How Do We Define An Assault Weapon? However You Want To Define It.

Now that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community appears to have come together to push for a ban on assault rifles, and Herr Donald Schumck-o has decided that anyone over the age of 18 should be able to walk into a gun shop and purchase said product, maybe it’s time to figure out how and when the term ‘assault rifle’ should be used.

AR              According to Gun-nut Nation, there’s no such thing as an ‘assault rifle,’ at least not anything that can get into the hands of any law-abiding gun owner, unless he’s willing to plunk down $200 for a Treasury-NFA tax stamp and wait a few months for the purchase to be approved. This is because gun purists have decided that the term ‘assault rifle’ can only be applied to fully-automatic weapons, since the term first applied to a German sub-machine gun, the ‘Sturmgewehr,’ that was issued to German troops near the end of World War II.

Now the fact that this particular design first appeared in a gun issued to Russian troops during the Battle of Stalingrad makes little difference to those gun-history experts who pliantly craft their narratives to fit the marketing needs of the NSSF and the NRA. But why let facts get in the way of whatever nonsense you want to peddle, particularly when you can tie your spiel to something that will protect their 2nd-Amdnement ‘rights?’

The first time the term ‘assault weapon’ appeared in legislation was the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act, the assault-weapon ban that became law in California, passed following the gunning down of five immigrant school-children in 1989. And here’s the critical wording of the actual law which needs to be understood today: “a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings.”

Now the good news about this bill was that it made an explicit distinction between weapons designed to be used against human beings, as opposed to weapons designed for hunting and sport. The bad news is that the law didn’t explicitly define such terms as ‘high rate of fire,’ and ‘capacity for firepower,’ which opened the Pandora’s box of how to define an ‘assault weapon’ that remains open to the present day. Instead of defining these terms and then banning any weapon which met these definitions, the law listed over 50 specific banned guns, and added some silly language about various cosmetic doo-dads (collapsible stock, flash hider, etc.) which don’t really change a gun’s lethality in any particular way.

When the Feds put together their AWB in 1994, they borrowed the list of California-banned guns, included the various design features but dropped any reference to lethality; i.e., no mention of ‘high rate of fire’ or ‘capacity’ at all. This opened the door for Gun-nut Nation to claim that since no semi-automatic rifle can shoot faster than the speed at which the shooter pulls the trigger, there is no real difference between an AR-15 and any other kind of semi-automatic gun. In fact, the 1994 AWB, a creation of Chuck Schumer by the way, said absolutely nothing about why the law was needed beyond this statement in the Introduction to the bill: “To make unlawful the transfer or possession of assault weapons.”  Period. That’s all she (or he) wrote.

I don’t want to predict whether an AWB has any chance of becoming law. But the GVP still needs to come up with a comprehensive and accepted definition of an ‘assault weapon,’ a definition not based on what the gun looks like, but what it’s designed to do; namely, to kill and injure as many human beings as quickly as you can. And anyone who denies that this is how and why assault weapons are used will also believe that Mexico is going to pay for the wall.


And After We Get Guns Into The Schools, Let’s Train The Teachers Too.

I was going to wait until tomorrow to run this column, but it’s just too juicy to wait.  So here we have Herr Donald Trump going on and on about arming teachers and other school personnel. There isn’t a single educational organization which has expressed anything except doubts about such a crazy idea, but remember that Trump’s mission is to ‘make’ and ‘keep’ America great again, which if nothing else means jettisoning out all those stupid, wasteful and useless liberal ideas for how to run government and replace them with programs that really work!

teachers             And it just so happens that Trump has a buddy named Eric Prince who happens to be in the gun-training business – a perfect fit! Here’s Schmuck-o Trump’s tweet: “Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law.” Catch the highly-trained bit, I’ll get back to that one in a minute. And how is Schmuck-o going to pay for this training? The same way he’s going to pay for the Wall.

Not only is Trump-o’s good buddy the head of a training company, but the good buddy happens to have a sister named Betsy DeVos. And she just happens to be the Secretary of Education and therefore in a position to help turn this crazy training idea into a law. Am I saying that the idea of arming teachers is nothing more than a blatant attempt to create a government program that will put a pile of dough into the hands of a well-placed, Presidential friend?

