All Of A Sudden Everyone’s In Favor Of A New Gun Law – Kind Of.

What a surprise. A guy mows down more than 500 people with an assault rifle of some sort and all of a sudden Congressional Republicans, the NRA and their spokesperson, Donald Trump, are willing to have a ‘discussion’ about gun laws. Charles Grassley, who never met a law protecting 2nd-Amendment ‘rights’ he didn’t like, wants to hold hearings; Marco Rubio, who used a visit to Sturm, Ruger for a photo-op during his brief Presidential campaign wants to insure that there are no ‘vulnerabilities’ in federal gun laws (whatever that means); and even Rep. Mark Meadows, head of the Congressional Freedom Caucus (a.k.a what’s left of the Tea Party) is open to considering a gun bill.

LV             Most everyone in Gun-nut Nation fell into line once Trump mumbled something about a discussion on gun laws as he was getting ready to fly to Puerto Rico before going on to Vegas the following day. There were some holdouts, of course, such as the nuts from Gun Owners of America who consider themselves to be the true holder of the flame for gun rights, but they can be ignored. As for Rush, he had to come up with some pathetic defense of Trump’s new ‘soft’ position on guns, so he’s spinning the bizarrely-stupid idea that the President is ‘pretending’ to be for a gun bill in order to get the left-wing media off his back.

And then we have the response of our friends in Fairfax, who rather than waiting a week and then blasting away which is what they did after Sandy Hook, have released a written statement supporting the idea that the ATF should review the accessory known as a bump-stock which can be used to make an AR or AK-style rifle fire full-auto even though the trigger is still re-set to its firing position after every shot.

So both sides are getting a little bit of what they want: the pro-gun gang aren’t discussing the banning of an actual gun and the gun-control crowd can finally say that the industry’s attempt to pass off assault weapons as something they call ‘modern sporting rifles’ has just taken a big dent. But before the political posturing on both sides goes any further, there’s something you have to understand. Here we are a week beyond when the shots rang out, and we still don’t know out whether, in fact, a gun with a bump-stock was used at all.

The cops who busted into the shooter’s room didn’t need five minutes to figure out which gun or guns he used in the assault. The floor was evidently littered with spent shell casings; look down at one and you instantly know the caliber of the gun. Then walk around the room, grab every gun in that caliber, put your hand around the barrel and the amount of heat coming off the carbon steel identifies the requisite gun. The cops were actually too busy taking pictures which were sold or given to various news websites to worry about the guns, which means this all-important crime scene was contaminated beyond belief.

And if you think I’m coming down too hard on the Las Vegs cops who reacted to the rampage in about as quick and effective a way as they could, think again. Not only do we have pictures of the guns floating around, but there’s also a picture of Paddock lying on the floor obviously very bloody and very dead. Who first posted this gem? Alex Jones – who else!

So now the entire political ruling class begins a debate about gun violence without having the faintest idea what they are talking about. What if the shooter was using a legally-purchased full-auto gun? What if it turns out that he bought what the gun industry would like you to believe is a ‘modern sporting rifle’ and converted it into an automatic rifle without using a bump-stock? Engaging in a discussion about gun violence without any evidence-based information has become as normal as gun violence itself.



It’s About Time: Maura Healey Takes Aim At Assault Weapons And Scores A Bullseye.

It took more than twenty years, but finally a public figure with brains, leadership and guts has demolished the NRA’s most sacred cow in one fell swoop.  I am referring to yesterday’s announcement by Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Attorney General, that assault rifle are no longer welcome in the Bay State.  If you own an assault rifle you can keep it (thank goodness because I own three,) but if you want to buy one from a dealer, or if a gun dealer wants to buy one from a wholesaler or manufacturer, that’s not going to happen any more.

AR2           The Enforcement Notice issued by Healey’s office restates the definition and description of ‘assault weapon’ incorporated into the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban law, but then prohibits guns from being sold in Massachusetts which meets either a ‘similarity test’ or an ‘interchangeability test’ which basically means an AR without a flash hider, a folding or telescoping stock, or a pistol grip; in other words, if it looks and acts like an AR, it is an AR, extra doo-dads or not. What the AG has done is fashion a legal directive based on the ‘I know it when I see it’ reasoning used by Associate Justice Potter Stewart for deciding pornography cases that came before the Supreme Court.

