, If there’s one brand name out there which we associate with the Old West, it’s not Smith & Wesson or Colt, it’s Levi’s, as in Levi-Strauss. Their signature product, denim jeans held together with copper rivets rather than just plain thread, didn’t really become a mass market item until long after the frontier was closed, but the name and those leather labels still evokes everything which symbolizes how and when the U.S.A. was formed.
All of a sudden it seems, the company has decided to make a very strong and very public statement about guns. And it’s not a statement about how Winchester and Levi-Strauss won the West. To the contrary, in an open letter to Fortune Magazine, a publication you’ll find on the coffee table of virtually every business leader in the United States, Levi’s CEO, Chip Bergh, is urging the business sector to take what he calls a ‘stand on gun violence, which follows from a company policy announced in 2016 which banned guns from all Levi’s stores. The policy even applies to stores located in jurisdictions where carrying a gun is permitted by law.
Did the company receive the usual assortment of nasty emails and threats from the usual collection of pro-gun trolls? Of course. Did Bergh and the company’s other executives back down? Here’s his final comment from the 2016 piece: “In the end, I believe we have an obligation to our employees and customers to ensure a safe environment and keeping firearms out of our stores and offices will get us one step closer to achieving that reality.”
Did Levi-Strauss suffer at the cash register the way that a gaggle of alt-right trolls is claiming Nike will see its sales collapse because of the new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick that even has Sleazy Don weighing in to remind everyone that he’s America’s Patriot Number One? Levi’s has been privately-owned so we can’t determine whether they have paid any kind of price with falling revenues since they announced the ban. The company has left open the issue of enforcement but the message is clear: one of America’s most storied and celebrated business organizations has decided to turn its back on guns.
In addition to the open letter, the company is also putting its money behind its mouth in the form of a million-dollar Safer Tomorrow Fund that will support what it calls “the work of nonprofits and youth activists who are working to end gun violence in America.” The company is also doubling the match it donates when employees support organizations that get involved with the Fund. Most important, and this is a point which needs to be emphasized by anyone and everyone who supports the decision by Levi-Strauss, the company is going to partner with a new group of business leaders who want to reduce gun violence; it’s called the Everytown Business Leaders for Gun Safety, started by you-know-who.
Nobody on either side of the gun issue should underestimate the importance of this move. And the importance isn’t a function of the deep pockets of Mike Bloomberg, although that never hurts. What’s really important about this new campaign is that we finally have an effort to focus gun violence where it really belongs, namely, on the companies who create the 125,000 gun deaths and injuries each year because they make the guns.
I don’t know of another advocacy campaign aimed at reducing injuries from a consumer product in which the companies which make the product are so hidden from public view. And please don’t make the mistake of thinking for one minute that the 2nd Amendment is any kind of protective shield behind which gun manufacturers can hide. It’s not. Period. But again and again the gun-control movement tries to come up with policies and laws that regulate the behavior of gun owners while exempting the gun makers from greater scrutiny and regulatory review.
Recall the 1992 Presidential campaign slogan ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ Now replace the word ‘economy’ with the word ‘gun’ and you have the real importance of what Levi-Strauss plans to do.
Now that the smoke is beginning to clear and the dust beginning to settle from Saturday’s remarkable events, we get down to the nitty-gritty and try to figure out what comes next. Because if the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement doesn’t figure out how to build on this past weekend’s display of genuine interest and concern by millions of people who never previously thought about the issue of gun violence, an opportunity which I have never previously seen in my lifetime will have come and gone.
I spent Saturday at a march in the toney, seaside town of Old Saybrook, where the organizers were expecting 500-600 people more or less, the cops ended up estimating the crowd at around 2,500, and there might have been even more. I spoke perhaps to 30-40 people, not one of them had ever previously been involved in any kind of activity dealing with guns. Not that these were hardcore gun owners, of course not; this is a wealthy town and the only hard-core you get around here are people whose trust funds together could probably pay off the national debt.
The point is that GVP activists and advocates have often felt themselves marginalized by the mainstream which gets concerned for a day or two when something really bad happens like Parkland or Sandy Hook, but then turn to other issues, allowing the NRA and the gun industry to define and set the terms of the debate. What was interesting this time was the degree to which the usual pro-gun noisemakers had little or nothing to say; the NRA rolled out a spiel from spokesman Colion Noir who pranced around but was basically ignored; the video of Emma Gonzalez allegedly tearing up the Constitution turned out to be a fake. Even Trump came back from hiding out in Florida and kept his mouth shut about what happened on the 24th.
