A Perfect Opportunity To Blame Gun Violence On The Left.

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In the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s shooting in Alexandria, VA, there was shock, concern and a rather dignified tone to the public reactions, up to and including the rather out-of-character remarks of the Commander in Chief. After all, here was ‘I could shoot someone down in the street’ Trump saying only that his thoughts and prayers went out to the victims, with Rand Paul thanking the Almighty for the presence of the police even though in his heart of hearts I’m sure he would have preferred if all the Members and their staffs had been armed.

newt2             But give it 24 hours, actually it took less time, and this event becomes just another chance to promote a political narrative which will end up pushing the idea that we all should be walking around with guns.  And who started the ball rolling this time? None other than Newt Gingrich who because he briefly served as Speaker of the House and has then been kept politically alive thanks to the graces of Fox News, is able to shoot his mouth off about anything and everything whenever the occasion might arise.  Here he was last night on a Fox roundtable, saying that the shooting was “part of a pattern, you’ve had an increasing intensity of hostility on the Left.” He then went on to say, “You’ve had a series of things which send signals that tell people that it’s OK to hate Trump, it’s OK to think of Trump in violent terms, it’s OK to consider assassinating Trump.”

Talk about the pot calling the kettle.  Given a Presidential campaign in which one candidate not only energized his audiences with frequent appeals to using violence, but even hinted that his opponent might find herself in the crosshairs of someone who wanted to protect their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ it’s amazing how a blowhard like Gingrich could take the argument used by the alt-right to condemn gun violence and stand it on its head.  And what I’m referring to here is the unequivocal assertion made by every pro-gun and alt-right noisemaker that all mass shootings are the work of ‘nuts, or ‘crazies,’ whose access to lethal weapons should in no way prevent all law-abiding Americans from getting their hands on guns.

Now, for the first time, Gun-nut Nation is changing its tune and blaming this latest episode not on a loony tunes, but on the same people who want to take away the guns, namely, the political elites who openly despise the attempts by #45 to make America great. What we have here is a remarkable argument which justifies the use of guns to ‘protect’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ but deplores gun violence when the guns are used to attack people like Steve Scalise who have been in the forefront of the gun ‘rights’ campaign.

But why should I be surprised when mass or high-profile shootings become the stuff with which political narratives are then made?  Our good friend Shaun Dakin just shared with me and others a piece in Esquire where the writer states that “Historically, mass shootings have been used as political opportunities,” and then goes on to mention how the NRA used both Sandy Hook and the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords to promote fewer restrictions on guns. He concludes by saying that, “the NRA politicizes collective grief to advance its narrative to the benefit of those who would commit acts of violence.”

Excuse me but didn’t Obama tried as hard as he could to get a new gun law passed after the rampage at Sandy Hook? And wasn’t it a Republican-controlled House Committee that cancelled a hearing yesterday on a bill that would make it easier for Americans to put silencers on their guns?

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to gun violence, I’m not excusing the NRA or the alt-right (which is my name for the GOP) for appealing to emotions over facts. But the argument over gun violence shouldn’t turn on emotions either way – we just have too many guns.

How Come Trump Is Being So Polite About The Shooting Of Steve Scalise?

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For the very first time since he was inaugurated, Trump’s negatives in the Gallup tracking poll have hit 60 percent and positives are on the way to one-third. No President since Truman has hit such lousy numbers in such a brief period of time, and if there’s one thing that all politicians know how to read, it’s the numbers in the polls.

trump5             Not that Trump seems inclined to depart from his belligerent, showboating stance.  His twitter feed continues to be used as a combination ego-boosting vehicle and insult machine.  Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting which turned into a prayer service was shameless pandering to what remains of his base, and his obsessive effort to promote alt-right media venues as ‘real news’ just demonstrates how true media professionals can’t find anything substantive to report about him at all.

But his reaction and the reaction of other Republican stalwarts to the unfortunate shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and staff members during the warmup for a Congressional baseball game at a ballfield in Alexandria, VA, across the river from DC. Details are still somewhat sketchy, but it appears that some guy opened fire with a rifle, discharged multiple rounds, and wounded Scalise, several Congressional staff members and two law enforcement officers as well.