The last time I checked, there were some 115,000 public elementary and high schools in the United States holding somewhere around 57 million kids.  If we stuck two guards in each school and each guard paid three hundred bucks for a training course, that’s around 75 million revenue to the outfit selected to deliver the training course. That’s not exactly chump change or even Trump change for the training company which used to be known as Blackwater when Prince founded it in 1997, but then changed its name to Xe Services after four employees were convicted of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The company was acquired by an investment group in 2011, its new name is Academi, and it claims to operate the largest training facility for private, armed guards anywhere in the United States.

Trump and his DC minions are sold on the idea that if you privatize any government service, you get a better bang for your buck. The fact that the service in question is being delivered by someone who happens to be a friend isn’t considered to be a conflict by anyone in the White House at all. Unfortunately, a real conflict involving Prince may be due to the fact that a certain investigation by a guy named Mueller may have turned up evidence linking Prince to a back-channel connecting Putin to Trump.

But not to worry because even if it ends up that Prince can’t provide the ‘rigorous’ training which Trump claims the teachers will receive, there’s another private outfit ready and waiting to put together a training program that will help  America’s teachers protect the kids. And unlike Prince’s outfit which has been in the training business for only 40 years, this other company has been engaging in gun training since 1876.

Right now the boys in Fairfax are putting together a new NRA course called something like Safe Gun Use in Schools. Now the trick is to get some of their Congressional toadies to pass a law that will reimburse school districts the costs of training armed guards as long as the training curriculum is developed by the NRA.  And this will go a long way towards making up for the collapse of the vaunted Carry Guard training program which right now has exactly one single course listed in the entire USA.

Know where this whole idea to arm teachers is going to wind up?  Nowhere. And that’s because even with friends trying to help friends, the idea is simply dumb, dumber, dumbest and dumb.

Of Course We Need Guns In Schools. Of Course We Do.

Want to make it look like you’re doing something to solve a problem even if you are doing nothing?  Announce the formation of a task force.  Works every time. And now that Herr Donald is tying to pretend that he’s just another middle-of-the-road guy who wants to get input from all sides, he’s created a task force to deal with school safety, in particular making schools safe from people who might wander in to the building with a gun.

devos              Now despite claims by the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement that Trump has decided not to make any legal changes in how we regulate guns, what he has realty done is kick the veritable can down the veritable road and put Nancy DeVos in charge of the task force which will discuss ‘all options,’ including whether to raise the minimum age for buying a gun.

You may recall that DeVos is already on record as having recommended that guns be made available to school staff if and when lethal force needed to be used. During her confirmation hearing she cited as an example the fact that a grizzly bear had been wandering around outside a Wyoming school and that the decision to arm school personnel needed to reflect the concerns of the local community. By the end of this hearing, we knew that the person responsible for the Federal approach to educating our children was an idiot who didn’t know anything about either bears or schools, but since when did someone need to pass an I.Q. test to work for Donald Trump?

Getting back to the newly-minted (but not yet formed) task force whose work is supposed to be completed in a year, the problem is that if this group sits down and actually looks at the data on school violence, they will discover that there really is nothing for them to do. Why? Because public schools happen to be about the safest place for the 50.7 million students to spend their time – safer than any other public venue (shopping centers, theaters, etc.,) safer even than their homes.

Want the numbers?  You can find them in a report issued by DeVos’ own Department of Education, “’Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016.” Here’s the bottom line: Public schools are extremely safe and, believe it or not, getting safer all the time. Here are some relevant highlights from the report:

  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1,500 reported firearm possession incidents at schools in the United States, and the rate of firearm possession incidents was 3 per 100,000 students.
  • The percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported that they had access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, during the current school year decreased from 7 percent in 2007 to 4 percent in 2015.
  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1.3 million reported discipline incidents in the United States for reasons related to alcohol, illicit drugs, violence, or weapons possession that resulted in a student being removed from the education setting for at least an entire school day. About 78 percent of these discipline incidents were violent incidents with or without physical injury, 15 percent were illicit drug related, 5 percent were weapons possessions, and 2 percent were alcohol related.
  • In the school year 2013-2014, the number of school homicides of persons ages 5 to 18 was 12, the second-lowest yearly total since this data started to be collected in 1992-93. That same year, 1,200 homicide deaths throughout the United States were recorded for the ages 5 – 18 population.

