Trump Goes To NRA And Gives ‘Em Squat.

I just listened to the speech – again. If you don’t know what speech I’m talking about, then you haven’t been following the latest doings in Gun-nut Nation.  It’s the speech that Trump gave Friday at the NRA annual meeting, the first President to address the Gun-nut Nation faithful since Saint Ronald showed up in 1983.

trump5As speeches go, it was a fairly hum-drum and boring affair. I hate to say this, but when Trump exhorted his campaign audiences to ‘throw them the hell out,’ or ‘beat them up,’ or ‘put Hillary in jail,’ at least there was a certain amount of excitement and hoopla in the air. And he did on rare occasion show his old form, referring to Liz Warren as ‘Pocahontas’ and leading the audience in a brief ‘build the wall’ cheer. But I predicted last week that Trump would show up and just rattle on about how tough he was on crime, and that’s exactly what he did.

Trump spent the first 6 minutes cracking jokes about how nobody thought he could win; someone might tell his speechwriters that the election was six months ago and the line about how ‘everyone said I couldn’t get to 270 and they were right because I ended up at 306’ is getting a little stale. With great solemnity he then intoned that the ‘eight-year assault on the 2nd Amendment’ had come to an end, but then he veered back to a disjointed praising of the new Supreme Court justice and from the 12th minute to the 17th minute he told the audience everything else he was doing to protect us from illegal immigrants and crime.

At this point in the speech the audience was getting restive because the applause was beginning to fade, so for the next three minutes Trump babbled on and on about how he was going to build the wall. He then mentioned that a couple of Southern Governors were in the room along with Ted Cruz, and then at minute 23 he stopped short (I thought that maybe he was finally going to say something newsworthy) and said, again with great solemnity, “I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”  The next day the mainstream media reported that Trump said he would support gun ‘rights.’ This was the NRA. What was he supposed to say? That he wouldn’t support gun ‘rights?’

He then wrapped up by mumbling something about Paul Revere, the battle at Concord and a reminder that he will make America great again because his administration will bring back the idea that the ‘people can govern themselves.’  That’s what he calls Twitter?

He mentioned several times that Wayne-o and Chris Cox were doing a great job, he made reference to the NRA’s storied President, Charlton Heston, but he didn’t even pull out Heston’s epic applause line about how nobody would ever take a gun away from his ‘cold, dead hands.’ The kid who wrote Trump’s speech probably wasn’t even born when Heston first shouted those words.

The audience heard the word  ‘freedom’ again and again but at no time did they hear anything about the national, concealed-carry bill which is the NRA’s most cherished dream. There was no mention of ending ‘gun-free’ zones, another issue high on the NRA wish-list, which Trump claimed he would abolish on his first day on the job. He didn’t even talk about his son’s pet project to market gun silencers as some kind of medical device. The truth is that Trump came to the NRA meeting, talked for 28 minutes and didn’t say anything at all.

For all his talk about how much Trump ‘loves’ gun owners, his NRA speech didn’t give them squat. And I’m not saying that chickens won’t come home to roost at some point this year,but getting a big tax cut for himself and his friends is a lot more important to Trump than whether Colion Noir can go prancing around with his guns.

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Here’s A New Approach To Gun Violence: Get Rid Of The Second Amendment.

If you want to prove you’re a real gun nut, the way to do it is to refer to yourself as a “Second Amendment absolutist.”  Now in fact that phrase has no real meaning at all, at least not in any legal sense, but it’s a way of identifying with the group that went nuts at the 2000 NRA meeting when the words ‘not from my cold, dead hands’ were intoned by then-NRA President Charlton Heston, whose movie career was just about over except for a bit part in Bowling for Columbine where Michael Moore tried, unsuccessfully, to pester him to death.

As far as I can figure out, to be a Second Amendment absolutist means that government cannot pass any law that would keep American citizens from getting their hands on guns.  Which means bye-bye background checks, bye-bye permit-to-purchase requirements, bye-bye waiting periods and, most of all, bye-bye to any restrictions on walking around with a gun.  It also goes without saying that there wouldn’t be any attempts to restrict the types of guns.  Well, maybe we’d let the government continue to regulate full-auto guns, if only because these items fall into the category of military, rather than civilian small arms. Otherwise, if you can pull the trigger and the gun goes bang only once, you can own and carry anything that you want.

heston               What the gun nuts really want is a legal system which, when it comes to small arms, really doesn’t operate at all.  Which is why I find a new effort to abolish the 2nd Amendment a very interesting response to the absolutist point of view. Because while the absolutists want the amendment ignored, the abolitionists want it to disappear which, to all intents and purposes, amounts to the same thing.  The difference, of course, and the difference is crucial, is that the absolutists want limitless Constitutional protection for their gun-nuttery; the abolitionists know that getting rid of the 2nd Amendment will go a long way towards getting rid of the guns.