To understand the gist of Healey’s approach, however, you have to consider the history surrounding the original Assault Weapons Ban.  Because recall that the 1994 law expired after ten years, but states that wanted to maintain it could opt out of the expiration, of which Massachusetts was one of seven states which continued the ban. But the 1994 law didn’t ban assault rifles; it banned assault rifles that contained certain design features, such as pistol grips, bayonet lugs, flash hiders and so forth, none of which in any way reduced the lethality of these guns.

What makes the AR design so exceptionally lethal, what makes the AR a weapon of war, is that the manner in which the stock lines up against the bolt and the receiver, the manner in which high-capacity magazines can be dismounted and remounted within the gun and the manner in which the gun can then be charged after receiving a new, fully-loaded magazine allows the operator to get off as many as 60 shots of deadly military ammunition in one minute or less.

Why do I call the AR a weapon of war?  Because the AR used by battle-zone troops today can be shot in the same semi-auto mode that makes the gun legal for civilian sales.  Yes, the military gun also allows for three-shot bursts, and it is the selective-fire feature of the military rifle, the M4, which is touted again and again by Gun-nut Nation as the essential reason why the AR is nothing other than a ‘modern sporting rifle,’ which is no more lethal or dangerous than any other semi-automatic rifle lugged by a hunter or sportsman into the woods. So does this mean that if a trooper on the battlefield decides to set his rifle in semi-auto mode, that he’s now carrying a ‘sporting’ gun?

This totally fabricated crap about how the AR isn’t lethal has set the tone for Gun-nut Nation’s approach to all guns.  The issue of gun lethality, not just for the AR, but for all small arms, has been pushed aside in favor of an argument which tries to create the fiction that guns are only dangerous if they get into the ‘wrong’ hands.  When guns are carried by law-abiding, armed citizens, they represent an important, indeed indispensable tool for insuring safety and security of all.

Maura Healey’s announcement is a resounding shot across the bow because it sweeps away the rhetorical nonsense cynically foisted on the public to disguise the fact that some guns are simply too dangerous to be put in anyone’s hands. Which is why the AR is not a sporting rifle, because no sporting gun requires a magazine that holds 30 rounds.

Do Attitudes Of Gun Owners And Non-Gun Owners Differ That Much? I’m Not So Sure.

You may recall that several months after the Sandy Hook massacre, the New England Journal of Medicine published a survey on attitudes towards gun regulations that was developed by the gun violence research group at The Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Which means, of course, that the survey was designed to promote the gun-grabbing agenda of Mayor Mike.

hopkins            I’m being a bit sarcastic in what I just wrote because there is simply no way I can hold a conversation or direct anything I write towards a dialog with Gun-nut Nation, because thanks to Street Thug Trump, Gun-Nut Nation is rapidly becoming a haven for the lunatic fringe.  And if you want proof of that last statement, I direct you to a missive from a gentleman named Dr. Michael Brown, described on the Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership website as a “pragmatic Libertarian environmentalist,” who writes in detail about what he calls “The Ten Favorite Lies of the Gun Control Lobby,” And Lie #6 just happens to be the findings of the Johns Hopkins survey which found that a majority of gun owners want “more gun control.”

When the Hopkins survey was released back in 2013, attention was riveted on an attempt to get the scope of FBI-NICS background checks expanded to cover secondary (i.e., private) transactions and sales. The bill ultimately went nowhere fast, but the findings from the Hopkins survey were used by Manchin-Toomey supporters to help build their case. In light of the claim by Michael Brown that these findings were nothing more than a lie, I decided to take another look at what the details of that survey really show.

The survey was actually two surveys, one covering gun policies, the other devoted to guns and mental health.  I’m going to focus only on the former because this is the part of the survey which has been characterized as a “lie.”  The survey was completed by 1,865 respondents, of whom one-third reported that there was a gun in the home.  Here are some of the findings:

  • Banning purchase of assault weapons: Non-gun owners yes – 75%.  Gun owners yes – 46%.
  • Confiscation of currently-owned assault weapons: Non-gun owners yes – 63%, Gun owners yes – 37%.

The survey also asked whether a physician whose patient expressed a desire to hurt himself or others should be allowed to contact the NICS system to prevent such individuals from having a gun for a period of six months.  Actually, the survey question is slightly confused because NICS covers purchases, not ownership of guns. But the bottom line is that 75% of non-gun owners believed that physicians should be able to intervene in instances where a patient’s access to guns demonstrated a risk. Ready? 72% of gun owners felt the same way. Wow.

