When The NRA Takes On The League Of Women Voters They’ll Lose.

When I was a kid, my mother and several of her friends got together and formed a chapter of the League of Women Voters.  Basically they sat around in each other’s kitchens and drank coffee, gossiped about various friends and I suppose every once in a while took part in some kind of educational or political event. Come to think about it, my mother’s participation in the League was very funny, because we lived in Washington, D.C., this was the 1950’s, and neither my mother nor any of her friends could vote.  But they could drink coffee, that’s for sure.

lwv           I was reminded of this childhood memory when I received the weekly email from the NRA-ILA linking to the latest stories on their political blog, and the headline was a rant from Granny Marion Hammer, former NRA President and now NRA lobbyist in Florida, whose claims to fame among other things is one of the earliest Stand Your Ground laws, as well as spearheading the growth of concealed-carry laws in Florida and throughout the United States.

It seems that Granny Hammer has discovered that the Florida League of Women Voters (LWV) has become the state’s “newest gun ban organization.” And worse yet, one of the LWV officers, Patti Brigham, has been “lobbying’ legislators for more gun control, even though she isn’t officially registered as a lobbyist.”

Now Granny Hammer knows something about being a lobbyist.  She’s not only paid nearly $200,000 a year by the NRA for her lobbying efforts; she also picks up another hundred grand to lobby for a statewide sportsmen’s organization. Granny is so effective that in 2005 she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, and this honor wasn’t because she won the annual tamale-eating contest in Boca Raton, okay?

One of the reasons she’s so good is because what she says sounds very persuasive, even if it doesn’t quite align with the truth.  In her comment about the LWV’s efforts to “ban the gun rights of Florida’s law-abiding gun owners,” she states that Patti Brigham isn’t a registered lobbyist but “she shows up in committee to support gun control and oppose Second Amendment rights over and over again.”

You don’t have to be a registered or unregistered lobbyist to appear at a public hearing and make a statement or walk into a legislator’s office and speaks to the legislator one-on-one.  If you have an interest in a particular piece of legislation, under our current system of government which I think is still a democracy, this interest can be expressed by showing up and saying whatever you choose to say.

Patti Brigham’s efforts to promote sensible gun restrictions in Florida is, in fact, directly connected to her work for the LWV, because following the Pulse massacre, the LWV decided to form a coalition to prevent gun violence, and they make absolutely no secret about the fact that this coalition is sponsored by the LWV.  Marion Hammer’s rant, of course, is an attempt to create the impression that this effort, like all efforts to reduce gun violence, is some kind of secret, half-hidden plot to advance the gun-control agenda which only a diligent protector of 2nd-Amendment rights like Hammer is able to detect and thwart.

But in addition to patting herself on the back for nothing, Hammer and the NRA are trying to promote their own agenda as well, an agenda which consists of preventing what the Florida LWV chapter is doing from spreading to other states. Because the LWV isn’t a bunch of ladies who just sit around drinking coffee like my mother and her friends did in the good old days. It’s a national organization that has been in existence for nearly a century, it certainly has more credibility than Granny Hammer or any other toady of the NRA, and when its members appear in public forums, the public listens to what they have to say.

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The NRA Endorsed Trump But Are They Working For Him?

Ever since the NRA decided to endorse Trump back in April and pour an unprecedented amount of money into television advertising for his campaign, the question as to what effect this will have on the November 8th outcome is up for grabs.  Because when it comes to embracing gun rights as a cornerstone of the GOP’s 2016 effort, there has never been another Presidential candidate who has paid so much attention to guns.

trump4           In 2008 McCain left the gun issue to his Daffy Duck running mate who more than once indicated that she didn’t know one end of a gun from another; in the 2012 election cycle Romney may have actually held a shotgun once or maybe not at all.  But Trump injected the most extreme, pro-gun nonsense into his campaign from the very start, announcing his support for national concealed-carry back in June, 2015.  And of course like most stupid and dangerous things he has said over the past several years, he has never explained what he meant when he assigned a ‘stop Hillary’ task to the supporters of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

Last week I received an email from the NRA Political Victory Fund whose link took me to a website where I could sign up to get involved in the Trump campaign. My state listed two campaign coordinators, but that was no surprise, because I happen to live in a state – Massachusetts – which is not considered a ‘gun-rich’ state.  But then I looked at the list of election coordinators in North Carolina, a swing state that is heavily into guns, and the NRA has a whole, big three coordinators listed for the Tarheel State and in Florida, the Gunshine State, the website listed – none!  That’s right, a state that Trump must win on Tuesday doesn’t have a single person who, according to the NRA, is helping to get out the vote.

