This Report Is A ‘Must Read’ For Understanding Violence Caused By Guns.

Last year the Hope and Heal Fund in California gave some dough to a media research group at Berkeley to look at how gun violence is discussed in the everyday media venues that most people view or read.  With all due respect to my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) public health research community, academic papers, particularly papers filled with data, statistics and charts, don’t get very far out into the average person’s daily life. The immense value of this report, on the other hand, is summed up by the report’s authors themselves who say, “the public’s understanding is significantly influenced by print, broadcast, and social media. Journalists set the agenda for the public debate about any issue by deciding which incidents they report (or don’t report) and how they choose to frame these.”

hope and healTo this end, the report looked at just about every news and opinion piece on gun violence in 41 English and Spanish newspapers published in California between October 15, 2016 and October 14 of the following year. They identified 3,815 articles about gun violence, randomly chose 128 which grouped into articles on guns an community violence (111), guns and domestic violence (64) and guns and suicide (53). You can download the entire report here.          What the Berkeley Media Studies Group found in a review of these articles and op-eds was that media coverage of this topic is most clearly driven by mass shooting events; when the Las Vegas shooting occurred on October 1, 2017 news stories that were running between 50 and 100 each day during the previous month spiked to over 300 stories on October 2nd and remained above 150 per day for the following week.

The second most common driver of media interest in gun violence is not, as you might suspect, the shooting event itself, but “because of an event in the criminal justice system, such as an arrest, a trial, or the discovery of a body by police.” This is a very significant finding because I always assumed that coverage of gun violence reflected the ‘when it bleeds it leads’ cliché which is always banded about. Not true, according to this report, with events in the criminal justice system representing the ‘trigger’ for community violence reports at least 80% of the time.

The researchers also divided an analysis of each article’ content into what they call ‘episodic’ on the one hand, ‘thematic’ on the other; the former representing a clear majority of all gun-violence reportage, the latter substantially less. What this means is that most of the gun-violence stories focus on the specifics of the event itself, whereas thematic (i.e., in-depth background discussions) are few and far between. The lack of context was, if anything, more noticeable in the Spanish-language press, whose stories focused almost entirely on describing specific events with little or no interest in explaining why something like gun violence occurs.

Because the media feels more comfortable talking about the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’ of gun violence, the whole issue of how gun violence affects the broader community beyond the individuals involved in a specific act is rarely discussed or even mentioned as a media concern. Ditto the degree to which the gun industry comes in for any coverage about how its products and marketing may contribute to the illegal and/or inappropriate use of guns.

I have just given you the tip of the iceberg – the report is substantive, important and really needs to be read. The fact that a majority of Americans believe that a gun in the home is more of a benefit than a risk needs to be acknowledged and understood by the people and organizations who would like to see an end to the violence caused by guns.

This paper is an significant and necessary contribution to helping the gun-control community figure out how to effectively frame their narratives about gun violence.  I hope it will be read by all.

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Tom Gabor – Focus on School Security Is Myopic.

While Floridians are understandably focused on the mass shooting in Parkland, American schools now experience one intentional shooting a week on school grounds.  Among G7 countries, the US has experienced 288 school shootings since 2009, whereas none of the other six nations has experienced more than two of these incidents.

santa feWhile enhancing school security is a legitimate short-term measure in keeping students safe, it falls seriously short of a comprehensive approach to the problem.  School attacks were exceedingly rare prior to 1992 and armed security, active shooter drills, and lockdown procedures, routine in public schools today, were unheard of prior to the 1990s. Thus, security vulnerabilities alone cannot account for the surge in school shootings, as schools now adopt far more security measures than in the past.

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has shown that 18-29 year-olds are becoming more disengaged from community life.  Their church attendance, involvement in public meetings and political activities have all declined sharply from the 1970s.  Young people spend more time alone than they did decades ago and more time using electronic devices than they do with family and peers.  Those experiencing some form of crisis are less likely to lean on the family, place of worship, or social organizations as their ties to these institutions are weaker.  Depression among the young has increased dramatically and there has been a 50 percent increase in suicide among 15-24 year-olds from 1999-2014.  This is the age group most at risk to commit school attacks.  There is a significant pool of alienated and depressed young people who may experience despair and act out violently following a precipitating event, such as expulsion from school, loss of a relationship, ostracism by peers, or bullying.

Coinciding with this trend toward increasing social isolation, has been increasing access to weapons designed for combat that can fire highly lethal, high velocity bullets rapidly and that, when equipped with high capacity magazines, can allow a shooter to discharge up to 100 rounds without reloading.  The Parkland (Fla.) shooter obtained his AR-15 legally when he was 18, despite numerous disturbing actions and calls to law enforcement.

