If You Think That Wear Orange Day Won’t Making A Difference, Think Again.

Sometime early in 1965, I remember there was snow on the ground, a bunch of us left our college campus, went down to Times Square and demonstrated against American troops in Viet Nam.  At the time there were only 20,000 or so fighting men over there and people who walked past us nodded politely, glanced at and then threw away our little leaflets. After an hour or so we all went home.

We never could have imagined that five years later there would be 400,000 American GIs in Southeast Asia, but we also couldn’t imagine that there were demonstrations daily in every American city, and that eventually the anti-war stance of a majority of Americans would help bring about an end to the war.

I was thinking about my experience as a college student during the Viet Nam War last week on Wear Orange Day.  Because when it started in Chicago as a way to commemorate the life (and terrible, terrible death) of Hadiya Pendleton, I don’t think that anyone believed or even imagined that in two short years this event would swell into an international occasion embracing the activities and energies of millions of average, ordinary folks like you and me.  And when I say millions, I’m not talking about single-digit millions; I’m talking about hundreds of millions – that’s right – hundreds of millions who were aware that wearing orange on June 2nd meant participating in an activity that allowed everyone to spend some time thinking about the violence caused by guns.

orange2           I didn’t notice, incidentally, that the event was embraced or even mentioned by the NRA.  Usually when some organization, politician or celebrity says anything remotely reasonable about gun violence, Gun Nut Nation’s noise machine swings into action, inundating the faithful with emails, videos, and most of all, demands for cash.  Last week it was Hillary, this week it was Katie, there are plenty of targets around.  And the reason that the number of targets keeps increasing is the same reason why participation in the Wear Orange campaign is growing by leaps and bounds, namely, the silly and stupid arguments that are trotted out again and again to explain away the senseless deaths of more than 30,000 human beings every year from gun violence simply don’t work.

In 2015 there were 55,000 people who posted #WearOrange support on social media; this year more than 200,000 posts came up; last year the hashtag registered 220 million impressions across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – try seven times that number this year; in 2015 they held a Party for Peace in Chicago, last week more than 200 events took place countryside; the Empire State Building was lit orange, so were more than 125 other landmarks from sea to shining sea.  Want a list of the hundreds of companies, major personalities, political leaders and professional sports teams that wore orange?  It’s right here.

I have been following the argument over gun violence for more than thirty years, in fact it’s going on forty because I first started paying attention to the issue of guns and gun violence prevention in the run-up to GCA68. And what is so important and different about June 2nd from every previous activity designed to increase awareness about gun violence is that this time, for the first time, it didn’t grow out of an immediate response to a horrific shooting or other crazy, gun violence event.

Which means that the emotions and energy displayed on June 2nd aren’t just going to fade away.  Because #WearOrange has now taken on a life of its own; it exists because people understand and support the idea that guns are deadly and gun violence needs to fade away.  Tomorrow I’ll go walking and spot someone who just happens to be wearing orange. I’ll flash a quick grin of recognition and I’ll probably get a quick grin back.  And if this happens to me it will happen to others and it will happen more and more.

Advertisements

The Gun Violence Numbers Continue To Add Up. And Up. And Up.

Hey folks.  Something really crazy is going on.  I hope I’m wrong but I suspect I’m not.  But if I am, please correct me as quickly as you can.  Okay?  I really mean it.

According to my friends at the Gun Violence Archive, so far in the last 72 hours we have racked up 78 deaths from guns.  So far in 2016 the total gun deaths stands at 1,735.  Overnight there were at least 26 gun homicides, of which 6 were evidently the work of one armed citizen, Jason Dalton, who just drove around Kalamazoo, MI, firing a semi-automatic pistol at whomever happened to come into his sight. That’s more than one killing every hour, which is actually a slightly lower hourly rate than what has been going on since the beginning of the year!

conference-program-picAs Bill Clinton said when he re-nominated Barack Obama in 2012, let’s do the arithmetic.  So far this year we have gone through 51 days plus 9 additional hours on Day 52. This adds up to 1,232 hours since the great ball dropped in Times Square.  Which means that the per-hour gun killing rate is now 1.4.  Which means at this rate we end up with 12,297 homicide deaths by year’s end; let’s add in 1,000 unintentional gun deaths which is probably a decent estimate and then tack on another 22,000 suicides, another reliable estimate, and we wind up with a grand total of more than 35,000 Americans who will be killed by guns in 2016.