These numbers validate the fact that there is really no connection between what happened at Parkland and whether a school-age child faces a greater risk from gun violence during the time the child is in school. Which doesn’t mean that what happened at Parkland should ever happen anywhere else. What it does mean is that the reaction of the Trump Administration to school violence is something akin to using the elephant to swat the fly.

But why should we be surprised just because Herr Donald tries to justify a ‘new’ approach by appealing to fear?

Thomas Gabor: It’s A Folly To Arm Teachers.

Since the atrocity at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Trump has been promoting the idea that arming instructors, or at least some of them, would have prevented the carnage.  The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre has weighed in predictably with the tired slogan he created following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”   States like Florida are considering adopting some version of this approach in lieu of significant changes in firearm policy.

teachThe recitation of LaPierre’s slogan in the aftermath of these slaughters of our young is, in my view, cynical, offensive, and unsupported by empirical evidence.  It is also as illogical to suggest that increasing the volume of guns will reduce gun violence as it is to make opiates more accessible as a way of addressing the opioid crisis.  The solution of arming teachers is also highly cynical as this measure often depicts teachers as the last line of defense preventing our schools from descending into complete chaos.  Arming teachers or school staff does nothing to address the reasons why so many young men in America, relative to other countries, wish to murder as many of their peers as possible and nor does this proposal address the accessibility of weapons that enable these massacres.

Surveys show that neither teachers nor the public like the idea.  Like their college and university counterparts, most educators are not interested in doubling as security guards and students would feel less safe with schools awash in guns.  Teachers worry about undermining their special role as educators and mentors, which consists of a different skill set from that of security staff.  School teachers are usually women and women tend to have low gun ownership levels.  Schools would likely lose valuable talent.  Even if just some teachers were armed, incentives would likely be required to recruit and retain teachers with armed training, creating a preference for those prepared to undergo the necessary training over talent in the classroom.  In addition, scarce educational resources will be diverted from the classroom to firearms training.

The cost of training teachers and/or other school staff willing to serve as armed marshalls would be prohibitive and ongoing training and recertification would require time out of class, with its associated costs.  Kansas gave school districts the prerogative of arming teachers and the state’s largest insurer of schools refused to cover schools with armed instructors, deeming the situation as unduly risky.

In general, across the US, the training required of those with permits to carry guns, in states where a permit is required, is woefully inadequate.  Rigorous training ought to include instruction in the law pertaining to the use of force, gun safety and handling, judgment (when to shoot and not to shoot), awareness of the possibility of friendly fire incidents, and marksmanship under stress.  Even trained police officers miss their targets about 80% of the time in combat situations.  Deployment of a gun in a crowded school being attacked by a shooter requires exceptional skill, judgment, and composure.

While there are far too many school shootings in the US relative to other countries, there are about 60 per year in about 150,000 public and private schools or 1 in every 3000 schools.  Just as in the case of firearms kept in the home, arming teachers in every school may well result in many more unforeseen misuses of firearms, including  unauthorized uses of force, accidental shootings and discharges, and thefts of guns.  Teachers may over-react in dealing with unruly students and use deadly force to control them, a departure from the intent of arming them.  Issues relating to the disproportionate use of firearms against minority students may arise, as it is an issue with full-time, professionally trained law enforcement officers.[1]

Also, arming at least some teachers will create a new market for the gun industry, one reason the gun lobby supports this initiative.  The industry is currently experiencing a major downturn in sales.  In addition to helping deal with slumping sales in the industry, the entire idea is not just dangerous and harmful to the mission of schools but a huge distraction from what we ought to focus on:  The community and societal issues that produce school shooters and the weapons that enable them.


Thomas Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist, sociologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.


Thanks To Bumble, The Culture War About Guns Takes A Big Turn.

If anyone thinks the decision by the online dating website, Bumble, banning gun pics from their site isn’t a very significant, if not the most significant event in the current culture war over guns, think again. And the fact that Bumble caters to the two audiences which the NRA would love to have enamored of guns – millennials and women – only makes its decision even more important in terms of its impact on how the gun debate will turn out.

bumble             Let’s allow the founder of Bumble to speak for herself:  “this move shouldn’t be seen as the startup taking a hard stance against (or for) guns or gun owners – rather it’s the dating app taking a hard stance against normalizing violence on their platform.” Incidentally, I scraped this quote not from a media website but from Forbes, which tells you something right there about how the gun debate may end up playing out This time around. Because the discussion is no longer being led by the usual pro-gun and anti-gun suspects (e.g., NRA versus Brady.) Now the real heavies are getting involved.

