Do You Know How To Use A Gun To Protect Yourself From Crime?

Even though I write for Huffington Post, I have to admit that The Guardian frequently carries writing about guns and gun violence which should be read.  In fact, for several years they ran a superb open-source compilation about police use of lethal force, which my friend Frank Zimring used for a very important book on cops and shootings which also should be read.

ccw             Now The Guardian has announced a new effort, Break the Cycle, a series designed “to change the way the media covers American gun violence – and to challenge the orthodoxy that gun reform is a hopeless pursuit.” To that end, the very first story covers what The Guardian calls “ten recent victories in gun violence prevention,” most of which are of too recent vintage to determine whether these new initiatives will make a difference or not. But even if the jury is still out on whether or not such programs and laws will reduce the violence suffered from guns, at least the fear that all gun-control activity will wither and die during the Age of Trump appears to be misplaced.

I’m beginning to consider the possibility, in fact, that the defeat of Hillary, who based much of her campaign narrative on gun-control themes, may actually turn out to be a more positive event for the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement than if she had won.  Her victories in the several swing states she needed to grab the necessary 270 electoral votes would not have turned the Congress from red to blue, and facing the same hostile Congressional lineup that blocked Obama after his first two years would probably would have doomed any substantial gun legislation from moving ahead. On the other hand, one can argue that absent a Republican in the Oval Office that some of the crazy, pro-gun bills like national concealed-carry, would also never see the light of day.

But sometimes adversity becomes the incubator for new and compelling ideas, and the policy brief issued this morning by The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research represents just such an effort to focus our attention on work which needs to be done. The report, Concealed Carry of Firearms; Facts Versus Fiction, covers the arguments used to justify national concealed-carry (CCW) reciprocity, and then gives a balanced and evidence-based analysis of each. The text begins with a summary of CCW laws currently in force throughout the 50 states: no CCW licensing requirements in 12 states, and a CCW license must be automatically granted in 30 other states if one meets the legal requirements for simply owning a gun. In 1986 there were 9 states that did not impose any CCW requirements if one passed a background check – now that number has climbed to 42.

I wouldn’t be so adamantly opposed to national CCW were it not for the fact that what this means is the current issuance of CCW in many states without any kind of training at all will now become an accepted norm in every state. Not that jurisdictions which require a pre-licensing gun course impose anything except the most slipshod and useless qualification process, and once you demonstrate that you actually know the difference between the stock and the barrel you never have to certify your ability again.

I’m not surprised when folks tell me that a gun will make protect them from crime, even if evidence-based research indicates otherwise. After all, emotions usually trump facts, even when we think we are using valid evidence to figure something out. But the continued drumbeat by Gun-nut Nation and the NRA to make people believe that using a gun for personal defense without continuous, qualification-based and mandated (i.e., required) training is just another attempt to appeal to the lowest mental denominator when it comes to talking about guns. The organization which was founded as a training organization in 1871 should be at the forefront of an effort to tell everyone how useless this national CCW legislation will be.

              I thank the Bloomberg gun-grabbers for this fine report.

 

 

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An Important Study On The Risks Of Guns.

One of the longest-running arguments in the gun world is the issue of risks versus benefits of guns. The argument erupted in the late 1980s when the gun industry shifted its marketing from hunting and sport shooting to using a gun for self-defense. Chickens then came home to roost first with a survey published by Gary Kleck in 1995 and then a book published by John Lott in 1998.  The Kleck survey claimed that as many as 2 million violent crimes were prevented each year because the alleged victims were able to defend themselves with a gun. Lott took this idea one step further, claiming that in jurisdictions which began to issue concealed-carry licenses, homicides went down.  An entire academic cottage industry now exists which argues both for and against, an argument amplified by a lengthy and very detailed paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER.)  You can download the paper from my website here.

traffic             The lead scholar, John Donohue, has been chasing John Lott for at least 15 years, and has published (according to his Stanford University bibliography) at least 15 articles, op-eds and other comments about what he considers to be the methodological flaws and mistaken conclusions in Lott’s work. The NBER paper is the latest salvo coming from Donahue’s arsenal, and while my friend John Lott seems to be busy hopping from one alt-right radio show to the next, I suspect he’ll sooner or later post a response to what Donahue and his colleagues have said.