There’s only one little problem, and it’s not a problem with my math.  Taken together, January and February are the two lowest murder months of the entire calendar year.  January is actually higher due, of course, to the usual way in which many people celebrate the Holiday Season by getting drunk, getting into a brawl and then, God bless ‘em all, pulling out a gun. But February is the lowest month for all serious crimes because in most parts of the country, it’s just too darn cold.

On the other hand, when we get into the warmer Summer months, what happens in the Winter as regards violent crimes is just a fraction of what takes place between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with high-violence cities like Chicago, Detroit and DC racking up twice as many killings in those months as what is usually recorded at the beginning of the year.

This is why I began this blog with a plea for help in the hopes that perhaps the data I am looking at is wrong. But it’s not wrong.  The numbers so far this year reflect what has been happening with gun violence for the last decade, namely, a slow but steady upward climb from 28,685 in 2004 to 32,743 in 2014.  That’s a 14% increase in gun violence during the same years that the pro-gun noise machine has the unmitigated gall to keep telling us that guns are protecting us from violence and crime.  It’s as if the NRA and their media mouthpieces don’t care whether anything they say has even the slightest relationship to reality at all.

Remember this quote from Dickens: “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.”  I think these words really describe the gun debate today.  Because if the gun violence numbers so far this year continue and then increase as they surely will during the summer months, we will end 2016 with a body count that will probably crest somewhere above 38,000 or even higher, which takes us back to levels that haven’t been seen since the great crime wave that peaked in 1994.

Is it too much to imagine that yesterday’s shooting in Kalamazoo might provoke folks to consider the possibility that it’s not people who are the problem, it’s the ease with which people can get their hands on guns?  Recall again what Dickens said.

 

A New Article Explains How Crime Guns Get Into The ‘Wrong Hands’

When a serious scholar like Philip Cook publishes research on gun violence, the pro-gun community usually ignores what he has to say.  This is because Professor Cook has been publishing important work on the risks of guns for nearly forty years, and the folks who don’t believe that guns are a risk would rather pretend he doesn’t exist.  Which is why I found it interesting that his latest work on how criminals get their guns has made the headlines in the pro-gun media, from the NRA to the National Review.

          Philip Cook

Philip Cook

The pro-gun headlines, however, tell a much different story than the one we get from Phil Cook.  Because what Cook and his research colleagues were trying to find out was information about the operation of the ‘informal’ gun network; i.e., gun transfers which occur outside of the regulatory environment that defines initial gun transfers between customers and FFLs.  And since only 10% of the guns acquired by the survey respondents came directly from legal sources, the whole point of this research was to illuminate the shadowy and unmapped world of illegal guns.  Or to be more precise, how guns were acquired by people who were then arrested for using or carrying them in illegal ways.  Incidentally, this article appears in the special Preventive Medicine issue on gun violence edited by Daniel Webster and David Hemenway whose lead editorial I discussed last week.

The pro-gun noisemakers are falling over each other telling their followers that this article justifies their opposition to every gun regulation of any kind, because the criminals themselves admit that only 10% of the guns they use come through legal channels to them.  So what’s the point, for example, of expanding background checks to secondary transfers if gun-toting criminals get all the guns they want without undergoing a background check at all?  To quote the geniuses at the NRA: “Since these criminals do not use gun stores, gun shows, or even legal private gun sellers, there is no point in the criminal supply chain where a background check would make any difference whatsoever.”

The NRA’s been peddling this crap since they lost the battle to prevent NICS background checks in 1994. Here’s the organization’s official statement on the issue: “NRA opposes expanding background check systems at the federal or state level. Studies by the federal government show that people sent to state prison because of gun crimes typically get guns through theft, on the black market, or from family members or friends, and nearly half of illegally trafficked firearms originate with straw purchasers—people who can pass background checks, who buy guns for criminals on the sly. No amount of background checks can stop these criminals.” And guess what?  Now they have the esteemed gun researcher Phil Cook validating the NRA point of view!

