How Come You Have To Be Pro-Gun To Enjoy Shopping?

I would say that I get about 30 weekly emails asking me for money.  The Wilderness Society is pretty aggressive, ditto Brady and MOMS, a local charity that feeds the homeless also sends something out every week and let’s not forget the Democratic Senate Committee to whom I recently some dough because of the mess in Alabama, which unfortunately now appears to be tilting back towards harm’s way.

NRA certs crop2

But the Numero Uno when it comes to pestering me for cash is America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization,’ to which I have belonged since 1955.  And to prove that I’m not just a regular member, the pic above are several of the diplomas that I have been awarded by the NRA, the Defender of Freedom certificate containing not only the signature of Wayne-o, but also the signature of a real freedom defender, none other than Ollie North.

These little wall decorations come to me because I’m still of the belief that at some point in time the NRA will stop trying to convince Americans that guns aren’t a risk and get back to doing what it used to do, namely, helping sports-minded shooters enjoy the ownership of their guns. The truth is that I find all this blabber about ‘2nd-Amendment rights,’ ‘protecting our freedoms,’ and ‘keeping us safe’ not only total nonsense but boring and silly at best. Every time I pick up one of my guns, it’s like petting Leonard the Cat; makes me feel good to know that an old friend is still around. But it’s nothing more than that and I wish more gun nuts would stop taking themselves so damn seriously. I mean, give me a break.

On the other hand, maybe the gun violence prevention (GVP) community would also think of lowering the decibels a tiny bit.  Nobody’s saying that we should accept, justify or excuse 30,000+ gun deaths and 75,000 gun injuries each and every year, a number which lately appears to be creeping up. On the other hand, when I send money to the GVP groups, which I do on a regular basis, I get back an email acknowledging the donation and that’s it. When I donated to Obama’s campaigns, I got a nice picture of Barack and Michelle, and at the end of the year I received a pretty Christmas photo of the parents and the kids. The photos have become wall decorations stuck right next to the certificates from the NRA.

This may sound kind of corny and stupid, but I like to feel that I’m part of something, that somehow I’m in a group which, for a certain kind of issue, believes the way I believe. I’m not saying that GVP organizations should or could ever attempt to become merchandising operations like the Fairfax boys. About the only thing you can’t buy on the NRA website these days is a gun or a truck. But sportswear, gifts, accessories and gear abounds.

On the other hand, I go to the Brady Campaign store and what do I see? A bunch of coffee mugs, a tote bag, the usual t-shirts with slogans – hey, there’s got to be some more interesting consumer items out there which can make me feel more excited about supporting the GVP campaign.  I’m not saying that gun violence isn’t serious, but why can’t I enjoy giving money to a good cause?

I wouldn’t be diluting my commitment to reducing gun violence just because I can do a little online shopping on the same website which reminds me that I’m supposed to make a donation to a good cause. Consumerism and advocacy go hand-in-hand. If anything, a nice online shopping consumer experience might tempt me to donate a little more dough. It sure seems to work for the NRA.

Do We Suffer From Gun Violence Or From Violence Itself?

If there is one argument which has carried gun violence prevention (GVP) efforts forward over the last twenty years, it is the idea that the USA is not necessarily more violent than other advanced countries, but that our violence results in a much higher mortality rate because of our access to guns.  The connection between guns and mortality rates was first noticed by Frank Zimring back in the 1970’s, it was validated by our friend David Hemenway in 2004, findings which Hemenway updated in an extensive article published last year.

 

hemenway

David Hemenway

Updating the data, Hemenway and the co-author Erin Grinshteyn concluded that, “Violent death is a serious problem in the United States.” Why? Because of our “enormous firearm problem compared with other high-income countries, with higher rates of homicide and firearm-related suicide.” And these conclusions continue to find their way into the literature, the public-policy strategies and the fundraising campaigns of every GVP organizations, all of whom shape their messaging based on gun-violence research by scholars in public health.

There’s only one little problem, however, and the problem arises from something known as the ‘substitution effect.’ What this means in plain English is that comparing outcomes from different types of violent behavior forces us to assume that if the way in which the violence was committed was the same, the outcomes would be similar as well.  For example, the latest research on guns and suicide states that access to guns increases the suicide rate. Therefore, if 1 out of 10 people who used guns to commit suicides had chosen instead to end their lives by cutting themselves or taking pills, there would have been 1,900 less suicide deaths. But what if suicidal individuals chose hanging or asphyxiation (where successful suicides run above 60%) instead of slashing themselves or swallowing medicines, the latter behaviors being much more a symptom of distress than a determined suicide attempt? Since we cannot answer such a question with any degree of certainty, how can we figure out the real effect on suicide rates if there were no access to guns? In fact, the number of non-firearm suicides in both gun-rich and gun-poor states is exactly the same.