Ironically, this was somewhat the state of affairs after the SCOTUS handed down its previous 2nd Amendment decision known as United States vs. Miller in 1939.  In this case, which involved transporting a sawed-off shotgun across state lines, the Court held exactly the opposite from the way it ruled in 2008, namely, that the Constitution did not protect the private ownership of guns. But interestingly, for at least fifty years following Miller, there was little, if any legislative activity involving gun ownership, and even the landmark GCA68 law which got the Feds into gun regulation big-time, didn’t really touch on Constitutional issues at all.  It wasn’t until the Clinton Administration passed two gun laws (Brady and Assault Weapons) in 1994 that arguments over the 2nd Amendment began to heat up, leading eventually to the 2008 decision – a history that is covered thoroughly by Adam Winkler in his well-written book.

The reason I am so taken with this new effort to abolish the 2nd Amendment is that the gun-control community has always been somewhat ambivalent about the statute and, if anything, has found it necessary to defend the amendment from a liberal point of view.  In fact, the debate that led up to the 2008 decision was inaugurated by a pro-2nd Amendment article written by a liberal legal scholar, Sandy Levinson. His 1989 article, “The Embarrassing Second Amendment,” called upon liberal legal circles to support the amendment because, like free speech supporters who argued in favor of the Klan, the Constitution protected the bad along with the good.

Ever since Levinson, liberals have fallen over themselves to proclaim their devotion to the 2nd Amendment while, at the same time, invariably calling for more regulation of guns.  But I don’t see how the constitutionality of gun ownership has anything to do with the 100,000 people injured and killed each year with guns.  Sorry, but the kids and teachers in Sandy Hook would be alive today if Adam Lanza had to leave his gun ‘rights’ at the front door.

The NRA Admits The Truth About How Often We Actually Use Guns To Protect Ourselves From Crime.

So my man Colion, he of the prancing around with his cute little AR, has just stuck up a new video on the NRA website, and it is simply a remarkable commentary on the Big Lie that the NRA has been spreading around for the last thirty years. And the lie I am referring to is the idea that armed citizens carrying their own guns are an effective response to crime.  In the old days they had real personalities like Charlton Heston drumming up the ‘guns protect us from crime’ doggerel, now it’s left to made-for-video characters like Colion Noir or AM Talk Radio hamsters like John Lott to spread this nonsensical and dangerous line around.  Why is it nonsensical?  Because it’s based on data which (I’m being polite) doesn’t exist.  Why is it dangerous?  Because it diverts attention from the fact that guns create risk.  Notice that I have bolded, underlined and italicized the word ‘fact.’  Get it?

noir                Anyway, so Colion has this new video in which he’s up on a stage and with lots of canned applause, ooohs and aaahs, performs a card trick in which it appears as though he is laying out 52 cards in a certain order and then tries to do it again.  And the odds of anyone being able to perform such a trick, he admits, are somewhere above a gezillion to one.  Which he then says – are you ready, are you ready? – that these are about the odds of an American getting attacked and, in their moment of peril, needing to use a gun.

What?  A spokesperson for the NRA actually coming out and saying that we aren’t all facing an immediate and continuous threat to our lives from the you-know-who’s that are stalking us down every street?  No.  Play it again Colion, play it again.  And here it is: “The odds of you or me needing a gun to protect our lives is not that much better than Colion the Incredible putting these cards back in the exact order.”   Then he drops the other shoe: “But the odds of someone needing a gun to protect their life with is a hundred percent.”

So what he’s saying in a somewhat scrambled way is that even though guns are the best way to defend yourself, the chances that you will ever have to defend yourself are a gazillion to one.  And this segues into the usual nonsense about how people who are anti-gun have no right to tell anyone else how they should defend themselves, and nobody has the ‘right’ to tell someone else that they don’t have the ‘right’ to do something.  I’m actually quoting our man Colion word for word and maybe he’s decided that if Donald Trump can get a big following by talking to his audience on a third-grade level, then Colion will get an even bigger response if he ratchets his language down to second grade.  I don’t really know whether he’s dumb, playing dumb or figuring his audience is dumb, or all three.  But I do know this: I never imagined I would ever hear anyone connected to the NRA admitting that the odds of ever using a gun in self-defense were about the same as bumping into a rhinoceros while you were taking Fido for his evening walk.

But come to think of it, that’s not really the reason why Wayne-o and the other NRA noisemakers tell us over and over again that we should be carrying guns. What the NRA has really been saying is that you shouldn’t be carrying a gun just to protect yourself, you should be carrying it to protect everyone else!  Remember the ‘only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun?’

