The Whiner-in-Chief Gets Taught By The NRA.

1 Comment

I don’t necessarily agree with what Charles Blow has to say, but yesterday he made some comments about Trump that are spot on. And what he said is that Trump’s incessant whining and his portrayal of himself as a ‘victim’ is what appeals to his base. Blow puts it this way: “It is in this near perfect state of perpetual aggrievement that Trump gives voice to a faction of America that also feels aggrieved.” But since Trump himself is hardly the embodiment of the undereducated, small-town Whites who have been left behind in the shift to a post-industrial, technological age, where did he learn to play the role of Whiner in Chief?

trump5              He learned it from his friends at Fairfax – the NRA. America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization’ whines endlessly about how gun owners are victims, and isn’t the Trump message just a warmed-over version of Wayne LaPierre? Here’s how Trump defines his audience, according to Blow: “They are victims of coastal and urban liberals and the elite institutions – economic, education and entertainment – clustered there.” Here’s Wayne-o at the NRA annual meeting back in May: “It’s up to us to speak out against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites and media elites.” See any difference? I sure don’t.

America’s oldest civil rights organization is really just America’s oldest gun training organization. And one of their most popular training courses these days is something called Refuse To Be A Victim, which was developed by the ‘women of the NRA.’ The course is aimed at women and covers such topics as security in the home or on a trip, keeping your digital devices secure and using self-protective products like alarms and mace. There’s no mention of guns in this course and there’s also no mention of something else, namely, what women should do if they find themselves in an abusive relationship, which happens to be the Number One reason why women become victims, especially victims of violence caused by guns.

But the last thing the NRA is going to do is talk about women (or anyone) as victims of gun violence because what really victimizes women is when they can’t get their hands on a gun. And if you don’t believe me, just check out some of the recent videos from Dana Mussolini, a.k.a. Dana Loesch, who insists that she can stand up to anyone, any threat, any perpetrator because instead of backing away, she’s ready to pull out her banger and – bam!.

I love her recent attempt to out-Trump Trump: “They use their schools to teach our children that their President is another Hitler. They use their movie stars to repeat their narrative over and over again.” And guess who’s the ‘they?’ The same liberal, urban elite who get up every morning and try to figure out yet another way to victimize all those honest, decent, God-fearing Americans who also happen to be gun owners, because nothing represents the basic traditions and values of this country like a gun. Remember Charlton Heston and his cold, dead hands?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I never had a problem considering myself to be a member of the liberal elite. I also never had a problem being a member of the NRA. How do I reconcile these seeming opposites? It’s simple – I wanted to be a college professor and I also like guns. At some point I got interested in cameras so I sold some guns and bought two Leicas, then realized I wasn’t all that interested in taking pictures, so I sold the cameras and bought some more guns.

I don’t think gun owners are victims at all but I do think that making them believe they are victims is nothing more than a marketing scam. But since we now have to put up with someone in the Oval Office who got there by exploiting the same scam, why should anyone be surprised?

Want An Effective Message About Guns? Learn From Trump.

1 Comment

My friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community should take special notice of the dust-up that occurred between a New York Times reporter and the guy who is responsible for the current anti-immigration stance at the White House, Stephen Miller, regarding whether new immigrants who get hired for low-paying jobs are taking work away from red-blooded Americans who otherwise would be able to grab those same jobs for higher pay.
bibleThis immigration bill, which will go nowhere, is a classic bait-and-switch attempt to make it appear as though the Republicans are siding with the ‘working man’ while getting rid of government regulations which actually protect lower-income Americans from the social disparities caused by the widening gap between rich and poor. And when Glenn Thrush, the NYT reporter, asked Miller to produce hard data to back up his claims, Miller cited several studies which have either been refuted or don’t really speak to the issue at all.

The reason this verbal exchange should be studied closely by GVP advocates is that this is exactly what happens whenever Gun-nut Nation tries to promote some scheme or another to relax regulations on guns. First they remind everyone that gun ownership is a Constitutional ‘right,’ as if the 2008 Heller decision didn’t explicitly give government a ‘right’ to regulate guns. Then they cite surveys which show that a majority of Americans believe that guns make them safe, even though these same surveys show that the percentage of Americans who own guns keeps going down. And they never forget to throw in a couple of anecdotal examples of how this old grandma or that small shopkeeper saved their own lives or the lives of others by whipping out a gun.
Data? They don’t have any data. Studies? The ‘study’ by John Lott is twenty years old and has been debunked more times than I have tried to cut down on carbs. And I’m so successful at cutting down on carbs that the last time I saw my internist he told me that he believes I will never lose any weight.