Scalise is the Majority Whip of the House, represents the 1st C.D. in Louisiana and is considered a staunch conservative when it comes to voting and promoting issues on Capitol Hill. Not surprisingly, he refers to himself as a ‘strong’ supporter of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’  and in that regard submitted a bill in 2012 – HR58 – which would allow  residents from one state to journey to any other state in order to buy guns.  This bill, if enacted, would undo the fundamental foundation of all federal gun-control regulations since 1938, which requires that guns be purchased in the state of residence in order to track the movement of firearms from place to place. It goes without saying that Scalise gets a top rating from the NRA.

Within minutes after the shooting, a former Congressional colleague of Scalise went online and tweeted: “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police- public servants and heroes today and every day.” This was Gaby Giffords,and when it comes to being the victim of gunfire, Gabby knows what she’s talking about, right?  But at exactly the same moment, another tweet came down from someone who really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, particularly when it comes to talking about guns.  Here’s the full tweet from the ‘real’ Donald Trump: “Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”

Hey – wait a minute!  How come the President didn’t use the opportunity to push the idea that civilians should be walking around with guns?  How come we haven’t heard anything from the usual, pro-gun noisemakers like John Lott about whether the ballfield was or wasn’t a gun-free zone?  Senator Rand Paul, who has been an adamant supporter of gun rights, was just about to take some batting practice when the shooting started, and he later said, “I do believe that without the Capitol Hill police, it would have been a massacre,” he said. “We had no defense at all.”

When a guy walked into the Pulse nightclub in Florida with an assault rifle and murdered 49 people last June, pro-gun advocates, including the not-yet-elected President couldn’t wait to blame the whole thing on the fact that nobody inside the club was carrying a gun.  But all of a sudden, when it comes to how an armed citizen could have stopped the carnage this morning on a ballfield in Alexandria, stillness reigns supreme. And something tells me that part of that stillness is due to those poll numbers which, if nothing else, demonstrate that all of Trump’s pro-gun bluster isn’t paying off at all.

Want To Stop Gun Trafficking? Just Enforce The Law.

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Like everyone else who is concerned about gun violence, I have been listening to the argument about expanding FBI-NICS background checks to secondary sales for more than twenty years. And much of the argument from the gun violence prevention (GVP) community falls back on the assumption that if all gun transactions could be traced, this would cut down, if not almost entirely eliminate ‘straw sales,’ i.e., the purchase of a gun by one person who knows he or she is really buying the gun for someone else.

laws             Now in fact we do not have a single study which compares gun violence rates in any state before and after universal background checks were put in place, and the oft-cited and excellent Hopkins study which shows a spike in Missouri gun homicides after mandatory background checks were abolished was based on permit-to-purchase (PTP) licensing, which is a much more thorough vetting process than running a background check through the FBI.

But when GVP advocates talk about straw sales, they are usually referring to organized efforts that connect straw purchases to gun trafficking, which involves someone buying a bunch of guns in a shop in one state, then stuffing them into the trunk of a car and delivering them to a street-seller somewhere else.  Back in February, the cops arrested 24 people who were buying guns in Virginia, then taking them up for resale in New York. One of the entrepreneurs told another confederate that he could take advantage of ‘weak’ laws in Virginia, walk into a gun store and buy 50 guns every day.

There’s only one little problem with this narrative, and the problem is something known as ATF Form 3310.  I’m willing to bet you that most of the people who read this column will have no idea what I am referring to because I have never seen it mentioned in any discussion about straw sales within the GVP.  But this form happens to be what every licensed dealer must fill out and immediately submit to the ATF if someone walks into their shop and purchases more than one handgun in any period of less than six days. A copy of the form also has to be sent to the police chief in the town where the gun shop is located, which means that within 24 hours after someone walks into a shop anywhere in the United States and walks out with more than one handgun, both the local police and the feds know the name and address of the purchaser, along with a description and serial number of each gun, and all the other relevant background information of the purchaser (DOB, race, ID, etc.) which is entered on the FBI-NICS background-check form known as the 4473.

So the idea that guns which are then ‘trafficked’ here and there are floating out the door of various gun shops without any controls over who buys them is simply not true. And the kid who bragged to his friend that he could easily buy 50 guns every day in Virginia may have thought he was describing a state with loose gun laws; in fact, what he was really describing was a state in which neither the local cops or the ATF are doing their job.

The ATF loves to give out all kinds of data on how many guns they trace, how many gun shops they inspect, blah, blah, blah and blah. But since the beginning of this year there have been slightly more than 100,000 background checks for the purchase of multiple guns, and I guarantee you that many of those transactions involved multiple handguns whose over-the-counter transfers aren’t tracked by the ATF at all.