Except that’s not the point of Phil’s research at all. To the contrary, the article contains a very interesting graphic (Page 30) along with excerpts from respondent interviews which illustrate the degree to which nearly all the guns acquired by inmates passed through multiple hands following the initial, legal transaction that took place in an FFL’s store.  And even though the lack of NICS checks over secondary (or tertiary or quaternary or quinary) transactions was the rule for guns by themselves of their friends, few of the jailed inmates interviewed in this study had any idea of exactly how or when their guns first disappeared from lawful commerce and ended up in the mean streets.

What makes this article so powerful and compelling is that it’s not based on data so much as on the words of gun-carrying criminals themselves.  The fact that again and again inmates mentioned their fears of getting caught with a gun validates the notion that gun regulations work.  The respondents in this study clearly understood that giving them a gun was putting it in the ‘wrong hands.’ In that respect, the felons in Cook County Jail are way out in front of the NRA.

Illinois Finally Lets Residents Carry Guns – Kind Of.

Back in 2010, SCOTUS decided that the only state which did not issue concealed weapons permits  – Illinois – had to get in line with the 2008 Heller decision and let state residents carry guns.  After a lot of back and forth between the governor and the legislature, a bill was finally approved which went into effect this past weekend.  And much to everyone’s astonishment, the website that has to be used for the CCW application actually works! It’s working so well that the State Police processed and approved more than 13,000 applications by Tuesday and is gearing up for more to come.  There are over 3 million gun licenses floating around Illinois, and while nobody knows how many license-holders will want to carry their guns, the $150 application fee hasn’t yet been seen as a barrier against the exercise of this precious 2nd Amendment right.

Sheriff Tom Dart

Sheriff Tom Dart

Meanwhile, gun owners had even more reason to cheer because on Monday a Federal judge, appointed by President Obama no less, issued a ruling declaring Chicago’s ban on retail gun sales to be unconstitutional which means that, at some point, city residents won’t have to take a trip out of town in order to buy a gun. The city was given time to respond to the ruling and, if the experience in Washington, D.C. is any guide, folks in the Windy City shouldn’t expect to be able to go walking into the neighborhood gun boutique any time soon.

For that matter, those Illinois residents who take the time and trouble to get their hands on a concealed-carry license aren’t going to be walking around whistling Dixie either, if only because the provisions of the new law that define where, when and how a concealed weapon can be carried within the state are a wonder to behold.  And not only is the law complicated and laced with all kinds of exceptions and variations on the rules, there’s even confusion about how to enforce it on the part of law enforcement agencies themselves.  The law, for example, doesn’t let you bring a concealed weapon to a street fair but allows you to walk through the fair if you are on your way home.   Try enforcing that one – yea, right.

Meanwhile, the other problem with the licensing process, according to one expert – Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart – is that the application process is so flawed that people with histories of violence or mental illness will still be able to be approved.  At issue is the use, or I should say, non-use of the LEADS database, which is a catch-all compendium of data from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that is used to access information about just about anything and everything, including gang membership, stolen boats, missing persons, foreign fugitives, snowmobile registration and God knows what else.  By the way, it also contains a fairly complete record on violent crime. Dart claims that LEADS should be used to approve applications for CCW in Illinois; the new CCW law specifically prohibits its use.  The Cook County sheriff is known to be an opponent of concealed carry, and while his stated objections to the new law have gained him some kudos with the gun control crew, he hasn’t exactly endeared himself to those who hold the opposite point of view.

I’m not a law enforcement expert, nor do I claim to hold a degree in Constitutional law.  But I do wish occasionally that some of the howlers and yowlers on both sides of the gun debate would consider being a bit more modest when it comes to being for or against guns. Like it or not, walking around with a concealed weapon is an issue of public safety, and if sheriffs in states like Colorado and New York have the right to state their unwillingness to enforce new gun control laws, then a sheriff in Illinois who believes that a new gun control law won’t do what it’s supposed to do is also obligated to make and state his case.