Colion my man, it’s refreshing to see someone from the ‘other side’ of the gun debate actually saying something that’s based on a bit of the truth.  But don’t push the truth too far or you might find yourself looking for a job.

Why Do Gun Owners Love Their Guns? Not Because They Protect Us From Anything.

One thing about the gun debate I find interesting is how quickly and easily gun owners get riled up when politicians, or anyone else for that matter, begin talking about taking away their guns.  From the way they talk, you’d think the world was about to come to an end.  What was Heston’s famous line?  “From my cold, dead hands.”  Here’s a guy who made more forgettable movies than anyone could ever remember, but five words uttered at the NRA convention and he’s immortalized forevermore.

I see the same intensity of feelings in comments on my blog.  “You’re a traitor,” is one of the less-angry ones; “Mike the Gun Guy is Enemy #1,” crops up from time to time.  I have never once advocated any legislative or legal response to gun violence, but God forbid I say that maybe some of what the NRA claims to be true isn’t so true and you’d think I was calling for the confiscation of every, single gun.

heston                Maybe  I just don’t appreciate how gun owners think about their guns. So yesterday I decided to get a better understanding of the average gun owner by conducting a survey on how frequently gun guys (and gals) actually walk around with a gun.  After all, if you listen to the NRA, you quickly learn that nobody understands the problems faced by gun owners like they do, and nothing is more important to gun owners than being able to protect themselves and their loved ones by walking around with a gun.

So yesterday I sat down and sent an email to 650 people who took the required safety course from me that my state requires for issuance of the LTC.  And if they had, in fact, received the LTC, I asked them to tell me how often they carried a concealed weapon with the choices being: always, usually, sometimes, frequently or never at all.  Obviously, the folks who said they always or usually carried a concealed weapon were embodying Wayne LaPierre’s “good guys” dictum; the rest were pussies or worse.

Within 24 hours I received back more than 130 responses, of whom 102 stated they had received their LTC.  And how did the NRA do in convincing MR or MS gun-owner that they would be fulfilling a sacred trust by walking around with a gun?  Not very well, I’m afraid.  Only 29 of 97 LTC-holders reported that they ‘always’ or ‘usually’ carried a gun, of whom 22 were guys and 6 were gals.  The rest just weren’t convinced that they needed to carry a gun, and 53 of the respondents, 39 men and 10 women reported that they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ carried a concealed weapon at all.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The latest numbers indicate that there are roughly 8 million active concealed-carry permits in the United States, so if the results of my poll are representative, that means there may be about 2 million people walking the highways and byways of our beloved country ready at any moment to yank out and use their guns.  But 2 million doesn’t even represent 1% of the country’s population so it’s not like there’s some huge, gun-toting army out there just waiting to protect the rest of us from the criminal hordes.

On the other hand, a couple of million people who believe that something’s about to happen in DC that will directly affect them can make a lot of noise.  They can contact their Representatives, or make a telephone call, or send a nasty email to me.  I have never done any of those things because I can’t recall that Congress ever debated a law which would have any direct impact on me.  But the NRA, to their credit, has managed to make its membership feel that any discussion about gun control is a discussion about them.  Why pass up the opportunity to let everyone know what is the most important thing to you?  I wouldn’t, that’s for damn sure.

Do Guns Protect Us From Crime? The Guy Who Says ‘Yes’ Actually Means ‘No.’

For the last twenty years the gun lobby has been promoting more concealed-carry and more gun ownership in general by spreading the idea that guns protect us from crime.  This pitch is even more pronounced as they go after new consumer markets like women and African-Americans, populations that have traditionally resisted gun ownership but are also considered to be more vulnerable to criminal attacks for reasons of gender or where they happen to live.

This whole notion about guns being used to thwart crime first took off in an article published by the criminologist Gary Kleck in 1995.  Kleck previously published Point Blank, a book presented as a balanced corrective to the gun debate because  “each side simplifies, caricatures, and sometimes willfully distorts the arguments of the other, setting up and knocking down their respective straw men with ease.”  But his article on defensive gun use departed from this balanced point of view, totally dismissing the modest estimates of defensive gun use (DGU) of most previous scholarship and advancing a much higher number based on a telephone survey conducted by his own marketing firm.

gun cartoonJust as Kleck’s findings on DGUs were seized upon by the pro-gun lobby as “proof” that gun ownership was a positive response to crime, so he was attacked by gun control advocates who felt that his argument was overwhelmingly biased towards helping the spread of  CCW, as well as the sale of more guns.  It should be noted that the NRA, in the aftermath of Brady and the assault weapons ban, began softening its long-time reliance on sporting uses of guns and turned instead to actors like Charlton Heston whose TV ads for the gun lobby called the streets of DC “the most dangerous place in the world,” particularly if an unarmed person walked them at night.