On the other hand, should Gun-nut Nation spend one second worrying about what the data on gun violence shows? If the President of the United States can lie like hell about phone calls he claims to have received from the Boy Scouts of America and retain the support of his base, why should Gun-nut Nation feel the slightest degree of concern just because some pointy-headed academic in some elitist, Ivy League tower finds for the umpteenth time that having guns around the house increases risk?

I used to buy the argument that by relying on facts and evidence-based information I could more or less hold my own in any public debate. So whenever I post anything on my website or on Huffington, I try to provide a credible source for statements which are based not on my opinions but on facts. And know what happens when I state something as simple and obvious as the idea that access to guns increases risk? I’ll always get a few responses that accuse me of just being a ‘shill for Bloomberg,’ which means that nothing I say could be remotely true. The other day someone referred to my website as “Just another propaganda and manipulation tool.” I liked that one.

I’m certainly not concerned that the GVP community relies on evidence and hard data in order to craft arguments and strategies to reduce violence from guns. But I am concerned when GVP advocates imagine that by producing verifiable and evidence-based data that this will somehow tilt the argument in their favor. If the mountain of public health evidence hasn’t yet persuaded someone that guns are more of a risk than a benefit to community safety, they won’t be persuaded with another study. What needs to be addressed by GVP is how to craft an effective argument which captures emotions, not just facts.

NRA Turns Gun Training Into A Video Game.

3 Comments

Our friends at The Trace have just published some interesting coverage about an argument within the NRA over the content and direction of its training programs, in particular a new program called ‘Carry Guard,’ which combines a scam insurance deal with an even scammier training product, both of which are designed to appeal to the millions of Americans who are now walking around armed.

training             Actually, the number of Americans who are actively playing the ‘armed citizen’ game may be two million or so, maybe even less. Despite what John Lott claims, there is no way he can actually verify that more than 14 million concealed-carry licenses have been issued, and multiple surveys report that the percentage of gun owners walking around with a gun on a regular basis may be no more than 10 percent.

What the gun industry would love to see happen is that carrying a concealed weapon would become as common and accepted as walking around with an i-Phone or a droid. But even if a concealable banger doesn’t end up hung from everyone’s belt the way we all hang our phones, 10% of the gun-owning population is still a decent market if you can get every one of them to send you thirty bucks a month and sign up for a ‘gold standard’ training course.

The Trace’s writer, Mike Spies, claims that the argument in the NRA goes back to the decision made back in April to cancel appearances at the annual meeting by two companies who sell insurance which allegedly reimburses you when and if you pull out a gun and use it in a legal act of self-defense. The better-known of these outfits, United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA), is a real, internet-based Ponzi scheme developed by Tim Schmidt who is an unchallenged expert in internet marketing, particularly affiliate programs and what he calls ‘tribal’ marketing, which is what USCCA is all about. The key to tribal marketing is to attract and keep people on a website (so that they’ll buy all kinds of crap) by making them feel that they belong to something which is both important and unique. And what could be more important and unique than walking around with a gun? The NRA membership is probably a perfect fit for the tribal marketing approach, particularly that segment of the membership which buys the ‘armed citizen’ nonsense, whether they are actually walking around with a gun or not.

The argument between the NRA and some of its trainers, however, didn’t start with booting out the USCCA.  It actually began over a year ago, when the NRA Training Division announced that the course which is not only the most popular training course but is the one which is usually adopted by jurisdictions that require pre-licensing training – NRA Basic Pistol – was going to be moved to an online format which would remove the 125,000 certified trainers from playing any training role at all. Not only did this decision threaten the financial livelihood of many trainers, but it was and is a departure from the NRA’s traditional stance, dating from the organization’s founding, that gun training should be conducted face-to-face.