It turns out however, that the NRA hasn’t been particularly silent, they’ve just decided for the moment to follow the lead of the Parkland kids and promote themselves on social media, particularly Facebook, where they spent an average of $47,300 a day on advertising, up from a daily average of $11,300 before Parkland took place. The problem for the NRA however, is it doesn’t matter how much they spend, they don’t have a message that can reach anyone beyond the folks they always reach. And the way they reach their audience is to mix together the usual bromides about freedom, 2nd-Amendment rights and protecting family and home with a nasty and shrill condemnation of the tree-huggers on the other side.
They were at it again last week with a series of video clips in which the usual NRA noisemakers (Loech, Stinchfield) discounted the impact of the demonstrations by running the usual ‘Bloomberg-Soros conspiracy’ up the flagpole and warning parents to avoid having anything to do with the ‘socialist’ efforts to brainwash their kids. Believe me, none of the people with whom I talked at the Old Saybrook march would be swayed by that kind of crap.
To Bloomberg’s credit, not only is he going out of his way to let everyone know that he’s putting his money on the line, but Everytown has just announced a million-dollar grant program to fund more “student driven advocacy” and spur more than 200 additional organizing events planned for the next couple of weeks. What the NRA doesn’t seem to realize is that demonizing Bloomberg doesn’t make a bit of difference to these kids and warning their parents about the evils intentions of gun-grabbers doesn’t fly at all.
The reason the NRA’s Eddie Eagle isn’t flying so high is very simple; a bunch of high school kids took advantage of funding from people like Bloomberg and showed everyone that you can’t sell violence by pretending that violence can be used to achieve good end. ‘Guns don’t kill people’ doesn’t work when a shooter walks into a high school with a loaded gun. The Parkland kids had no trouble figuring that one out.
One of Gun-sense Nation’s primary concerns that will now linger in an unfinished state is the question of funding public health research into guns. The major funding source – CDC – was shut down in the 1990s, but while private sources stepped in to try and close the gap, much important work remains undone. And analyzing both this unfinished agenda and its implications for gun violence prevention (GVP) advocacy and policy are the subjects of a commentary by Everytown’s innovation director, Ted Alcorn, that recently appeared in a JAMA issue published online.
Before I go further into Alcorn’s discussion, I need to make my own thoughts and biases about gun-violence research clear. As someone who holds a Ph.D. in Economic History and published several university monographs on same before getting into writing about guns, I would never, ever suggest or imply that serious research on any topic is anything other than a good thing. But I am occasionally dismayed by what I perceive to be a desire on the part of gun-violence researchers to present themselves as being ‘neutral’ or ‘unbiased’ when it comes to the reason they study violence caused by guns. I don’t think that a researcher should feel at all reluctant to state the obvious, which is that without guns there would be no gun violence. And if the political powers-that-be feel that 120,000 gun deaths and injuries each year are a price worth paying for a cynically-invented fiction known as 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ there’s no reason why any serious researcher should pay respectful homage to all that Constitutional crap. Because it’s not as if Gun-nut Nation would ever believe that any research into gun violence could be free of bias anyway since they don’t believe there’s really anything called ‘gun violence’ at all.
But let’s get back to what Ted Alcorn has to say. He and his research group looked at 2,207 scholarly articles published between 1960 and 2014, and discovered that the number of yearly articles doubled between 1984 and 1990, then doubled again between 1990 and 1994-95, then doubled again by the early 2000’s, and then plateaued until they increased again noticeably in 2013-14. In other words, the volume of gun research as measured by the number of published articles has not specifically increased since the mid-90’s, except for what has recently happened, no doubt due to the fallout from Sandy Hook.
More problematic than the fact that the number of scholarly resources has been essentially unchanged for the last twenty years is that the general interest in gun violence research, as measured by the number of times that scholarly articles are cited, reached a high-watermark in 1988 and then declined more than 60% through 2012. This corresponds with the fact that the number of active gun-violence researchers also plateaued in the late 1990’s and has not increased ever since.
The problem facing gun research is not the absence of research funding per se. It’s that the absence of research dollars tends to discourage new researchers from entering the field. And when all is said and done, advances in science have a funny way of growing because more people not only conduct that research in a particular field, but also share their research, critique each other’s research and, most of all, conduct more research.