What they have said is that they extended Lott’s time-period from 2000 to 2014, and compared changes in violent crime rates between states which passed ‘right-to carry’ (RTC) laws and state that did not.  In the 9 states which never adopted RTC laws, violent crime declined by more than 40%, but in the 37 states which adopted RTC laws during the same period, violent crime declined by less than 10%.  In other words, people living in ‘shall-issue’ concealed-carry states are far less safe from violent crime than people that live in states where CCW is given out only with cause.

The NBER paper contains additional data which clearly undercuts Gun-nut Nation’s belief that, in and of themselves, right-to-carry laws reduce crime. But I have a much bigger issue with Lott’s ‘more guns = less crime’ approach that has nothing to do with statistics or data at all. Ultimately, Lott’s approach rests upon an assumption about the behavior of a certain class of human beings – criminals – that has absolutely no basis in truth or fact. And the assumption is that criminals who are thinking of committing a face-to-face crime (murder, assault) will decide instead to commit an anonymous crime if they believe that the victim whom they are thinking of attacking might be carrying a gun. He states this specifically on Page 6 of the 3rd edition of his book: “the criminals in states with high civilian gun ownership were the most worried about encountering armed victims.”

The idea that the unplanned, spontaneous and impulsive behavior resulting in homicide will be influenced or changed by some sort of rational, objective and planned decision simply flies in the face of reality and what we know to be the circumstances in which homicide and other violent crimes occur. Lott’s hardly an expert on homicide but Lester Adelson certainly is: “With its peculiar lethality, a gun converts a spat into a slaying and a quarrel into a killing.”

The response to Lott by scholars like Donahue may clarify both the validity of relevant data and how it is used, but no matter how sophisticated the statistical method brought to bear, regression analysis can ‘associate’ different trends, the exact causal connection between, say, gun homicides and issuance or non-issuance of concealed-carry licenses remains vague at best.

Legitimate scholars like John Donahue are motivated by the hopes that their research will provide evidence which can be used to fashion workable public policies to deal with the injuries caused by guns. I have a policy suggestion that doesn’t need any scholarly validation at all: get rid of the damn things.  That’s all you have to do.

National Concealed-Carry Is Back On The Agenda Again.

Even though Donald Trump gave an uncharacteristically non-bombast verbal performance at the NRA, both sides in the gun debate are still gearing up for the showdown over national, concealed-carry licenses which has been at the top of Gun-nut Nation’s wish list since a bill was first introduced by then-Senator Larry (‘I was looking for my wallet’) Craig back in the Clinton years. That’s the Clinton who won, not the Clinton who lost.

ccw             Our friends at The Trace are carrying a good summary of the new bill and the reasons why it might and might not get to Trump’s Oval Office desk. But what caught my eye in reading Dan Friedman’s solid piece was the comment by the sponsor of the Senate Bill, John Cornyn (R-TX) who likens such a license to a driver’s license because, as he says, “if you can drive in Texas, you can drive in New York and follow New York laws.” Which is the reason why driving laws tend to be almost the same in every state, as well as the requirements which every state imposes in order to become a licensed driver. And the basic requirement happens to be passing a road test which actually proves that you can control and drive a car.

I happen to think that if someone who does not need to have a gun for work (law enforcement, security, etc.) wants to walk around with a gun, then he/she should be allowed to do so under some very strict conditions. And these conditions would include registering the gun and being able to account for its whereabouts at all times, and most of all, being able to demonstrate that you actually know how to use the damn thing safely and properly. Which means taking and passing a mandated live-fire test supervised by a public official and not just some trainer wannabe who sat through an NRA class and answered some true-false questions, paid the training counselor a couple of hundred bucks and now considers himself an expert with a gun.

Know how many states impose such an onerous requirement on anyone who wants to walk around with a gun? None, as in zero states, okay? Many states have no live-fire requirement for concealed carry (CCW) at all. My state, Massachusetts, is always being reviled by Gun-nut Nation as a tough, anti-gun state, but the CCW license is issued without any live-fire certification at all. You can walk into any gun shop in Massachusetts, buy a gun, load it up with ammo and walk out with the gun in your pocket having never fired a real gun. And Massachusetts is typical of a majority of states in this respect.

As for states which actually require some kind of live-fire exercise before granting CCW privileges, the requirement in Connecticut is five shots, in Florida it’s one. The only state which imposes any kind of live-fire certification that even remotely compares to the process for getting and keeping a driver’s license is New Mexico (thanks to Khalil Spencer) which actually imposes a very mild performance requirement but also requires re-certification every two years.

