Don’t Count The NRA Out.

              Now that the gun-control movement finds itself in an alliance with the House majority, instead of the House minority, joy abounds. And why not? How long has it been since Nancy wielded the gavel? Wow! And not only do we have friends in high places, so to speak, but the vaunted Trump-NRA combine which first reared its ugly head back in 2016, now seems to have collapsed.

              Granted, banning bump stocks is nothing more than a cosmetic attempt to pretend that something is being done to reduce the toll of gun violence, but you can’t tell me that anyone in Gun-control Nation would have predicted that even this mild rebuke of the joy of shooting was going to occur under the Trump regime, right?

              But even more to the point, when was the last time you picked up a copy of The Trace at your friendly internet news stand and not read a story about how the NRA is being accused of illegal campaign contributions, or how the NRA is going broke, or how a Russian ‘spy’ used the NRA to infiltrate America’s political elite. Just my luck, I give America’s ‘first civil rights organization’ money to set up an endowment, and it goes down the drain. But to all my friends in Gun-control Nation, do yourselves a favor and don’t start dressing for a big funeral at Fairfax just yet, okay?

              Yesterday I received my daily email from Friends of NRA ( I also receive daily emails from Everytown and Brady, just to balance things out) which invited me to “Join Second Amendment Supporters in Your Community for an Evening of Fellowship, Firearms, and Fundraising for the Shooting Sports!” The email then goes on to list social events that are already planned in New England between March and September in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. How many evenings of fun and fellowship are on the calendar so far?  Try 20 events. That’s twen…ty events, not five or ten. Twen…ty.

              And by the way, although folks in New England tend to stay indoors in January and February, the national gun show calendar lists 79 weekend shows just between January 18th and January 27th in other parts of the country, and I guarantee you that by March, there will be a gun show every weekend in at least one New England state.  Does the NRA do a booth and sign up members at every gun show? Does the bear sh*t in the woods? Is New York a city? No – it’s a jungle! Anyway….

              The point is that anyone who believes the NRA is on the verge of collapse is whistling Dixie, believe it or not. Because the one thing they have going for them, actually the two things, are: 1) they are a real membership organization in a way that none of the gun-control groups can even begin to compare; and 2) this membership shares one, very fundamental trait, namely, they love to get together and talk about their guns.

              Groups like Everytown and Brady attract supporters who agree that something needs to be done to reduce the violence caused by guns. Fine. But believe it or not, people don’t join the NRA because they want to show their support for 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ Yea, that nonsense goes with the package when you get your membership kit, and Wayne-o will get up at the 2019 national meeting in Indianapolis and whine that ‘our God-given ‘right’ to defend ourselves is under attack.’ You think any NRA member who comes to the show because he has been coming to the show every year really cares?

              If you ask the average NRA member whether his organization bears any responsibility for the 125,000 Americans who are killed or injured each year with guns, he’ll stare at you as if you just landed from Mars. And this is the reason why the NRA right now may be down, but I wouldn’t count them out just yet.

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Guess What? The National Movement To End Gun Violence Keeps Growing…And Growing…And Growing.

You may recall that back at the beginning of June there was a national outpouring of concern about gun violence known as Gun Violence Awareness Day symbolized by everyone wearing some orange as a symbol of safety around guns.  I wrote a column about the event, or I should say events, because there were more than 200 marches, meetings, concerts and other gatherings all over the United States.  And I pointed out that the growth of this movement reminded me of how demonstrations against the Viet Nam War started small and then mushroomed into something really effective and big.

0616ThankCongressHPWide           Well the same thing seems to be happening now as regards gun violence, thanks to a whole bunch of gun activists who jumped on last week’s sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives chamber and followed all the Reps back to their home offices so that the energy and desire to do something about gun violence wouldn’t die out.  And at last count, there were close to 100 gun violence prevention events held or planned on June 29th in more than 30 states, with more to come.

Some events were held outside the district office of a House Member, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that these events focused on Republican members who openly or otherwise supported Speaker Ryan’s calling the sit-in as a ‘publicity stunt.’  Then there were events hosted by Democratic Members, like New York’s Steve Israel, who joined other advocates and activists in a gun-violence roundtable held at the LGBT Center in his district.

All of these gigs were together planned as a ‘National Day of Action,’ which was so widespread that events were even covered by Fox News.  Now let me tell you something, folks.  As you may be aware, Fox is the media arm of the Trump campaign, so anything they let fly about guns is usually designed to appeal to Gun-nut Nation, certainly not to people who are out there trying to do something to end gun craziness in the USA.  And I’m not saying that Fox is about to cozy up to the Gun Violence Prevention community; what I am saying is that the idea that there is now an organized, national effort to challenge the previously-uncontested strength of pro-gun organizations has become major news.

And what’s really important about the National Day of Action is that there’s more to come. A big event is being planned for July 5th to greet Members of Congress as they return from the Independence Day break to get back to work in DC.  The event will be in the form of a ‘Welcome Back’ demonstration at Reagan National Airport coordinated by Brady, Everytown, my good friends at National Cathedral, with more groups to come.