All of which, incidentally, goes back to the cultural war ignited by the Presidential campaign of a certain individual who now happens to be somewhat less enthusiastic about his love affair with guns.  When Hillary talked abut gun violence during the campaign, she framed her narrative in the usual, safe way – a new law here, a new law there. Herr Donald, on the other hand, injected actual appeals to gun violence as a defining narrative of his campaign.  Remember when he said that his followers were so loyal they would vote for him even if he ‘shot someone down’ in the street?

That was then, this is now. And now means that a day doesn’t go by when another commercial enterprise doesn’t get up and announce splitsville with the NRA. And even when Delta faced the wrath of some pandering local pols over a tax cut that was placed in jeopardy by the announcement that NRA membership no longer entitled the flyer to a discounted fare, the airline held firm, telling the politicians to stick their threat you know where.

While Bumble’s decision is obviously part of this trend, I see it being both different and more important in two respects. As I said earlier, the website aims primarily at young women, a demographic segment that the gun industry has been courting for years. And while you’ll hear all kinds of claims from NRA and NSSF about how many more women are getting into guns, the truth is that it’s not true. Women may be more engaged in shooting guns, but that’s because the age-old distinction between his interests and her interests are breaking down. Women buying guns? They are more than half the adult population and as gun owners, women never register above 20%.

Aside from these demographic considerations, there is another, more powerful issue represented by Bumble’s decision to get guns off their site; an issue which hits at the very shape and structure of the movement against guns. To a greater or lesser degree, most of the gun violence prevention (GVP) organizations promote changes in laws and regulations that will keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Which is fine as far as it goes, but these strategies are based on an assumption that wither goes laws, behavior will then follow.

For most gun owners, the presence of a gun isn’t a legal decision, it’s a decision which reflects the culture and values they have. And who’s to say that culture will change just because a law is rewritten, or a new regulation is passed? Let’s go back to what the founder of Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd, said above. She won’t allow her website to ‘normalize’ violence, which is what the current gun debate is really all about.

Ultimately changing the culture will end gun violence, not the other way around. The announcement by Bumble is an important marker in that respect.

A New Gun Law in Florida? Will Wonders Ever Cease?

I was asked to write something ‘happy’ for today so here goes.  The Gunshine State’s Senate has actually passed a gun law which regulates guns. Now you might think this is no big deal because the new law, as written (but not yet approved) puts no new rules on the ownership of black guns (not a racial term, it’s what we call assault rifles in the gun business) but several parts of the law are significant in terms of the potential impact on violence caused by guns.

florida              More important, this is the first time since the last Ice Age that Florida has been in the forefront of what appears to be a national movement to tighten at least some gun restrictions, which is a complete turnaround since this state has always been a laboratory to test laws which will make it easier for everyone to exercise their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ Florida was an early state to move from ‘may’ issue of concealed-carry permits to ‘shall’ issue; it was also the first state to pass a ‘stand your ground’ law, and it tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to criminalize doctors who talked to patients about guns.

Not only does Florida lead the nation in developing pro-gun laws, it probably is also the state whose legislators file some of the dumbest and craziest gun laws that simply can’t be true. But they are true.  I’m talking about a bill drafted by State Senator Greg Steube which makes the owner of a public space liable for damages if he declares his property to be a ‘gun free zone,’ and then a customer is shot because he couldn’t respond to an armed threat with his gun.

This law assumes, of course, that if an armed customer was confronted by a threat he would be able to protect himself from getting shot by dint of the fact that he had a gun on his person. Well, since we have a President who pretends to believe the same thing, why should we be surprised when a State Senator in Florida believes the same thing? The good news is that Steube’s bill is still sitting in the statehouse trash somewhere, but the fact that he could even dream up such a stupid idea gives you a hint as to why I am surprised that Florida may actually pass any kind of gun-control measure at all.

The new Florida statute contains language which increases the minimum age for long gun purchases from 18 to 21. It also extends the state’s three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to all guns, bump stocks are banned, and in a compromise, it allows school districts to arm certain individuals who are present in schools but does not authorize arming teachers because Governor Scott made it clear that he would oppose any such move.