No maybe the NRA knows something I don’t; maybe their television ads are so powerful, so compelling, so dynamic that they don’t need to run a GOTV campaign at all.  On the other hand, you can’t tell me that a 30-second television ad which will probably play while you’re taking a leak or grabbing a snack before the next episode of The Walking Dead or Scorpion has anywhere near the impact of a telephone conversation or a discussion with someone standing at your front door. I can understand why the NRA doesn’t have a campaign coordinator working in North Dakota. Hell, even the cows in North Dakota will vote for Trump and Pence.  But Florida – nobody in Florida?

Meanwhile, want to knock on a few doors for Hillary?  If you live in Miami, here are three locations within easy driving distance where you can go to get involved. If you’re a resident of Raleigh, NC, you can pick up your canvassing materials in Danville, Greenville or Rocky Mount.  Let me tell you something about Rocky Mount. I guarantee there isn’t a single resident in that town who doesn’t own a gun and it’s Hillary, not Trump who’s got feet there on the ground.

I know three couples my age, which means we were liberals back in the 1960’s before there was anything as insulting and demeaning as Fox News, who will be spending the next several days canvassing in Nevada, New Hampshire and PA.  None of them feel confident about Hillary’ slight lead, none of them feel that they can afford to stay home in the run-up to this election, none of them want to see an angry and vindictive Trump administration defining the politics of the next four years.

And I have to believe that if I know three couples like this, that there are many more folks who feel the same way.  So if the NRA wants to believe that their bombast and anti-Hillary bullshit are uniting the faithful that’s fine, but what they may have done instead is awakened lots of folks to the dangers of Trump, which couldn’t be money better spent.

Do Doctors Know What To Say To Patients About Guns? Not If You Believe That Guns Aren’t A Health Risk.

Since the health care industry now racks up revenues in excess of $1.6 trillion each year, there are plenty of online publications and other venues which are used to promote (i.e., advertise) the services and products driving this economic juggernaut.  And one such venture, an online publication called MD Magazine, caught my eye because it published a survey of subscriber attitudes towards guns and counseling patients about guns – a hot-button topic in the medical profession ever since Florida passed a gag order prohibiting doctors to talk to patients about guns.

conference-program-pic              While the Florida law didn’t absolutely prohibit doctor-patient gun discussions, it just relegated such discussions to situations in which the physician had reason to believe that the health of the patient was at imminent risk.  Of course since we are talking about behavior, it’s virtually impossible for a physician, or anyone else for that matter, to accurately predict imminent risk, which is precisely why doctors need the widest possible latitude in patient contacts, which is why doctor-patient relationships are circumscribed in every respect by the tightest degree of confidentiality, which is why the attempt to push the medical profession out of the discussion about guns is nothing more than pandering to the lowest, common intellectual denominator.  But what the hell, if you can build an entire Presidential campaign around your ‘love’ of the 2nd Amendment, why not demonize doctors into the bargain?

The good news about Docs-Glocks, however, is that it did result in the beginnings of a recognition on the part of physicians that they will only get back into the gun game if they bestir themselves and begin to argue for that role. Last April all the major medical associations issued a ‘Call To Acton,’ which not only endorsed the usual menu of gun-control options (background checks, assault-rifle ban, etc.,) but also made a commitment to be “part” of the solution to gun violence.  Which means that, like it or not, physicians must continue to advocate for the widest possible freedom in talking to patients about guns.

The problem with this more activist approach is that if physicians are going to engage in  unfettered, candid discussions with patients about guns, they have to know how to frame the discussions in ways that are both understandable and meaningful to their patients.  After all, the fact that the medical profession has decided that gun violence constitutes a serious medical issue does not, ipso facto, mean that doctors know how to explain the medical risks of gun ownership.  Knowing that guns are the instrument used in 31,000 fatalities and 70,000 injuries each year is one thing; knowing how to use that information medically is something else.