Want To Avoid Getting Shot? Stay Away From Where The Shootings Occur

Lotka-Volterra equation

Lotka-Volterra equation

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that what the novelist Walter Mosley said about guns is true: “If you carry a gun, it’s bound to go off sooner or later.”  Which is kind of obvious because after all, if you don’t carry a gun it can’t go off, right? But the trick, if you’re concerned about gun violence, is figuring out when and why a gun goes off, and once you know that, what to do about it. We seem to be much better at figuring out the when and the why, but an article published yesterday in the Journal of Public Health, may point a way towards also figuring out the what.

The authors, two Yale sociologists, Andrew Papachristos and Christopher Wildeman, have constructed a model for predicting gun violence based on studying gun homicides from 2006 to 2011 in an area of Chicago that had some of the highest rates of gun violence in a city that’s know for gun violence.  The study found that 6% of the area’s population was involved in 70% of the murders, and nearly everyone in this population group had prior contact with criminal justice or public health.  The data allowed the authors to construct a predictor of future gun homicides based primarily on social networks, a methodology that is now going to be used by the police to identify and visit with these high-risk kids and adults.  As Papachristos puts it, “It’s who you hang out with that gets you into trouble.”

Papachristos and Wildeman are planning to extend their research to cover the entire city of Chicago, and perhaps the Chicago PD will be able to mount a citywide program to monitor the social networks that breed the violent use of guns.  But the idea that guns are being used to commit violent crimes by people who know each other and band together is hardly new.  In fact, it’s not only humans who behave this way – the same type of behavior can be found in animals and even insects, and this has been known for nearly a hundred years.

Back in the 1920s a statistician named Alfred Lotka and a mathematician named Vito Volterra developed a statistical analysis (known as the Lotka-Volterra equations) that are used by ecologists to predict how different species occupy and protect their home territories.  This equation was then picked by a UCLA anthropologist, Jeffrey Brantingham, to study the territoriality of street gangs in Los Angeles and the links between each gangs’ territorial imperatives and gun violence.  What Brantingham found was that the further away from the gang’s headquarters, the less gun violence was committed by members of each gang.  The closer to the gang headquarters, the more shootings took place.  The behavior of the gangs was no different from the behavior of hyenas or bees. Want to avoid being attacked? Stay away from the place where the guys with the guns are found.

The research just published by Papachristos and Wildeman defines gun violence territory not from a geographic, but from a social network perspective.  It’s not about which street you walk on, it’s who you hang out with that predicts whether you’ll get shot or use a gun to shoot someone else. But when all is said and done, aren’t the findings by Papachristos and Wildeman on the one hand, and Brantigham on the other, really two sides of the coin?  After all, people tend to spend their time with people they know.  Call them a ‘group,’ a ‘gang’ or whatever, the tendency of humans to associate with one another in an organized manner is as old as humanity itself. It also seems to be as old as the existence of all living species.  Maybe the cops should spend a little less time giving out parking tickets and spend a little more time at the zoo.

 

Understanding Crime: A Tale Of Two Cities – Chapter 1

springfield

Springfield

After I published my last blog I received an email from Susan W: “So why does Chicago have such a high murder rate?”  She’s not the only one asking that question.   Problem is that the answer isn’t a single answer because there’s no type of behavior that can be explained by one, single factor.  In the preface to its report, the FBI lists thirteen factors that need to be taken into account, including  economic conditions, culture, marital situations, crime reporting practices of the citizenry, population density, age cohorts, etc., etc., etc.  And the report states that these are “some” of the factors that might influence crime levels.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to take the FBI at its word and use those factors plus others to try and construct a profile for two cities that have very different crime patterns even though they are extremely similar in many of the social, economic, cultural, demographic and law enforcement categories listed by the FBI.  And just as important as the statistical data is the fact that I happen to live midway between these two cities, I travel through them all the time, and I know their histories and even some of their current residents very well.

