two, why can’t people get along with people who are not like them. Terror management theory grew out of Becker’s work. Since SGP were experimental social psychologists they came up with ideas to test in their labs. First is a list of the details of TMT and following that is my attempt to describe the two creation myths and what I think they mean to the gun debate.

The basics of terror management theory has the following elements:

  •  SGP start out with the Darwin’s basic assumption that all living things have a biological predisposition toward self – preservation.
  • Humans are born with large brains so are different than other animals. They know they are alive and know they are going to die. The terror in TMT is the anxiety people have about knowing they will die. Making things worse they know they can die anytime.
  • As children grow up they shift from acting to receive their psychological security from being valued by parents to acting in ways to get a sense of value in the eyes of their culture and its gods and their earthly representatives. Cultural worldviews are shared beliefs people create about  The beliefs function to lessen  the horror created by being human with the knowledge one will sometime die and it may not be pleasant. The beliefs do this by allowing people to have some control over  the always present discomfort of death by convincing people they are beings that matter living in a meaningful world. This all only works if people keep the faith in the worldview and they feel they are important contributors to the culture.
  • Cultures have creation stories that lay the groundwork for the belief systems. These stories tell people how they fit in and that they matter. As an example the conservative version of the founding of America with the Founding Fathers, Declaration of Independence and the rest of the story are the basis for the beliefs of the traditional followers of American culture.
  • SGP also mention work by Robert Jay Lifton who talked about the difference between dealing with death discomfort with literal immortality involving an afterlife like some religions do and and symbolic immortality coming from a person’s lasting social connections and contributions to one’s culture. Example of symbolic mortality are achievements and people passing on their genes, assets and and values to their own children hoping for some influence on future generations once they themselves are gone. In addition people can have some sense of immortality by being a valued part of a larger group like  a tribe or the nation that will live on.

SGP used social psychology experiments to attempt to test their theory. There are many more details in The Wake and The Worm but here are some comments based on their findings:

 

  • As long as people think they are important members within the cultural worldview they belong to they can live their lives feeling confident and secure. But their beliefs are based on faith so when someone runs into people with a different beliefs they have a problem. The other people may be right and you are wrong and the discomfort of death comes back.
  • There is always some death anxiety in a person’s mind and SGP claim it gets projected onto other groups of people within or outside one’s own culture. The other people are scapegoats.
  • There are several ways to handle people who are different: 1)belittle them as misguided or stupid, try to mainstream some of their views or finally even destroy them.
  • Reminders of death cause people to increase their defending and reaffirming of their cultural worldviews. One example of experiments done by SGP shows when reminded of death Christians are more likely to dislike Jewish people in the US but in Israel experimenters found people are more likely to dislike Christians and Muslims.

Applying TMT to the Gun Debate

This is a bit broad but I think America has two cultural worldviews each with its own creation myth and that is why logical gun debates may be fruitless in trying to solve the problem of gun violence.

First, the traditional American creation myth and world view as described by SPG:  “… for patriotic Americans, the Revolutionary War, George Washington, the Declaration of Independence, and so on serve vital roles in their meaning systems. In this meaningful worldview, being a patriotic American makes one significant—no longer a purposeless, transient animal, one is now an eternally significant contributor to a great nation that represents eternal values of freedom and democracy. In this way, cultural worldviews set up the path to immortality, to transcendence of one’s own death. By being valued contributors to such a meaningful world, we become permanent constituents of an eternal symbolic reality, instead of just corporeal beings in a wholly material reality.” (Pyszyzynski, Tom. In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror (Kindle Locations 441-446). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.)

This is my own impression of what I call the progressive version of a creation myth for America.  The myth says Columbus who was a white European male sailed to America and was followed by more white Europeans who pushed the native people off their land and decimated their cultures with reservations and boarding schools. For cheap labor the Europeans imported slaves who built the White House and the economy.  Many of the founding fathers (all men) owned slaves and did not allow them or women to vote. The industrial era came along and the capitalists exploited the workers to become super rich and in the long run put so much carbon dioxide in the air that the planet is in danger.  This all means educated people have a duty to fight racism, sexism, income inequality, climate change and other social ills by advocating for government programs paid for by the rich people and corporations who have unfairly exploited all of the vulnerable people.  I think many or even most anti-gun people subscribe to some form of the progressive creation myth.

TMT talks about people needing to defend themselves against the existence of cultural worldviews different from their own to prevent death anxiety from surfacing.  As SGP say in  The Wake “Probably the most common response is to simply view the others as misguided , unenlightened , or too stupid , uninformed , or brain – washed to see through the facade of unreasonable faith that ties them to their delusory belief system ; and perhaps to wish silently that someday , somehow , they will see the light and come to view the world from our own far superior perspective .

Much of the talk about guns is to me about protecting one’s worldview against people who have a different worldview. Some examples for this in people with the progressive worldview is talking about the bitter clingers who cling to their religion and guns or saying proposed gun law changes are ‘reasonable’ or ‘common sense’ meant as a way to put down the people on the other side who are uneducated ignorant people who have neither. And when one reads the latest NRA pitch talking about the Founding Fathers it is almost like they want money to defend the traditional creation myth and culture. And if you don’t send money you will feel death anxiety though they don’t say that or perhaps even know they are saying it.