The results of this survey are astonishing in terms of what it says about how attitudes of gun owners and often differ from the usual narrative that we get about guns. If nearly four out of ten gun owners agree that assault weapons should be confiscated, if nearly half current gun owners believe that the purchase of assault weapons should be banned, if seven out of ten gun owners think that physicians should have the authority to help prevent at-risk patients from access to guns, then I think it’s time for Gun Violence Prevention advocate to stop worrying about being demonized for wanting to ban certain guns, and it’s time for physicians to drop their concerns about raising valid medical issues that  might make them appear to be anti-gun.

It will probably be difficult for the remainder of this campaign cycle to distinguish between the rantings of Gun-nut Nation and what might be in the minds of average folks who happen to own guns.  But if things turn out the way they should on November 8th, a serious and substantive gun debate might actually take place.  The Hopkins survey clearly indicates that there are reasonable voices on both sides.

There’s A New Gun Petition Out There And It Sure Ain’t To Promote Guns.

Funny how politics makes strange bedfellows, doesn’t it? Way back when, sometime around 2007 or so, I sent a donation to because they were running a campaign against the Iraq War, in particular the escalation of the war known as the ‘surge.’  And to explain and justify the strategy, none other than General David Petraeus was brought back from the battlefield to explain what was going on to various Congressional committees on the Hill. And the fundraising request I received from started off by saying, “Here comes Petraeus, don’t let him betray us.”  I thought this was very funny so I sent a few bucks.

moveonSo now it’s a different time, a different place and I got Petraeus and Mark (Gabby’s husband) Kelly coming together to form a new gun-control organization which, like all the Gun Violence Prevention groups, is trying to attract more attention to the gun violence problem in the wake of the Orlando shooting last week. And I was about to give the Petraeus-Kelly combine my award for this week’s most significant addition to the roster of organizations and activities that are promoting gun violence prevention except that another horse coming out of the stable caught my eye instead.

What I am referring to is a petition on the website which calls for the banning of all AR-15 guns.  And what I like about this petition is that it’s simple and direct: “We need to ban all assault weapons now, while moving quickly to enact common sense gun reform.”  The petition doesn’t call for redesigning the guns, or removing the hi-cap mags, or any other small reform like that. It says ban ‘em, period.  End of story. Throw them all away, or melt them down and turn them into useless junk.

And not only does the petition call on the government to ban the damn things, it also refers to these weapons by their rightful name, assault weapons, because that’s exactly what they are. And if you happen to be someone who really and truly believes that the AR-15 or the Sig MCX whatever nomenclature is used to avoid the word ‘assault’ isn’t an ‘assault rifle,’ do me a favor and go lay brick. Because it really doesn’t matter whether the first assault rifle was a gun produced for the Wehrmacht near the end of World War II, whether it fires in full-auto or semi-auto mode, whether anything other than a machine gun is covered by 2nd-Amendment rights, blah, blah, blah and blah.

The gun is lethal as hell, you can kill 60 human beings with it in less than 60 seconds without even reloading the damn thing, and if anyone thinks that such guns will protect freedom-loving Americans from the dangers of ISIS or the tyranny of another Clinton regime, then this is someone with whom a reasonable conversation about guns or anything else simply cannot take place.

And frankly, this is usually a big part of the problem whenever the Gun Violence Prevention community takes a stand.  Because they are always, despite what Gun-nut Nation says about them, so damn reasonable whenever they argue any position at all.  For example, today’s online medical bulletin JAMA contains a new study on the effects of Australia’s 1999 assault weapons ban which clearly shows that once assault rifles disappeared from the civilian arsenal in Australia, mass shootings disappeared as well.  But in an accompanying editorial, Daniel Webster, one of our foremost public health gun researchers, made sure to mention that evidence showing a direct cause-and-effect between the assault weapons ban and overall gun homicides was not so clear.

And maybe the data on assault weapons and homicides isn’t so clear. But so what?  If we accept the crazy notion that a semi-automatic gun which can kill 60 people in one minute is no different from any five-shot rifle that is used to bag a deer, then there’s no reason to be upset about Orlando at all.  Sign the petition, okay?

Does The NRA Really Own The Gun Debate? Even Gun Owners Don’t Necessarily Agree.

In the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, public opinion polls appeared to show widespread support for strengthening gun laws that would make it more difficult for ‘prohibited persons’ to gain access to guns.  In particular, support was strongest for an extension of the NICS background check system to cover most secondary transfers of firearms beyond the initial, counter-top transfer that is covered now. It was this public sentiment which led to the crafting of such legislation, known as Manchin-Toomey, which nevertheless fell short of the votes needed to move the bill through the Senate in April, 2013.