The combination of a large pool of at-risk youth and easy access to highly lethal weapons is a recipe for the mass casualty shootings we have seen.  Yet legislators, driven by short-term considerations, are often indifferent to the social factors driving this trend and unwilling to risk the political consequences associated with confronting an intransigent gun lobby that resists even the most popular and modest attempts at gun regulation.  Following Parkland, Floridians are primarily offered enhanced school security on a low budget, along with the option of armed school personnel.

There are numerous “soft” targets for shooters, apart from schools, including theaters, shopping malls, clubs, airports, and stadiums.  Thus, hardening schools alone fails to address the risks to which other citizens are exposed and may place other targets at increased risk as perpetrators seek less fortified  targets.  Many schools around the country already have adopted some basic security measures.  In Florida, after the Parkland mass shooting, just $100 million has been allocated for school security, or about $25,000 per public school–enough to install about a dozen security doors in classrooms.

A serious effort to enhance school security involves access control protocols (screening all who enter a school), surveillance through monitored cameras and patrols, adequate perimeter security, intrusion detection systems, security doors and bullet-resistant windows, adequately trained and properly armed security personnel; emergency communications, and lockdown procedures.  Turning schools into prison-like facilities is prohibitively expensive, creates more fear and disruption for students and teachers, and fundamentally alters the learning environment.

In the unlikely event we went down this path, we would only mitigate risk of one type of soft target–schools.  Until we address the factors that drive school shooters and the easy access to weapons capable of mass slaughter, the promise of a safer society will be unfulfilled.

Thomas Gabor is a criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.  This article was originally published in South Florida’s Sun Sentinel

 

Health Professionals Should Not Fund Gun Violence.

Last week gun-control advocates were singing the praises of the American Medical Association (AMA) whose delegates passed a series of gun-control recommendations at the annual meeting in Chicago. The wish list for more effective gun regulations was not that different from what 8 medical organizations plus the American Bar Association published in 2015. However, for most Americans, what the AMA says is what doctors say, so last week’s news was a very big deal.

buybacklogo            The health industry didn’t always speak out so clearly and forcefully about gun violence. When Obama nominated Vivek Murthy to be Surgeon General, the idiot from Kentucky, Rand Paul, mounted a filibuster against the nomination because he claimed that Murthy promoted the idea that guns were a threat to health. When Judith Palfrey, past President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, had the audacity to suggest that guns in a home with children were a risk to the health of those kids, the pro-gun noisemakers raked her over the coals. And worst of all was the Florida gag law, which criminalized physicians who counseled patients about gun violence, a law which the 11th Circuit finally threw out.

The only problem with this newly-energized activism on the part of health professionals is that it isn’t exactly shared by the professional organizations to which they belong.  What somehow passed unnoticed by the entire media covering the meeting of the AMA, was the fact that the organization’s political action committee gives out more than $1.4 million to various Senate and House members, of which two-thirds of the dough goes to Republican office-holders, some of whom happen to be the legislative shock troops for the NRA.

In every election cycle, the NRA’s political arm, known as the Political Victory Fund (PVF) rates every Federal office-holder and candidate in every race, the good guys (and gals) getting an ‘A’ for their stalwart defense of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ while the bad guys (and gals) get an ‘F.’  Most of the A-rated politicians represent Republican districts and they vote the party line on every issue, so the NRA gives them the usual $1,000 bucks every two years.  But then there are roughly 20 Congressional members who receive a coveted ‘A+’ rating, and they can be rewarded to as much as $10,000 grand each year.  Who are some of these clowns:

  • Paul Ryan, because he’s the Speaker of the House, gets $10,000 from at least half of the medical PACS whose total donations to him amount to more than $250,000 each election cycle. Ryan is pulling in more than a quarter of a million from the health care profession which openly calls for gun-control legislation that he will oppose.
  • Ditto the Republican Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy about whom the NRA said, “Kevin has a proven pro-Second Amendment record and is committed to protecting your gun rights!”
  • Ditto the Republican House Whip, Steve Scalise, who after he took a bullet in his rear end, announced that the experience had “fortified” his support of gun ‘rights.’
  • Ditto Don Young (R-AK) the longest-serving House member, who in a public appearance back in February linked gun control to the Holocaust, saying, “How many Jews were put in the ovens because they were unarmed?” Talk about a dumb schmuck.

These are just 4 of the 20-some Federal office-holders who walk and talk the pro-gun line, not just because it’s something that you do if you’re a Republican, but because they really believe that all the crap about gun control as being a threat against the American way of life is true. And here we have well-meaning physicians paying dues each year to the self-same organizations which take this money and reward guys like Ryan, McCarthy and the others for making sure that not the slightest bit of gun-control legislation will ever see the light of day.

Too many physicians, health professionals and public health researchers have devoted their time and effort to reducing gun violence only to see medical organizations promoting gun violence reduction on the one hand, while funding the efforts of the gun ‘rights’ movement on the other.

This has got to stop. It’s got to stop – now!  Stay tuned.

