How Come We Believe Stuff About Guns Which Simply Isn’t True?

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In 1960 Gallup conducted a national poll which asked the following question: “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of pistols and revolvers, except by the police and other authorized persons?” Had such a law then been passed, it would have brought the United States into line with just about every other advanced country and might have saved as many as 600,000 lives.

mass             It’s also accurate to say that intentional, non-fatal gun injuries over the last fifty-five years may have ended up around 3 million, and these numbers prove there was every good reason for public health researchers to study what Catherine Kristoffel calls the ‘endemic’ nature of gun violence, with works by Kellerman and Hemenway (among others) demonstrating a clear link between elevated levels of gun homicide/suicide and access to guns. Despite the continued campaign by Gun-nut Nation to argue that the benefits of gun ownership far outweigh the risks, the evidence that open access to handguns is a fundamental factor in explaining the 3.5 million deaths and injuries since the 1960’s is compelling and true.

The problem with this argument, however, is that it might be considered valid by researchers and public policy advocates, but somehow this idea hasn’t been picked up by the average person because the six out of ten Americans who supported a ban on handguns in 1960 has now dropped down to less than one in four. And since one in three Americans now believe that having gun is a better way to protect yourself than not having a gun, obviously even lots of people who don’t own guns don’t buy the idea that owning a gun increases risk.

How does the consensus on gun risk within the medical and public health communities somehow not circulate within the public at large? The usual argument is that the ‘gun lobby,’ particularly the NRA, has been a powerful and effective voice in promoting pro-gun sentiment, thanks as well to a compliant Republican Party and a guy name Scalia who used to sit on the Supreme Court. All fine and well except for one little thing. The NRA may inundate its membership with emails, videos and offers for all kinds of crap you can buy, but generally speaking, the messaging doesn’t go out to people who don’t own guns. And since less than half of Americans own guns, obviously non-gun owners who should be receptive to the idea that guns are a risk aren’t getting told.

In 1969 Franklin Zimring published a government-funded research study, Firearms & Violence in American Life. As far as I am concerned, this 147-page document has never been surpassed by any subsequent work on gun risk, nor is it mentioned in any of the recent gun-risk discussions within or without public health. Zimring’s calculation about the number of guns that were floating around the United States before the government started keeping accurate records post-1968, remains the estimate on which even the work of pro-gun advocates like Gary Kleck is based.

According to Zimring’s careful research, there were slightly more than 100 million modern guns owned by civilians in 1968. But of this total number, less than 40 million were handguns, about which Zimring says: “When the number of handguns increases, gun violence increases, and where there are fewer guns, there is less gun violence.” And Zimring said this in 1969, before countless studies by public health researchers then said and continue to say the exact, same thing.

I know all the reasons why the GVP community believes that advocating a ban on handguns is a dead end. It’s a no-win position, there’s the 2nd Amendment, blah, blah, blah and blah. But the GVP narrative should be based on what is true, not what is believed to be true. Because what a majority of Americans now believe about handgun risk simply isn’t true, and advocacy must inform based on truth, regardless of whether or not it will work.

You Don’t Need A Gun To Protect Yourself From Bonnie & Clyde.

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We had a Bonnie & Clyde moment last week when two convicts murdered two prison guards who were taking them on a bus through Georgia, and over the next three days stole five different vehicles, robbed two homes, tied up and terrorized an elderly couple and led police on a chase where speeds reached 100 mph or more.  The whole deal finally ended up with the two jerks lying face down in the driveway of a home near the small Tennessee town of Christiana, where they were allegedly confronted by the homeowner and a neighbor, both of whom were allegedly wielding guns.

cons             Now you would think that the two brave homeowners would have been immediately flown to NRA headquarters to meet Wayne-o and the boys and, for that matter, brought to the White House for a one-on-one with the Commander in Chief.  But I checked Trump’s Twitter feed this morning and he was too busy whining about how Hillary isn’t being investigated for ‘obstruction’ while he is, I mean, after all, he needs to focus on the real affairs of state. Be that as it may, the news reports out of Tennessee sound and read like an advertisement for the concealed-carry gang, except there’s only one little problem, in subduing the escaped convicts, the two homeowners didn’t use guns at all.

You can view a brief video of the Tennessee State Trooper who reported that the two cons were ‘held at gunpoint’ by the homeowner who then was assisted by a neighbor, the headline on Fox said: “Hero homeowner holds escaped Georgia inmates at gunpoint until arrests,” except that’s not what happened at all.  What really happened is that the homeowner, Patrick Hale, was alerted that the two assholes were running around the neighborhood, he then loaded every gun in his home, called 911, stuffed his daughter into the family car and began to pull away.  At that moment, he saw the two inmates running towards him and waving their shirts as if signaling that they wanted to give themselves up.