I’m talking about two cities in Massachusetts: Springfield and Worcester.  Let’s look at some quick numbers.  Population: Worcester is 183,247; Springfield is 154,518. Per-capita income: Worcester is $24,544; Springfield is $18,483.  Percentage of workforce in administrative or sales: Exactly the same (15% and 10%.)  Unemployment: Worcester is 7.7%, Springfield is 8.4%  Public school reading proficiency: Same for both – 69%.  Data is all from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, whose websites are shut down at the moment.

One last demographic comparison which is usually relevant to discussions about crime.  While the per-capita income is substantially higher for Worcester versus Springfield, population density which is considered a major factor in crime rates (more urban = more crime) is almost exactly the same:  4,845 for Worcester, 4803 for Springfield. When we turn to crime data, however, all similarities disappear.  Let’s look at homicide first.

worcester

Worcester

 

In 2012, Springfield’s (per 100,000) homicide rate was 7.14, in Worcester it was 4.3.  Rape was 25 to 18, robbery was 351 to 228, overall violent crime rates were 1,042 to 960, the parity due to a higher rate of assault in Worcester than Springfield.  On the property crime side, there was no parity at all.  Springfield’s rate for burglary, larceny and auto theft was 4,561, Worcester registered 3,514.

Let’s put these numbers into the national context.  Worcester’s murder rate was slightly below the national rate; Springfield’s rate was nearly twice as high.  Worcester’s property crime rate was 18.6% higher than the national number, Springfield’s was 37.3% higher.  So if you live in Worcester, your body is a little safer than anywhere else in America but your property is somewhat more at risk.  If you live in Springfield, I suggest you stay inside at all times, double-lock your doors and get rid of your car.

Back to the beginning.  Susan W asked for reasons why there are so ,many murders in Chicago.  We don’t know yet but if we analyze enough data, the answer may ultimately speak for itself.  Stay tuned.

It’s Official! When It Comes To Murders, The Second City Is Now The First City

fbi

 

 

Chicago has always been known as the ‘Second City’ because it can’t seem to compete with New York.  But that’s changed.  The latest report on American crime released annually by the FBI, shows that when it comes to murder, Chicago now leads the list.

Since my diaries on crime seem to generate lots of bickering over the data, I want to make one thing very clear: the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports are estimates because: 1) they are based on partial data; 2) they assume that every reporting department collects and analyzes its crime data in the same way. Nevertheless, the gap between murders in Chicago and everywhere else are so great that we can say with some degree of certainty that the Windy City has really stepped it up in 2012.

According to the FBI, Chicago had 500 murders in 2012, while New York dropped to a paltry 419. Note, incidentally, that New York’s population is three times  higher than Chicago’s (8.7 million to 2.7 million, respectively) which makes Chicago’s murder rate (per 100,000) about four times higher than New York’s rate, 18 to 4.8.

Think Chicago’s an unsafe city? Think again. The 2012  murder rate in Flint, MI was 63! Down the road a bit in Detroit the rate was only 55. Philadelphia’s a veritable garden of tranquility with a homicide rate just slightly over 21.

Altogether there were 15 cities that counted at least 100 murders in 2012: The Big 4 above, plus Los Angeles (299), Baltimore (219), Houston (217), New Orleans (193), Dallas (154), Memphis (133), Oakland (126), Phoenix (124), St. Louis (113), Kansas City (105) and Indianapolis (101).

The total population for these cities is somewhere between 25 and 30 million. Their police departments reported 3,420 homicides in 2012, out of a national reported total of 14,827. Which means that cities that held less than 10% of the US population accounted for almost one-quarter of all murders. Way to go you big cities!

What I find most significant about the FBI data on the geography of homicide is not the cities that made the murder list, but the cities that didn’t. Jacksonville, for example, didn’t make the list. Think there’s no inner-city neighborhoods in Jacksonville? Next time you drive down I-95 on your way to Daytona or Palm Beach, get off at Lem Turner Road and cruise around.