Anna Kucirkova: Apropos of Smart Guns – Does the Fingerprint Scanner on Your Phone Really Keep It Secure?

As the news continues to report hacking incidents, both personal and corporate, we are becoming more aware of and concerned about the privacy of our digital devices. We want to be sure that our private information stays private and can’t be easily accessed by hackers.

Thankfully, the major phone manufacturers are coming up with additional security options for the most ubiquitous of these devices – the smartphone. Most smartphones now come with with fingerprint scanning technology.

Of course, that raises the question: does it really work?

How to Unlock a Smartphone

phone1

It’s easy to remember a PIN, as we have been using them for decades for various security purposes. But what other ways can we secure our smartphones?

Most industry experts agree that PINs are the most secure method, but they can be inconvenient. It gets tiring to have to unlock your phone with a PIN hundreds of times every day. Luckily, there are other options.

Pattern

This method is when you trace a pre-chosen line through a grid of dots. It is more convenient, though some consider it less secure.

Fingerprint


The design of your phone can make this feature awkward and difficult to use. But, they are incredibly fast and just takes a bit of time to adjust to.

Iris

This uses sensors on the front of your phone to identify you and unlock the phone. Iris scanning is very secure, but it does have some bad points: it doesn’t work well in low light, it has trouble scanning through eyeglasses, and you have to hold the phone very close to your face.

Face

This newest method of unlocking your phone uses the front-facing camera to identify you. This is less secure as siblings or others who share similar features with you could unlock your phone with their face.

Fingerprint Scanner Technology

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Fingerprint scanners have been considered spy level tech for decades. But in the past few years, fingerprint scanners have become ubiquitous. They have been particularly useful in law enforcement and identity security.

The same light sensor system used in digital cameras (CCD) is used in optical scanning software. It is an array of light-sensitive diodes called photosites that create electrical signals in response to light photons. Every photosite records a pixel, and the pixels form an image of the scanned item (like a finger).

According to Tom Harris from How Stuff Works:

The scanning process starts when you place your finger on a glass plate, and a CCD camera takes a picture. The scanner has its own light source, typically an array of light-emitting diodes, to illuminate the ridges of the finger. The CCD system actually generates an inverted image of the finger, with darker areas representing more reflected light (the ridges of the finger) and lighter areas representing less reflected light (the valleys between the ridges).

The scanner processor ensures a clear image, checks the pixel darkness, and rejects the scan if the image is too light or too dark. When an image is rejected, the scanner adjusts exposure time and tries the scan again.

When the scanner has a fingerprint image with good definition, Harris says, “a line running perpendicular to the ridges will be made up of alternating sections of very dark pixels and very light pixels.”

When a processor has a crisp, properly exposed image, it compares the captured fingerprint with other prints on file.

Capacitive fingerprint scanners use electrical current instead of light to define the fingerprint. The sensor is made of one or more semiconductor chips with an array of tiny cells. Every cell has two conductor plates, covered by an insulated layer. The image is amplified by the varying input and output of voltage. This creates the fingerprint image.

A third, more recent development is the Ultrasonic Scanner. The hardware is both an ultrasonic transmitter and receiver. The ultrasonic pulse is transmitted against the finger to be scanned. Absorption and rebound occur depending on ridges, pores, and other fingerprint details. This provides a 3D version technique to make it an even more secure than capacitive scanners.

Hacking Fingerprints

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One critical concern for the general public regarding fingerprint technology is the ease of hacking. It seems impossible, but it is not.

Russell Brandon, from The Vergelamented:

In five minutes, a single person faked a fingerprint and broke into my phone. It was simple, a trick the biometrics firm Vkansee has been playing at trade shows for months now. All it took was some dental mold to take a cast, some play-dough to fill it, and then a little trial and error to line up the play-dough on the fingerprint reader. We did it twice with the same print: once on an iPhone 6 and once on a Galaxy S6 Edge. As hacks go, it ranks just a little harder than steaming open a letter.

Of course, this method only works if you have help from the person who can unlock the system. It’s also a very primitive way to get around fingerprint scanning. Some hackers use a 3D-printed mold created from a stored image of a fingerprint. In fact, Brandon said, “At the CCC conference in 2014, a security researcher called Starbug used those techniques to construct a working model of the German defense minister’s fingerprint, based on a high-res photograph of the minister’s hand.”

Despite security and firewalls, fingerprints can still be stolen. Unlike PINs and passcodes, your fingerprint cannot be changed. One credential theft creates a lifetime vulnerability.

However, there are times when having a fingerprint lock could actually help law enforcement.

When the San Bernardino government agents were working to unlock the iPhone linked to the mass shooting, the iPhone did not have a fingerprint reader. Had the suspect been in possession of a more updated phone with fingerprint tech, the investigators could simply have taken the phone to the morgue where the shooter’s body was being held and placed his finger on scanner, thus, unlocking the phone. When the police have a non-cooperating suspect, they can secure a warrant forcing the suspect to unlock his or her phone.