I find the whole Gun-nut Nation CCW stance not only dumb but certifiably risky because of their refusal to accept the idea that civilians should be able to walk around armed without being required to meet the same performance criteria that we impose on police. It’s not the fact that the cops have to actually hit the target, it’s the idea that most police certifications also require that the shots be delivered within a specific period of time – usually 2-3 seconds from the holster to multiple trigger pulls. At least such a drill approximates to some degree what happens when lethal force is involved.

The reason that Gun-nut Nation will never support mandated CCW performance licensing is because such a process would severely cut handgun sales. All these people running around promoting concealed-carry aren’t doing it will make them ‘safe.’ They’re just pimping for the gun industry and don’t understand how or why.

Liberals And Gays Getting Into Guns? That’s What The BBC Says.

Earlier this week I gave an award to a writer for GQ for the dumbest article about guns written this year. But today I happened to read another article which might be not quite as dumb, but certainly just as uninformed. And this is an article which appeared on BBC (you really can’t blame Brits for not knowing anything about small arms) and purports to explain a sudden, mad rush for gun ownership on the part of liberals and gays, two groups who traditionally have never felt any affinity for guns.

liberals              Of course the reason for this new-found interest in arming themselves is not because liberals or gays are worried about their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’  To the contrary, they claim to be scared of physical attacks from the fervent followers of our soon-to-be President who, after all, is a 2nd-Amendment freak.  And there are even some folks out there, according to the intrepid BBC reporter, Brian Wheeler, who are stocking their survival shelters because the unthinkable has now become thinkable under Donald Trump.

As far as I can tell, Wheeler’s never written about guns, but then again, it’s not like his audience would know whether he’s faking the whole thing or not. When he quotes, for example, a lady from Pink Pistols, the gay and lesbian gun group, who says that the group’s members feel harassed at the range, this is exactly the reverse of what the same lady said about LGBT shooters being accepted in a story that ran after the massacre at The Pulse. As for the survivalists who believe that the Apocalypse is just around the corner, those nuts don’t need an election or anything else to explain the virtues of freeze-dried food.

The silliest part of the article is an embedded video with America’s official liberal gun guy, the author Dan Baum, who published a book back in 2013 that was intended to explain to liberal readers (Dan has written about guns for Harpers, among other liberal mags) that people who like guns just aren’t all that bad.  And to prove this he went across the country interviewing various gun nuts who, as it turned out, happened to be more or less normal people just like you and me.  The book actually reads like a screenplay for a Michael Moore movie, but the best part is when Dan describes how he anguished for months over deciding what kind of handgun to carry after he got a CCW permit in Colorado only to discover that the gun he bought was too heavy to carry around.  So much for Dan the Gun Guy.

The penultimate proof that liberals are flocking to gun ownership is a long spiel about the activities of the Liberal Gun Club, a California-based organization to which I once briefly belonged.  They claim to have members in all 50 states, and according to their website, their goal is to “to provide a voice for gun-owning liberals and moderates in the national conversation on gun rights, gun legislation, firearms safety, and shooting sports.” And while they claim to be non-partisan, in fact they oppose virtually every piece of state-level gun legislation, including California’s Prop. 63.  Whether it’s Half-and-Half or Ronald Reagan, everything that’s stupid starts in California and moves East.  The Liberal Gun Club is no exception to that rule and if Wheeler really believes that this bunch represents a shift of liberals toward liking guns, good for him, he found a few liberals who like guns.

Wheeler’s shabby attempt to give us a ‘new’ perspective on gun ownership will become, I suspect, a not-unusual approach that journalists who are paid by how many words they write will employ in the Age of Trump.  Because in a country as large and diverse as ours, it’s not very difficult to find a few people here and there who have been ignored by liberal-leaning culture and now, thanks to Trump, can have their moment in the sun.  And a moment is exactly what it is.

 

How’s Trump Going To Pay Back All Those Gun Votes? He Won’t.

Every four years the GOP trots out something from their ‘family values’ arsenal – abortion, school prayer, traditional marriage – to help define their electoral message and in 2016 they trotted out guns.  Not that these stalwart defenders of a pretended status quo ever really reward their supporters with anything beyond attempts to cut taxes for themselves and you would think that after thirty-five years of getting nothing that those legions of fervent followers would finally begin to realize that top-down, right-wing populism is nothing but a big, fat con.

trump5
           And in the aftermath of this election the biggest, single con job of all is the one which Trump sold at every, single campaign stop that he made, namely, the idea that he’s going to change the landscape when it comes to how America owns and uses guns.  I watched at least a dozen of his campaign rallies, and whenever the crowd got tired of yelling ‘lock her up,’ he would veer away from mumbling about some trade deal and remind the audience that: a) he would ‘defend’ their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights;’ and, b) he wanted a national, concealed-carry law, and, c) on his very first day in office he would eliminate all ‘gun-free’ zones.

So in the interests of giving my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community some guidance on what to look for in a Trump presidency and what can be dismissed as nothing but a variation on the traditional GOP social-messaging mirage, I thought I would subject each of Trump’s claims to some degree of scrutiny to see what comes out.  And what comes out, as I suspect you may already know, is that none of those statements bear any resemblance to facts or the truth.

At some point during the campaign Trump released a list of judges from whom he would choose a SCOTUS nominee, and he made the point of saying that every, single candidate would ‘defend’ 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ This was nothing more than political hyperbole nonsense since the NRA decided long ago that every registered Democrat represents a ‘threat’ to those rights, but the fact is that the only post-Heller 2nd-Amendment case decided by the SCOTUS while Scalia was alive was a case in which a majority said that the law which gave the government full and complete regulatory authority over gun sales was as fully constitutional as any law could be.  So much for a ‘conservative’ SCOTUS defending 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

As for a national CCW law, no doubt the NRA and its Congressional allies will once again run this one up the legislative flagpole, but like the veritable monkey who wrapped his tail around that same flagpole, such a law would require reconciling the state-level CCW regulations of all 50 individual states because unlike local driving laws, local gun laws from state to state are not the same.

Finally, when Trump says he’ll ‘immediately’ get rid of gun-free zones, maybe someone might remind him that Executive Orders apply only to the actions of Executive agencies, but cannot be used to change laws.  And there happens to be not one, but two federal laws that establish K-12 schools as gun-free zones, neither of which are going to be eliminated just because Trump wants to get up in front of a crowd or go on Twitter or YouTube and play his version of Macho Man.

I’m not saying that Gun-sense Nation has a friend in Trump.  We don’t.  Make no mistake: as long as he panders to the Right, and I’m not about to bother distinguishing between the Right and the Alt-Right, he’s an opponent of any, even the most benign attempts to reduce gun violence to any degree.  And going forward, Gun-sense Nation needs to respond forcefully to every effort by Trump and Gun-nut Nation to legitimize the violence caused by guns. Trump may have a loud voice, but it’s not the only voice in town.

Want To Reduce Gun Violence? The Real Battle Is In The States, Not The Feds.

Now that The New York Times has once again become the newspaper ‘of record’ even for Donald Trump, we can sit back and wait for the Gray Lady to begin pronouncing on everything and anything having to do with the election results on November 8th.  And the newsroom started right off with an ‘analysis’ of whether Trump’s victory was fueled by the ‘gun vote,’ and to nobody’s surprise, at least not mine, they discovered that it was.  Or at least Gun-nut Nation thinks it was.  And since the NYT will now begin to feature story after story about all those ‘forgotten’ folks who came out for Trump – in the interests of fair and balanced journalism –  you can bet that the gun-nut gang will be a central feature of more articles to come.

Of course the Times made sure to give a bit of space to the other side, quoting Everytown’s Erika Soto Lamb and also Jenn Crowe who worked on the Nevada background-check vote, but basically the piece was fluff and nonsense for various pro-gun advocates, including none other than C. J. Grisham from Open Carry Texas who proudly stated that he went out last week and bought two more AR-15 rifles just in case Hillary actually won.

Let me break the news gently to the gun violence prevention (GVP) community:  the real problem going forward will not be to figure out what to do; nor will it be to craft some kind of ‘new’ message about the politics of guns.  The real problem will be to find some way to push back against what will surely become an attempt by liberal influencers, pundits and newsmakers at the national level to cloak the wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak, and shift the spectrum towards a more ‘balanced’ view on guns.  And like it or not, this attempt by liberal media to find some way of making ‘gun rights’ a more reasonable proposition will last for as long as the liberal media feels that its relevance is dependent on how much access it can maintain with President Shlump.