Gun-control activists in Florida and elsewhere wanted much more; a ban on assault weapons as a start. But I’m not sure that this bill should be seen by my gun violence prevention (GVP) friends as a loss, and I’ll tell you why.

First and most important, if Florida legislators are willing to split away from the NRA on even the slightest grounds, this makes it easier for office-holders in states that have not been as subservient to America’s first civil-rights organization to do the same thing or more. Second and perhaps equally important is that the debate in Tallahassee on an assault weapons ban was notable for the fact that opponents of the measure didn’t try to convince anyone that an AR-15 was no different from any other ‘modern sporting rifle.’ That cockamamie idea, right out of the gun industry’s playbook, was decidedly left unsaid.

We will surely see more state-level gun debates in the weeks ahead, and I’m willing to bet that in some other reluctant state legislature somebody will stand up and say, “If they could pass a gun-control bill in Florida, why can’t we pass one here?”  That’s a question are which has never been asked before.



American College Of Emergency Physicians Promotes Guns? Yep.

It seems like eons ago when the medical profession found itself under direct assault by Gun-nut Nation exemplified by a 2011 Florida law that criminalized physicians who chose to counsel patients on the health risks of guns. This attempt to intimidate doctors, known as ‘Docs versus Glocks,’ was eventually thrown into the legal trash basket by the 11th Circuit, after which doctors became much more vocal about the need to join the campaign against gun violence that emerged following Sandy Hook.

ER1             The engagement of doctors in the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement took a major step forward in 2015 with the publication of a manifesto ‘A Call for Action’ calling for more involvement by physicians, a document signed by 7 national health organizations, along with the American Public Health Association and the American Bar Association. At the same time, many health organizations issued statements about gun violence, one of the most active organizations in this respect being the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP.)

Not only has the ACEP gone on record multiple times supporting various programs to reduce gun violence, but in 2013 the organization adopted a “Firearm Safety and Injury Prevention policy that included including investigating socioeconomic and other risk factors that lead to firearm injury, promoting access to affordable mental health services and supporting universal background checks, among other recommendations.

It should not come as a surprise that ACEP would take the lead in gun violence medical advocacy. How could it be otherwise, given the fact that the organization represents physicians who, more than any other medical specialty, deal with gun injuries as a frequent part of their job. Not only are more than 75,000 people with bullet wounds transported into emergency medical facilities each year, but many ER doctors also find themselves counseling numerous patients suffering from mental distress who are often at high risk because they happen to own guns.

But before we give ACEP a collective pat on its organizational back, let me tell you something else about what this group is doing regarding gun violence, because what they are also doing is promoting gun violence in a cynical and self-serving way. What I am referring to is the fact that only 4 other medical organizations, including the AMA, donated more money in 2016 to Republican politicians, many of whom support pro-gun laws.

That’s right. In 2016 the ACEP gave political donations through its PAC to 128 House Republicans, many of whom also receive money from the NRA.  Among these recipients was Joe Wilson from South Carolina, he’s the one who called President Obama a ‘liar’ from the House floor. After the Charleston church massacre, Wilson said he saw no real reason to make any changes to NICS. Another recipient of monies from both the NRA and the ACEP is Wilson’s South Carolina colleague, Jeff Duncan, who happens to be the sponsor of the bill to remove gun silencers from NFA controls. Want a third glowing example of NRA-ACEP largesse? Try David Joyce (R-OH) who says he’s a steadfast supporter of the 2nd Amendment because “we must ensure that all Americans are safe and secure from radical Islamic terrorists and other national security threats.”

The fact that a national organization representing physicians who have called for reducing gun violence takes the money they collect from these doctors (ACEP annual dues run $600+ a year) and gives this money to jerks like Wilson, Duncan and Joyce isn’t just a ‘mistake.’  It’s scandalous, downright offensive and should be stopped.  The ACEP is not the only medical society that signed off on the 2015 manifesto but continues to give aid and comfort to the Congressional enemies of sensible initiatives to reduce violence from guns, but in terms of dollars, ACEP is by far the worst.

The ACEP membership to do the right thing and stop contributing this blood money right away. You don’t need to engage in an evidence-based, longitudinal study to know the difference between right and wrong.