In all the fifty-plus years I have been watching gun violence advocacy, this is the first time that efforts to reduce gun violence are happening on an ongoing basis and on a national stage.  And what gets this event a 5-star rating from me is that many of the demonstrations and gatherings were at offices and other locations of Republican office-holders, which is about the last place that anyone would expect to see someone advocating for more control over guns.  Until this year, when it comes to gun issues, I can guarantee you that someone like Rep. David Young from Iowa or Bob Latta from Ohio never saw anyone who wasn’t from the NRA.

It’s one thing to hold a rally or a demo in a neighborhood or community of an elected representative who wants to do something about the carnage created by guns.  It’s another to show up at an airport or Congressional office in the middle of a district where everyone just ‘loves’ their guns. Preaching to the converted is one thing, making new converts is a much different kind of task.  The groups and individuals who have put together and now sustain this national movement have become adept at doing both. And that’s great!

 

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.

 

Want To Do Some Gun-Running? Call The ATF And Ask Them To Help.

There’s been a lot of Internet chatter this week about the insufficiency of gun laws that enabled a violent felon like Ismaaiyl Brinsley to get his hands on a gun, bring it up to New York City after assaulting a girlfriend in Baltimore, and then use it to murder two NYPD cops. And first and foremost on the list of stricter gun controls is the idea of instituting background checks on all gun transactions, not just the initial sale between dealer and customer that moves every gun into the civilian arsenal in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not opposed to sensible measures that will reduce gun violence, but I think the continued attempt by gun-sense advocates to push for universal background checks at the national level is something that won’t happen, nor under the present regulatory system am I convinced that it should.  Any expansion of background checks means an expansion in the authority and regulatory reach of the ATF and frankly, when it comes to enforcing the gun laws we already have on the books, I don’t get the warm and fuzzies looking at the job they’ve done.

atf                On February 28, 1993 the ATF so badly bungled the serving of a search warrant on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco that the end result was 4 ATF agents killed, along with 76 members of the Branch Davidian sect.  The ATF wanted to search the Mt. Carmel compound because they were convinced, on the basis of not a shred of credible information, that David Koresh and his followers were converting semi-auto assault rifles into full-auto weapons which they were going to use in an assault on ‘non-believers’ living in Waco and God knows where else. This theory of an imminent Branch Davidian Armageddon-like attack was pure nonsense, and what wasn’t pure nonsense was pure crap.

Not only didn’t the ATF learn anything from this fiasco, but they upped the ante in a bizarre investigation called Fast and Furious which was conducted in Phoenix and Tucson between 2006 and 2010.  This time they actively encouraged and managed the straw sales of more than 2,500 guns which were allegedly headed for Mexico and the Sinaloa drug cartel.  Once again, the ATF was convinced without a single bit of evidence that the straw purchasers were converting semi-auto ARs and AKs into automatic weapons, using local auto-body shops both to stash and re-do the guns.  The so-called ‘mastermind’ behind this gun-running operation was a 26-year old schlub, Manuel Celis-Acosta, who, it turns out, was also working as an informant for the FBI.  At one point an ATF supervisor actually let Celis-Acosta walk away from an arrest, wrote her phone number on the back of a ten-dollar bill and made him ‘promise’ to call her back.  Of course he called her back.  Of course.  Talk about the Keystone Kops.

Of course once the Republicans heard about this whole mess, they did what they can always be counted on doing, namely, ignored the stupidity and possible malfeasance of the ATF in order to grandstand a Congressional hearing which turned into the usual ‘let’s get the President’ kind of thing.  It’s really too bad that Congressman Issa (R-CA) didn’t take a long and hard look at Fast and Furious, if only because he knows more about illegal guns than you think.  In 1972 he was arrested and convicted for driving around with an unregistered gun in his car, which sounds a little bit like what the ATF did with Celis-Acosta, except Celis-Acosta didn’t show up in court.

Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has been pushing a gun trafficking bill year after year but it won’t ever reach the floor.  The truth is that the numero uno gun trafficker in the United States is a federal law-enforcement agency called the ATF. I’d love to see the local cops be given more tools and resources in the battle against illegal guns.  Up until now, unfortunately, waiting for the ATF to provide such help has been like waiting for Godot.

Do Public Policies Reduce Gun Violence? Not If The Guns Are Still Around.

The just-concluded meeting of the American Public Health Association in New Orleans featured a panel chaired by Ted Alcorn, a researcher at Everytown and an important voice in the search for answers to reducing gun violence.  Alcorn says that gun-control advocates need more data in order to develop public policies that “balance” 2nd-Amendment guarantees  against the human and financial costs of gun violence.  I’m basing my comments on a story that appeared in the Times-Picayune, but Alcorn’s views are mainstream for the gun safety movement, views with which, as a friend, I politely disagree.