I think the idea that manna from heaven will ever again appear for government-sponsored gun violence research is a non-starter at best, a pipe dream at worst. But I have an idea that I want to run up the flagpole about where to find money for this kind of research. There’s a little foundation out there which happens to be sitting on $400 million bucks. They refer to what they do as ‘life-changing work.’ What could be more life-changing than saving the lives of 120,000 Americans each year who are killed and injured by guns? The outfit is run by Donna Shalala who gave out plenty of gun-violence research money when she headed HHS from 1993 to 2001. Shouldn’t Gun-sense Nation give her a call?
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.
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 Everytownresearch 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.
I’ve been working in the gun violence prevention field for 16 years now as a volunteer and professional. As reflected by the events at the recent Democratic National Convention, there is no doubt the movement is in the best shape it’s ever been in.
The convention dedicated an entire program to gun violence prevention (GVP) on its most electrifying night, Wednesday. DNC 2016 included emotional appearances by gun violence survivors like Mothers of the Movement (the surviving mothers of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis and Dontre Hamilton) and Erica Smegielski from the Everytown Survivor Network. It also featured riveting speeches by the likes ofReverend William Barber (a powerful nonviolence icon) in favor of an Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). “You heard, you saw, family members of police officers killed in the line of duty because they were outgunned by criminals,” saidDemocratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in her acceptance speech. “I refuse to believe we can’t find common ground here.”
It was a defining moment for a movement that has built significant capacity since the awful tragedy that happened on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.
Much of that progress has been led by the movement’s two most powerful groups, Everytown for Gun Safety and Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS). Their PACs have dramatically changed the political calculus of legislators across the country. And Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (under the Everytown umbrella) has been an ever-present grassroots force in states across the country.
But important questions hang in the air…
With so many gun violence survivors and gun violence prevention champions in elected government now aggressively calling for an Assault Weapons Ban — after having seen the Orlando gunman decimate a civilian population with the MCX rifle designed for members of our Special Forces — why are the two most powerful groups in the GVP movement, Everytown and ARS, still refusing to even mention the issue, much less support a ban? Shouldn’t the GVP “Bigs” be setting the agenda for their elected (and cultural) champions, much like the NRA does on the pro-gun side? What does the movement lose by pursuing a more moderate agenda — i.e., overwhelmingly popular policies like expanding background checks and prohibiting suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms — that fail to motivate its most ardent supporters?
We are now seeing a constellation of new individuals and groups emerging to assume a bolder posture on the issue. They are less rigid on policy and willing to embrace solutions from the ground up. They are acting aggressively to confront our nation’s degenerate gun culture. They are totally unapologetic. [And they are just the tip of the spear. With the cultural tide on the issue shifting, more will soon follow.] Among them are:
· Celebrity hairdresser Jason Hayes has crowd-funded more than $40,000 (average contribution $21) to put on a “Disarm Hate” rally on the National Mall on Saturday, August 13th. The rally will endorse a renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban.
· Po Murray and David Stowe of Newtown Action Alliance have done phenomenal work to organize a coalition of 97 different organizations that support an Assault Weapons Ban renewal. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (the third and final “Big”) is part of that coalition.
· Anonymous men and women from across the country have created “The Betsy Riot,” a social norming project with a suffragette theme that aggressively confronts gun idolatry and gun culture at large.
· Gays Against Guns has stood up in response to the Orlando massacre and is building chapters across the country. They are conducting in-your-face protests at a number of high-profile venues, such as Trump Tower.
· The National Action Network is preparing an August 27th rally at the DC lobbying offices of the NRA that will launch 72 days of action. This will involve civil disobedience.
· Actor/LGBTQ rights activist George Takei has launched One Pulse for America [I’m their director], a rapidly growing Facebook group with 70,000+ members. Members, described as “the folks who have been dying to turn up the volume and just needed to find the right muse,” are asked to take action on gun violence prevention on a daily basis.
The goal of these groups will be to close the oft-discussed “Passion Gap.” You can imagine what it looks like in practice. When a legislator hears from the pro-gun side, most often he/she is hearing the message, “I’m a single-issue voter. If you support any gun reform — no matter how modest — and fail to pass permissive gun policies, I will do everything I can to end your political career.” When they hear from the gun violence prevention side, it’s typically, “I care about reducing gun violence in our country. Please vote to expand background checks today.”