One of the post-Newtown polls showing wide, public support for expanded background checks was conducted by researchers at the Bloomberg Public Health School at Johns Hopkins University, and now that I’ve mentioned the unmentionable, those readers in the pro-gun community will please do everyone a favor and keep their comments to themselves.  The bottom line from this survey was that gun owners and non-gun owners expressed similar degrees of support for universal background checks, prohibitions on ownership for persons convicted of violating domestic restraining orders and mandatory sentences for gun traffickers.  Where significant differences appeared between the two groups, however, involved ‘bans’ on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; the word ‘ban’ being toxic to gun owners but much less concerning to those who don’t own guns.

assault                The Bloomberg group has just released a new poll which, in terms of methodology and sampling, more or less replicates the same poll that was published in 2013.  It will shortly appear in the journal Preventive Medicine, but I was able to examine an advance copy of the text. The authors note that in the intervening two years since their last survey, public opinion appears to have shifted away from more gun regulations and is now swinging towards stronger support of ‘gun rights.’  But comparing such data to the more specific policy-oriented questions which comprise this new survey is really oranges versus apples, since such phrases as ‘gun rights’ and ‘gun control’ are simply too vague and too loaded to explain much about public opinion at all.

The new Bloomberg survey shows that there remains a basic bedrock of public opinion that expanding background checks to secondary gun transfers is a good thing to do.  In 2013, support for this measure among gun owners and non-gun owners was above 80%, both numbers shifted only slightly in the current survey and the difference between gun owners and non-gun owners was negligible at best.  On the other side of the ledger, i.e., banning assault rifles and high-capacity mags, there was again a decisive difference between gun owners who said ‘no’ and non-gun owners who said ‘yes,’ although in this case the percentage of non-gun owners who favored  weapon and ammunition bans appears to have slipped.

What I find significant is that 45% of gun owners in both surveys support bans on the sale of assault rifles and high-cap mags.  Researchers who focus on policy issues traditionally look for majority opinion as a guide to what may or may not be possibly changed in the public domain.  But the fact that slightly less than half of all gun owners support the ban on assault rifles is a finding which needs to be considered on its own terms.

I can’t think of a single issue that has generated more noise and more hype in the gun community than the issue of assault rifles over the last several years.  From the phony attempt by the NSSF to dress up these guns as ‘modern sporting rifles,’ to the prancing around by Colion Noir, the industry has done everything it can to promote these guns as akin to motherhood and apple pie.  That nearly 50% of gun owners don’t buy this nonsense should give pause to those who still regard the NRA as a behemoth when it comes to influencing public opinion about guns.  To me, it’s more like a case of the emperor without clothes.

Can Logic And Facts Sway The Gun Debate? I’m Not Sure.

Want to really piss off the gun crowd? Refer to guns as ‘toys.’  I did it in a recent column and the gun folks went bonkers – called me all kinds of names, used it as the penultimate ‘proof’ that Mike the Gun Guy is really an enemy of the 2nd Amendment, and so forth.  So I thought I would spend a few paragraphs explaining the reasons for the remarkable vitriol that ‘guns as toys’ provokes, because it says a great deal about why the two sides in the gun safety debate have such difficulty coming together on anything that even faintly smacks of a similar point of view.

I was eight years old in 1952 when I got my first Daisy Red Ryder by sending in ten dollars and an advertisement from the Boy Scout magazine, Boys’ Life.  I spent thousands of hours playing Cowboys and Indians with that gun in my back yard, and so did all the other boys.  When I was ten years old I joined the NRA so that I could shoot 22-caliber, bolt-action training rifles that the government gave my brother’s rifle team that practiced in the shooting range of his junior high school located in the middle of Washington, D.C.  I knew those guns were real and that my Red Ryder was a toy.  But I got that same, enjoyable feeling when I played with one or shot the other, and I still get that same, enjoyable feeling when I go to the gun range today.

Sometime in the 1980s the notion that guns were fun started to be replaced with the idea that guns were a serious and necessary way to protect us from crime.  These cultural chickens came home to roost during the Los Angeles riots that broke out after a jury delivered its ‘not guilty’ verdict to the cops who beat up Rodney King.  The second night of the riots a television crew filmed several Black youths pulling a guy out of his car and beating him senseless as he stumbled across the street.  If you owned a gun shop anywhere in the United States, you were able to sell every gun on your shelves the next day.

heston                The NRA ramped up its rhetoric about guns being essential for safety and security during the debates which led to the passage of the Brady Bill and Assault Weapons Ban in 1993-94. And since then, the gun industry and its promoters have wrapped themselves in an almost religious mantra combining love of family, love of freedom and love of guns.  Guns are no longer used just for hunting and sport, they are sacred instruments that sanctify the Biblical requirement to protect ourselves and our families from harm.