The result was a quiet but significant pushback by NRA trainers and a brief but sharp decrease in NRA training activity, both of which played a role in a remaking of the Training Division and Kyle Weaver’s goodbye. The revised Basic Pistol still requires students to register and first do an online course, but then they register with a certified NRA trainer who is supposed to verify what they have learned.

Nobody in the training community, inside or outside the NRA, takes the ‘macho man’ Carry Guard training product seriously. If anything, it’s really designed to draw the same type of consumer who right now goes to Thunder Ranch to play ‘kill the terrorist’ with a live gun. On the other hand, the NRA is pushing national concealed-carry while promoting gun training that’s nothing more than a video game and this is the real reason that some professional trainers are concerned.

 

What Guns To Be Safe? Get Rid Of The Guns.

2 Comments

Ever since my pal Tony Scalia decided in 2008 that owning a gun is a Constitutional ‘right,’ the gun violence prevention (GVP) community has been trying to figure out a strategy that will reduce the annual gun carnage, while at the same time preserving the heritage of freedom and democracy represented by guns. So it’s become kind of a standard preamble to every gun-control argument made by every gun-control group that they ‘support’ the 2nd Amendment, as if any member of the Gun-nut Nation tribe would actually believe that someone who thinks that guns represent any kind of problem at all would ever really be in favor of the 2nd Amendment. Anyway….

kids and guns             One of the GVP strategies that tries to neatly straddle the line between being against guns and yet being for the 2nd Amendment is something called ‘safe storage,’ which means that if you do own guns, they should be kept locked or locked away at all times. Here’s the operative statement from Everytown: “Everytown’s research on unintentional child gun deaths shows that 65 percent of these shootings take place in a home or vehicle that belongs to the victim’s family, most often with guns that were legally owned but irresponsibly stored.” The Brady Campaign says that nearly 1.7 million kids live in homes with unlocked or unstored guns, and they partner with the American Public Health Association in their ASK campaign, which tells parents to make sure their kids aren’t playing in someone’s house where there are unsecured guns.

Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting or even hinting at the idea that safe storage of guns is a bad thing. Nor do I believe for a single second that someone who locks up his gun at night is now defenseless in the face of an invasion by some street ‘thug.’ But I know a bit about how guns are used and what they represent, and I’m not sure that these issues are fully understood by the GVP organizations who promote safe storage or by the public health scholars upon whose research the GVP depends.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that every single gun in America was locked or locked away every day. According to the CDC, in 2015 there were 22 unintentional gun deaths where the victim was under the age of 15. This is 4% of all unintentional gun mortality, a number which slips to 1% when we calculate all categories of gun deaths, intentional or not. The figures change somewhat but not all that much if we increase the maximum age to 19 or 21, but most states issue hunting licenses to residents beginning at age 15, so it’s pretty hard to say that older adolescents don’t understand the risks of guns.

As to whether safe-storage counseling makes any real difference in gun violence rates, the jury is still out.  An analysis in 2016 of the most comprehensive studies on the effects of safe storage showed that some programs worked, others did not. And the criteria for determining the effectiveness of these programs was comparing the use of safety devices before and after counseling occurred. In other words, we don’t have any data on whether or not rates of gun violence actually changed.
           The best and most realistic approach I know to gun safety is the Advice to Parents stated by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It goes like this: “The best way to keep your children safe from injury or death from guns is to NEVER have a gun in the home.”  As far as I’m concerned, any attempt to find some alternate, crowd-pleasing message just doesn’t work.
              I have sold more than 11,000 guns to 7,000 different people and not one of these customers bought a gun from me to take it home, lock it away and never look at it again. As Walter Mosley says, “If you walk around with a gun it will go off sooner or later.”
 

Physicians Shouldn’t Be Concerned About Gun ‘Rights.’