There’s no comparison. And when compromises are hammered out by legislators on gun legislation, pro-gun activists are almost invariably successful in “moving the middle” to their side and making those policies more favorable to the gun lobby.
I also think there is an opportunity to reach out to people who feel like they don’t have a home in the contemporary gun violence prevention movement. I see these folks on social media all the time. I meet them at rallies.
Remember, we’re living in an era of daily mass shootings. There are many people who would like to live in a society without guns; or at least with dramatically fewer guns and far tougher controls. Controls that you would typically see in every other free nation on the planet. They haven’t had a voice in the GVP movement since the late 1980s, when Handgun Control and the National Coalition to Ban Handguns changed their names to the Brady Campaign and Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, respectively, and began arguing for more moderate policies.
Currently, there is no advocacy in the movement for the following policy options:
· Licensing and registration laws, which have proven enormously effective at denying firearms to dangerous individuals in states that have implemented such laws. Virtually all other democracies have licensing and registration laws at the national level. They have astronomically lower rates of gun death, and there has been no loss of individual freedom whatsoever. [See Alan Berlow’s excellent article on the topic.]
· Larger gun buyback programs at the state and/or national level.
· Computerizing records of gun sales maintained by federally licensed firearm dealers and the ATF (out-of-business dealers).
· Comprehensive updating of the prohibited categories for gun buyers defined in the (amended) 1968 Gun Control Act, based on the best evidence/research currently available in 2016.
· Mandated requirements for smart guns and crime-solving technologies (microstamping).
· Outright opposition to private citizens carrying firearms in public, except under “May-Issue” systems that give law enforcement discretion to deny permits to individuals with a history of violence.
Nor is any organization in the movement really challenging the legitimacy of the controversial 2008 D.C. v. Heller decision, in which the Supreme Court’s conservative wing rewrote 200+ years of judicial interpretation of the Second Amendment, declaring a newfound individual “right” to keep a handgun in your home. [Contrast this with the approach taken on Citizen United.]
This is about the time where some anxious critic stops me and says, “Fine, but Ladd — If you advocate for things like gun bans — even one as limited as the federal AWB — you’re going to be feeding into NRA confiscation rhetoric and we’ll be doomed!”
But listen. The NRA has been promoting confiscation propaganda for decades now with no provocation whatsoever. The NRA’s www.gunbanobama.comwas up and running long before President Obama ever addressed the GVP issue during his second term. And look what the gun lobby has to say about Everytown founder Michael Bloomberg, a guy politely calling for modest policies.
I’d say we’ve suffered about as much as we’re going to suffer from gun ban propaganda. And it’s not like truth is an antidote for the Trump crowd these days, either. We need to begin embracing what they consider to be a weakness as a strength. Why not start harnessing some intensity among our own base by advocating for more aggressive policies? Let’s move the middle on this issue toour side.
The result will be a win-win for everyone: a more vocal, passionate movement that will push the envelope and make space for the more moderate policies favored by GVP Bigs. And most importantly, we will create a safer America with far less human suffering.
You may recall that back at the beginning of June there was a national outpouring of concern about gun violence known as Gun Violence Awareness Day symbolized by everyone wearing some orange as a symbol of safety around guns. I wrote a column about the event, or I should say events, because there were more than 200 marches, meetings, concerts and other gatherings all over the United States. And I pointed out that the growth of this movement reminded me of how demonstrations against the Viet Nam War started small and then mushroomed into something really effective and big.
Well the same thing seems to be happening now as regards gun violence, thanks to a whole bunch of gun activists who jumped on last week’s sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives chamber and followed all the Reps back to their home offices so that the energy and desire to do something about gun violence wouldn’t die out. And at last count, there were close to 100 gun violence prevention events held or planned on June 29th in more than 30 states, with more to come.
Some events were held outside the district office of a House Member, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that these events focused on Republican members who openly or otherwise supported Speaker Ryan’s calling the sit-in as a ‘publicity stunt.’ Then there were events hosted by Democratic Members, like New York’s Steve Israel, who joined other advocates and activists in a gun-violence roundtable held at the LGBT Center in his district.