Meanwhile, the evidence keeps mounting that gun ownership creates risks in terms of injuries and deaths that no amount of emotion-charged rhetoric can obscure.  In terms of morbidity and mortality, guns do much more harm than good.  The bogus argument that guns prevent ‘millions’ of crimes from  being committed each year just can’t withstand the simple logic stated by Elmore Leonard, “Don’t fool with guns in here, okay? The goddamn piece’s liable to go off.”  But the fact that it’s liable to go off, the way it went off in Hayden, ID, isn’t necessarily a reason to prohibit or even control ownership of guns. After all, nobody argues about the ‘benefits’ of smoking, but people can still go into the corner drugstore and buy their cigarettes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that gun owners are stupid or irrational when they defend their right to own guns.  But maybe it’s time to stop thinking that appealing to logic and citing ‘facts’ about gun violence will carry the day.  I’m willing to accept the risks of gun ownership for the simple reason that I like my guns.  And like most risks, I can’t believe that something bad will ever happen to me. Then again, my doctor keeps telling me to lose weight but that piece of lemon-meringue pie looks just too good to pass up.


All Of A Sudden The NRA’S Armed Citizens Aren’t So Armed

Maryland was one of a number of states in 2013 that enacted gun control statutes in the wake of Sandy Hook, and last week a Federal District Court Judge upheld the state’s authority to ban most of the popular brands of assault-style rifles, along with limiting gun magazines to 10 rounds or less.  This is a very significant ruling for two reasons.  First, ,notwithstanding the fact that the NRA would like you to believe that armed citizens are the first line of defense against crime, the ruling affirms that government has a “compelling interest” in protecting public safety which allows for the regulation of guns.  Second, the ruling flies directly in the face of the gun industry’s effort to legitimize assault-style weapons as no different from any other type of gun that might be used for personal defense.  And while the 2008 Heller decision explicitly recognized the right of citizens to keep handguns in their homes for self-defense, it did not vacate the government’s right to regulate the types of weapons that might be used.

In their attempt to overturn the Maryland law, the plaintiffs, including the NSSF, argued two basic issues:  (1). Banning assault-style weapons was a violation of the 2nd Amendment because it deprived shooters of a product that was in common use; (2). Banning assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines deprived individuals of a weapon that was frequently kept and used in the home for self-defense.  I found it interesting, incidentally, that the plaintiffs did not try to push the notion of AR-15s as “modern sporting rifles,” a totally phony nomenclature invented by the gun industry to overcome the resistance of big-box, chain stores like Wal-Mart who believed that such products interfered with their image as destinations for family shopping.

assault                As regards the argument that a ban on assault guns would deprive Maryland residents of an increasingly popular type of firearm, Judge Blake noted that while the total number of the banned guns was upwards of 8 million, this represented less than 3% of all firearms held by civilians.  Further, the Judge, using numbers from the NSSF, found that assault-style rifle ownership tended to be concentrated, with the average assault gun owner possessing more than 3 such weapons, meaning that less than 1% of the entire American population owned any assault weapons at all.  [Pages 19-20.]

As for the question of using an AR or AK rifle for self-defense, the ruling cited a report submitted by Lucy Allen, who has been called as an expert witness in other cases involving sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.  This report, based on data from the NRA, found that assault weapons are rarely used in instances of armed self-defense, nor did persons discharge more than ten rounds when using their guns in instances of armed self-defense.  The plaintiffs, in arguing against Allen’s evidence, claimed that she did not “independently verify” the data on which her report was based, a claim rejected by the Court since the evidence came from the NRA, which although not a formal party to the case, certainly was in favor of a decision that would uphold the plaintiff’s suit.

The NRA has been promoting the idea that armed citizens protect themselves and others with guns for as long as I can remember.  They now have an online repository for these anecdotes and you can submit a self-defense story, real or imagined, which is then edited and republished for all to read.  And yes, even if you don’t have a story, the NRA will send you an armed citizen bumper sticker.  The NRA claims that millions of Americans use guns in self-defense every year, but when someone uses the evidence posted on their website to contradict their claims about the self-defense value of AR-15s, all of a sudden the data is no good.  I really can’t imagine how Judge Blake wrote that part of her decision with a straight face.