I’m not saying that we should step back from the demand to institute background checks on all movement of guns. But there already exists a mechanism to make it more difficult for guns to get into the wrong hands and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be enforcing existing laws particularly when implementing stronger gun regulations probably won’t get done.

Where’s All The Crime That Guns Protect Us From?

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Once again Gun-nut Nation is celebrating the continued health of the gun industry by misstating the monthly FBI-NICS background check number to make it appear as though gun sales continue in Obama-like fashion even during the Age of Trump.  The Washington Times blared: “Gun purchase background checks hit record after terror attacks overseas,” even though what continues to go up are background checks for gun licenses, not purchase of guns.

sessions                On the other hand, even if folks are increasingly using the NICS system to become legally-qualified to own guns, this still means that many Americans remain convinced that having access to a gun is a good way to deal with their fears of terrorism and crime. So as long as such fears abound, and as long as the gun industry creates messaging that exploits those fears, the more that guns will be floating around.  And guess what? We suffer from an extraordinary level of gun violence for one reason and one reason only, namely, too many guns.

If we regulated gun ownership the way guns are controlled in other OECD countries, the total number of civilian-owned guns would probably be around 50 million, give or take a few million here or there. How do I come up with that number? Because 14 million Americans hold hunting licenses, and let’s say that each hunter owns three rifles and shotguns, throw in another 5 million for trap, skeet and sport shooters and you’re at 50 million guns; i.e., a per-100,000 rate of roughly 15.7, which is half the gun-ownership rate of countries like Canada, Austria and Sweden, which experience little, if any gun violence at all. But in fact our actual gun-ownership rate is seven times higher than the rate calculated above, and probably half are handguns, which is what accounts for nearly all the 125,000 gun deaths and injuries that we experience each and every year. Because when there are 150 million handguns sitting in glove compartments, closets and drawers, it’s not unlikely that 200,000 or more will disappear from their rightful owners every twelve months and wind up in the wrong hands.

Now you would think that in the only industrialized country which has given its citizens relatively free access to guns, that everyone would own a gun.  After all, if the polls show that nearly two-thirds of all Americans believe that having a gun in your home protects you better than if you don’t, then obviously a lot of people out there buy the gun-industry’s idea about the virtues and values of gun ownership but don’t go out and purchase a gun. Meanwhile, for the first time in 15 years, more than half of all Americans (according to Gallup) believe that violent crime is on the rise. But each year the U.S. Department of Justice asks 160,000 adults whether they have been victims of violent crimes, and last year the DOJ reported that there had been “no significant change in the rate of violent crime.”

Talking about the Justice Department, its current boss has a date today with the Senate Intelligence Committee where it’s expected he’ll deny that any conversations he ever had with anyone, not just some guys from Russia, could constitute a crime.  And Sessions is a real expert on crime, having stated that we are in the midst of a ‘criminal epidemic’ even though he also admitted that violent crime is at a 50-year low.  Sessions has a boss who thinks that murder is the ‘highest’ in nearly 50 years; his misstatements on crime are so glaring and stupid that CNN actually ran a major story in February when Trump actually said something about crime which happened to be true.

When people with power and media access say something frequently enough, it often becomes an accepted narrative whether it’s true or not. When the President talks endlessly about American ‘carnage’ I’m not surprised that the average person then believes that crime rates are going up. Maybe the next thing Trump will do is sign an Executive Order requiring that everyone must own a gun.

 

In Florida, School Prayer And Stand Your Ground Is The Same Thing.

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In 1956 I was a 7th-grade student at Public School 29 in New York City and we began every day with a prayer from the New Testament read by our teacher who happened to be a communicant at the Catholic parish across the street. When I refused to fold my hands and bow my head because my family read the Old Testament at home, the teacher made me stand out in the hallway until the prayer was done.

SYG             It’s now more than 50 years since the Supreme Court ruled that public-school officials could not organize prayer services, but many states and localities get around the religion issue by letting the students lead the prayers. Last week the Florida Senate approved a bill (SB 436) that requires all school districts to allow for ‘voluntary’ expressions of religious belief on school property, which basically protects public prayer in the classroom, but does not contain any protections for students who choose not to participate, such as the way I behaved back in 1956.

The bill got a big play last week because it was passed as part of an agreement to pass another bill, SB 128, which makes it easier for Florida residents to use a ‘stand your ground’ defense if they happen to shoot someone besides themselves. This bill basically puts the burden of proof on the prosecution from the moment a defendant appears in Court, which means that if the State isn’t ready to present all relevant evidence at an initial, pre-trial hearing, the guy who did the shooting walks free.

Every Republican in the Florida State Senate voted for the change in SYG, ditto for what is being called a ‘stand for liberty’ by the sponsor of the religious ‘freedom’ bill. This State Senator, Dennis Baxley, represents the 12th District, which covers Marion, Sumter and Lake Counties and delivered between 60% and 70% of their 2016 Presidential votes to our temporary 45th President, a.k.a. Donald Trump. Baxley’s website says he understands that “family, freedom and faith must all flourish to keep our state and nation strong.”  Is he endorsed by the NRA?  Is New York a city?  I mean, family, faith and freedom – give me a break.

              Regarding Senator Baxley’s commitment to freedom, he says “As the father of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Dennis Baxley believes that our Second Amendment rights are the bedrock of our nation’s freedom. He will fight against the erosion of this fundamental freedom.” In other words, Baxley has jumped on the latest lie being promoted by Gun-nut Nation, namely, the idea that the 2nd Amendment is the most important test in the Constitution, because armed citizens are the last defense against the tyranny of the state. And if you don’t believe this to be true, the proponents of this nonsense will also tell you that the Holocaust might not have resulted in the extermination of 6 million human beings if the Nazis had to go up against armed Jews.
              The moment that public officials like Dennis Baxley start waxing eloquent about their commitments to family, freedom and faith I find myself back in my 7th-grade classroom being marched out into the hall by a religiously-minded teacher who simply couldn’t comprehend my lack of religious belief. And I get the same, slightly sinking feeling whenever someone from Gun-nut Nation starts chanting about their God-given ‘rights’ to self-defense with a gun.
              I’m not sure why a fervent belief in gun violence is so often joined to a fervent belief in God, but they often seem to go hand in hand. And if anyone actually believes that SYG or concealed-carry laws help prevent gun violence, then I suggest you take a page from Senator Baxley’s playbook and join him in his support of the NRA. Because we shouldn’t have to justify or explain our belief in the power of the Almighty or the usefulness of a Glock 19.

It’s Time For Some Real Push-Back About Violence Caused By Guns.

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I’m going to make a prediction that my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community won’t like but it needs to be said nonetheless. And my prediction goes like this: Unless and until the advocates for reducing gun violence get it together and start slugging it out toe-to-toe with the pro-gun gang, the possibility that we will see a significant decline in gun violence will remain somewhere between nothing and nil. Let me give you an example.

kim             Last week the boys in Fairfax posted a story about Kim Kardashian’s latest attempt to inject a little reality into the debate about guns. Basically she called for more restrictions on people who are convicted of a misdemeanor, or have been served a temporary restraining order; in other words, closing some of the loopholes which allow an awful lot of dangerous people to legally get their hands on guns.

The NRA referred to Kardashian’s comments as ‘barely-intelligible’ and ‘ignorant’ despite the fact that what she said about legal loopholes wasn’t all that different from what we know to be true. Would her comments pass muster in an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court? Of course not. But when was the last time that any mouthpiece for Gun-nut nation said anything that remotely aligned with the truth?

On the same NRA webpage which carried the attack on Kim, the NRA also linked to a Breitbart posting that calls out Shannon Watts for promoting female political candidates who, once in office, will push more gun-control laws. Of course there’s nothing about Shannon’s views which should surprise because she’s simply a creation of Bloomberg’s big bucks.

In these two stories alone I count at least five errors along with slanted, misleading opinions and a generally nasty attitude towards two women who don’t deserve to be attacked by media organizations which claim to be publishing the latest ‘news.’ But if we have learned anything from the last six months and our sleep-deprived President, it’s that what used to be the line between facts and opinions has disappeared. And nowhere is this more the case than in the so-called ‘debate’ about guns.