There are over 134 million fingerprint records between Homeland Security and Department of Defense databases. While these records are primarily used for verification, after they are collected, they could easily trigger a fingerprint reader.

There is a real risk that as more and more prints are put in databases that fingerprints may be leaked, much like credit card information, passwords, and social security numbers.

Smartphone fingerprint scanners are not nearly as secure as we believe. There are researchers who have created “master fingerprints” capable of fooling sensors.

Findings from studies at New York University and Michigan State University call the viability of fingerprint security into question. According to James Titcomb of The Telegraph, “The researchers were able to create a set of master prints that could fool a scanner up to 65 percent of the time.”

Full human fingerprints are very difficult to fake, but finger scanners on phones only read partial fingerprints. When setting up fingerprint security on a smartphone, the phone usually records eight to ten images of a finger to make matching easier. Because a single finger swipe only has to match one of the many stored images to unlock the phone, all phones are vulnerable to false matches.

Dr. Nasir Memon reports findings that indicate that, “…if you could somehow create a magic glove with a MasterPrint on each finger, you could get into 40 to 50 percent of iPhones within the five tries allowed before the phone demands the numeric password, known as a personal identification number.”

Stephanie Schuckers, a professor at Clarkson University and director of the Center for Identification Technology Research, said:

To really know what the impact would be on a cellphone, you’d have to try it on the cellphone.” She pointed out that cellphone manufacturers and other entities that use fingerprint security are looking into anti-spoofing techniques to detect the presence of a real finger versus the false fingertips that can be artificially produced.

Still, the team’s fundamental finding that partial fingerprints are vulnerable to spoofing is significant.

“What’s concerning here is that you could find a random phone, and your barrier to attack is pretty low,” said Dr. Chris Boehnen, manager of the federal government’s Odin program, which studies how to defeat biometric security attacks as part of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

Another way to decrease risk, according to Dr. Boehnen, is to add a larger fingerprint sensor. The good news is that some of the most recent biometric security options less susceptible to hacking. Consumers can also simply turn off fingerprint authentication when using their more sensitive phone apps, like mobile payments.

Conclusion

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As we endeavor to improve security for our digital devices, we are finding ways that seem foolproof but are far from it. Fingerprint tech seems like a great option, but it is risky.

The great thing is that we have a choice. When you purchase your next smartphone, go with the security option that you feel is most secure – and then keep track of your phone.

© Does the Fingerprint Scanner on Your Phone Really Keep It Secure? – Industrial Shredders | Hom

 

A New Survey Which Tells Us What Gun Owners Want To Do About Gun Violence.

I just received a fundraising email from one of the many gun-control organizations that ask me for financial help , and they asked me to help them push forward with the efforts to pass ‘reasonable’ gun regulations which even most gun-owners support. How do they know that gun owners are in favor of comprehensive background checks or a bump-stock ban? Because this is what they hear from surveys conducted by gun-control advocates who want to meet the ‘other side’ on neutral ground.

awb            The only problem with this approach is that it is based on the assumption that both sides define ‘reasonable’ gun regulations the same way. But let me break the news to my friends in the gun-control movement, namely, that for every gun owner who supports background checks, I’ll show you another gun owner who believe that he’s doing his best to reduce gun violence by walking around with a gun. In other words, the same gun owner who favors a ‘reasonable’ gun regulation promoted by Brady, will also support a gun regulation favored by the NRA.  But you won’t find anyone at Brady or Everytown ever saying that the NRA is reasonable about anything at all.

In the hopes to make some sense out of these very conflicting views, I ran a national survey which received 1,557 responses from residents throughout the United States. The survey did not ask them to identify themselves as to whether they were gun owners; that’s a toxic question which will lead to all kinds of data-validation problems, believe me. Instead, I listed twelve gun laws and asked each respondent to answer whether they supported each law or not. Half of these laws are the stock-in-trade of the gun-control movement (comprehensive background checks, assault-weapons ban, etc.,) the other half are measures promoted by the gun-rights gang (national RTC, K-12 gun safety lessons, etc.) This is the first time that a national survey has been published which gives respondents an opportunity to express how they feel about gun regulations favored by both sides. You can download a detailed analysis of the survey here.

Some quick highlights:

  • The fault-line between gun control versus gun rights is gender. For virtually every question, women were less supportive of the gun-rights laws and more supported of laws reflecting a gun-control point of view.
  • Not surprisingly, overall support for pro-gun regulations was strongest in the Southeast and Midwest, weakest in the Northeast and West Coast.