If you want more information on terror management theory try finding some of the many YouTube videos featuring Sheldon Solomon.

 

 

 

 

 

Sooner Or Later Dana Loesch Will Shut Up.

Folks, I think it’s time to figure out what noisemakers like that idiot Dana Loesch is really trying to achieve on behalf of the pro-gun movement, because if we don’t, we’re going to waste an awful lot of time being concerned about something which I think has been completely misunderstood by our friends in the mainstream (i.e., liberal) media like The New York Times and MS-NBC.

dana              Of course the GVP needs all the help and allies it can get. But such relationships shouldn’t foreclose a basic responsibility we share to make sure that when it comes to the public debate, we get it right. And the reactions by many of my media and GVP friends to statements from Loesch which are usually referred to as being beyond anything which should be said in public simply are wide of the mark.

I’m talking about her new video trailer which has her about to burn a copy of The New York Times but then she pauses and says, “You know, I don’t even have to do this. You guys are doing a good enough job burning down your reputations all by yourselves.” Our friends at Media Matters posted this video and now the expected responses are coming in about how Loesch and the NRA are enemies of the press, the 1st Amendment, the usual bit. Home-school Queen Dana has been going after The New York Times for the past year, with this video being just her latest attempt to show her audience how outrageous, insulting and fascist-leaning she can be.

Want to know what’s really behind her continued attempt to say the most outrageous and provocative crap coming out of the mouth of any employee of the NRA? Take a look at the January NICS background checks which just came out.  Handgun checks were 501,638, which is the lowest January total since January 2014. Month-to-month long gun checks, 2016 to 2017, were down by 25 percent!  These numbers don’t represent just a little slippage in gun sales, they represent what could be the beginning of an industry-wide collapse.

What I find most funny in Dana’s continued attacks on ‘the old lady’ (a.k.a. The New York Times) is what has happened to the stock price of the ‘failing’ New York Times since Dana first began her rants.  A year ago the stock price was $14.80. Even after the big sell-off earlier this week, the current price is sitting at $24.80. Yea, talk about the paper failing away.

Now let’s compare the ‘failing’ New York Times to the recent stock history of a company called American Outdoor Brands, which used to be known as Smith & Wesson until the management, fearing that Hillary would be elected President and would shut down the gun business decided to rebrand themselves with a new name that would make everyone ignore the fact that 88% of company revenues still comes from the sale of guns.

When Dana first started spieling for NRA she presented herself as just another Mom who carried a gun in order to protect herself and her kids, the strategy being to open the female market to guns. If that approach is working, it sure hasn’t done much for Smith & Wesson or American Outdoor Brands or whatever they now want to call themselves.

Dana then set to work pushing the new NRA training and insurance program, Carry Guard, which has a whole big, two classes listed on the program website – two classes in the whole country? That’s right. Two.

Dana’s obnoxious rants against The New York Times are nothing more than a stupid and obvious attempt to retain some social media following now that the gun business doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of revival or long-term strength. Which is why the best thing my friends in the mainstream media and GVP could do is to should simply ignore her because sooner or later she’ll do us all a favor by shutting up and going away.

Defending The ‘Right’ To Bear Arms.

Want to see the single, most incisive argument for 2nd-Amendment ‘rights?’  Forget Dana Loesch, forget Donald Trump, even forget Wayne-o and Chris-o from Fairfax, VA. You need to look at a new video produced by the folks at College Humour , a website which posts both original and previously-published internet content that attracts more than 15 million unique viewers each month.

CHToday’s featured video, “The New Face of the NRA,” sticks an AR-armed black guy between two white dudes, one of whom is supposed to be your typical, gun-grabbing liberal geek, the other a guy who drives around in his Ford F-150 with the veritable shotgun behind him in the rack.

The AR-wielding black guy, complete with several hundred rounds of ammo wrapped around his upper torso, is a combination of Bobby Seale of Black Panther fame and the comic Eddie Griffin, who delivers a series of rants which pop out of the mouths of pro-gun noisemakers all the time.

Geek: “The NRA thinks that everyone should have guns.” Black dude (waving the AR around): Yes, all my brothers should have guns!”

Truck Guy: “How many brothers do you have?” Black dude: “Our numbers grow daily every time there’s a case of police brutality.”

Geek: “Where do you live again?” Black dude: “That sounds like a background check which is an invasion of my privacy.”

Then some more give-and-take, the black dude is wildly waving the gun around and the Geek says: “Let’s show a little bit of control with the gun.” You know the response from the black dude: “Gun control isn’t necessary.” The video goes on from there.

Over the last several years the NRA has developed a very effective video messaging platform where various organizational employees who present themselves as media stars give one-minute monologues about gun ‘rights’ which are essentially boring and ponderous as hell. I mean who really wants to sit in front of a screen watching a video where nothing happens and nobody moves?  Well, the lips move.

Sometimes I think that the argument about gun violence could use a bit of levity at least from the GVP. We know that guns are dangerous, we know that 120,000 gun deaths and injuries each year is a sad and serious thing. But nothing achieves better resonance in a political debate than parody and satire, a perfect example of which is this new take-off on the NRA.

Watch, enjoy and thanks to Shaun Dakin.