But in fact there isn’t any debate about whether the existence of 300 million personally-owned guns gives the United States a level of gun violence that is seven to twenty times higher than gun-violence rates in the rest of the OECD. In a recent column I mentioned that a new study by pediatricians at Mt. Sinai Hospital found that 80% of all gun injuries suffered by children occurred in the 16-19 age group, whereupon a pro-gun advocate told me that these gun-violence victims were all gang members or criminals, hence, they weren’t ‘kids.’ This is the kind of nonsensical thinking that Gun-nut Nation employs every time that any credible research on gun violence appears. Is it different from stating that anything Kim Kardashian or Shannon Watts says is stupid and wrong because they are being promoted by Bloomberg’s big bucks?

Enough is really enough. If James Comey can sit down in front of a Senate Committee and call that schmuck in the Oval Office a ‘liar,’ then it’s high time that GVP took off the gloves and started talking like they mean it as well. With all due respect to my public health friends at Harvard and Hopkins, evidence-based research just won’t do it alone; you also need to push back with the same degree of anger and volume that appears in every comment made by the other side.

When a right-wing ‘think’ tank says that banning assault weapons won’t do anything to curb gun violence, they are lying and they need to be called ‘liars’ in direct and no-nonsense terms. When an organization that is supported by a publicly-granted tax deduction says that guns don’t kill people, only people kill people, they need to be told that what they are saying is a BIG LIE. The problem with GVP is that it’s too polite. And politeness only provokes the other side to behave even worse.

 

 

Why Don’t Doctors Worry About Dog Bites And Leave Guns Alone?

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One of these days, public health researchers will stop getting all hot and bothered about gun injuries and turn their attention to serious threats to health, like fatalities from dog bites (20-30 per year,) or deaths from bee stings (upwards of 100 per year,) or worst of all, getting strangled by a Python – it happened to a guy in 2006.  It really did.

md-counsel              But gun injuries, particularly injuries to kids?  Give me a break. Everyone knows that guns don’t hurt people. People hurt people. And this isn’t just a scientific fact. You can also find this evidence in Biblical texts. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this survey conducted by the American Culture and Faith Institute conducted in 2012.

So why do these public health researchers and those meddlesome doctors keep bugging us about the so-called risks of guns to children’s health? Because, according to our friends at the NRA, what the medical profession really wants to do is “advocate for handgun bans/registration and licensing/storage restrictions.” In other words, get rid of our guns.

Now the fact that guns protect us from crime, the fact that every time we pick up one of our guns we are expressing and fulfilling our civil rights, that’s entirely beside the point. Everyone knows that Muslim Obama and his gun-grabbing friends have been trampling on the Constitution for the last eight years; everyone knows that disarming America is the first in a series of steps to spread Socialist controls. And don’t take my word for it – you can get all the true facts from Breitbart, Alex Jones or the American Renaissance.

This may come as a surprise to some of the more rational people who read my columns, but the NRA has lately become entrenched within the alt-right media universe to the point that some of their messaging is clearly moving beyond the fringe. I put this down to the drop-off in sales and interest in guns since Trump moved into the White House, the latest data from FBI-NICS shows a decline in background checks from April to May of 12%. To be honest, gun sales always slow down as we get into May because protecting ourselves from all those criminals and street thugs just isn’t as much fun as a day at the beach. But don’t expect Smith & Wesson to be hanging a ‘Help Wanted’ sign out front when Summer comes to an end.

Anyway, back to the pediatricians from Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City who discovered again what we already know, namely, that if you put a loaded gun in the hands of a kid, someone’s going to get badly hurt. And what I love most of all about how the NRA responded to this remarkable state of medical affairs was their comment that the study is entirely bogus because anyone who knows anything about medicine knows that kids above the age of fifteen aren’t kids.  That’s right – the Mt. Sinai research covered everyone between the ages of zero to nineteen who was admitted to a hospital with an unintentional gun wound, and since more than 80% of the patients were between 16 and 19, this proves that guns aren’t dangerous at all to the younger set.

Let me say it as bluntly as I can: the attempt by the NRA to discredit medical concerns about gun violence is completely and totally a crock of you know what. First, pediatric practice always covers patients up to age 18, some practices go several years higher, but none go below. Second and more important, denying that guns hurt people panders to the same, alt-right stupidity which denies global warming or claims that Sandy Hook was a hoax.

Come to think about it, the NRA has been attacking medical science for at least twenty-five years. If anything, their recent descent into alt-right lunacy isn’t a case of catching up with the mob that follows Trump. When it comes to denigrating facts and scientific thinking, the NRA has been leading the charge.

 

 

 

 

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