7 Comments

Now that the Republican Party has decided the Affordable Care Act will simply ‘implode’ without their help, stories are appearing about out how the majority party in both Houses of Congress and also sitting behind the HMS Resolute desk in the Oval Office couldn’t get it done. This morning David Leonhardt, an op-ed writer for The New York Times, penned a piece in which he celebrated the efforts of a wide swath of citizens who were the activists behind the Republican legislative demise. And one of the groups he singled out for praise were physicians, whose professional organizations really stood up and helped lead the fight.

docs versus glocks             The idea of doctors being politically in a partisan way is a relatively new thing. Referring to a public statement by the chief of Mass General Hospital decrying Trump’s attack on transgender military troops, a primary care doctor at Mass General said it like this: “Traditionally, health professionals have not commented so boldly on the actions of politicians.” She then went on to say that, “many of the most critical current threats to our health — including poverty, lack of access to affordable health care, gun violence, the opioid epidemic — cannot be eliminated by individuals, no matter how well-meaning.”

I have no expertise in affordable health care or opioids, but I do know a little something about guns. And I have been watching and helping physicians deal with gun violence on the individual, i.e., clinical level for a number of years. And what concerns me about the medical approach to gun violence is that, unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be rooted in the elimination of a public health issue which kills and injures 125,000+ people every year. Rather, the medical response to gun violence views the problem as one that needs better controls, which is not the same thing as getting rid of it altogether – not the same thing at all.

Last year the Massachusetts Attorney General and the Massachusetts Medical Society collaborated on the production of informational resources that physicians could utilize to become better informed on how to talk to patients about guns. Here’s what is suggested as an approach for counseling patients on gun risks:

Meet patients where they are. Where there is a risk, see if you can brainstorm harm-reduction measures with the patient, as opposed to prescribing one specific solution. For example, rather than advising a patient to get rid of a gun, you could suggest that there are a number of different ways to make guns less accessible, ranging from selling/surrendering the gun, to disposing of ammunition, to temporarily storing the gun outside the home.

 

This statement embodies what one of the most noted physician researchers, Dr. Garen Wintemute (along with several colleagues) suggested was the proper way for physicians to engage in gun discussions, based on the idea that “conversations should acknowledge local cultural norms,” with the desired outcome being “firearms are stored unloaded and locked, with ammunition stored separately.”

So the bottom line is that the new-found, public advocacy by physicians about gun violence should occur within certain, self-imposed constraints, the chief one being that doctors, unless there is an immediate and verifiable risk, should find ways to communicate with gun-owning patients which avoids the basic issue, namely, that guns, no matter how safely stored, are a serious risk to health. Period. End of story. Enough is really enough.

We have made remarkable strides in reducing smoking, another clear health risk. According to the CDC, the percentage of adult smokers is now less than 20%, when I was a kid, everyone smoked. This didn’t happen because doctors told patients that perhaps they should smoke less. It happened because no physician would ever dare tell a patient that smoking is anything other than a clear threat to health.

You think guns are any different? If someone wants to be ‘safe’ with their guns, they can always take one of those phony safety courses offered by the NRA. Physicians shouldn’t be promoting the idea that a gun isn’t harmful to health.

 

Does ‘Training’ Make You Safer With A Gun?

2 Comments

Of late, everyone seems enamored of the idea that gun violence is a safety issue, and the way we deal with any safety issue involving mechanical devices is to teach people how to use the particular device in a safe way. This is what lies behind the strategy to reduce auto accidents by making sure that drivers aren’t drunk or drive too fast; it’s the same strategy when applied to cycles, motor-driven or not, by requiring everyone to wear a helmet so that when they fall off the bike they won’t crack their heads.

training             When it comes to a mechanical device known as a gun, however, what will make everyone safer is training in how to use a gun. But a recent study on gun training has discovered that upwards of 40% of the gun-owning population has not received any training at all. Which means that four out of ten individuals who might legally pick up a gun may not be picking it up in a safe way. But how do we know that the six out of ten who claim they have received safety training have really been trained at all? This gets to is the definition of ‘training,’ which in the gun industry is actually a word with no meaning at all.

If you take a look at the states which require some kind of gun training as Jennifer Mascia did for The Trace, you’ll discover that most states talk about something called an ‘eight-hour’ course. And where did the magic number ‘eight’ come from? How do we know that being trained for eight hours gives you the necessary competency to use a gun?

This is the time-period the NRA says their training course, something known as Basic Pistol, is supposed to last. The training manual does consist of eight different sections, each of which takes an hour, more or less, to complete. Now the fact that three of those eight sections have nothing whatsoever with how to use a gun – so what? In order to complete the class you have to learn all about various shooting programs sponsored by the NRA, how to sign up for a shooting competition and other essential safety topics like that.