This is the context in which the survey in MD Magazine needs to be understood because the results indicate that many doctors do not currently engage in gun counseling, nor do they consider gun ownership a proper issue about which they should be concerned.  The survey, conducted online, was answered by 928 subscribers to the magazine.  When asked if doctors should “play a role in curbing in gun violence,” 43% said ‘no,’ 40% said ‘yes.’  When asked if they had ever asked patients about gun ownership, 60% said ‘no,’ and 40% said ‘yes.’ It also turned out that 60% of the survey responders claimed to be gun owners which is a rather remarkable statistic for physicians, assuming that this magazine’s readership is at all representative of the medical profession as a whole.

If nothing else, this survey reflects the fact that, until now, medicine has not developed a clear and coherent medical response to gun violence at the level where it is needed most; namely, in discussions between care-givers and patients, which is ultimately where all medical responses to any kind of medical risk needs to start and end.  The MD Magazine survey didn’t ask whether the survey respondents actually agreed that gun violence was a health issue.  Maybe the magazine’s subscribers practice medicine on Mars.

 

Suicide And Guns: A New Brady Report Spells It Out.

I want to commend the Brady Center for their newly-issued report on suicide and guns.  It’s available on the Brady website and should, no must be required reading for everyone involved with gun violence at any level: advocates, researchers, caregivers and the general public.  I downloaded it earlier this evening and read it without stopping from end to end.  Then I read it again.  Bravo Brady for a job very well done.

The report was issued for National Suicide Week and I wish I could say that suicides as a public health issue have been brought under control.  Unfortunately, that’s not true. According to the CDC, the suicide rate per 100,000 was 10.44 in 2000, it was 12.57 in 2013 (the last year for which we have validated numbers.)  These rates translate into 29,350 suicide deaths in 2000 and more than 41,000 in 2013.  Worse, it appears that this increase is directly associated with the use of guns, with the gun suicide rate increasing by 13% over the past seven years.

brady2                Wouldn’t you just know it, but the NRA has a a history of being concerned with guns and suicide, except in the case of America’s oldest civil rights organization, their concern takes the form of preventing efforts to identify individuals who might be at risk to use a gun to take their own lives.  The best example of their concern in his regard is the Florida gag order (Docs vs. Glocks) that prohibits physicians from talking to patients about their ownership of guns.  The law makes an exception in cases where the patient might be an ‘imminent’ threat to himself or someone else, but as the Brady report makes clear, most suicides are impulsive, last-minute affairs and it often takes lots of sensitive sifting of verbal cues by a caregiver before the potential victim acknowledges that suicide is on his mind.

Where the NRA really shows its true concerns about suicide is their efforts to keep any discussion about gun suicide in the military completely out of bounds.  Military suicides have nearly doubled over the past ten years and the military suicide rate per 100,000 is nearly 40% higher than the rate for non-military folks.  In 2011 a provision was quietly tacked onto the annual Military Authorization Bill that prevented any soldier from being asked if he kept a gun in an off-base home.  Meanwhile a study done in Israel (and mentioned in the Brady report) showed a 40% drop in at-home suicides by soldiers when they were no longer allowed to take their guns with them when they went home on a weekend pass.

One of the most pernicious strategies employed of late by the NRA is guns on college campuses, traditionally gun-free zones.  The latest battleground  – where else? –  is Florida, where NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer has the troops all set and ready to march into the State House and promote a campus-carry bill again.  The fact that college dormitories are the most popular sites for mass, binge-drinking activities doesn’t faze crazy Granny Hammer one bit.  But here’s one little piece of data from the Brady report that might give some of the Florida legislators pause.  A recent study found that college students had substantially lower suicide rates than kids in the same age bracket who weren’t in school, a difference partly attributed to a ninefold decrease in gun availability on campus as opposed to guns in private homes.

The truth is the NRA couldn’t care less about what’s in the Brady report. I can just hear it in the next couple of days, ‘It’s not gun violence, it’s mental health.’  They’ve been getting away with this nonsense because mental health has always been a touchy issue and suicide, in particular, is something we’d rather not face.  But the Brady report makes it clear that suicide moves more quickly move from potential to actual when there’s a gun around.  In case you haven’t yet figured it out, It’s the gun stupid, it’s the gun.