The issue of substituting gun violence for overall violence becomes even more problematic when we consider homicides with or without the use of guns.  Grinshteyn and Hemenway find that the US gun-homicide rate is 3.6 compared to Germany, Hungary and Spain at 0.1, Australia, Austria, France and Netherlands at 0.2 (comparing to the lowest nation-states in the OECD.) But the disparity between the United States and these other countries for non-gun homicides is substantial as well.  The United States rate is 1.7, the average for the former group of OECD countries being 0.8, for the latter being 0.6.  In other words, even without using guns, Americans tend to murder each other at a rate which is two to three times higher than what occurs throughout the OECD.

Would the murder differential between the United States and other Western countries disappear if Americans couldn’t get their hands on guns? To the contrary, the differential would probably be greater precisely because of the ‘substitution effect;’ namely, Americans who tried killing other Americans would find a way to accomplish this act without using guns.

I am not trying to ignore the degree to which open access to guns, particularly handguns, creates issues of public safety and public health in the United States which do not exist in any other country within the OECD. Nor am I trying to dismiss or denigrate the efforts of the GVP community to focus public attention and promote sound public policies that would reduce every category of gun injuries, fatal or not. What concerns me are scholarly attempts to understand our elevated rates of gun violence while ignoring our elevated rate of violence with or without the use of guns. To end on a rather hackneyed note: are gun-violence researchers looking at the forest or the trees?

Dave Buchannon – Guns And The Media.

I hate to be the one to break the news to you… but everything you see about guns on television, in movies, and video games is a lie.  EVERYTHING!

gun moviesTelevision and movie stories are born in the writer’s mind and are designed to spin a tale that compels you to buy a ticket or stay-tuned to see the commercials.  Actors portray the story on the screen.  Rarely do the writers or actors have any experience with guns, the military, or police work – other than getting a ticket or being arrested.  So, how DO they get it wrong?

Empty Holster Syndrome

Pick any police show on TV in the last ten years.  Every time the good cop shoots the bad guy, the cop gets back in the car and goes right back to work chasing other bad guys while someone else cleans up the mess.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The real-life cop is met by the first responding supervisor who takes the cop’s gun away and leaving him standing there, all alone, with an empty holster.  The location of the incident is now a crime scene and the officer is the suspect in an investigation that may take several months to conclude.  Every police department, large or small, has written procedures for dealing with use of deadly force and none of them involve putting the officer involved back on the street the same day.  The State Police, District Attorney’s office, maybe even the U.S. Attorney and private consulting firms will take at least a month to review every aspect of a decision the cop made in a split second, all while the cop on administrative leave.  Oh, and the scripts conveniently leave out the part about the cop having to hire a lawyer to protect his house, savings, and retirement from the wrongful death lawsuit that is guaranteed to be brought by the deceased’s family.

I’ve never met a cop that went to work hoping to shoot someone – they are weeded out in the psych exams.  Most are men and women wanting to do a job they consider valuable, and who hope to just go home safely at the end of their shift.

Rules of Engagement

TV and movie “soldiers” fast rope from helicopters into impossibly dangerous situations where they always shoot the enemy before the bad guy gets off a shot.  Then the heroes silently enter a building to kill all the other bad guys without hurting the hostages.  Every mission is a success and the stars come home secret heroes because, of course, their missions are top secret.

Reality is quite different.  Soldiers follow ”Rules of Engagement” defining when force may be used.  They must be defending themselves or innocents before firing on the enemy and in some cases “lawyers” make the call while watching a mission unfold on a drone feed.  Many veterans who’ve engaged in close quarters battle are deeply affected and will carry those emotional scars for life.

 So, if you are thinking about carrying a gun for personal protection don’t use TV or movie examples as your model.  You also need to need to wrap your head around what happens if, God forbid, you are ever forced to use it.  I’ve known six police officers who had to use deadly force to save their own or other’s lives.  All were very deeply affected, they became Police Academy instructors so others could learn from their experience and learn how to effectively deal with the aftermath.

In a deadly force incident everyone loses, and you’ll never see THAT on TV or in a movie.