All of these gigs were together planned as a ‘National Day of Action,’ which was so widespread that events were even covered by Fox News. Now let me tell you something, folks. As you may be aware, Fox is the media arm of the Trump campaign, so anything they let fly about guns is usually designed to appeal to Gun-nut Nation, certainly not to people who are out there trying to do something to end gun craziness in the USA. And I’m not saying that Fox is about to cozy up to the Gun Violence Prevention community; what I am saying is that the idea that there is now an organized, national effort to challenge the previously-uncontested strength of pro-gun organizations has become major news.
And what’s really important about the National Day of Action is that there’s more to come. A big event is being planned for July 5th to greet Members of Congress as they return from the Independence Day break to get back to work in DC. The event will be in the form of a ‘Welcome Back’ demonstration at Reagan National Airport coordinated by Brady, Everytown, my good friends at National Cathedral, with more groups to come.
In all the fifty-plus years I have been watching gun violence advocacy, this is the first time that efforts to reduce gun violence are happening on an ongoing basis and on a national stage. And what gets this event a 5-star rating from me is that many of the demonstrations and gatherings were at offices and other locations of Republican office-holders, which is about the last place that anyone would expect to see someone advocating for more control over guns. Until this year, when it comes to gun issues, I can guarantee you that someone like Rep. David Young from Iowa or Bob Latta from Ohio never saw anyone who wasn’t from the NRA.
It’s one thing to hold a rally or a demo in a neighborhood or community of an elected representative who wants to do something about the carnage created by guns. It’s another to show up at an airport or Congressional office in the middle of a district where everyone just ‘loves’ their guns. Preaching to the converted is one thing, making new converts is a much different kind of task. The groups and individuals who have put together and now sustain this national movement have become adept at doing both. And that’s great!
Sunday morning I watched the Trumpster being interviewed by Chris Wallace, and if it were not for the fact that he was talking about nuclear weapons, I found his comments so stupid that they were actually entertaining and fun. And what they brought back to me was a memory from the fourth or fifth grade when every month or so we would be told to get out of our seats and huddle under our desks to protect ourselves from an A-Bomb blast, which was over when the teacher yelled ‘all clear.’
While my mind was reliving those ridiculous drills, a public notice flickered on the television screen that the high school in Yonkers was going to conduct an ‘active shooter’ drill, an exercise that the Yonkers PD has done several previous times beginning in 2014. What is referred to in the industry as ‘Active Shooter and Intruder Response Training’ has become a big business since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, and just to make sure that such training is as relevant as possible, a training outfit called Strategos International offers training specifically designed for schools, hospitals and faith-based organizations too.
Of course if it were up to the NRA, all you need to do to protect any workplace, school or other facility that might be a target is to make sure that every adult on the premises is walking around armed. This was basically the organization’s initial response to Sandy Hook, but when the public response to Wayne-o’s loony “good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns” speech was not overwhelmingly positive, the NRA then issued a report called ‘National School Shield,’ which recommended 40-60 hours of firearm training for school employees who could then carry around guns.
How often does a gun go off at an educational institution? Nobody has a comprehensive answer, but the research group at Everytowncalculates that it has happened more than once a week since the beginning of 2013, of which roughly half of these 174 shootings took place in K-12 schools. And I’m not about to get into the stupid argument over whether a ‘school shooting’ is really a ‘school shooting’ if it takes place in the school playground rather than in a school building itself.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, roughly 90% of all K-12 schools control physical building access, which is always the best way to monitor threats to safety, and 28% of all schools are patrolled by security personnel carrying guns, in the case of high schools, professional security personnel are present 63% of the time. The percentage of police in schools has been fairly constant since 2005, which certainly predates all the hue and cry about school security post-Sandy Hook.
The biggest problem in dealing with school shootings is not how to secure the building, but identifying who among the current or former student body might be capable of carrying out such a violent act. Because a school shooting, like all school violence, is usually precipitated by someone who is either a student at the time of the incident, or was a student at that school and returns with a gun intending to right some past wrong.
Crouching under a wooden desk is about as much of a positive response to nuclear attack as giving someone a week-long course in armed force and then have them walking through a school hallway looking for a kid with a gun. The whole point of nuclear non-proliferation is the recognition that once the weapon is out there, the chances of it being used go way up. Trump seems to be unaware that this is why a basic consensus exists that the world needs to be a nuclear-free zone.
The same argument can be made about gun-free zones which, despite the nonsense peddled by the NRA, make every place safer if guns aren’t allowed. And it’s no violation of anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights to leave the gun at home.