Kansas Joins The Crazy Carry States

This past week Kansas became the sixth state to align itself with something called the Constitutional Carry Movement which interprets the 2nd Amendment to mean that anyone can carry a concealed weapon without having to undergo any kind of licensing requirement at all.  I can’t figure out exactly which Constitution is being referenced here, since the last time I looked at the 2008 Heller decision, it explicitly defined the 2nd Amendment as granting Americans the right to keep a gun in their homes. And while I’m no Constitutional scholar, I always thought that we understood the Constitution to mean what the Supreme Court said it meant, but I guess when it comes to guns, anyone’s opinion will trump a Supreme Court legal opinion every time.

On the other hand, the Constitution doesn’t necessarily trump the law of any given state, and if a particular state wants to grant its residents the right to carry around a gun without any licensing procedure at all, then whether such a law constitutes a constitutional endorsement of limitless CCW is rather moot.  But what isn’t moot is the practical effect of such laws, both on folks who decide to go around armed, as well as other folks who don’t want to carry a weapon but happen to live in the same state.

open                I happen to live in a state in which the license to own and purchase a gun is also the same license that allows you to carry a handgun concealed.  There are no special requirements for CCW in my state and everyone who applies for a gun license must take a mandatory safety course which, frankly, usually consists of an afternoon snooze.  Since my state actually has a licensing process, it doesn’t qualify as a “constitutional carry” state, but the practical effect is about the same.  And most states that require some kind of pre-licensing training to be granted CCW don’t impose any serious training burden on CCW candidates at all.  My state, for example, doesn’t require any live fire exercise during the mandatory safety course; Florida requires that the CCW candidate actually pull the trigger once.

Along with the fact that most states grant CCW with minimal or no requirement for actually shooting a gun, most states define CCW licensing criteria only in legal terms.  In other words, if you don’t fall into one of those ‘prohibited’ categories (felon, fugitive, dishonorable discharge, etc.), you can be legally blind or completely lack all muscle coordination and still be allowed to walk around with a gun.  We require candidates for the police academy to pass a battery of physical tests before we let them, as police officers, carry guns, but we seem unwilling to exercise the same degree of caution or common sense when it comes to whether John or Jane Q. Public should be allowed to go around armed.

Last week I wrote about a silly, little public service announcement on gun safety that was recently aired by the NSSF.  It got the gun folks all fired up because who was I to question the credentials of an experienced shooter (and don’t forget that she’s also a Mom) when it comes to talking about safety, kids and guns.  I’m not questioning Ms. Golob’s experience as a competitive shooter, and if she wants to read off a script full of nice-sounding platitudes about kids, family, communication or anything else, that’s fine.  But in more than 5 minutes of talk about guns I never once heard words like ‘dangerous,’ ‘lethal,’ or any other reference to the fact that guns, like it or not, are designed to inflict very serious harm.

Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own them or shouldn’t enjoy them.  But what it does mean is that giving every Tom, Dick, Harry and Francine the ability to carry such lethality around without the slightest proof that they have the mental and physical capacity to keep that lethality under control isn’t to my mind, constitutional carry.  It’s crazy carry.

Available on Amazon.

Gun Trafficking in America - cover

Do Guns Make College Safer? The “Gunshine State” Will Soon Decide.

Now that the Gunshine State, a.k.a. Florida, has moved a step closer to letting everyone walk around on college campuses with a banger in their pocket, it’s time to look at the argument being made by proponents of campus CCW to see if their argument accords with the facts. Campus shootings are, in fact, something of a mini-legend in American culture thanks to ex-Marine Charles Whitman who, on August 1, 1966, went up to the top of the University of Texas campus tower and methodically gunned down 44 people, 12 of whom died, having previously shot his mother, wife and three people within the tower, for good measure.  Whitman’s life ended in a blaze of police gunfire on the tower’s observation deck, but the episode helped launch Kurt Russell’s career who later starred as Whitman in a crummy TV-movie called The Deadly Tower.

The debate in the Florida legislature is following the now-typical path of all bills that seek to widen acceptance and use of guns, namely, that guns are valuable tools for self-defense.  Leave it to the pistol-packin’ Grandma, Marian Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist to express it best: “The plain truth is campuses are not safe. They are gun-free zones where murderers and rapists may commit their crimes without fear of being harmed by their victims.”  In fact the bill that would allow concealed-carry on Florida campuses was introduced following a shooting last November at Florida State University where a former student wounded three people before he was gunned down by the cops.

      Marian Hammer

Marian Hammer

There has been heightened attention recently about campus crime, most of it concerning sexual assaults. Even the Federal Government has gotten into the act, holding hearings on proposed legislation that would require higher education institutions to better enforce laws against sexual assaults, as well as being accountable for tracking the incidence of such crimes.  But the concern about campus rape doesn’t necessarily mean that colleges are less safe than other environments unless, of course, you toe the NRA line and assume that any location which doesn’t permit guns is, by definition, a less-safe place.

The good news is that we now have a very detailed report on campus guns published by Generation Progress, an activist organization which used to be known as Campus Progress, but like the Millennials they represent, has now grown up and addresses gun violence as just one of its progressive campaigns.  Like many such reports, this report notes that campus crime rates are below crime rates in general, a statement I have seen elsewhere but have not been able to pin down hard data which shows this to be true.  On the other hand, FBI data referenced in this report indicates that guns are used in roughly half of the homicides reported on college campuses, which is below the national number which pegs guns as the method used in 70% of all homicides committed in the United States.

A more important finding in the report is the fact that less than 10% of all serious campus assaults involved a perpetrator who was not connected in some way to the institution where the incident occurred.  More than two-thirds of the assailants were students, former students or alumni and faculty or staff, with the remaining known attackers being spouses or partners of someone connected to the institution.

Despite Marian Hammer’s fear-mongering , the reality is that just about everyone who walks onto a college campus to commit a violent act is drawn to that location not because it’s a gun-free zone, but because they know the campus environment and can move around it with ease.  Not that this information will persuade Florida legislators to retain the current ban on campus guns.  After all, Florida issued less than 30,000 CCW permits in 2000, while in 2010 they issued more than 160,000 and surpassed the million mark in 2012.  Meanwhile, the state had 499 gun homicides in 2000 and more than 700 gun murders in 2012. Duhhhh,  if armed citizens protect us from crime, shouldn’t those numbers be reversed?

 

Book Review: Rise of the Anti-Media, Informing America’s Concealed Weapons Carry Movement

The author of this book, Brian Anse Patrick, has given us a work which deserves to be discussed and read. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been engaged in a lively and somewhat combative email discussion with the author, but our disagreements in no way detract from the seriousness and value of his work.  So let’s see what he has to say.

The book is a very detailed history of how CCW laws were expanded and revised beginning in the late 1980’s with a particular focus on events in Ohio, Michigan and Florida.  Patrick places these developments within a broader historical recounti ng of concealed-carry laws and practices from before the Civil War up through present-day events, noting that much of the pressure for change came from a new gun ‘culture’ that embraced the use of guns for self-defense, thus displacing the more traditional gun culture which was all about hunting and outdoor sports.

patrick                The energy and activity that brought about the acceptance of CCW, according to Patrick, came largely from grass-roots, voluntary associations of gun owners who shared information, strategies and tactics through what the author calls “anti-media” channels that received and transmitted information horizontally via the internet rather than utilizing top-down resources which reflected establishment, anti-CCW views.  The push for CCW not only had to overcome the usual anti-gun prejudices of the political establishment, but also forced mainstream gun organizations like the NRA to abandon what had been a traditional reluctance to promote concealed-carry within their own ranks.

This is hardly the first time that Americans have come together on a voluntary basis to share information and develop or implement strategies for making the general public more aware of an issue that was of paramount importance to them.  Nor is it unusual for such horizontally-structured movements to then be subsumed and incorporated into the larger, top-down groups and organizations that later decide to take up the same cause.  There wasn’t a single college campus that didn’t have an anti-war group, SDS for example, long before the mainstream media, liberal labor unions and the Democratic party discovered there was a place named Viet Nam.  These campus groups (I was a member of one such group in 1963) didn’t trust the established media and used very unorthodox and largely unseen methods to maintain contact and build a national anti-war movement that only was embraced by the general public following the Tet offensive in 1968.