Don’t Forget That Guns Are Different From Every Other Product That I Can Buy.

If there’s one thing that makes guns different from every other consumer product, it’s that the damn things just don’t wear out. And this lack of product obsolescence, planned or otherwise, impacts every aspect of the gun business and should alert my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community to be careful when they promote policies and strategies that have worked to lessen risk and injury from other consumer products (ex. automobiles) but won’t necessarily work when it comes to guns.

westinghouse             I own a Colt 1911 pistol that was manufactured in 1919.  The finish is perfect and it works flawlessly. I even have about 10 rounds of 45acp ammunition made in 1920 by the Remington factory in Bridgeport, CT in the original 20-round box which was shipped with the gun as a promotion and the ammo still works too. In other words, I am still using a consumer product that was made and first sold almost one whole century ago!

How many cell phones have I owned in the past 15 years? Probably at least ten. How many new cars have I purchased in the past 15 years?  I’m on my fifth one.  How many bags of potato chips have I consumed in the last month?  I’d rather not say.  The point is that virtually everything we purchase either wears out or is consumed and therefore has to be replaced. And the companies which make those cell phones, those t-shirts, those crummy I-Pads and everything else know that if they can get me to buy their product for the first time, they are usually looking at repeat business for the remainder of my life.

Not true with guns.  Last year our friends at Harvard and Northeastern made the astounding discovery that roughly 3% of all Americans owned roughly half of the privately-owned guns. Which works out to an average of 17 guns apiece. But if you buy your first gun in your 20’s and now you’re in your mid-50’s, which happens to be the average age of gun owners today, this works out to a gun purchase every other year.  Which is basically the same rate at which I have purchased a laptop – one every other year. But the laptops are junk, so is my droid, so is my GPS.  They all break or simply one day don’t work.  Guns don’t break.

About five miles from my office is the rubble of a factory, Westinghouse New England, which was built in 1915 and produced nearly 1 million Moisin-Nagant rifles that were supposed to be shipped to Russia during World War I. Then something known as the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, the whole deal went south, and the U.S. government which had paid for the tooling was stuck with the bill. The Feds ended up selling off the rifles as surplus guns to civilians for three bucks apiece. I happen to own one of those guns and it shoots just fine. The factory is rubble.  See the pic above. Get it?

Gun makers have never figured out how to overcome the fact that unless your product needs to be replaced on a regular basis, sooner or later you’ll go broke.  The good news is that every other Presidential administration since FDR has tried in one way or another to get rid of guns. And the political effort to regulate (read: prohibit) gun ownership has become, for the gun business, what product obsolescence is for everything else that we own.

I don’t blame the gun industry for inventing the idea that a gun can protect its owner from crime. Because at least criminal behavior is a constant factor which never seems to go away. So if gun makers can make people believe they should buy this particular product because it’s an effective way to deal with crime, at least there’s a chance that sales won’t collapse even if the current Administration has no plans to take away the guns.

Thomas Gabor–The Myth of the Benefits of an Armed Citizenry.

Following the slaughter of elementary school children in Newtown (CT), Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, stated: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  This statement was not only highly insensitive in removing the focus from the children and their grieving families, but was also cynical and dishonest, as LaPierre suggested that arming school staff was the only way to avoid such slaughters.  Every other advanced country has figured out a way to protect their children without turning schools into armed fortresses.

armedConsider the logic of arguing that more guns will reduce incidents of gun violence.  It is like saying that the best solution to opiate addiction is to make opiates more accessible or that our best means of tackling an influenza epidemic is to expose more people to the agent involved.

Following America’s worst church mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, much was made by gun rights advocates about the confrontation of the shooter by an armed resident as he left the church and the pursuit by truck of the shooter by the resident and another individual.  The church shooting was not stopped by the armed man but it has been claimed that the perpetrator may have harmed others had the armed citizen not intervened.  That is an unknown but the large-scale shooting (26 killed, 20 wounded) occurred before the armed resident became involved.

Previous incidents illustrate how infrequently armed private citizens intervene successfully to stop a shooting.   An FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents from 2000-2013 found that just one of these incidents was stopped by an armed civilian. By contrast, 21 incidents were resolved when unarmed individuals restrained or confronted the shooter.  Louis Klarevas, author of Rampage Nation, examined potential and actual mass shootings from 1966 to 2015 and found that just one twentieth of one percent (about one in every 2,000 cases) is successfully stopped by an armed civilian.