But since pictures usually are worth lots of words, especially my words, I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of pics that highlight what I believe is the challenge faced by GVP.  Here is a map which shows how many states granted CCW (blue or green) in 1986:

rtc1986

            And here’s how the map has changed from then until now:

rtc2016

Want to know what’s also changed over those same thirty years?  Republican control of state governments has gone from one-third to two-thirds. Now many of those Democratic-controlled state governments were in the hands of southern Democrats whose views, at the time, not really all that different from the Republicans who would replace them and many of these states were gun-rich states anyway, so it wasn’t like either party was going to run around proclaiming the virtues of regulating guns.  But if you think for one second that state legislatures are awash in NRA lobbying money, you’re wrong.  In the Nevada fight over extending background checks, the NRA was outspent by more than two to one.

After the 1994 election when the GOP grabbed control of the House for the first time since 1952, much of the post-election narrative was based on the idea that the vote was payback time by the NRA for how representatives voted on the assault weapons ban bill.  And even though subsequent research indicated that this narrative wasn’t necessarily true, the notion that guns represent a toxic element for politicians at the national level continues to take hold.  And the proof of what I just said can be found in the NYT article quoted above.

I got a good idea for my friends in the GVP.  Do what you gotta do on K Street in DC but let’s not take our eyes off the ball because where the ball really bounces is in those increasingly-red state legislatures from sea to shining sea.

If The Facts Don’t Support Gun-nut Nation, Why Bother With Facts?

Now that we have a President-elect who has made a virtue out of not even trying to distinguish between fact and fiction in debates about public policy, we will begin to see this confusion appear in public policy discussions about guns.  Actually, it’s not a confusion at all; rather, the door is now open for Gun-nut Nation to say anything they want to say about guns because as long as they say it, then it must be true. And if the other side says it, since they lost on November 8th, it’s false.

ccw           How long did it take for this new approach to appear?  Exactly one week following the election, with an article in National Review. The author, Andrew Branca, a self-described expert on self-defense, floats around the alt-right radio world and also teaches self-defense ‘law’ on a website which, of course, contains the usual disclaimer that none of the content ‘accurately communicates laws or court decisions,’ too bad these classes can’t be listed any longer on the Trump University curriculum.

The subject of the NR critique is an article which just appeared in a leading medical journal, JAMA – Internal Medicine, which finds a clear connection between the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in Florida and an increase in homicide in the Gunshine State. The article looked at homicide rates and gun-homicide rates between 1999 and 2014, and found a significant increase in both trends after the SYG law was passed in 2005. This increase was particularly evident for age groups 20-35 and for males, which happen to be the two most common demographic categories for gun violence overall.

This is not the first study which links SYG laws to increases in gun violence and violence in general.  The Everytown research group found that after the law was passed, the justifiable homicide rate tripled, with most of the victims, not surprisingly, being young, Black men.  A detailed study based on Texas data showed that such laws did not deter crimes like assault, robbery or burglary, but did lead to an increase in murder and manslaughter. In other words, if you walk around armed and are not required to first back down when facing what you believe to be a criminal threat, you might end up shooting someone but you won’t be protecting yourself or your community from crime.

Which is exactly the opposite of what Gun-nut Nation claims is the reason for walking around with a gun. And you can be sure that you’ll hear this nonsense again and again next year when the NRA leads the charge to get a national, concealed-carry law on the Chief Executive’s desk. Which brings us back to Branca’s critique of the JAMA new study on the effects of the Florida STG laws; a critique based on a misuse of data that reaches colossal terms.

Branca states that the SYG study is ‘fatally flawed’ because it does not distinguish between murder on the one hand and homicide on the other and, in many cases, murder turns out to be a reasonable response by a victim to a violent crime.  And since the whole point of STG laws is to give a crime victim an opportunity to defend himself before or during the commission of a crime, of course the number of people killed would go up as all these gun-toting community defenders use their guns to protect themselves and everyone else.

.  In Florida, the average annual homicide rate increased from 600 to 840 after STG was passed. Meanwhile, according to the FBI, the number of justifiable homicides recorded throughout the entire United States averaged roughly 280 per year for the years covered by the JAMA report  Should we assume, therefore, that every, single act of justifiable homicide occurred only in the Gunshine State? And that’s the level of stupidity masquerading as informed opinion that we will now face when it comes to the public debate about guns.