Patrick does an excellent job of explaining and documenting the effectiveness of such voluntary groups in the push to create legal and social acceptance of CCW.  Where he and I part company, however, is in his effort to vest in these voluntary CCW associations a greater awareness and accurate knowledge about guns and the wider world simply because they communicate through informal, horizontal channels and do not rely on the artificially-packaged, frequently erroneous world views of top-down media and corporate points of view.  He too often assumes that just because people gain their information from sources that have not been tainted by the mainstream media, that this makes their information more correct.  Many of these people, for example, were absolutely convinced that the retail ammunition shortages experienced after Sandy Hook were symptoms of an Obama-led conspiracy to keep gun owners from being able to defend themselves with their guns.  Patrick also spends a little too much effort constructing and then demolishing the straw horse known as the liberal bias against guns.  Do we need yet another author to argue that liberals and guns rarely, if ever mix?

Yesterday I received my now-daily email from the NRA’s Chris Cox begging me to push some money his way for the 2014 Congressional campaign.  From the way he talks you would think that Armageddon will occur if the election map on November 5 isn’t colored bright red. The NRA goes to great lengths to make gun owners believe they are members of the country’s most persecuted minority but Patrick’s recounting of how CCW has spread across the land undercuts that point of view.  The NRA would probably make a lot more friends in the non-gun community if it would simply admit the truth, which is that the battle for CCW is largely over and it’s time to move on to better things.

They Keep Standing Their Ground In Florida And People Keep Getting Shot

Last week Michael Dunn, a dapper, 47-year old software engineer was hoping that his trial would end up the same way as George Zimmerman’s trial ended up but no such luck. Even if he’s never convicted of killing Jordan Davis, he could end up being sentenced to 60 years in jail because the jury decided that the fact that he kept shooting at the truck as it pulled away from him meant that he was trying to kill the other passengers who, it turned out, were armed with nothing more than big mouths.

What probably cooked Dunn’s goose, in addition to the forensic evidence which indicated that Davis was shot while sitting in his vehicle, not, as Dunn claimed, after he got out of the truck and came towards him in a menacing way, was the fact that he drove away from the scene, spent the night in a motel and then drove back home before contacting anyone to talk about the incident.   Not much different, when you stop and think about it, from the way that Curtis Reeves, the 71-year old ex-cop from Tampa pulled out a gun, shot and killed Chad Oulson in a movie theater and then calmly sat back down and waited for the cops to walk in, surround him and take away his gun.

10734Even the National Rifle Association, which champions the ‘stand your ground’ law that has been cited by lawyers both for Dunn and Reeves, draws the line when it comes to how someone should behave if they defend themselves with a gun.  Their course books on self-defense both in and outside the home specifically advise that anyone who is involved in a shooting incident should remain on the scene, contact law enforcement, separate themselves from any weapon, and make sure that they clearly state their name and their reasons for calling 911.  

In both the shootings in Florida, Dunn and Reeves didn’t follow any one of those rules.  Neither contacted law enforcement directly after the incident, neither separated themselves from their guns, neither did anything that would have indicted even their awareness that something like an emergency existed based on what they had done.  Dunn not only waited more than 24 hours to contact anyone, but that gave him enough time to concoct a phony story that even his fiancee, who was on the scene, couldn’t support when she took the stand.

I’m beginning to wonder whether we have any idea about what’s at stake when we give civilians the right to walk around with a gun. Just this week the 9th Circuit in California ruled that the state’s concealed carry law violated the 2nd Amendment because it denied  residents the ability to carry a gun outside the home.   And while it will ultimately be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether the 2nd Amendment really does apply beyond the limits of one’s residence (in fact the Heller decision speaks only to possession of firearms within the home) the bigger issue is how we behave once the Constitutional right to self-protection is actually invoked.

Because we can talk and argue all we want about whether Americans are safer if everyone walks around with a gun.  But once the gun appears and the trigger is pulled, then what happens has nothing to do with the Founding Fathers.  It’s all about something called common sense and nobody should be protected by the Constitution if they fail to understand what that’s all about.