At the same time Kleck published his findings on DGUs, he also published research that, in the main, contradicts everything he claimed to be beneficial about DGUs.  I am referring to a report he submitted to the Institute of Justice in 1994 on self-protection and rape which, curiously, was never cited in his DGU article that was published the following year. In this report he did the one thing that I felt largely discounted his claims to the social utility of carrying a gun by comparing the results of resistance to rapes by victims who didn’t us a gun but resorted to other resistance behaviors, such as physically resisting without a gun, yelling, trying to get a third party’s attention or resisting with a weapon other than a gun.

Guess what?  It turns out that Kleck’s own research demonstrates that rape and assault victims who used methods other than guns to resist an attack not only were as successful in their efforts as they were when they used guns, but in some types of resistance actually sustained fewer injuries than when they defended themselves with guns.  To quote Kleck: “Self-protective actions that appear to significantly reduce the risk of injury and serious injury include ‘attacking without weapon,’ ‘threatening p. without weapon,’ run away/hide,’ and ‘called the police.'” Of the 733 rape victims covered in this study, almost half who engaged in some form of self-protective behavior thwarted the actual rape.

It should be added, incidentally, that the data for this study was drawn from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), a source that Kleck considered totally unreliable in buttressing  his claims about the validity of his research on DGUs.  But of course the real problem with Kleck’s study of defensive gun use is that his DGU survey didn’t deal with crime victims at all.  The respondents were asked whether having a gun on their person thwarted what otherwise might have been a criminal attack; a question which requires a gigantic leap of faith to even assume that the answers could be used to say anything about whether guns can protect us from crime. And Kleck, who started off trying to figure out what we know about guns, ends up just telling some of us what we want to believe, whether we really know it to be true or not.

 

America Goes To War And Takes Its Guns

Most of the design and engineering advances that created modern small arms came through the development of military weapons, both rifles like the Springfield 03 or handguns like John Browning’s Colt 1911. And whether it was the M-1 Garand that General Patton called the “greatest battle implement ever devised,” or the Winchester repeating carbine that the U.S. Cavalry carried against the Indians, it’s safe to say that guns played an important role in just about every war that America fought.

It should therefore come as no surprise that guns are once again playing an essential, if not a pivotal role in what is perhaps America’s longest-lasting war.  I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan, although both of those conflicts have dragged on far too long.  I’m talking instead about America’s “culture” war for which guns and gun ownership have come to define both the ebb and flow of the conflict as well as the basic attitudes of both sides.

Guns were first tied to the culture war when Charlton Heston became NRA President in  1998.  Heston and other members of his Hollywood generation began turning conservative when Ronald Reagan, won the Presidency in 1980. But while Reagan boosted conservative fortunes he was always ambivalent about the culture war; kept evangelicals at arm’s length, was never seen inside a church, and rarely, if ever, invoked the virtues and values of gun ownership or membership in the NRA.  In fact, along with Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, Reagan sent a letter to the House of Representatives in 1994 advocating an assault-rifle ban that was enacted later in the year.

Until the 2008 election of Obama, the culture war embraced issues like abortion and gay rights, both of which took precedence over guns.  And even though Bill Clinton blamed the 1994 Republican Congressional sweep and the 2000 defeat of Al Gore on the power of the NRA, the outcome of both elections couldn’t be tied specifically to anything having to do with guns.

The ascendency of guns in the cultural war didn’t reflect so much the growing power of the gun-owning lobby as it was the result of conservative shifts away from other issues for which they simply could not muster enough votes to win.  On abortion, for example, the nation appears evenly split but Rowe v. Wade is now forty years old and as women continue to move forward in the workplace and the professions, a woman’s right to choose seems fairly secure.  As for the gay issue, 19 states have now legalized same-sex marriage and last year the SCOTUS invalidated the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which opens the door for many more states to lift their own gay marriage bans.

sarah                So as the older, hot-button cultural issues gradually wither away (remember something called English as the official language?), gun ownership and gun “rights” move to center stage.  And guns are a perfect means to build support for conservative cultural warriors because their ownership, after all, is enshrined in the most holy of all cultural holies, the Bill of Rights.  Even the leader of the liberals, whether he means it or not, is forced to sing hosannas to the 2nd Amendment as his shock-troops prepare to do battle against the other side.

The problem with cultural conflicts is they cannot be resolved with reference to facts.  Because as Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky pointed out long before the culture war rose to the level of conflict that we see today, people make decisions about things like gun ownership not because they understand or even care about whether a gun can or cannot protect them from harm, but whether ownership of a gun either supports or conflicts with their world view.  If both sides in the gun debate don’t find a way to resolve their arguments by reconciling larger cultural issues, it will drag on the way the Chaco War dragged on between Paraguay and Bolivia over a border that neither country could even find.