I borrowed from the work conducted by various survey groups and assumed that since this was a nationally-representative survey, that 40% of the respondents either owned guns or lived in a gun household, which meant that 60% did not. The question about comprehensive background checks received an overall positive response of 78%, which meant that half the gun-owning respondents also supported CBC. But here’s the bigger news.

Only 2 of the 6 gun-control questions received more than 60% positive response, which might mean that 4 of 6 gun-control strategies didn’t receive any support from gun owners at all. On the other hand, 4 of the 6 pro-gun strategies received substantial support above 40%, and two of them – handgun ownership at 18 and public school gun safety instruction – received more than 60% positive responses, which means these measures were probably supported by many people who don’t own guns.

If my friends in the gun-control community are serious about seeking legal solutions to reduce gun violence, this survey provides a roadmap for understanding what kinds of gun issues could really be discussed on neutral grounds. After all, would it be so bad to make a deal in which comprehensive background checks are approved along with funding for gun-safety training in public schools? The Florida gun-control law imposed a waiting period but also authorized funding for armed school guards; the former now a state requirement, the latter only an option if a school system applies for the dough.

I hope some of my gun-control advocacy friends will look at what I found and share it around. Either we want to meet gun owners on a level playing field or we don’t.

 

Doctors Selling Products To Respond To Mass Shootings? That’s Nonsense.

Twice in my life I had the good luck and fortune to be able to ask a doctor about a serious medical issue affecting myself or a close family member, and in both instances, I received what turned out to be timely and accurate advice. So, I have always believed that physicians should be judged by a different standard, which is one of the reasons that I go out of my way to write about the necessary role doctors play in dealing with gun violence, which occasionally is not appreciated or understood.

trauma-stop-the-bleed             On the other hand, every once in a while I come across an example of physicians behaving in ways which fill me with dread. And what I mean by that is when they use their intelligence, training and public trust to promote some crazy idea or worse, huckster some product that has no earthly wellness value at all.

There is a group out there who call themselves BleedingControl.org., and their goal is to ‘train every American in bleeding control techniques.’ It started in Connecticut following Sandy Hook and is now connected in some way to the American College of Surgeons and claims to have trained 15,000 instructors and 125,000 individuals in bleeding-control techniques throughout the United States.

Would an organization like this even exist were it not for the anxiety and fear created by mass shootings at Parkland, Las Vegas and Sandy Hook?  After all, we have been fighting the ‘War on Terror’ since 2001, a day hasn’t gone by since the Twin Towers came down that we didn’t hear about some kind of terrorist attack or threat. No, this is clearly a response to mass shootings, and an attempt to market products based on fear.

What products does this group market?  Just go to their website and you can fund a handy-dandy Personal Bleeding Control Kit for $69 bucks, a Portable Bleeding Control Bag for $650 and a wall-mounted Bleeding Control station for $800 bucks.  I guess the wall-mounted kit can go next to the fire extinguisher, right? Of course every kit contains an instruction manual and frankly, I’m surprised that they don’t yet have a CD-ROM. But instead of a disc, you can always buy a t-shirt which contains basic blood-control instructions embedded into the cloth. How thoughtful.

I recall that at some point during a gym class in high school, the school nurse came in and gave us a demonstration of CPR. Now we didn’t do a live drill because that would have required each of us to put our mouths over someone else’s mouth which is something the boys wanted to do to the girls but not for the purpose of saving anyone’s life. I can tell you that if, God forbid, I came upon someone lying in the street today who needed immediate resuscitation, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what to do. Because you don’t learn a medical technique by just reading an instructional manual or going to one class. You learn by doing it again and again. Right now, you can attend a free class in ‘bleeding control basics’ which lasts for two hours and meets once. Once.

When the bombs exploded at the 2013 Boston Marathon, more than 260 people were injured but only 3 victims died. This remarkable life-saving effort occurred because the explosions took place at the finish line which happened to have a medical tent, fully staffed by physicians who attended to runners coming to the end of the race and needing some degree of medical support. There are two reports, covering the medical response to the bombing, one online, the other can be downloaded here,  Neither of these reports claim that any degree of life-saving work was done by civilian volunteers.

I’m not saying that a well-trained individual couldn’t save the life of a mass-shooting victim. What I am saying is that physicians shouldn’t be appealing to our fears to sell some products that can only be used by people who are very well trained. After all, doesn’t the NRA promote gun ownership based on fear?

 

 

Why Does Everyone Hate John Lott?

I have just posted a detailed paper on SSRN with the above title and it is available for download right here.  This paper is an attempt not to exonerate Lott for any of his shortcomings, nor to play devil’s advocate for what he says or writes, and certainly not to push some backdoor kind of support for his work. I have previously written about him and by just mentioning his name without adding the usual gun violence prevention (GVP) sobriquet like the ‘discredited’ or ‘dangerous’ John Lott I have been accused not only of being his partner, but also of being a secret mole for the NRA.

People who make comment like that without bothering to read what I actually have said about Lott’s work are doing their best to make sure that no common ground between gun owners and non-gun owners will ever exist. What? Am I saying that the GVP isn’t interested in finding ways to communicate with ‘responsible’ gun owners who will support ‘reasonable’ policies to regulate guns? No. What I’m saying is that the gun-control community never refers to themselves as being ‘responsible;’ it’s always the other side which needs to meet some kind of responsibility test. And funny, when pro-GVP scholars ask gun owners what kinds of ‘reasonable’ public policies they would support, the list always seems to start and end with policies which reflect what GVP advocates feel should be supported, and never policies advocated by the other side.

This may come as a great shock to my GVP friends, but while there is clearly strong support among gun owners for background checks and the like, I’m willing to bet that if you asked the average gun owner what he’s doing to reduce gun violence, there’s a good chance he’ll tell you that he keeps a loaded handgun by his side. It may be kept at home, it may be dangling from his belt, but since more than 60% of Americans believe that a gun makes you safer than not having a gun, then the gun owner who tells you that the best way to protect yourself from violence is by owning a gun isn’t just whistling in the dark. And since guns are apparently found in only 40% of all American homes, this means that a lot of non-gun owners buy the ‘gun makes you safer’ line as well.

Lott’s an easy target because anyone who makes an occasional appearance on Fox or is interviewed by an AM talk-show jock is, by definition, an enemy of the folks who care about reducing the carnage America suffers from guns. But Lott has never (read: never) said anything about the extraordinary cultural shift which has moved us from 60% supporting a total handgun ban in 1960 to the current number which is below 25%. By the time Lott wrote his first paper, only one in three Americans supported a handgun ban, so Lott was able to capitalize on this shift in public opinion, but he didn’t make it up.

What we are looking at is an extraordinary case of cognitive dissonance in which the people who decide they need a gun to protect them, particularly if they want to walk around toting the damn thing, happen to be the people least likely to ever be victims of violent crime. Several years ago I was at a gun show in Lancaster, PA, which is a nice farming town about 60 miles due west of the Liberty Bell. Pennsylvania had just changed their right to carry (RTC) law from ‘may issue’ to ‘shall issue,’ and the sheriff’s office in Lancaster was overwhelmed with folks wanting to apply for their license to carry a gun. I happened to overhear several guys talking who had just spent four hours waiting on line, and when one of them laughed and said, “Well, there’s never any crime out here anyway,” the other responded in a very serious tone, “Yea, but they could come out from  Philly. You never know.”

What my paper really talks about is what we need to understand about this cultural shift in attitudes towards guns and how we need to incorporate this shift into the public narrative promoted by the GVP. Because we can sit around all day and shoot verbal arrows at John Lott but so what? The bottom line is that too many Americans have decided that the only thing between them and mayhem is owning and carrying a gun. The fact that their decision results in more mayhem somehow escapes from being said.

And despite what you may think, you simply can’t blame that attitude on John Lott.

 

What The 2nd Amendment Means And Doesn’t Mean.

For all the talk about the ‘enshrinement’ of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ in the Heller decision, and the fact that America is truly exceptional because of free access to guns, our friends Eric Ruben and Joseph Blocher have just published a detailed article which shows that at both the Federal and state levels, precious little has changed since 2008. In fact, while there has been a plethora of litigation designed to test various local and state laws against what Ruben and Blocher refer to as the ‘sea-change’ of Heller, the success rate of these challenges has been less than 10%.

2A Most of the failures to use the 2nd Amendment’s gun ownership ‘right’ to cover all kinds of other gun ‘rights’ lies in the fact that Scalia’s decision made it absolutely clear that even though Americans now would be Constitutionally protected if they decided to keep a handgun in their home, this in no way constrains the government from regulating gun ownership, as long as the basic idea of personal ownership is not disturbed.

But even the fact that someone can own a gun doesn’t mean the government is unable to define the terms and conditions under which that gun will be owned.  Ruben and Blocher explore this issue in a deft and prescient way, the latter because their article clearly anticipates more 2nd Amendment litigation to come, this article thus becoming a convenient road map both for what has happened to Heller since 2008, as well as what may happen further down the road.

What I find interesting in all the post-Heller litigation and discussions is the extent to which the debate invariably turns on the meaning and application of the words ‘keep’ and ‘bear,’ while virtually no attention is paid at all to the word ‘arms.’ Somehow, a basic distinction made by Scalia in Heller between military arms on the one hand, and arms ‘in common use’ on the other, seems to have disappeared from view. And yet, understanding the role that these allegedly different types of weapons play in the gun violence which causes 125,000 deaths and injuries each year is, for me, the game that really counts.

Gun-nut Nation has spent God knows how much time, money and hot air defending the idea that all guns should be considered to be ‘in common use’ as long as they are not designed to fire in full-auto, which would make them military weapons obviously too lethal to be in civilian hands. They have even invented a new type of gun, the Modern Sporting Rifle, which may look like a weapon of war, but is allegedly no different from any other type of sporting gun that Grandpa carried into the woods. Now the fact that the M4 battle rifle can be set to fire in semi-auto mode; oh well, I guess when a trooper decides that the tactical situation requires that he shoot one round every time he pulls the trigger, obviously he’s now using a sporting gun. Yea, right.

Even though we are shocked and frightened by the mass shootings like Parkland and Las Vegas where the shooter used an AR-15, the reason we have gun violence is because of all those lovely handguns floating around. And believe it or not, most of those guns were first designed and manufactured for military use. Gaston Glock first got into gun manufacturing by making a pistol for the Austrian Army – the current Glock sold in every gun shop hasn’t changed one bit. Ditto the new Sig pistol that has just been adopted as the official U.S. military sidearm, the company celebrated this windfall by making and releasing 50,000 models for commercial sale.

We are the only country which makes no distinction between guns used by the military and guns kept in private homes, yet the difference is clearly acknowledged in the Heller decision, with the latter types considered worthy of Constitutional protection but the former not protected at all.

Want to end gun violence?  Take the 2nd Amendment and what Antonin Scalia said it really means.

 

Khalil Spencer: A Modest Proposal.

As we continue to accomplish very little with regards to solving the problem of gun violence, I have a modest proposal. Well, maybe not so modest. But what the hell.

NRA showFirst. Stop trying to ban categories of guns such as ARs that have long been in circulation, since that creates a battle royal and since most of these guns are owned with little real risk to society in proportion to the political battle that would ensure if we try to ban them.  The lion’s share of shootings, including multiple shootings, are done with handguns. ARs are a convenient political target for the left as a symbol of what they see as America’s Gun Problem.

But as a hedge, and as I suggested in 2015 we can, if necessary to keep Junior from mowing down his school or place of work, modify the 1934 National Firearms Act to regulate ARs and some handguns, i.e., arms more lethal than garden variety hunting rifles, shotguns, and some large unconcealable handguns, in some manner between machine guns and Dad’s Remington 1100. That doesn’t mean people can’t have exotic guns or, “modern sporting rifles”, or whatever you want to call stuff. It just means it will be a little harder to own more lethal guns, there will be a little more screening, and not every bozo who walks into a gun shop can come out armed to the teeth with his Man Card intact. How we decide what would fall into this category should be decided carefully so we don’t run afoul of Heller or intractable political issues. As a point of discussion, how about if owning “modern sporting rifles” and/or being able to carry concealed require a common, higher level of screening than traditional low capacity firearms and hefty handguns more at home in the woods. A “basic” firearms owners identification card (FOID) could be had by anyone who scores 100% on a Form 4473 and one could upgrade if the spirit moved one.

Secondly, stop trying to keep people from owning guns if they have not proven that they should be disqualified. Once we decide on categories of firearms, how about national reciprocity with ownership? Or at minimum, a state-issued FOID card with national reciprocity? Make it shall-issue after jumping through reasonable hoops.  Each gun owner would have an ID card, similar to a driver’s license, that would allow some or all categories of guns to be owned, openly or concealed, analogous to a license that allows individuals to drive just cars vs allowing the person to drive cars, motorcycles, eighteen wheelers, etc. Of course this means red and blue states have to compromise on M.Q.’s but in return, we could stop talking about gun running from so called weak law to strong law states and I could plink at tin cans with my old man’s hand cannons in NYS without fear of being chased down by Andrew Cuomo. State level sensitivities such as not carrying in government buildings could be preserved. What a concept.

Background checks? Easy.  Private sales/transfers between owners would be done by entering a computerized NICS-like system with a pair of FOID numbers, PINs, a gun serial number and description and presto, a private exchange is done between previously cleared people based on their level of screening. You want to be screened to own an M-60 for shits and grins or sell one to your buddy who is equally screened? Sure, why not? Right now there are hundreds of thousands of legally owned machine guns. They are never in the news because you have to be pretty squeaky clean to own one.  Just show you are responsible for the damn thing and God bless ya.  Just make sure you can afford the ammo.

Finally, stop moving the goalposts and messing with people who have never crossed paths with the law. The biggest, and often enough legitimate fear that gun owners have is that the rules are too fluid and often the changes are bewilderingly stupid. Want examples? Start with California. These situations make Molon Labe an understandable, if not a legally defensible response. Plus, these situations result in single issue politics at the polls, which doesn’t help the bigger issue of running the country.  The recent editorial by Santa Fe Mayor Webber, i.e., that he would attempt to circumvent the state constitution’s preemption clause, is yet another example of why gun owners are wary of trusting government. Sure did bug me that this showed up in the Santa Fe New Mexican three months after I moved here. No, I didn’t get a call from Mr. Mayor as a “responsible gun owner”, either.