 

If arming civilians produced a net benefit with regard to public safety, we would expect places with more guns to have fewer crimes.  The US has about 90 civilian-owned guns per 100 people, the largest civilian arsenal on the planet.  At the same time, the US stands alone among high-income countries with a gun homicide rate that is 25 times that of the aggregated rate for other high-income countries. This pattern is repeated at the state level where states with higher levels of gun ownership tend to have more, not fewer, gun deaths.  In the five states with the highest gun death rates, half of all homes own a gun.  In the five states with the lowest gun death rates, just one in 7 homes owns a gun.

 

Each year, 90,000 US households are interviewed in the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).  This survey, which does not cover homicides or suicides for obvious reasons, reveals about a half million gun crimes a year.  In addition, based on surveys of the prevalence of domestic violence, there are likely several hundred thousand gun threats each year against targeting domestic partners and other family members.  If the number is 200,000 (a conservative figure), the total number of harmful gun uses a year is in the 750,000 range.  The NCVS finds that the annual number of defensive gun uses against attackers is under 50,000.  Therefore, criminal and other harmful uses of guns likely outnumber defensive uses by a ratio of at least 15:1.

 

David Hemenway and Sara Solnick of Harvard used NCVS data to see examine the frequency and consequences of defensive gun uses in 14,000 personal contact crimes committed when the victim was present.  They found that fewer than one percent (.9%) used a gun in self-defense. They also found that using a gun for protection, as opposed to taking some other protective action, did not diminish the chances that a victim would incur an injury.

 

Genuine defensive gun uses are not just infrequent; gun carrying raises the risks of deadly mistakes and confusion during active-shooter incidents.  On July 7, 2016, an individual opened fire and killed five Dallas police officers.  The officers were on duty to provide security at a demonstration in which the killing of African-American men was being protested.  About 20-30 open-carry activists were also on the scene, carrying assault weapons and wearing fatigues and body armor.  Police Chief Brown stated that the armed individuals impeded the law enforcement response as they created confusion as to who the shooter was and whether there were multiple shooters.

 

Another side effect of an increase in gun carrying is more gun thefts from cars.  These thefts are skyrocketing—2-3.5 million firearms have been stolen in the last decade– and they are more commonplace in states in which more people carry firearms outside the home.  States in the South (e.g., Texas, Georgia, and Florida) with the most permissive gun laws are overrepresented among states with the largest number of guns stolen between 2012 and 2015.

 

Currently, 12 states do not require a permit to carry a firearm and this list has been growing.  Even in states requiring a permit, the vetting and training of permit applicants do not even approach the standards for law enforcement officers.  Since May 2007, concealed carry permit holders have killed more than 1100 people and have committed many other crimes, including 31 mass shootings and 19 police officer killings.

 

Joseph Vince is a former agent with the ATF for 27 years and is one of the leading experts on firearms and gun-related crime.  He and his associates state that for a citizen to carry a firearm, training should include mental preparation, knowledge of the law, judgment, as well as expertise and familiarity with firearms. They recommend basic initial training to receive a permit and biannual recertification to maintain the permit.  Both training and recertification should consist of decision-making during real-life scenarios, shooting accuracy in stressful situations, and firing range practice.

 

While half the states require some firearms training in relation to an application for a gun carry permit, most of the features emphasized by Vince et al. are seriously lacking in most states.  For example, Florida law does not specify the content of these courses, only the qualifications necessary for instructors.  There is no test for retention of the information covered about the law or the handling of a firearm, no test of marksmanship—a few shots are fired down the range or into a barrel—and no training with regard to judgment (when to shoot and not to shoot), no recertification, just an online renewal every 7 years.

 

Pete Blair trains law enforcement personnel to respond to active shooter situations.  Real-world scenarios prepare police officers for high-stress situations. Blair notes that one would expect people without training to “freeze up or not know what to do, and to have difficulty performing actions correctly.”  Research and police records show that even trained police officers miss their targets more often than they hit them during stressful combat situations.   Several analyses show that, in combat situations, trained officers miss the mark more than 80 % of the time.

 

Harmful and criminal uses of guns outnumber genuine defensive uses by a wide margin.  The average violent attack is over in 3 seconds.  Poor training makes it unlikely that a civilian without police or military training will use a gun successfully against an attacker and makes deadly mistakes more likely.  Poor vetting means that individuals who pose a serious risk to the public may gain access to arms through legal channels.  Yet the gun lobby and a certain segment of gun owners keeps trying to sell the fable of the armed citizen.  The evidence is clear that arming the average citizen seriously undermines public safety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Khal Spencer Writes A Poem.

deer1Sitting quietly in the woods
Warmly dressed in blaze orange goods
Listening, observing, watching for that fleeting shape to appear

Out of nowhere I hear the familiar, cautious sound of crunching leaves
A face comes into view through the trees
It’s a four-pointer

As I raise the Ithaca to my eyes
The Williams receiver sight showing the deer through the trees
Not a good shot yet

The deer stops, uncertain
I hold my aim, waiting for it to show itself from the brushes’ curtain
But the deer freezes

It takes a step back, wary
I think I see a clear shot through a small clearing
A single shot rings out, the deer stumbles

Damn. A single small branch flies apart
The deer instead of dying has a shattered limb
It crashes into a ravine in a loud, long din

It takes me a while to reach his side
He is terrified, wounded, unable to rise
Writhing with terrified, wide eyes
Two final shots at a thrashing neck and his demise

I was stunned, shaken
At my bad shot taken
No animal should have to die in such a state
That was the last time I raised my rifle a life to take

A Must-Read Poetry Volume About Guns.

I have just finished reading a new and arresting poetry collection, Bullets and Bells, which according to the writer of the book’s Introduction, Colum McCann, is an attempt to use poetry as a vehicle “to start talking to one another, not with a legion of sound bites and statistics but with human texture and longing to at least lessen, if not eradicate, the violence that afflicts us.” The volume will be coming to your favorite bookseller next week.

bullet book             I am certainly no expert when it comes to poetry, so I certainly accept the editors’ judgements that poets like Billy Collins, Patricia Smith, Natalie Diaz, Robert Hass and 50 others represent the best of the best. On the other hand, I applaud the work and advocacy of the activists, public figures and gun-violence survivors who contributed commentaries following each verse. I read the poems as someone who can enjoy such works in a rather simple and emotional way; the commentaries from Shannon Watts, Dan Gross, Donna Dees-Thomases, et. al., are about what I would expect.

I couldn’t agree more that we need to find a way to create some kind of universal language or a set of expressions that will allow everyone to talk about guns and gun violence without the discussion invariably degenerating into a ‘you’re wrong, I’m right’ squabble from which nobody ever emerges with anything beyond their own ideas more strongly reinforced. And to the extent that artistic expression – music, poetry, painting – is universal, maybe there’s some truth to the idea that through something like poetic expressions about guns we might reach a common ground.

But with all due respect to the editors of this volume, I found the poetry collection incomplete. Because if the editors truly believe that a “vast majority of the people in this country feel the exact same way about one thing: they abhor violence,” then how come there isn’t a single poem written by someone who likes guns? It may be difficult for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community to believe what I am about to say, but the truth is that, generally speaking, gun owners do not feel any kind of responsibility for the 120,000 deaths and injuries which occur each year with guns. And more to the point, most of them also believe that their gun protects them from the violence committed by others.

Two weekends from now I am going to drive to a local gun show which is held in West Springfield, MA four times a year. The location for this show happens to be about one mile from the neighborhood across the Connecticut River in Springfield which has an incidence of gun violence equal to or above any other neighborhood on Planet Earth. If I were to walk up to someone at the show and ask whether he believed there was a connection between what was going on at this gun show and the people who would get shot in the South End of Springfield over the following several days, the guy would give me the deer-in-the-headlights look; he wouldn’t comprehend the question at all.

So in the interests of helping the editors of this fine, little volume, I have penned a brief series of couplets describing guns from a gun-owner’s perspective, and if the editors of Bullets and Bells decide to publish a second edition, perhaps they will include my verse as well:

Held my first gun when I was six years old, toy gun but I loved it just the same.
Wore it in my little leather holster, knew I was just playing a game.

Got my first real gun when I was twelve, gave a swamp rat in the Florida Glades fifty bucks.
A beautiful, Smith & Wesson K-38 revolver, great-uncle took it away – the memory really sucks.

Once I bought every Colt 1911 pistol model ever made stuck them in a closet, played with them once or twice.
Wanted to buy a bike after my divorce, the Colts more than met the Harley price.

Still have plenty of guns lying around, the wife sometimes looks in a closet and gives out a sigh.
She’ll never understand I’ll be a gun nut until the day I die.