There are lots of cities like Jacksonville filled with crummy neighborhoods whose existence we lament but really don’t do anything to help things change. And many of these cities don’t have double-digit murder rates and yet we don’t know why. Twenty years ago, for example, New York City initiated a community-based policing  system that was credited with steep declines in crime. It was copied by virtually every other metropolitan police department and in some places it worked and in others made no difference at all.

One last point about the 2012 FBI Report: It shows that the average value of the property that was reported stolen in larceny and burglary increased from $1,721 in 2011 to $1,726 in 2012. Maybe the economy is finally recovering.

DON’T THINK THE NRA IS HIDING BECAUSE OF WHAT HAPPENED AT THE NAVY YARD

Final_cover__08585.1377691165.220.290Buy our new book at Amazon.

 

In their never-ending campaign to rid America of gun violence by blaming it on people who want to control guns, the NRA has unleashed its latest weapon in the form of Emily Miller, previously a staffer with Tom DeLay and Rick Lazio, and now a writer for the Washington Times.  Miller has just published a book detailing the extraordinary difficulties she encountered in trying to get a license to purchase a gun in Washington, D.C., a decision she claims to have made after being the victim of a home invasion.

According to an interview in Politico, it took poor Emily four months and 17 “steps” to get her license, a process which not only made her the latest self-appointed expert on gun violence, but convinced her that gun control does nothing to reduce crime.  In fact, Emily told Politico, gun ownership is at its highest level ever, yet crime has been going down “every year” since 1991.  She made the same point in her recent Times column in which she noted that the gun homicide rate has dropped from 6.62 in 1993 to 3.27 in 2012.

Furthermore, according to Miller, it’s the President who’s really to blame for gun violence because he “selectively” talks about mass shootings but never draws attention to the daily killings in his own home town: “Why do you never hear him talk about the children who are killed on the streets of Chicago?” she asked during her Politico interview.

I’ll give the NRA credit for foisting Miller’s nonsense on the American public; this time they’re not even waiting for a debate to break out in Congress before beginning their barrage of untruths and half-truths designed to stifle any meaningful public debate.  And I guarantee you going forward that the sui generis script being used this week by Emily Miller will find its way into every public comment made by anyone else who enlists to do battle on behalf of the NRA.

The only problem is that what Miller is saying simply isn’t true.  And what is so disheartening about her false claims is that nobody – Politico, Anderson Cooper, anyone else – wants to even take the trouble to check her blatantly false recitation of the “facts.”

The truth is that the entire decline in gun homicide rates that began in 1993 ended in 1999. According to the Department of Justice, 18,253 people were killed by guns in 1993, falling to 10,828 in 1999, and rising back to 11,101 in 2011.  The unprecedented increase in gun sales and concealed-carry licensing has occurred since Obama’s first election in 2004.  There has been no diminution in gun violence since that date.

As for the President’s alleged failure to mention gun violence in Chicago, the truth is he explicitly referred to the shootings in his home town not once but twice in the last week alone.  First he mentioned it in the memorial service at the Marine Barracks (“And these mass shootings occur against a backdrop of daily tragedies, as an epidemic of gun violence tears apart communities across America — from the streets of Chicago to neighborhoods not far from here.”) and then again at a speech Wednesday night before the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (“Just two days ago, in my hometown of Chicago, 13 people were shot during a pickup basketball game, including a 3-year-old girl.”)

Miller’s an experienced journalist based in Washington, D.C.  She had to know that Obama made these statements and she had to have looked at the DOJ data before she made her comments about crime rates and guns.  The reason she and other members of the NRA noise machine get away with such egregious lying is because nobody’s bothering to respond from the other side.  The pro-gun folks are waging a continuous and effective campaign; the gun control folks are busy talking to themselves.

The NRA’s Answer to Gun Violence: Armed and Dangerous

lapierre

When I first joined the NRA in 1955, its primary mission, in partnership with the U.S. Government, was to train civilians in marksmanship and gun safety.  In fact the first gun I learned to shoot was a 1903 Springfield army rifle that had been re-chambered in 22lr as a training weapon for World War II.  These venerable guns would have ended up rusting away in some government arsenal except the NRA was allowed to sell them off for a few bucks to shooting clubs around the United States.