The NRA claims to have certified more than 100,000 trainers (I happen to be one of those lucky folks) but not a single one of those trainers was required to perform any kind of competency qualification that professional certifications usually entail. I was certified as an instructor in networking IT both by Microsoft and Novell. In order to receive those certifications I not only had to pass a battery of difficult exams, I also had to demonstrate before a live group that I possessed the knowledge, aptitude and classroom presence to teach networking skills. Know what is required to become certified NRA gun trainer? Sit through an 8-hour class while another trainer drones on and on from the NRA manual and then take a multiple-choice quiz. Big deal.

I earn my living teaching the gun-safety course that is required in my state. I have taught the class to more than 8,000 men and women since mid-2012 and I normally enroll 100 – 125 students every month. My state, Massachusetts, does not require live fire but I make every student go through a live fire drill because after they see, hear and feel what happens when a handgun goes off, much of what I say about safety makes a lot more sense. The students shoot at a 9-inch target set at 18 feet. Roughly half the shots fired by every class hit somewhere outside the target area, but since Massachusetts doesn’t require live fire, people who literally can’t hit the broad side of a barn still pass the course.

According to public health research, journalists and GVP advocacy groups, the 8,000 people I have trained are now more prepared to own and carry a gun than residents of other states who receive no training at all. Oh please, give me a break.

Why Do Americans Like Guns?

1 Comment

When I was a kid growing up in Washington, D.C. during the 1950s, my two favorite places to visit was the NRA Museum and the FBI.  I loved looking at all the old and historic guns at NRA headquarters because I was a gun-nut by the age of five, and I loved the FBI tour because the last stop was at the shooting range where one of the agents would fire a 45-caliber tommy gun and I could take home the empty brass.

sales             The funny thing about those childhood experiences, however, was they took place at a time when Americans had much more positive views on the importance of regulating guns than we have today. Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the gun surveys conducted by Gallup, several of which started when I was a kid. For example, Gallup has been asking this question since 1959: “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?” In 1959 this question was answered affirmatively by 60% of the respondents; the last time this question was asked, in October, 2016, affirmative responses dropped to 23 percent.

Here’s how the views on another hot-button gun issue have changed, the question being asked: “Would you vote for or against a law which would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles?” In other words, how do Gallup respondents feel about an assault rifle ban?  In 1996, the first time this question was asked, 57% said they favored such a ban, last year the pro-ban percentage was 36 percent.

Finally, in 1993 Gallup asked respondents for the first time about whether guns made them safe: “Do you think having a gun in the house makes it a [safer place to be] or [a more dangerous place to be]?” The first time this question was asked in 1993, guns making a home safer got 42% of the responses, the last time it was asked in 2014, the ‘safe’ vote was up to 63%. Taking these three questions together, the pro-gun views on handgun ownership, assault weapons and guns for safety have all become more positive by at least half.

It would be easy to put this shift down to one of two arguments: 1) the country is becoming more conservative; 2) the NRA is doing a great PR job about guns. Unfortunately, both arguments can easily be shot through (pardon the pun) with holes. The country is becoming so much more conservative over the time-period covered by these surveys that abortion is law of the land, ditto gay marriage even in the most pro-gun states. As for the vaunted NRA noise machine, the percentage of Gallup respondents who always agree with the NRA on gun issues has stayed exactly the same from 1996 to 2012 – a whole, big 6%.

Our friend Mark Glaze was recently dragged over the coals by the NRA which discovered a survey that his ‘radical’ group, Guns Down, published after the shooting of Steve Scalise. The survey showed firm majorities for more gun control and less guns in circulation, so obviously any public opinion polling, including Gallup’ surveys, has to be treated with care. But the value of the Gallup polls is they ask the same questions year after year and no matter how you slice it or dice it, the message seems to be that Americans aren’t afraid of guns.

Most people are a lot more afraid of things they believe guns can be used to protect them against – crime, terrorism, danger in a generic sense – I don’t know anyone who can’t tell me exactly where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. And as long as we continue to believe that the world has become a more dangerous place, simply giving folks the results of a gun survey won’t persuade them to agree with what the survey says.

 

Older Entries Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: