How Do We Keep A Law-Abiding Gun Owner From Doing Something Crazy With A Gun?

In the aftermath of Orlando and Dallas, Gun Violence Prevention advocates find themselves coming face-to-face with the veritable elephant in the living room, namely, how to prevent someone from using a gun who acquired the weapon legally?  Expanding background checks to private transaction, a worthwhile goal, wouldn’t have made any difference in these two tragedies at all. For that matter, instituting a permit-to-purchase requirement for handguns or highly-lethal assault rifles also wouldn’t have prevented either shooter from getting his hands on a gun.

dallas           Of course Gun-nut Nation has a ready-made answer to this problem, consisting of eliminating all ‘gun-free’ zones and convincing every ‘law-abiding’ citizen to walk around with a gun. So even if a law-abiding citizen like the Orlando shooter yanked out his AR and started shooting up a club, there would be a few armed citizens in the crowd who would immediately respond and bring things under control.  If you actually believe that there’s any truth whatsoever in the previous sentence, do me a favor, okay?  Go lay brick.

Now back to reality.  The problem we face in this respect is both very simple and very complicated.  It’s simple because what we are looking at is an aberrant form of behavior which every year costs more than 30,000 Americans their lives and another 60,000+ Americans their health because gun injuries happen to be the most medically devastating injury of all.  That’s the simple part.

The complicated part is that trying to control or (God forbid) change human behavior through imposing new rules or regulations can work, but only if the rules reflect a collaboration of a large and diverse group of stakeholders, all of whom agree that something needs to be done.  Who had to jump on the bandwagon to cut the fatality rate from auto accidents? Try government, manufacturers, insurance companies, school systems, law enforcement, and most of all, the driving public.  Can you imagine a similar conglomeration of stakeholders sitting down to come up with a set of comprehensive mandates to make it more difficult for Mister Average Joe Gun Owner to do something stupid or destructive with his gun?

And even if you could convene these relevant participants, and even if they could produce some new mandates that might alter the current regulatory environment in a positive way, how could such changes create any kind of barrier to a law-abiding individual who wants to own a gun? Which is why I said above that the Gun Violence Prevention community is looking at an elephant in the living room when it comes to figuring out how to prevent an otherwise harmless-looking and harmless-behaving fellow from taking his gun and going to the extreme.

But I also have a suggestion that might actually make a difference in terms of identifying the elephant and bringing him under control.  And it’s a suggestion that doesn’t need any mandates or regulation at all, just the ability of some concerned individuals or organizations to communicate the following idea.

And the idea is based on what appears to be one thing that most law-abiding, mass shooters have in common before they committed their dreadful acts, namely, that in the run up to their destructive behavior, they divulged their plans to at least one other person who then made the conscious decision not to intervene.  This was true of the shooter at Charleston, true for the shooter who walked into The Pulse, certainly true of the shooter at San Bernardino, I suspect it’s true of so many more.

What we really need is messaging which tells people they need to get involved and alert others if they learn that someone is planning to use a gun in a harmful way.  Conversations, Facebook posts, emails, I don’t care how the possible mass shooter announces his plans.  If you know a gun owner who tells others that he’s going to do something ‘big’ with his gun, don’t just dismiss it as a harmless gesture.  Ask yourself whether you want to be around if and when he moves from words to an act.

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Did A Good Guy With A Gun Stop A Bad Guy With A Gun? Not In Dallas.

The last time that a sniper climbed up into an office building and tried to kill someone in downtown Dallas was November 22, 1963.  The sniper was Lee Harvey Oswald and the victim was the President of the United States.  This time around, the shooter appears to have been an ex-Army reservist who served in Afghanistan, and victims were five members of the Dallas PD.  These two sniper attacks were separated by nearly fifty-three years in time, but less than five hundred feet in space.  The unfortunate Dallas police officers were apparently shot near the intersection of Main Street and South Lamar; walk a block east down Main Street, turn left and you’re standing in front of what was the Texas Book Depository Building where Oswald perched himself when he allegedly shot JFK.

 

Bystanders stand near pollice baracades following the sniper shooting in Dallas on July 7, 2016.  A fourth police officer was killed and two suspected snipers were in custody after a protest late Thursday against police brutality in Dallas, authorities said. One suspect had turned himself in and another who was in a shootout with SWAT officers was also in custody, the Dallas Police Department tweeted.  / AFP / Laura Buckman        (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Bystanders stand near pollice baracades following the sniper shooting in Dallas on July 7, 2016.
A fourth police officer was killed and two suspected snipers were in custody after a protest late Thursday against police brutality in Dallas, authorities said. One suspect had turned himself in and another who was in a shootout with SWAT officers was also in custody, the Dallas Police Department tweeted.
/ AFP / Laura Buckman (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Oswald, a former Marine Corps member, used a surplus military rifle called a Mannlicher-Carcano 91/38, which he bought from a mail-order sporting goods wholesaler in Chicago for twenty bucks. There’s been no confirmation yet out of Dallas, but I’ll bet you that the murder weapon used in yesterday attacks was an AR-15 assault rifle, or some variation on the theme, like the Sig-Sauer rifle that mowed down over 100 people inside The Pulse.

Wait a minute!  Nobody’s going to quarrel with the idea that President Kennedy was shot with a military gun; Oswald, after all, was a trained Marine Corps marksman, which meant he probably learned to shoot with a Springfield, bolt-action 1903 rifle, a gun that was similar in design and function to the gun he took into the Book Depository in order to carry out his assault.

But the AR-15 is a ‘sporting’ rifle, according to the NRA and the NSSF.  It doesn’t have any military application at all.  Those unfortunate Dallas cops weren’t shot with a military weapon, they were shot with a gun that is no more dangerous than any other rifle that you can find for sale in in any gun shop and can be purchased by anyone whose ownership of a gun is approved by a call to FBI-NICS.  Let’s not rush to judgement here, even if President Obama is already ‘politicizing’ this terrible tragedy by renewing his call for more regulations over these kinds of guns.  And what did Obama get in return for mentioning that these cop killings were the result of people being armed with ‘powerful weapons?’ He got an immediate response from Ben Carson (remember him?) who was plopped out in front of a Fox television camera to remind the audience that “we still have the 2nd Amendment” which gives us the right to use a gun to protect ourselves “against an overly aggressive government or external invasion.”

It’s going to be interesting to see how Gun-nut Nation gets past this one, if only because it’s one thing if a ‘street thug’ shoots another ‘street thug,’ it’s another thing if five police officers were killed and seven others, cops and civilians, were wounded by a guy walking around with a ‘sporting’ gun.  And remember that Texas is an open-carry state; in fact, there was one guy walking in the parade who had an AR-15 slung over his back; fat lot of good he did when the shooting broke out.

Adam Gopnick had a piece in The New Yorker in which he pointed out that the Dallas assault represented “the grotesque reductio ad absurdum of the claim that it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun.” The parade route was lined with good guys who had guns, and the result was that five of them ended up dead.

But not to worry, Adam.  Like the veritable phoenix arising from the ashes, the NRA will wait the customary few days and then trot out again the myths of the ‘modern sporting rifle’ being used by the ‘good guy with the gun.’  After all, they now have a Presidential candidate who will probably be saying the same thing.

 

When Is An Epidemic Not An Epidemic? When It’s Caused By Guns

It was back in 1996 that Congressman Jay Dickey (R-AR) inserted language into the 1997 budget that prohibited gun research funded by the CDC.  And from that time forward, physicians and public health researchers have been a favorite target of the NRA.  The most public example of this attempt to demonize the notion that guns constitute a health risk is, of course, the Florida law (“Docs versus Glocks”) which potentially criminalizes physicians who ask patients about guns. Yet another instance in which gun “rights” were used to distort the role and value of physicians was the successful attempt by Rand Paul, the self-certified opthalmologist from Kentucky, to block or at least temporarily derail the appointment of Vivek Murthy to be head of the CDC.

Rand’s opposition to Murthy’s nomination was nothing except an attempt to pander to a receptive audience, i.e., hard-core NRA members and other right-wing folks, whose support he will surely need if and when he announces a bid for the White House in 2016.  I actually have no issue with Paul or any other political candidate saying whatever has to be said to get his ducks lined up in the water in order to try and latch onto the gold ring. But when Rand politicizes the importance and value of public health as regards guns or anything else, he’s stepped across a line that ordinarily demarcates stupidity from common sense.

            Ebola virus

Ebola virus

Last week the first case of someone infected with Ebola was confirmed. It turned out to be a man who came into contact with an Ebola patient in his native country of Liberia shortly before coming to the United States.  And while he evidently told hospital staff in Texas that he had recently been in an infected zone, the hospital in Dallas mistakenly released him back into the general population and God knows how many individuals may have come into contact with this poor guy before he was properly diagnosed.

The challenge now facing Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is to identify every person with whom this patient may have had contact, get them isolated and tested and hope that the disease hasn’t spread.  But I’ll tell you this: If there’s even the slightest hint that the Ebola virus might appear in Dallas or elsewhere, guess which agency the entire American population will expect to step in?  It won’t be the NRA, that’s for sure.  Despite the fact that the penultimate guardians of the 2nd Amendment, along with Rand Paul, claim to know what doctors should and shouldn’t do, the burden of dealing with Ebola will fall right where it should – on public health researchers and the CDC.

I’m not saying that gun violence is as much a threat to public health as Ebola.  In roughly a month, the WHO estimates that the “epidemic” has killed more than 3,000 people  in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.  Representatives from more than twenty countries are now meeting in London to figure out how to get more medical aid and resources to contain the deadly spread.  In Sierra Leone there are five new cases reported every hour of every day.

Hey, wait a minute.  The Ebola mortality rate is estimated at 50%, which means that 30 people will die each day from the virus in Sierra Leone, which is about one-third of all the cases that are being reported throughout West Africa at this time.  Do the arithmetic, as Bill Clinton said, and this adds up to 30,000+ Ebola victims in West Africa over a full year.  Isn’t that roughly the same number of people who die from gun violence each year in the United States?

But let’s not forget that the CDC isn’t allowed to figure out what to do about gun violence and if it were up to the NRA, every state would follow Florida’s lead in gagging doctors who want to talk to their patients about guns.  If 30,000 Ebola deaths in Africa constitutes an epidemic, what do you call 30,000 gun deaths which have occurred every year in America for the past twenty years?