When the NRA changed its stance in the 1970s and began running defense of the 2nd Amendment up the flagpole, it also shifted its concerns away from safety and marksmanship to promoting the right of gun owners to use guns for self-defense.  This was partly in response to the crime wave that occurred in many places when drug-addicted soldiers came back from Viet Nam.  It was also tied to the  fear of lawlessness that was a reaction to the riots sweeping through some inner-city neighborhoods at about the same time.

The NRA’s push for using guns in self-defense was also motivated by a change in the demographics of gun ownership and an effort to help gun manufacturers respond to new demographic trends.  In brief, hunting was beginning to decline and the sale of long guns (shotguns and rifles) was experiencing a slow but steady death (no pun intended.)  In the 1970s,  two-thirds of all guns sold commercially in the United States were hunting guns and manufacturers that relied on handgun sales, like Smith & Wesson, needed law enforcement contracts to stay afloat.

This changed in the late 1980s with the “invasion” of high-capacity European pistols like Beretta, Sig and Glock, and the push to normalize the idea that civilians should go around armed. In 1986, only 10 states either had no restrictions on carrying concealed handguns or allowed for unlimited concealed carry following some kind of background check.  As of this year that number had increased to 41.  Most of this growth was due to organized, effective legislative work carried out by the NRA and their state affiliates.  Not surprisingly, it was during the 1990s that handguns began to outpace long guns as the weapons of choice in gun shops, a reversal in long gun to handgun sales that has accelerated to the present day. Currently long gun sales account for less than 40% of all guns and perhaps half of them are the assault rifle look-a-likes that are in such demand.

The NRA has responded to the upsurge in concealed carry licensing and handgun sales by vigorously pushing the idea that crimes are inversely linked to an armed citizenry; i.e., the more people who carry guns, the less crime we will suffer.  They propagate this endlessly and tirelessly; it was a cornerstone of all the convention speeches, it’s peddled by various right-wing researchers and NRA members are exhorted to send in examples of good guys chasing away bad guys for the monthly ‘Armed Citizen’ report.

Of course if people are going to walk around with guns sticking out of their belts, they need proper training.  And the NRA has a special course, Personal Protection Outside the Home, which I am certified to teach, that covers the basics of concealed carry techniques, including types of equipment and using a gun for self-defense.  The multi-day course requires live-fire exercises at distances that might typically occur during an armed confrontation.  In order to be certified as a NRA trainer in this discipline, one must be certified in a series of NRA instructor pistol courses leading up to PPOH, which is considered the pinnacle of handgun instruction.

One thing about NRA training that I always admired was the degree to which every trainer has to show both experience and skills judged by the NRA to gain certification in each training discipline.  And the NRA training manual insists that trainers not only behave in a completely professional manner, but are required to withhold certification from any student who does not demonstrate proper skills or demeanor in shooting.  Every time I took a course as a student or as an instructor that I was part of a long tradition of education and training that adequately prepared me to participate in the shooting sports.

That has now changed.  The NRA recently announced that trainers who teach basic pistol shooting courses can add an extra “module” to the course (and charge additional tuition) covering concealed carry techniques and shooting.  This is an obvious and blatant effort to cash in on the concealed-carry mentality that has boosted handgun sales over the last decade.  But in addition to diluting the curriculum, the standards for instructing have also been relaxed because NRA instructors do not have to be certified in the NRA Personal Protection course; they only need to show some kind of ‘proof’ that they have attended a commercial shooting school, like Thunder Ranch or Gunsite, in order to be certified to offer concealed-carry instruction at an NRA course.

The net effect of this new policy is that people are going to be walking around carrying loaded handguns who have taken a minimal course taught by instructors who may or may not even possess the training credentials that the NRA used to require for teaching concealed carry of handguns.  So while the NRA talks about how armed citizens make our streets and neighborhoods safer, it’s pretty hard to believe that this new policy will do anything other than make people line up to buy more guns whose safe use is far from assured.  For an organization that started out to teach civilians safe gun use, the NRA has come a long way – backwards.