Hale believed that the dopes thought he was actually a law enforcement officer because his car looks like a patrol vehicle, but at no time did he actually use his gun.  In fact, in a press conference at the sheriff’s office he said that what saved him was the prayers he offered as he was backing his car into the street. He then added that he didn’t understand why he was being called a ‘hero,’ since all he did was “dial 911 and explaining what happened and just backing up.” As opposed to the ‘real’ news from Fox, the ‘fake’ New York Daily News got it right with a headline which read, “Tennessee man loaded guns and prayed before capture of escaped Georgia inmates.”

We have a real problem these days when it comes to discussing gun violence, because if there’s one topic where the real facts rarely, if ever sees to break through the media noise machine, it’s the topic about violence caused by guns.  Whether they know it or not, just about everyone who considers themselves to be an expert in this area gets it more wrong than right.  And while much, if not most of the errors that pop up are the conscious handiwork of the pro-gun side, the ‘sensible’ gun people and their media allies also sometimes get it wrong.  Last week a noted GVP influencer went on a podcast and talked about the “ninety-three gun murders which occur every day.” Since when is suicide considered homicide? That’s news to me.

I’m the last person to accuse anyone else of making a mistake. We’re all human, we all make mistakes and I just hope that my misstatements don’t wind up as part of the gospel about gun violence or anything else. But some day if we work hard and remain committed, gun violence will be a thing of the past. And then, to quote Justice Felix Frankfurter, “history will also have its claims.”

Is Trump Appealing To Racism When He Supports Armed Citizens? You Betcha.

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Back in 2008 Obama had his ‘guns and religion’ moment, which briefly appeared to undo his Presidential campaign, now Hillary has created her moment too with the comment about ‘deplorables.’  And while you might think that an entire national campaign never really rises or falls on a few words, just ask George Bush, the first George Bush, whether or not he’s still asking people to read his lips.

trump2On the other hand, go back to a Reuters poll in June, and maybe the deplorability needle gauging the attitudes of Trump supporters is set just about right.  Because in that poll, half the folks who described themselves as supporting Trump said that Blacks were more ‘violent’ than Whites, and also said that Blacks were more ‘criminal’ than Whites.  And there is no question that Trump has been echoing and encouraging those attitudes every chance he gets, and in that respect he’s getting plenty of help from the NRA.

This whole notion of walking around with a gun in your pocket to protect yourself and others against the criminal ‘element’ has been a watchword of NRA gun propaganda since the 1980s, when the gun industry discovered that White America was no longer going out hunting but was afraid of crime.  Gallup has been asking this question since 1965: ‘Is there any area near where you live – that is, within a mile – where you would be afraid to walk alone at night?’ The affirmative response hit its high-water mark in 1982 with 48% saying ‘yes.’  And it was in the 1980s that the NRA unleashed ads which, for the first time, explicitly promoted gun ownership as a response to crime, and they have been running with this notion ever since. And who exactly are all these criminals committing mayhem in the streets? If you need help figuring out the answer to that question, you need a functioning brain, never mind another gun.

There really are people out there who believe they can protect themselves and others by walking around armed even if they have little, practical training or experience in using a self-defense gun.  Never mind civilians, by the way, even with some degree of training, most cops can’t protect themselves or anyone else with their gun.  A study by the Police Policy Council found that when a New York City police officer encountered an armed suspect, the average ‘hit probability’ was 15 percent!  A study by the RAND Corporation set the number at 18 percent.  Now we’re not talking about internet scam-artists like the United States Concealed Carry Association or a former town constable named Massad Ayoob who earns a nice living going around the country as a reincarnation of Jeff Cooper’s Principles of Personal Defense. We’re talking about the RAND Corporation, okay?  But why trust them when you have such noted researchers as Dana Loesch and Ted Nugent telling you that you’ll always be safe as long as you carry a gun?

The Supreme Court may have gotten it right back in 2008 when it said that the 2nd Amendment gave Americans a Constitutional protection to keep a loaded handgun in their home.  But that’s all the Court said.  It didn’t say there was any Constitutional protection for citizen-protectors who believe it is their duty to walk around armed in their neighborhood streets. Sorry, even though George Zimmerman was found innocent of second-degree murder, he wasn’t exercising any Constitutional ‘right’ when he gunned down Trayvon Martin in 2012.

My issue is not whether guns do or don’t make you safe.  And it certainly isn’t whether or not anyone should own a gun.  The issue is the fact that a gun is a very lethal product in even the most capable hands, and to pretend otherwise has become a not-so-disguised way to promote and exploit racism and fear.  And God only knows that we have been getting a big dose of both from a certain New York City landlord in the current Presidential campaign.

 

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