I think we need to do more to keep guns under control, i.e, from being diverted from the legal to the illegal side of the house and to ensure the irresponsible dofus and clearly identified legal loose cannon is not sending rounds whizzing past my hair do. That means some controls on ownership (i.e., theft prevention and periodic cross-referencing with court records) and transfer (to ensure you don’t sell that semiauto to someone about to blow away his wife after she got a restraining order against her slap-happy hubby). But if the laws are designed to control transfer  and reward lawful ownership rather than prevent ownership by good people (i.e., California et al), maybe we can get past the impasse.

The 2A was written so that a citizen militia (of whoever passed for a citizen back then) could be called on to defend the state and/or nation and to try to prevent the unwarranted amassing of power by a government that no longer represents its people. UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler covered that pretty well in Gunfight and there have been numerous papers written about the evolution of arms and self defense in England and America. Heller’s contribution was explicitly including in the 2A the right to have a usable weapon for self defense in the home. The historical reasoning behind the 2A implies some standards need to be met among the people. For one, it would be wise if we don’t elect assholes who we might genuinely worry about as far as usurping excessive power (hence the ballot box and high school diploma with an A in rhetoric and civics are far more powerful tools than the sword) and two, that we know the limits of being armed and therefore, know muzzle from breech as well as the law of self defense. No American who has thought carefully about the often-used Jefferson quote about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants wants to live in an Anbar Province, no matter how pissed off he gets at Big Gubbmint. Any doubts? Read the history of the Civil War.

Fix the country with a saw and hammer, not with a match and gasoline.

 

Sometimes The Trace Gets It Right, and Sometimes They Get It Wrong.

According to our friends at The Trace, they describe their mission as an “independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to shining a light on America’s gun crisis.” And sometimes they do, such as the series they ran last year on stolen guns, other times they don’t. And the reason they don’t sometimes get it right is because none of their writers have any actual experience in the gun business, which means that when they rely on an ‘expert’ for information about guns, they really have no way of determining whether this so-called expert knows what he’s talking about or not.

Today they have posted a link to an article featuring their ATF expert, who happens to be employed by Gabby’s group.  The expert, whose name is David Chipman, spent 25 years with the ATF, allegedly ‘overseeing’ their firearms programs, whatever that means. If what he said about the ATF‘s tracing activities is based on his oversight of gun programs, no wonder the ATF is such a mess. In a word, what The Trace is relying on from this expert to inform their readers about how the ATF operates, is pure crap. It’s nothing more than a very selective description of ATF tracing which simply bolsters the same, old whining narrative about not enough people, not enough money, not enough this, not enough that.

I love how Chipman begins his bravura performance by referring to the clerks who run around the tracing division as “patriots.”  That’s the tip-off right there because we all know that someone who is a ‘patriot’ is above reproach, right? And why are these people busing their butts to fulfill their patriotic duty? Because the 4473 forms which they collect from non-operating gun dealers are stacked away in cartons and have to be searched by hand. It’s those NRA meanies, recall, who won’t let the ATF out the records on disk and make them instantly searchable – a problem explained by The Trace back in 2015.

Now here’s where, as we used to say in the South, the tailgate drops and the bullshit stops. Because even though Chipman says that more than 2 million new documents arrive every month and are added to the (ready?) 700 million documents already being stored, without a modern, computerized search system, the mind boggles at the idea of looking up data in this vast collection of paper.  And the Trace says that the ATF conducted 373,349 traces in 2015, a number which increased to 407,000 last year. Oh my God. Do this without a computer?  Oh…my…Gawd.

Well, we dropped the tailgate but the bullshit didn’t stop. First, the ATF does not disclose how many traces end up being done by a gun dealer, as opposed to the ATF gang down at the National Tracing Center (NTC.) Since the point of a trace is to determine the identity of the person who bought the gun, without knowing the percentage of traces conducted at NTC, just giving out the total number of traces says nothing about how hard all those patriots are working on all those paper files. The ATF also doesn’t disclose how many traces are ‘urgent’ and must be completed within 24 -48 hours, as opposed to ‘routine’ searches for which the deadline is 10 days. So to pretend that the NTC is deluged every day with traces that must be answered immediately, is simply not true.

Our friends at Johns Hopkins have just published a new study (which I will write about next week) which basically finds no connection between background checks and gun violence rates, even in states which require all transfers to be checked. Huh? I thought that the purpose of tracing, at least according to the ATF, was to give law enforcement agencies ‘critical information’ to help solve gun crimes.

Whether it’s Waco, or Fast & Furious, or Sandy Hook, the ATF has never shown itself capable of conducting a serious investigation that would help us figure out what we really need to do to reduce gun violence. If The Trace wants to really shine a light on gun violence, it might turn a strong beam on the patriots who work for the ATF.

 

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