The research team at Everytown has put up a new website which gives an easy access to most of the numbers that we need to use in any discussion about gun violence. And I like this site because it not only aggregates numbers for each gun violence category in readable and understandable formats, but also provides links to the original data sources, which in most cases happen to be the FBI and the CDC.
This brings us to an issue about gun violence numbers that needs to be addressed, namely, the fact that most of the data comes from two agencies, one of which is concerned with crime and the other with health. Which means that gun violence is defined differently, the data collection methods are very different and the ways in which the data are analyzed is also dissimilar to the point that comparisons between the two data sources usually don’t work very well.
Not that the FBI and the CDC are the only two places where you can go looking for gun violence data. You can also relevant data collected and published by the National Crime Victims Survey, which operates under the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and somewhat more detailed CDC data can be found on the CDC’s WONDERdatabase, although much of the latter data just links back to the WISQARS site.
The problem with all the data collections, however, is that none of the agencies whose reports are used, in the aggregate by the FBI or the CDC are mandated to submit any information at all. The FBI claims that its data represents submissions from 18,000 “city, university/college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the program.” Note the word ‘voluntarily.’ As for the CDC, all their numbers are estimates based on reports from what thy refer to as a ‘representative’ group of hospitals, but in the case of intentional, non-fatal shootings, for example, they specifically state that the data is drawn from a sample that is too small to be considered reliable.
It’s unfortunate that the GVP community is committed to evidence-based arguments about gun violence when the other side couldn’t care less about how they use data at all. Take, for example, the attempt by John Lott to debunk President Obama’s claim about the frequency of mass shootings in the United States. After the Charleston shooting, Obama said, “we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.” Lott looked at mass killings in other countries, then divided the number of fatalities by 1 million and this bizarre data manipulation made the U.S. the 11th country for mass violence attacks, exceeded by such places as Norway, Slovakia and the U.K. Between 2009 and 2015 these three countries together sustained 86 mass fatalities, whereas in the same time-period with a country that numbers 6 times as many people, ‘only’ 181 Americans died in mass attacks. But each of these countries experienced one mass shooting, the United States had twenty-five!
Everyone involved in GVP advocacy should welcome the Everytown data collection and should use it whenever they find themselves discussing gun violence in forums where such information can better inform the public at large. But I do have a suggestion for Everytown in terms of maximizing the value of their effort because sometimes I get the feeling that when the GVP presents hard evidence about gun violence, they sometimes present it only themselves. I think it would be great if Everytown could get these numbers in front of every public office-holder in America who could or might vote on legislation that will reduce the human carnage caused by guns. The Everytown numbers can better inform the public debate and should become part of the debate beginning right ow.
What I find to be the most significant change in the gun debate recently is the extent to which the whole issue has become a topic of mainstream conversation. It started with the decision by Hillary to inject gun violence into her Presidential campaign, the very first time that guns became a talking-point in a national political contest, and it has now spread to the mainstream media through such venues as Marie-Claire and now Cosmopolitan magazine. And what the Cosmo gals have done is partner with Everytown to produce a new project, SingledOut, which gets right to the issue of how and why women think about guns.
Before I get to the Cosmo-Everytown effort, I just want to remind the readers again that Gun Nation has been making a loud and concerted effort recently to promote the idea of women and guns. There’s no end to NRA videos that now feature women commentators like Home-School Queen Dana Loesch; you can also read an entire report and graphic on the emerging female gun market courtesy of the NSSF. But a recent survey of 5,000 gun owners, the most comprehensive survey ever published in this field, reveals that 5% of the women who own guns bought one in the past five years! So much for the idea that women are joining Gun Nation in droves.
The video produced by SingledOut is, to my mind, the best video on the gun debate ever produced. And it gets right to the point at the beginning when the gunsplaining guy tells the woman he’s hitting on that guns are what protects us from ‘tyranny,’ while he proudly shows her that he’s packing a chest-full of guns. And the woman, who is active military, responds by telling him that his comment means that soldiers like her might come and take them all away. Beautiful, just beautiful.
Of course Gun Nation wasted no time responding to this new effort, putting out the usual ‘Bloomberg is Enemy Number One’ comment which then found its way to the mélange of pro-gun sites that faithfully reproduce anything that the boys in Fairfax have to say. But I notice that in all the responses to SingledOut by Gun Nation, the one issue that is studiously avoided is exactly what Gun Nation has been promoting as the most important reason for owning a gun, namely, that guns keep us free. And if the producers of the SingledOut video wanted to find one, single statement that could be used to illustrate the stupid, condescension of pro-gun noisemakers when it comes to talking about guns, they couldn’t have picked a better comment than what the ‘good guy’ said in the bar to explain what guns mean to him.
Now let’s be honest. It’s 2016, a Presidential election is looming ahead, and the NRA makes no bones about the fact, 501c3 status notwithstanding, that the organization wants to have an important voice in determining the outcome of state and national electoral events. And since the Republicans can’t get any more mileage by claiming that Obama wasn’t born in America (which, by the way, may be used by Trump against Cruz), they’ve come up with a new one, namely, that Obama has been shredding the Constitution and thus undermining American freedoms; in other words, under the Democrats, ‘tyranny’ is just one step away.
Let’s get one thing very clear: Republican presidential candidates can defend the 2nd Amendment all they want in front of red-meat audiences on the campaign trail, but asking a majority of Americans to support their pandering to Gun Nation is a very different kettle of fish. And while every word that plops out of Wayne-o’s mouth ends up as unquestioned content on various Gun Nation websites, you can’t tell me that any of those outlets get a fraction of the mainstream audience that Cosmopolitan reaches every month.
This morning I sat down and watched the NBA-Everytown gun ads again. They really get a message across. And it’s a very simple message; if a gun gets into the wrong hands, someone’s going to get hurt. And of course it’s not just the message, but the messengers. I mean, is anyone going to accuse Carmelo Anthony of being a shill for Mike Bloomberg when his salary tops $22 million a year?
On the other hand, sooner or later I’m expecting to see the NRA’s Number One shill, the so-called Colion Noir, prancing around with his AR-15 on a basketball court in Dallas, telling all those folks who pretend to be his camp followers about the value of their 2nd-Amendment rights. In fact, his latest attempt to promote Mossberg, FN and the other gun companies who sponsor his amateurish digital nonsense has him lecturing four African-American brothers who, like eeny-meeny-miny-moe, sit around mouthing various nothings while Colion explains the dangers of gun control because “as soon as they get their hands on the plastic stuff, they’ll be after the wooden stuff next.”
It might come as something of a surprise to Colion or whatever his name is that for forty-nine years before the 2008 Heller decision, which extended 2nd Amendment protections to private ownership of guns, the only thing that the 2nd Amendment actually protected were guns kept at home by Americans who used them for what we call the ‘common defense;’ i.e., service in military units like the National Guard. And do you know how many guns all those liberals confiscated from law-abiding Americans between United States v. Miller in 1939 and District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008? None. Not one.
This is one of the two biggest falsehoods that the NRA and gun-loving sycophants like Colion Noir repeat all the time. And Colion is allegedly a lawyer so he knows that what he is saying just isn’t true. The other big falsehood which Colion also repeats again and again is that without access to guns we would all be the victims of violent crime. The last time I checked, there were on average 250 justifiable homicides each year and between 2007 and 2011 less than 1% of all violent crimes resulted in someone protecting themselves with a gun. Occasional anecdotes aside, the chances that a card-carrying member of the NRA would find himself in a situation where he needed to protect himself with a gun are about the same as that individual walking out of his home and being run over by a rhinoceros. Walking around with a gun to protect yourself may sound good, may feel good, may provide Colion with some footage for one of his video rants, but it’s got nothing to do with the reality of guns.
I’m going to say something that’s probably going to get me into hot water with my gun-nut friends but I really don’t care. I happen to think that this whole notion of guns as being necessary for self-protection is a case of arrested development and nothing else. If, according to the Police Foundation, cops on the job aren’t adequately trained to deliver lethal force, then how in the world can all these CCW civilians believe they have the training and experience to defend themselves with a gun? Has Colion Noir ever used a gun in self-defense? Of course not.
Colion gives the whole thing away when he talks about “taking back the narrative for a new generation of gun enthusiasts.” Want to listen to the new narrative? Listen to NBA star Carmelo Anthony when he introduces a national PSA on gun violence with, “the gun should never be an option.” Now who is the next generation going to listen to? Colion Noir who says that guns are the most important option for self defense? Or Carmelo Anthony who doesn’t have to get your attention by proving anything at all?