I don’t believe there is some “middle ground” between gun ownership and gun violence from a policy point of view, and I further don’t believe that more data-mining will somehow provide the still-elusive strategy which will solve the problem of gun violence once and for all.  I have sold over 12,000 guns in my retail store and nobody ever bought a gun from me to take it home and lock it away.  They take the gun home to play with it, to dry-fire it while they are watching tv, to show it to their friends, their neighbors and their kids.  Oh yea, at the end of the day they’ll lock the gun up, if they remember to lock the gun up. But if they were really all that concerned about the potential lethality of the weapon, they probably wouldn’t buy it in the first place.

control                Recall how we dealt with cigarettes once everyone acknowledged that smoking was dangerous to your health.  The government adopted strategies to keep cigarettes out of the “wrong hands,” which were defined as children who had not yet begun to smoke.  So warning signs went on packs, dealers must check IDs, cigarette ads must be kept away from schools.  And the result?  Roughly one out of three adults were smokers in the 1960s, roughly one out of four were smokers in the 1980s, roughly one out of five are smokers today.  In other words, most of the decline in smoking took place before we instituted policies to keep cigarettes out of the “wrong hands.”

But the good news about smoking is that at least everyone knows and understands that cigarettes pose a health risk.  That’s certainly not the case with guns.  Not only has the gun lobby succeeded in convincing a majority of Americans, including non-gun owners, that guns actually make you safer if they’re lying around the house, the lobby is also busily engaged in convincing state legislatures that physicians shouldn’t be able to discuss guns with their patients at all.  And this has nothing to do with whether gun research is no longer funded by the CDC.  This is the result of a debate in which one side keeps looking for some middle ground while the other side has yet to acknowledge that a middle ground even exists.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not looking to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Even a small advance in public gun safety is better than no advance at all.  But notice the use of the word ‘public,’ because here is where the issue of gun control comes up short.  The problem with using a public health paradigm for gun violence is that many of the policies being advocated have nothing to do with the public.  Telling a gun owner that he has to lock up his guns is like telling a smoker that he can’t light up at home.  Telling a gun owner that he can’t sell one of his guns to a friend without going to a dealer and paying some extra dough for a background check is like telling a smoker that he can’t give a box of cigars as a gift.

The strength of the pro-gun lobby lies in the fact that they keep reminding gun owners that gun ownership is a private, not a public concern.  I agree with them and for that reason I also believe that ending gun violence can only take place by restricting private ownership of guns.  After all, we wouldn’t be worried about the effects of smoking if, in 1985, the government had paid 12,000 farmers to switch to another crop.

 

 

Is The Argument Really About Guns?

For more than twenty years, the argument about guns has been going and forth.  But when all the intellectual saber-rattling dies down, we are left with one simple issue which needs to be explained: Do guns make us more or less safe?  According to public health researchers like Hemenway, Cook and Kellerman the answer is a resounding ‘no.’  On the other side, academics (Kleck) and non-academics (Lott) respond with a fervent ‘yes.’  And what the research of both groups allegedly proves becomes the public stance of the anti-gun and pro-gun advocacy groups like Brady and the NRA.

I’m beginning to wonder if this is what the argument is really all about. Or to put it more precisely, can we ever resolve the argument over guns as long as we cast it in those terms?  Because the one thing I have noticed in the more than 20,000 comments that I have received at Huffington Post and my own blog is not so much that people disagree with me, which is what I would expect, but the degree to which each side seems to be speaking a languages that the other side cannot understand.  When pro-gun activists talk about their “God-given right” to own a gun, anti-gunners shake their rhetorical heads in disbelief.  When people who want more gun control say that guns do more harm than good, they are accused of wanting to make America defenseless in the face of a criminal tide.

There’s no way that two sides this far apart will ever find a common ground to discuss the issue of gun violence, let alone figure out a way to make things change.  And whether we want to admit it or not, 31,000 gun deaths and 50,000 gun injuries each year cannot simply be wished away.  But it seems to me that there might be a way to find a common language and a common set of definitions that will work for both sides if we stop emphasizing the difference because I own a gun and you don’t, and instead look at things that are the same for both groups, gun owners and non-gun owners alike.

Dick Heller

Dick Heller

Because the truth is that whether we believe that guns will or won’t protect us from things we fear, we all have the same fears, whether we express those fears through gun ownership or not.  Women, for example, are less inclined (by a wide margin) than men to own guns, but they are just as afraid, if not more afraid, of crime.  Kids in poor neighborhoods are much more likely than suburban kids to carry guns, but every youngster is afraid of the neighborhood bully who comes sauntering down the street. So the real question is not whether the gun is an answer to our fears, the question we all have to answer is what to do about fear itself.

And the problem is that no amount of research or data or any other set of objective facts is going to compensate for our fears, because fears can’t be overcome by appealing to some well-researched facts.  You can tell me from today to next year that I’ll be safer making that trip by plane than in my car, but the moment we have wheels up I get a little nervous feeling that has never appeared when I flip over the ignition of my Ford.

If we could only begin to understand that while gun ownership may divide us, the fears that make some (like me) own a gun are common to us all.  At which point perhaps both sides in the gun debate might begin speaking a language that the other side would understand.  And then it would become a true debate rather than yelling past each other the way we do today.