Great News! Illinois Finally Joins The Rest of America in Letting Its Citizens Carry Guns

The Illinois legislature has just passed a concealed-carry bill and the Governor may have no choice but to sign it into law. Until now, Illinois was the only one of fifty states that did not allow its citizens to go around packing a gun.  But a court decision last year and some very aggressive lobbying by – you guessed it – the NRA, finally brought the Land of Lincoln into line.

You would think that with all the recent attention being paid to concealed carry of handguns, plus a long history as a state that regulates ownership of guns, that the new concealed-carry law in Illinois might serve as a model for an intelligent and responsible legislative effort to give the state’s citizens the right to be armed.  To the contrary, the law has parts that are silly, parts that are stupid, and parts that are just bizarre.  Did the folks in Springfield even read the bill before they voted?

Here’s a bizarre part: An individual must apply for the CC license to the State Police and the application then circulates to all law enforcement agencies within the state for comments and review.  If an applicant has three arrests for gang-related offenses (yes – you read it correctly) during the seven years prior to the application, the State Police must refer the application to a Review Board, which will then make a final determination.  If the Board believes that this individual does not pose a danger to himself or anyone else, the application goes forward.

Now with all due respect to being innocent until proven guilty, how far are we going to stretch the 5th and 6th Amendments in order to protect the 2nd? I mean, give me a break.  Does this law mean that if someone was arrested only twice for “gang-related offenses” that their carry-concealed application might be approved?

That’s the most bizarre part of the law.  Want a stupid part?  How about the safety course that requires someone to show proficiency in using a handgun by shooting a total of 30 rounds?  Well I guess that’s better than the safety course required for concealed-carry permits in Florida where the live fire consists of a single round.  I’m one to talk because my home state – Massachusetts – issues the license to carry without any live fire requirement at all.  That’s really stupid, but so is the new Illinois law that gives citizens the right to carry and use a gun in self-defense  with proof of proficiency that’s no real proof at all.

As for a silly part, try this one.  During the safety training, the applicant must also be taught the “appropriate and lawful interaction with law enforcement while transporting or carrying a concealed firearm.”  What does that mean?  As a NRA-certified instructor who has trained several thousand men and women in safe use and shooting of guns, I’ll tell you what it means.  It means nothing at all.

One more point (it’s a toss—up between bizarre and stupid so let’s just call it dumb.) The new law does not permit bringing a concealed weapon into a bar but allows concealed guns in restaurants where liquor is served, as long as – get this – the liquor tab is less than 50% of the total bill.  So I sit down with you; you order food, I get smashed on a couple of drinks but your steak cost more than my Jack Daniels.  Oh, by the way, I’m carrying a gun.  And if a town decides it doesn’t want to allow such dumbness, the law overrides any local carry-concealed restrictions anyway.

I belong to an organization called Evolve.  We started this organization because we want to have a rational and realistic discussion about gun violence that will avoid the ideological extremes which characterize the discussion now.  And we want to focus on gun safety and the need for everyone to stand for responsible ownership and use of firearms.  We have no issue with people owning or carrying guns as long as everyone plays by sensible and effective rules.   The new Illinois law is neither sensible nor effective.  It’s just another example of how two extremes dominate a discussion while the rational middle remains silent and another opportunity for meaningful reform goes right down the drain.

 

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Do Concealed Guns Protect Us From Crime?

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I started my previous blog with a promise to debunk some of the myths created by the NRA and its cronies to ward off the evils of gun control. So let’s continue by looking at one of the biggest myths of all, namely, the idea that we can all be better protected against crime if we all own and carry guns.  The idea of the “armed citizen” as being our first and most important defense against crime and criminals has been promoted endlessly and tirelessly by the NRA and is repeated verbatim by all of their allies and cronies.

One of the major cronies is a sometime academic named John R. Mott who floats around the right-wing talk circus promoting a book called More Guns Less Crime.  Although his data has been criticized for either not supporting what he says or not existing at all, I’m going to ignore the slings and arrows being thrown back and forth between him and his critics and just look at the underlying assumptions about the argument itself.

Lott begins by making the argument that there’s a trade-off between the safety of a locked gun versus the usefulness of a gun that is loaded and ready to fire.  He states: “gun locks require that guns be unloaded, and a locked, unloaded gun does not offer ready protection from intruders.” (Page 10.) Did he really say that?  Has he ever even held a gun?  If John Lott would like, he can walk into my gun shop, we will go downstairs to the range, I’ll put a Masterlock on a loaded gun and then I’ll take the lock off the gun and John can pull the trigger. There will be a very loud noise and he better have the gun pointed in a safe direction.

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But let’s continue and here’s the bottom line.  There has yet to be a single study by any pro-gun NRA crony like Lott who has been able to establish a definitive link between ownership of guns and crime rates.  Notice I didn’t say between more guns and less crime, or less guns and more crime.  I said a ‘definitive’ link as in cause-and-effect link.  Coincidence?  Plenty.  Causality?  None.

Let’s go back to the recent DOJ report that showed a “continued” decline in gun homicides over the last twenty years.  This is the report that was lauded by the NRA and its mouthpieces like Lott as “proving” that more guns meant less crime.  And what was their proof?  The fact that in 1990 there were only a handful of states that issued concealed-carry permits and now more than 30 states were granting concealed-carry on a “shall-issue” basis.

Except there are some small problems.  First, as I pointed out in a post published  on May 13 (“Can’t Anyone in the Gun Industry Read?”) the decline in gun homicides occurred between 1994 and 2000, well before most states liberalized their concealed-carry rules.   And more to the point, while some states like California and New York saw a significant decline in gun violence during this six-year period, other states, like Texas and Arizona, experienced increased gun homicides.  Why?  Nobody knows why.  And nobody has yet to ask why.

Then there’s another sticky little problem for people who John Lott who take a coincidence and turn it into an explanation.  The fact that someone walks around with a concealed-carry permit doesn’t mean they walk around with a concealed gun.  Know what?  I haven’t seen anyone who has said that statement anywhere.  In my state, Massachusetts, for example, you cannot buy or own a gun unless you have a permit issued by the state.  The permit is called the LTC which, if you haven’t guessed it yet, means License To Carry. That’s right.  The same license that is required to buy or own a gun is the same license that allows you to carry a concealed handgun on your person.  Does that mean that everyone in Massachusetts who has a gun license is packing?  Nobody knows.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I’m willing to bet you that the same guy who thinks you can’t put a lock on a loaded gun also believes that residents of Massachusetts are better protected from criminals because they have a License To Carry, whether they even own a gun or not. That’s what happens when you do research not to discover the truth, but to promote a pre-ordained idea. Oh well…

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

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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.